Minoan culture

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Minoan culture in Crete

After the mythical King Minos , the Bronze Age culture of Crete is referred to as Minoan , Cretan-Minoan or Cretominoic . The approximately simultaneous culture of the Greek mainland is called Helladic culture called. The Minoan culture is the earliest advanced civilization in Europe . Its oldest phase, early Minoan I, runs parallel to the first to fourth dynasties of Egypt .

Overview, for more details see chronology and periodization :

  • Early Minoan Period from approx. 2600 to 1900 BC Chr.
  • Middle Minoan Period from approx. 1900 to 1600 BC Chr.
  • Late Minoan Period, from approx. 1600 to 1450 BC Chr.


Excavations and reconstruction in Knossos

The discovery of the Mycenaean and Minoan cultures changed the understanding of ancient Greece . Until then, ancient historians actually began with the emergence of a Greek written culture in archaic times . As a rule, Greek mythology was used for knowledge about the ancient Greek times . A quarter of a century later, Heinrich Schliemann's excavations in Mycenae inspired the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans to carry out excavations in Crete. Evans concentrated on Knossos , a place where smaller but not systematic excavations had already taken place. From 1900 he brought the remains of the so-called Palace of Knossos to light and initiated a partial reconstruction of the complex at his own expense. Evans associated the place with the mythical stories of King Minos . On Evans' interpretation of these stories, among other things, the ideas of a sacred kingship and an emphatically peaceful "Minoan" society go back. The historian and classical philologist Karl Hoeck was already convinced of the existence of an independent culture on Crete in 1828 and so he titled the second volume of his Crete work The Minoan Crete.

Palace of Phaistos

The Minoan culture, like the Mycenaean, is one of the so-called palace cultures. Research understands Minoan palaces to be large architectural complexes built around a central courtyard. The palaces combined many different functions: They served religious cults, the administration, storage and production of goods. What role and importance they played in Minoan society is controversial. Arthur Evans considered the palace of Knossos to be the seat of a priest-king in the early 20th century. In the 1970s and 1980s, the palaces were then viewed as centers of so-called redistribution , as local repositories that would have organized the redistribution of goods to the population. This thesis is now considered outdated, as the storage capacities of the palaces would probably not have been sufficient for such a function. In addition, the traditional use of the Mycenaean palaces cannot simply be transferred to the older Minoan complexes.

There are currently three central theories on the social significance / use of palaces: The first thesis sees evidence of a ruling function in architecture. Whether this rule emanated from an elitist group or a single ruler remains uncertain. The narrow entrances to the palaces, for example, speak in favor of the thesis of domination, since they could probably be easily blocked - a possible indication of the courtly demarcation of an elite or a ruler. The high western wall of the Palace of Knossos was also clearly architecturally separated from the settlement. The second thesis is based on public-communal use. Political or religious gatherings of a settlement community would have taken place in the palaces. The third thesis refers to an influence on the Minoan palaces by models in the Middle East, where palace and temple were structurally separated from each other. Several ruins that could have been residences have already been discovered near the palaces of Knossos and Malia. Accordingly, the palaces were temple-like complexes in which no elite or rulers resided themselves. The most important archaeological sites of Bronze Age Crete include, besides Knossos, the palaces of Phaistos and Malia as well as the country residence of Agia Triada .


Since the Minoan culture deserves an important contribution to the development of the Greek world, it indirectly exerted an influence on Cretan sagas within Greek mythology .


An example of the after-effects of the Minoan culture in Greek mythology is the Zeus cult. While the rest of the Greek world represented the idea of ​​an immortal god father on Olympus , the idea remained alive in Crete that Zeus would be reborn annually in the underworld . According to Cretan tradition, the tomb of Zeus is said to be on Mount Giouchtas . Arthur Evans had a summit sanctuary there as early as 1909 . From 1974 onwards, extensive excavations were carried out on the Giouchtas. Among other things, an altar and two double axes from the Minoan period were discovered. The finds suggest a possible sacrificial site. Votive offerings from the Minoan period were also found in the alleged birth cave of Zeus, the Idean Grotto . Archaeologists take these discoveries as an indication that the birth and death of Zeus in Crete could have their origin in religious cults that were practiced in mountain caves in Minoan times.

The bull

Minoan wall painting with bull divers from Knossos (1600–1450 BC)

In Greek mythology, Crete is associated with the bull several times. During the kidnapping of the Phoenician Princess Europa , Zeus took the form of a bull. In order to prevail against his brothers in the line of succession to the throne of Crete, Minos is said to have asked the god of the sea, Poseidon , to send him a sacrificial animal. Poseidon sent him a white bull. Pasiphae , the wife of Minos, fathered the Minotaur with the Cretan bull - a monster, half human and half bull. Here, too, the mythology seems to contain a true historical core, because finds have certainly proven that the bull served the Minoans as a sacrificial animal. The importance that the bull must have played in the Minoan cult can be seen in the palace of Knossos alone on twenty reliefs and nine frescoes. Numerous bull-shaped statuettes and images of bulls, for example on rings and vessels, are known to archeology. In this context, there are also pictorial representations that may show bull leaps . It could have been a ritual act. The archaeologist Diamantis Panagiotopoulos refers to the fact that the fight with the bull was mostly depicted together with the audience, so it could also have had the function of creating social cohesion. Since the bull leaps could have been a "state-supporting means", their prominent prominence in the palaces could be explained. The Greek ancient historian Angelos Chaniotis sees bullfighting as a ritual of passage. Young men would have thus proven their maturity. After a successful struggle, they would be allowed to join the group of adults. The same applies to the illustrated hunts and boxing matches. This is where the legend of the man-eating Minotaur could have its origin, because some youngsters may not have survived the dangerous bull jumping.

Reign of Minos

King Minos was able to assert himself as king against his brothers, because Poseidon sent him a white bull as a token of his chosen status. A legitimation of the ruling elite by the gods may possibly also have existed historically - for example in the form of a priestly rule or actually a priesthood, as Greek mythology claims. The Minoan palaces have numerous religious elements, whereby the west wing may have been dedicated to the cult of the fertility deity. The Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides report that King Minos once ruled the seas (see Thalassocracy ) and founded entire colonies on the Aegean islands and on the coast of Asia Minor. A political and economic influence of the Minoans in the area of ​​the Aegean and the mainland (especially on Thera , in Thebes , Laconia and Messinien) is indeed undeniable due to diverse archaeological finds. In research, however, it is controversial to what extent the Minoans were actually able to exercise political and administrative control outside of Crete. The term “colonies” is particularly problematic. So far no administration building has been discovered in Thera in which seal impressions could be expected. In other areas outside of Crete, Minoan characters in the Linear A script appear unusually seldom. It can therefore be assumed that the “colonies” were predominantly trading posts and only played a very limited political role.

The refusal of Minos to sacrifice the Cretan bull can be explained with the refusal to violate the custom of bloodless sacrifice that prevailed in Crete. However, at the end of the period of the Old Palaces (around 1700 BC), bloody bull sacrifices for Crete are attested.

Chronology and Periodization

The chronology and periodization of the Minoan culture are still associated with problems today, which is partly due to the fact that archaeologists and linguists , unlike the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs , have only been able to decipher the linear A script of the Minoans in rudimentary form, and the language used is unknown is. Thus, dating, as in Egyptology, is not possible on the basis of lists of kings , especially since no such lists can be identified in the surviving Linear A material. Sir Arthur Evans based his periodization primarily on stratified ceramic finds and the fact that vessels made of baked clay are subject to stylistic changes in relatively short periods of time. The objects were often still in intact cultural layers , which over time were deposited on top of one another and could each be assigned to a time. Evans distinguished three epochs: the so-called Early Minoan, the Middle Minoan and the Late Minoan. He divided these phases into finer sections (I, II and III), as well as into an early and a late phase (a and b). Egyptian finds, which can be classified relatively precisely in time, led to the first synchronization with the Egyptian chronology, which is supported by trading objects from Crete in the context of ancient Egyptian finds. As early as 1909, Diedrich Fimmen created a synchronistic table for the “Cretan-Mycenaean culture” in relation to the Egyptian chronology. However, individual historical events in Minoan Crete cannot be reconstructed either from ceramics or from Egyptian finds. In terms of developments and turning points, only the formation of palatal centers, the appearance of writing and the destruction of the palaces can be demonstrated. The classification of the Greek archaeologist Nikolaos Platon, presented at the 5th International Congress for Prehistory in Hamburg in 1958, was based on the construction phases of the Minoan palaces. A distinction is made between four phases: pre-palace time, old palace time (time of the old palaces), new palace time (time of new palaces) and post-palace time (time after the destruction of the palace of Knossos). The following table compares the chronologies of Evans and Plato in relation to the Egyptian dynasties:

Evans system Chronology v. Chr. Egyptian dynasties Plato's system Chronology v. Chr.
Neolithic era until 2700 2-3 dynasty Neolithic era until 2600
Early Minoan I 2600-2400 4th dynasty Pre-palace period I 2600-2400
Early Minoan II 2400-2200 5th-6th dynasty Pre-palace period II 2400-2100
Early Minoan III 2200--2000 6-10 dynasty Pre-palace period III 2100-1900
Middle Minoan I 2000-1900 11th dynasty Older palace period I 1900-1850
Middle Minoan II 1900-1700 12th dynasty Older palace period II 1850-1800
Middle Minoan III 1700-1600 13-17 dynasty Older palace period III 1800-1700
Late Minoan I 1600-1450 18th dynasty Newer palace period I 1700-1600
Late Minoan II 1450-1400 18. – 20. dynasty Newer palace period II 1600-1500
Late Minoan III 1400--1100 20.-21. dynasty Newer palace period III 1500-1450
Post-palace period I 1450-1320
Post-palace period II 1320-1260
Post-palace period III 1260-1150
Subminoic 1100-1000 Subminoic 1150-1000

The pre-palace period comprises the period in which the essential characteristics of high culture began to emerge. The pre-palace period began in the Bronze Age around 3100 BC. At this point in time, the manufacture and use of tools made of bronze , an alloy of copper and tin, gradually supplanted their stone counterparts. The metal enabled the production of new types of tools, which professionalized agricultural management to such an extent that Minoan society further differentiated itself through the division of labor. Workshop and trade, or craftsmen and traders, grew in importance. At the end of the pre-palace period or the beginning of the old palace period around 2000 BC. Finally, the three great palaces were built, namely Knossos, Malia and Phaistos. In the old palace period , Crete caught up with the cultural achievements of the ancient Orient and ancient Egypt. This applies to the high level of writing, administration and handicrafts, but also extensive trade relationships that even extended beyond the Aegean region. According to Panagiotopoulos, this phase could have been marked by the predominance of the three great palaces, each of which ruled independently of one another over small territories. The end of the Old Palace Era was caused by earthquakes that destroyed the palaces to varying degrees. The palace of Knossos, least affected by the natural disaster, could have dominated all of Crete in the New Palace Era, according to Panagiotopoulos . At this stage the Minoans could have maintained trading posts throughout the Aegean. This is suggested by the numerous linear A clay tablets, seals, weights and ceramics that have been found. During the new palace period, the palaces were destroyed three times. At the end of the 17th century BC The eruption of the Thera volcano probably caused minor damage. Between 1520 and 1500 BC Some palaces were abandoned due to destruction (Sitia, Galatas, Amnissos and Vathypetro). The most momentous destruction took place around 1450 BC. BC, although Knossos was largely spared. The causes of the palace destruction are the subject of research debates to this day. Earthquakes , internal political tensions and / or military invasions from outside come into question .

With the exception of the Palace of Knossos, none of the existing palaces were rebuilt in the Third Palace Era , only new palace centers were built. The temporary weakening of the palatial system in Crete created a power vacuum that Mycenaean conquerors may exploit. Altered finds offer clues for a possible Mycenaean conquest of Crete. The Minoan Linear A script is replaced by the Mycenaean Linear B script , an early form of Greek. The ceramic style was also similar to that of mainland Greece. However, this cultural change does not necessarily have to be due to military occupation. The Minoan elite could also have increasingly turned to the Mycenaean art and lifestyle. Another problem with the conquest thesis is that there may not have been a politically united Mycenaean kingdom that could have accomplished such a great conquest. What is certain is that the old Minoan palace culture continued to exist in the Mycenaean period, albeit in a different form. Either around 1370 BC BC or only around 1200 BC The youngest palace of Knossos was also on fire.

The absolute dating of the epochs is uncertain and will be discussed further. The most important clues for the chronological classification are “ Keftiu exports” to Egypt and vice versa, as well as the dating of the Minoan eruption of the volcanic island of Thera . The traditional chronology based on the chronology of Egypt (around 1550/00) and a 14 C dating of an olive branch with 1628 to 1600 BC are currently located here . Chr. Opposite. However, if the branch was already 100 years old, the old date remains; if not, some time levels of the Middle and Late Minoican should be postponed, in particular the beginning of levels SM IA and SM IB and the end of MM III should be set a century earlier. According to many researchers, the synchronization with the Egyptian chronology (see above) copes better with the traditionally low dates.

The following table gives the approximate dates. The two main notions, the traditional low and the newer high dating, give way between 2100 BC. BC and 1370 BC From each other.

Periodizations according to Evans and Plato 
Arthur Evans Nikolaos Plato low dating high dating
Early Minoan Pre-palace period    
FM I 3300-2700 BC Chr. 3300-2700 BC Chr.
FM II 2700-2300 BC Chr. 2700-2300 BC Chr.
FM III 2300-2100 BC Chr. 2300-2100 BC Chr.
Middle Minoan     
MM IA 2100–1900 BC Chr. 2100-2000 BC Chr.
MM IB Old palace time 1900–1800 BC Chr. 2000–1900 BC Chr.
MM II 1800–1700 BC Chr. 1900–1800 BC Chr.
MM III A 1700–1650 BC Chr. 1800-1750 BC Chr.
MM III B New Palace period 1650-1600 BC Chr. 1750-1700 BC Chr.
Late Minoan     
SM IA 1600-1480 BC BC ( Thēra 1550 BC) 1700-1580 BC BC (Thēra 1628 BC)
SM IB 1480-1430 BC Chr. 1580-1490 BC Chr.
SM II Third ( Cretaceous ) palace period
(not after Plato, added later)
1430-1390 BC Chr. 1490-1430 BC Chr.
SM III A1 1390-1370 BC Chr. 1430-1370 BC Chr.
SM III A2 Post-palace period  1370-1320 BC Chr. 1370-1320 BC Chr.
SM III B 1320-1190 BC Chr. 1320-1190 BC Chr.
SM III C 1190-1100 BC Chr. 1190-1100 BC Chr.
Subminoic 1100-1000 BC Chr. 1100-1000 BC Chr.

According to the lower dating there is the following synchronization with Egypt:

Crete Cyprus Mainland Greece  Egypt
MM IB, old palace period MC IB MH I Amenemhet II to Nofrusobek ( 12th Dynasty )
MM II, old palace period MC II MH II Wegaf / Sobekhotep I to Jaib ( 13th Dynasty )
MM III A, old palace period MC III A MH II Aja I. to Hori (13th Dynasty)
MM III B, New Palace period  MC III B MH III (shaft graves) Second Intermediate Period (1648 to 1550 BC)
SM IA, New Palace period LC IA SH I Ahmose I to Thutmose II ( 18th Dynasty )
SM IB, New Palace period LC IB SH II A Hatshepsut , Thutmose III. (18th dynasty)
SM II LC II SH II B Amenhotep II , Thutmose IV (18th Dynasty)
SM III A1 LC III SH III A1 Amenhotep III (18th dynasty)
SM III A2 LC III SH III A2 Akhenaten to Tutankhamun / Eje II. (18th dynasty) 
( Amarna period 1343-1331 BC)

With the high dating, the synchronization with Egypt shifts significantly - provided that the traditional dates of the Egyptian chronology are adhered to and Minoan finds of the affected Minoan time periods are also dated earlier relative to the Egyptian chronology:

Crete Cyprus Mainland Greece  Egypt
MM IB, old palace period MC IB MH I Amenemhet I to Amenemhet II (12th Dynasty)
MM II, old palace period MC II MH II Sesostris II to Nofrusobek (12th Dynasty)
MM III A, old palace period MC III A MH II Wegaf / Sobekhotep I. to Sechemrechuitaui (13th Dynasty) 
MM III B, New Palace period  MC III B MH III (shaft graves) Sehetepibre to Aja I. (13th Dynasty)
SM IA, New Palace period LC IA SH I Second Intermediate Period (1648 to 1550 BC)
SM IB, New Palace period LC IB SH II A Ahmose I , Amenophis I , Thutmose I (18th Dynasty)
SM II LC II SH II B Thutmose II. , Hatshepsut , Thutmose III. (18th dynasty)
SM III A1 LC III SH III A1 Amenhotep II to Amenhotep III (18th dynasty)
SM III A2 LC III SH III A2 Akhenaten to Tutankhamun / Eje II. (18th dynasty)
( Amarna period 1343-1331 BC)

According to more recent findings, however, it is very unlikely that the Thera-Eruption took place during the Second Intermediate Period. More recent findings, especially in the study of Auaris , seem to confirm the “traditional” relative synchronization of the Minoan time stages with the Egyptian chronology.

Settlement history

Crete was probably first settled by humans in the Paleolithic . At Plakias ( Preveli , Schinaria , Kotsifou ) in the regional district of Rethymno , tools made of stone, bones and horns were found, some of which are more than 130,000 years old. Since Crete was last connected to the Greek mainland during the Messinian salinity crisis up to 5 million years ago, the people have to be crossed with simple ships or rafts. Fossilizations of deer , pygmy elephants , dwarf mammoths , pygmy hippos and rodents prove that there was a rich range of prey for hunters and gatherers . The pygmy elephants did not become extinct on Crete until about 13,000 years ago.

The first huts in Trypiti and Rousses near Heraklion can be found in the Mesolithic . In Asfendos near Sfakia , cave paintings from the Mesolithic and Neolithic have been preserved. The changes of the Neolithic Age, namely the beginning of agriculture and cattle breeding, went hand in hand with settlements and the establishment of settlements. Interestingly, the cave paintings of Asfendos with their pictures of horned game show that both forms of life, that of the hunter and gatherer on the one hand and that of the farmer on the other, existed in parallel for a short period of time. Genetic studies from 2017 prove a migration movement in the Aegean region for the Neolithic: Immigrants from Western Anatolia settled in Crete and mainland Greece. They were the common ancestors of the Minoans and Mycenaeans. The genetic examinations also give clues as to why the writing systems of the Mycenae and Minoans differed so greatly from one another. The biochemists found traces of Central Asian DNA in the Mycenaean skeletons that the Minoans lacked. So groups of steppe nomads must have reached mainland Greece. There they possibly brought an Indo-European language from which Greek could have developed. Since the steppe nomads did not settle Crete, another language developed on the island that was not related to Greek.

Agriculture was probably established between the 8th and 4th millennium BC. Brought to Crete by seafaring clans from the peninsula in Asia Minor . This is where the Neolithic agricultural culture from the so-called fertile crescent had spread. There, animal husbandry, agriculture and life in permanent settlements had already developed for the first time in the middle of the 9th millennium. Since the Neolithic, earthenware vessels can also be found in Crete, because with the sedentary lifestyle, heavy and fragile vessels for storing, cooking and taking in food were in demand. Neolithic layers can be found in Knossos , Phaistos , Gortyn , Katsambas, Mangasas near Sitia, in Phourni near Merambello, in the Eleithyia cave near Amnisos , in Ierapetra and in caves on the Akrotiri peninsula near Chania .

Stone Age in Crete
Paleolithic (Paleolithic) 130,000 - 9,000 BC Chr.
Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) 9000-7000 BC Chr.
Neolithic (Neolithic)

Pre-ceramic Neolithic ( pre-ceramic Neolithic )

Older Neolithic

Middle Neolithic

Younger Neolithic

Late Neolithic

7000-3500 BC Chr.

7000-6500 BC Chr.

6500-5700 BC Chr.

5700-4800 BC Chr.

4800-3800 BC Chr.

3800-3500 BC Chr.

Requirements for the emergence of the Minoan culture

The emergence of the Minoan culture was favored by geographical and geological factors. The island of Crete is located at a central point in the eastern Mediterranean and thus benefited from the contacts with the highly developed civilizations of ancient Egypt and the Middle East . The location between the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, however, gave rise to an entirely independent culture on the Bronze Age Crete.

Crete is also dominated by a diverse landscape on a relatively small area: mountains, sea and plains. The sea offered the opportunity to travel and interact with the surrounding islands and countries, fish and trade. The fertile plains enabled intensive agricultural use and offered themselves for the construction of villages and towns. The mountains offered a suitable environment for hunting as well as for keeping animals and using the abundance of wood at the time.

First settlements

In the period between 7000 and 4800 BC BC settlements on Crete can only be proven in Knossos . Post holes dating from the Pre-Ceramic Neolithic have been excavated below the ruins of the later Minoan palace . Charred seed remains, bones of goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, dogs and rabbits, as well as the first animal and human statuettes, bear witness to the fact that the productivity of early Cretan society had greatly increased. Some blades and tees are made of obsidian . The volcanic glass was only found in the vicinity on the islands of Nisyros and Melos - an indication of the first seafaring skills.

In Knossos, jewelry in the form of pearls and necklaces can be detected for the first time in the early Neolithic . Such luxury items prove a relatively high standard of living of the residents. The number of statuettes, tools and vessels found increased significantly. More than 100 people must have lived in Knossos during the early Neolithic. The walls of the huts were built from air-dried bricks. The flat roofs consisted of branches covered with clay and usually housed two small, interconnected rooms. The huts already had stairs, garbage pits and hearths. The clay floors in the houses were increasingly being replaced by pebble floors. In the late Neolithic , the huts had numerous rooms for the first time. Until around 3000 BC Knossos extends over an area of ​​25,000 square meters with a population of 2000 people.


Improved tools were an important part of the Neolithic household. Tools were now increasingly needed for woodworking, for grinding grain, for slaughtering cattle and for weaving, leather and ceramic work. Rock hatchets, axes, chisels, mortars, mortars, grinding stones, blades, loom weights, whorls and boats are the typical finds from Neolithic Crete. Tools were mainly made from serpentine stone , limestone and slate - rock that is widely used in Crete. Spatulas, awls and needles were made from the bones of domesticated animals such as sheep and goats.

Historical development of the Minoan culture

Pre-palace period

Cretominoian double ax ( Labrys )

The pre-palace period (around 3300–2000 / 1900 BC) is characterized by a strong increase in the density of settlements on Crete. Factors for this were probably population growth and agricultural innovations such as B. the " secondary product revolution " taking place in FM I (according to Andrew G. Sherratt ), d. H. the use of animals for multiple purposes. In FM II the more frequent cultivation of field crops such as B. olives or grapes for making wine. The settlements are mostly small villages in which five to eight families (25–50 people) live in adjoining houses. The type of building was probably used for defense; so the houses of the settlement of Phornou Korphi form a closed facade. New shapes appear in ceramic production and metalworking begins. During phase FM III, there was a sharp decline in population. Several settlements are abandoned. The causes are unclear and the findings are poor. In the following epoch MM I there was again an upswing, also in economic and cultural terms.

Pre-palace grave types differ greatly from one region to another. Dome tombs (so-called Tholos tombs ) are found mainly in the south of the island, especially on the Messara plateau , where 75 (on the whole island there are 95) tombs of this type have been found. About half of the datable tholoi from the south have been dated to FM I. At the same time, however, there were even simpler burials of several bodies in natural structures such as crevices in the north and south of the island. The necropolis of Agia Photia , which is strongly influenced by Cycladic influences, is a specialty , as more than 250 artificially constructed cave tombs have been found there, almost exclusively from FM I. In FM II, the Tholos tombs remain typical of the Messara plain and its surroundings, but rectangular house tombs are used in northern Crete. It is worth mentioning the Phourni cemetery, where people were buried in various types of graves from FM II to the end of the Minoic Era. Grave goods, such as B. in the necropolis of Mochlos , point to the emergence of social elites. For the periods FM III and MM IA Phourni is the most important site. Another grave example for MMIA is Chrysolakkos near Malia. In the MMIA phase, burial ends in Tholos graves in the Messara region.

Pre-palace trade contacts exist primarily with the Cyclades Islands , but also with Egypt and the Middle East , possibly via Cyprus.

Old palace time

Monastiraki archaeological site

How it came to the emergence of the Minoan palaces around 2000 BC. BC came is still unclear today. Since Arthur Evans, the phenomenon has often been explained by immigrants from the advanced cultures of the ancient Orient (e.g. Egypt, Libya and Syria). It was only through their knowledge that a complex society could develop on Crete during the time of the Old Palace. Close trade relations and an Egyptian-influenced art speak in favor of this thesis. However, the Minoan palaces differ in many areas from the large complexes of the ancient Orient. For example, there are no massive defensive walls on Crete. It can also be seen as early as 3000 BC BC, i.e. before the old palace period, prove the founding of over 100 new settlements. These Minoan settlements were more similar to places on the islands of the Dodecanese and Anatolia. In 2013, researchers finally compared the genetic material from skeletons from two Minoan tombs with the DNA of Neolithic and living people. It turned out that the Minoans evidently developed from settlers who lived on Crete as early as the Stone Age. Connections to North Africa were not found.

Palaces in Knossos, Malia, Phaistos and Petras have been documented for the old palace period (around 2000/1900–1700 BC). In Kato Zakros, a predecessor of the late palace-period palace is not known and it remains a matter of dispute whether an early palace-period palace already existed or not.

New Palace period

Reconstruction in Knossos
Late Minoan building remains in Sybrita

The transition to the New Palace period (approx. 1700–1450 BC) is therefore relatively harmonious. The palace of Knossos was enlarged during the reconstruction, the palace of Phaistos was reduced due to the danger of collapse on the east side. The period is characterized by its highly developed architecture. In addition, a number of buildings emerged during the period of the new palace that held an important position in the region, but due to the lack of a central courtyard, they are mostly referred to as villas rather than palaces. Particularly outstanding among them is the villa of Agia Triada near Phaistos.

Third palace period and post-palace period

Around 1450 BC BC traces of fire and destruction can be detected all over Crete. The destruction at the end of SM IB extended over several decades between 1500 and 1430 BC. BC and possibly dragged on for a generation, earlier in the west of the island than in the east. This destruction is probably due to the conquest of Crete by the Mycenaean mainland Greeks , which is also supported by the emergence of Mycenaean weapons graves on Crete. The palatal centers were destroyed, only Knossos (possibly also Kydonia) existed until shortly after 1350 BC. BC, apparently as the seat of a Mycenaean ruler. In any case, according to the majority of scholars, the palace was built between 1375 and 1350 BC. Was destroyed, but probably a little later. Accordingly, a "third palace period" (around 1450-1330 BC) follows under Mycenaean influence.

In the post-palace period (1330–1100 BC), however, Minoan art continued to exist. While the Minoan culture previously strongly influenced the Mycenaean culture and presumably conquered the Peloponnese , Mycenaean and Minoan now merge. However, typical Minoan elements remain in Crete until the end of the period (sometimes with aftereffects into the archaic period ).

However, other researchers are of the opinion that the dating of the tablets found in Knossos to around 1350 is incorrect and goes back to the mistake of the first excavator Evans: He accidentally placed dishes from an older building in the same context as the tablets. These linear B tablets - and with them the destruction of the Palace of Knossos - can actually be dated to around 1200. Supporters of this position therefore assume that Crete came under Mycenaean control around 1400, but that at least Knossos continued to flourish under the new masters for almost 200 years.

Crete was now ruled by mainland Greeks and politically became part of the Mycenaean world. Mycenaean rulers ruled in Knossos and possibly also in Kydonia . The other former Minoan palaces were never used again. Around 1200 BC BC there was a lot of destruction and upheaval on the mainland, of which Crete was not spared. The Minoan-Mycenaean culture lasted until around 1050 BC. Chr.

The history of Crete in the "Dark Ages" between 1100 and 750 BC Until today is largely unclear.

Theories about doom

The fall of the Minoans has not yet been clarified and has provided material for speculation since the beginning of the 20th century. James Baikie published a book in 1910 in which the eruption of the volcanic island of Thera ( Santorini ) is held responsible for the end of the Minoans for the first time. The Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos took up this idea in 1939 and published his theory that the eruption around 1500 BC. Must have destroyed all Minoan coastal cities. Direct consequences of the Thera eruption were tsunamis on the north coast of Crete, which caused damage to the Minoan fleet and the coastal settlements. Intermediate assumptions that the eruption was too weak to have a lasting effect on the culture have been refuted by more recent research. However, it cannot have directly brought about the downfall of the Minoans, as the Minoan culture still existed around a hundred years after the eruption (SM IB), brought forth new styles of ceramics and carried out long-distance trade. The eruption and the accompanying tsunami is estimated to be around 1645 BC BC (± 20 years). However, the archaeological finds speak against a sudden destruction of the Minoan culture by the eruption.

Still, the eruption must have had a significant impact on the Minoan world. Therefore, the possibility is discussed that the Thera-eruption indirectly and long-term damage to the Minoan culture. One thesis is based on the fact that Thera was the only Cycladic island that could be reached within a day's trip from Crete. Since the trading ships of the Bronze Age did not sail at night, Thera was the central stepping stone for the connection between Crete and the markets in the north. The destruction of the island therefore had an indirect effect on trade. A network model of the Bronze Age sea trade in the Aegean suggests that the destruction of the Akrotiri base on Thera triggered increased trade efforts via alternative routes in the short term. In the long term, however, the increased effort would have significantly restricted long-distance trade, so that the decline of the Minoans could have been indirectly promoted by the volcanic eruption. Other serious earthquakes, the loss of sales markets for Cretan products or civil unrest are also up for discussion as causes for the decline of the Minoans. What is certain is that Mycenaean rulers finally took over the palace in Knossos. They could only have benefited from the fall of Minoan power without a military invasion.

The question of the fall of the Minoan culture aroused great interest at the beginning of the research because the Minoans seemed to have disappeared without any connection to the later culture of Greece. The successful deciphering of the Linear B script in 1952 , however, proved the presence of a Greek- speaking ruling class in the post-palace period as well as that of a non-Greek class in the previous phases of the Linear A script . The fundamental continuity in the culture of Crete over the upheaval and the contribution of the Minoans to the formation of Greek culture have become increasingly clear since then. Since there are also mythological references to the birth of Zeus on Crete, the unrest handed down with the emergence of this religion is perhaps part of the historical truth.


Rhyton carrier. Part of the "procession fresco" from Knossos (around 1400 BC)

For the time, Crete was extremely densely populated. In the Minoan period, the population density in the countryside was roughly the same as that of today, while the cities were significantly smaller than the modern ones. For Knossos the estimates vary between 10,000 and 20,000 inhabitants.

Homer's description of Crete in the Odyssey as a country with 90 cities and a colorful mixture of peoples and languages is much quoted :

Κρήτη τις γαῖ 'ἔστι μέσῳ ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ,
καλὴ καὶ πίειρα, περίρρυτος · ἐν δ' ἄνθρωποι
πολλοὶ ἀπειρέσιοι, καὶ ἐννήκοντα πόληες · -
ἄλλη δ 'ἄλλων γλῶσσα μεμιγμένη · ἐν μὲν Ἀχαιοί,
ἐν δ' Ἐτεόκρητες μεγαλήτορες, ἐν .DELTA..di-elect cons Κύδωνες
Δωριέες τε τριχάικες δῖοί τε Πελασγοί · -
τῇσι δ 'ἐνὶ Κνωσός, μεγάλη πόλις, ἔνθα τε Μίνως
ἐννέωροε βασλοευ τιής μττστστστστστστστστσστστστσστστσσστστστσστστστστστστστστστστσστστστστσσοευεάὸς.

Crete is a land in the dark billowing seas,
fertile and graceful and flowing all around. There live
where countless people, and their cities are ninety:
peoples of various stem and many languages. There live
Achaeans, Kydons and native Cretans,
Dorians, who are threefold, and noble Pelasgians.
Their kings city is Knossos, where Minos
reigned, who talked to Zeus, the great god, at the age of nine.

These verses refer to a later epoch, namely around 1200 BC. BC, and were made in the late 8th century BC. Recorded in writing, however, various ethnic groups could have reached the island in the course of trade connections and armed conflicts as early as Minoan times . The Eteokreter (native Cretans), Kydonen , Achaier , Pelasger and Dorer (Dorier) are mentioned . The ancient Greek historian and geographer Strabon (around 63 BC to after 23 AD) considers in his work Geôgraphiká (Γεωγραφικά) the Eteocretes and Kydons to be "probably indigenous", while the Dorians immigrated later. Today one goes from the Doric conquest of Crete after 1100 BC. From, so only in the post Minoan period. The Achaeans are often equated with the Mycenaeans , who lived around 1450 to 1400 BC. Took over the rule on Crete and shaped the post-palace period. Pelasgians, on the other hand, are non-Greek-speaking groups from the southern Balkan Peninsula, which may have been the indigenous people of Greece.


Fresco from Knossos (1600–1450 BC)

Undoubtedly, the Minoan society differentiated itself socially ( division of labor ) on the way to the high culture phase , which is concluded, for example, from different grave equipment. A pronounced specialization can also be identified: there were fishermen, rowers, captains, soldiers, scribes, potters, painters, construction workers, architects, musicians, etc. What remains unclear, however, is what constitutes the social position and whether it was hereditary and whether between free and slaves was distinguished.

The prominent representation of women at least priestesses in the Minoan art - typically with uncovered breast, and in the case of so-called snake goddess as most well-known type of Minoan Priesterinnen- or goddesses representations originate only two finds from the Minoan period, at least 14 pieces, however, as modern forgeries to consider are - has given rise to speculations about a matriarchy . There is no doubt that women - as priestesses, for example - played important roles in society. But even if the Greek tradition speaks for a very influential position of Minoan women, the questions about the position of Minoan women and the relationship between the sexes must remain unanswered due to a lack of meaningful sources .

Arts and crafts

Minoan seal

The Minoan palace complexes in Knossos, Phaistos and Malia in particular bear witness to the craftsmanship of the Minoans. Numerous ornate wall frescoes and filigree seals testify to the high level of development of the Minoan culture.


Pottery has existed in Crete, albeit unpainted, since the Neolithic Age. Some styles were then continued in the Bronze Age. The FM I styles include the Pyrgos style , largely adopted from the Neolithic , which has a black or glossy gray surface. With the Agios Onouphrios style and the Lenda style , painted ceramics were first created on Crete. In FM II, the Agios-Onouphrios style continued in the form of the Koumassa style and Lenda-style ceramics were also initially produced, but the FM IIB period is dominated by the Vassiliki style . At the end of the pre-palace period, in FM III and FM II, the light-on-dark style developed , and the previous color repertoire was supplemented by red. The Barbotine technology at this time is in use.

The entire period of the Old Palace was shaped by the Kamares style , in which mostly abstract, linear patterns (often spirals ) were painted brightly on the matt, black background. Most and most beautiful pieces were found in Phaistos and Knossos. J. Lesley Fitton wrote about the importance and quality of the Kamares style: “The finds give [...] an impressive insight into the arts and crafts of the early palace period, for some of them represent achievements that may also be achieved in the following periods, but could never be surpassed. "

In the Neupalastzeit the light-on-dark painting changed to dark-on-light painting. Well-known styles of this period are the marine style , flora style , alternating style and the abstract geometric style .

Wall painting

Since the Neolithic, plaster has been painted using the fresco technique . In the early Bronze Age, paintings were mostly solid red. Since Middle Minoan I, however, there is also evidence of simple geometric patterns in Malia and Phaistos. Figurative representations are only proven for the period MM II.

Language and writing

The Minoan cultural area also delimits a language area ; the Minoan or the Minoan languages ​​were spoken on Crete and other Aegean islands . Formally, they belong to the ancient Mediterranean languages , more precisely to the Aegean languages .

The oldest evidence of the use of writing on Crete are seals from phase MM I found in Archanes . The characters are referred to as Archanes writing according to the place where they were found. Later stages of development of the script are the hieroglyphic system prevailing in the north of the island as well as the parallel existing linear script A , which has been handed down on not very numerous clay tablet fragments and seals. Unique and enigmatic is the Phaistos disc with its characters , possibly a modern forgery. If the characters were stamped, as suspected, this represents an unprecedented innovation for the time 3700 years ago.

The ancient Greek linear script B used by the Mycenaeans is derived from the Minoan linear script A. The Minoan language (or possibly also: languages, see also ancient Mediterranean languages ) on which the text documents initially written in hieroglyphic and later in linear script A are based can be partially read by comparing them with the Greek linear script B, but has not yet been deciphered or even of a known language family with certainty be assigned. In the east of Crete it apparently survived into historical times. Some inscriptions in Greek characters were found here, the language of which is called Eteocretic .

Graphic sketch of the chronological order of the scriptures:

phase Cretan hieroglyphs Linear font A Linear font B
MM I (prepalatal) attested (first scriptural use) - (?) -
MM II (protopalatial) testified attested ("Proto-Linear A") -
MM III A (beginning neopalatial) testified testified -
MM III B - (?) testified -
SM IA - testified -
SM IB (end neopalatial) - testified -
SM II (beginning postpalatial) - - (?) testified
SM III A - - testified
SM III B - - testified


Minoan bull rhyton

Centers of Cretan-Minoan religion were summit and cave sanctuaries as well as caves. The palaces in which altars and house chapels were found are also likely to have served cultic functions in the end.

Representations, especially on seals and rings, suggest the polytheistic religion typical of agricultural societies . Possible gods and goddesses are male and female figures depicted in nature, who are referred to as "mistress" or "master of the animals" . The statues of "snake goddesses" found in Knossos could also be examples of Minoan gods. Linear B tablets found in Mycenae also list two other gods besides the Olympian, called “Piptuna” and “Lady of the Winds” and perhaps of Minoan origin. The thesis of a monotheistic religion with a mother goddess , which was held for a long time and introduced by Arthur Evans, is therefore now considered refuted, even if there is no clear evidence against this assumption. Possibly the Cretan religion was more gender specific than the later Greek. Women are usually represented with female deities, men with male ones.

In sanctuaries, votive offerings made of clay, bronze and silver have been discovered that represent miniature images of animals, mythical creatures and human limbs. Images of a bull can be interpreted as a symbolic sacrifice of the depicted animal, a foot as a prayer for the health of the body part.

The painting of the sarcophagus of Agia Triada found in Crete shows, among other things, a sacrificial scene: Several priestesses depicted in profile offer a bull sacrifice. The bull is slaughtered on a separate altar (sacrificial table). An aulos player can be seen in the background . On the right edge of the picture you can see an altar, a pillar decorated with a double ax and a kind of shrine with double horns and a tree. These elements can also be found in the Levant and so the story with the “ King's daughter Europe ” has a more real background.

More recent archaeological finds (1979) near Anemospilia and Knossos also document the human sacrifices typical of comparable religions in Crete .

External relations

The Minoa - replica of a Minoan ship in Chania

The Minoans were skilled seafarers and later ancient authors such as Thucydides , Herodotus , Aristotle and Plato reported of a " thalassocracy " (rule of the sea) of King Minos, who established the first sea power in the Mediterranean. After the fall of the Minoan civilization, the Phoenicians took over his position - although the thesis of the Minoan maritime domination is no longer undisputed in research.

In any case, however, archaeological finds show that the Minoan culture radiated into the eastern Mediterranean (as far as Sicily). On the archipelago of the Cyclades in the southern Aegean, the Cycladic culture of the Bronze Age shows strong references in architecture and art to the neighboring Minoan culture, and the place name "Minoa", which sometimes occurs on the Cyclades and on the Greek coasts, refers to the presence of Cretans . The islands of Santorin (Thera), Kythera , Rhodes (especially Ialysos) and Melos as well as Miletus in Asia Minor , possibly also Cyprus , were under Cretan influence . Even if the character and extent of the political and economic dependence on Crete are assessed differently, these outposts of Minoan culture are sometimes referred to as Cretan trading posts or colonies .

Close ties existed with Egypt. Until around 1400 BC Chr. In Egyptian tombs representations of Cretan embassies can be found again and again. In the Egyptian Auaris (in the delta) a palace complex designed in the Minoan style from the beginning of the 18th dynasty was uncovered.

Inscriptions in Mesopotamia also show contacts in this region.

Alleged direct trade contacts between the Minoans and the North Sea are considered unproven. The finds made by the ethnologist and amateur archaeologist Hans Peter Duerr in the North Frisian Wadden Sea, which he assigns to a Minoan ship, have not yet been recognized by experts.

Archaeological sites

Archaeological sites in Crete (selection)

The Heraklion Archaeological Museum exhibits the largest collection of Minoan finds. Smaller collections are in the regional museums of Crete, for example in Chania, Rethymnon , Agios Nikolaos and Sitia , as well as in the museums of Europe and the USA, e.g. B. in the British Museum ( London ) and Ashmolean Museum ( Oxford ) to see.

Minoan sites outside Crete (selection)

Amygdaloid Minoan seal with a finely incised sailing ship (above) and an imprint (below) by Tavşan Adası

Research history and reception

In the reconstruction of the Cretan finds, Emile Gilliéron played an important role together with his son Emile (1885–1939), whereby the restoration of frescoes and other finds was often "artistically very free".

Although both helped to reconstruct the finds from Knossos, their results do not correspond to the archaeological standard of that time either; some of it is even suspected of being a fake .

Evans' most important excavation and reconstruction project, Knossos , is critically appreciated from the point of view of (contemporary) archeology ; For example, his pictorial ideas and metaphors, for example in the naming of uncovered spaces in Knossos, gave rise to criticism, as did the reconstructions themselves, as these individual or zeitgeist interpretations in concrete almost provide access for further research on the excavation object ( in situ ) to make impossible. In addition, the completed reconstructions suggest that the findings can be interpreted with certainty, which later archaeological investigation procedures in the broadest sense will be blocked.


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Web links

Commons : Minoan Culture  - Collection of Images, Videos, and Audio Files

Individual evidence

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  6. Yasemin Leylek: Public Spaces in the Minoan Culture - A transdisciplinary study of the public sphere and social interaction in the Bronze Age ( dissertation ), p. 99
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  33. Beginning of antiquity, Santorini exploded 100 years earlier. In Spiegel Online on April 28, 2006.
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  72. On the role of women in Minoan society and the source basis, see last: John Younger: Minoan Women. In: Stephanie Lynn Budin, Jean Macintosh Turfa (Eds.): Women in Antiquity. Real Women across the Ancient World. Routledge, New York 2016, ISBN 978-1-138-80836-2 , pp. 573-594 ( PDF ).
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  79. Cf. Thucydides 1,4 : “Because Minos was the oldest founder of a sea power, of whom we know from the legend. He ruled most of the present Hellenic Sea and ruled over the Cycladic Islands, and populated most of them first by driving out the Carians and setting his sons as chiefs. He also destroyed piracy as far as he could so that the income would come in all the sooner. "
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  84. Kenneth DS Lapatin: Snake Goddesses, Fake Goddesses. How Forgers on Crete Met the Demand for Minoan Antiquities. In: Archeology. Vol. 54, No. 1, 2001, pp. 333-336 ( abstract ).
  85. Statuette of a snake goddess. 2021 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  86. Kenneth DS Lapatin: Snake Goddesses, Fake Goddesses. How Forgers on Crete Met the Demand for Minoan Antiquities. In: Archeology. Vol. 54, No. 1, 2001, pp. 333-336.
  87. A 'Minoan Mystery' from the Royal Ontario Museum by Kate Cooper + Julia Fenn - News in Conservation, Issue 40, February 2014 Submitted by Barbara Borghese on 26 Feb 2014