The Minoan civilization is placed from the end of the Neolithic Age to the beginning of the Iron Age (3200 – 1000 BC). Its name is due to the explorer of Knossos, Sir Arthur Evans, who was inspired by the name of the king of the island, also known from mythology as Minos.
The palaces were the center of organization of life in Crete. Starting with the palace of Knossos, other palaces of significant importance have been discovered, such as those of Phaistos, Zakros and Malia, whose construction is placed around 1900 BC. The form of the palace of Knossos, as it survives to this day – which belongs to the Second Palace Period – was not the same throughout the long Minoan Period. It suffered, like other palaces, two major catastrophes, most likely due to strong seismic vibrations. The first major catastrophe occurred around 1700 BC and the palaces were rebuilt even more brilliantly only shortly after, transitioning to their developing course. The second destruction took place around 1450 BC, when the palaces were completely destroyed, except for the palace of Knossos which was inhabited until the Mycenaean rule.
The palace of Knossos is located five kilometers southeast of Heraklion, on the hill of Kefala next to which the river Kairatos flows. The complex spreads over an area of 22,000sq.m. The construction of the palace was based on a circular organization of multi-storey buildings in four wings around a central courtyard measuring about 50 by 25 meters, which channeled light and air into the palace buildings. It had three entrances located on the north, west and south sides. To the west were the ceremonial halls, a number of storerooms, long narrow rooms with storage jars, the treasuries, the sanctuaries and the throne room. In the southwestern part expanded the western courtyard, the entrance that led to the Corridor of Procession, and to the south was the southern Propylos. On the east wing were the royal apartments, the royal warehouses and various workshops. Particular interest holds the toilet, which led to the corridor that connected with the Queen’s apartment. The surprise lies in the connection of the toilet with a sewer system, which dates back to the Old Palace Period (1900 – 1600 BC), constituting the oldest sewer construction in Europe. On the north side was the customs, purification tanks and a theater, which was a place of public gatherings and celebrations.
The pyramid of the social hierarchy in Minoan Crete was as follows:
• The kings were representatives of the deities. Their power was concentrated mainly around the religious element, which as confirmed by the numerous finds, played a significant part in social life. So, the king was a leading figure, having administrative and legislative, but predominantly religious authority.
• The nobles and relatives of the royal family had the role of the king’s advisory body.
• The priesthood consisted of men and women who were divided into varying degrees of power.
• Professional craftsmen, clerks and high-ranking officials belonged to the palace staff and due to their specialization, they had special privileges.
• People in the cities were engaged in agriculture, raising of livestock. Handicrafts, shipping and trade.
• Domestic helpers and slaves were needed, as evidenced by the needs arising from the social enlightenment of Minoan society.
Religion in the life of the Minoans was at the top of their social life. The first religious elements appeared in the Pre-Palace Period. The basis of their religious belief was the goddess of fertility or the Great Mother, accompanied by the myth that followed the cycle of birth and death of the goddess’s lover. Symbolically, the two events concerning the beginning and the end of life coincide with the cycle of life in nature; spring with the birth of new buds and the resurgence from repression and winter with the quagmire of cooling-death of nature. The priesthood was responsible for all religious matters. His duties included: rituals, which often aimed to provoke the birth of the god (goddess’s lover) – life in nature, but also the Epiphany, the appearance of the goddess to people through an ecstatic dance, which led to her vision. They sacrificed both animals, mainly bulls, and people, as can be seen from evidence found by a recent search in the area of Archanes. The exorcisms, which were part of magical ceremonies aimed at curing diseases and removing other difficulties of life. Finally, the religious processions had the character of displaying valuable objects of worship and offering to the gods.
Most of the religious information is due to the art, thanks to the large number of surviving religious artifacts and murals. One such example is the rites, which were ritual vessels used in sacrifices. The most famous rite is the bull head, a great achievement of stone carving, of the Late Minoan II Period (1550-1500 BC).
The vessel was filled with the necessary fluid from one hole in the cervix and emptied from another through the muzzle.
Bullfighting is based on this characteristic symbol of the Minoan religion, the well-known dangerous religious sport in which the contestant, the bullfighter, had catch the bull’s horns, then flexibly jump over the animal’s back to finally ride it.
The economy of Crete throughout the Bronze Age remained preferential, meaning it was based on product exchange and not currency. The main economic resources were agriculture, the raising of livestock and the trade of handicrafts. During the Palace Period, the palaces had complete control over the organization of trade. Trade with distant lands was achieved by trading posts established by the Minoans in major Mediterranean ports. The main products they imported were metals, precious stones, ivory, as well as luxury items of Eastern Egyptian origin. As expected, due to the agricultural and livestock economy, the export products were agricultural products, timber and handicrafts.
In the field of arts, the Minoan civilization experienced a varied development. Metallurgy made its appearance in the Aegean area in the Late Neolithic Age 3500 BC. However, the lack of ores in the Cretan land led to the search for copper, tin and gold in other countries, thanks to their trading brilliance and well-organized shipping. Of great importance was the field of goldsmithing.Gold and silver were used as raw materials for jewelry, weapons and ritual utensils. The art of goldsmithing reached its peak in the period of 1900-1450 BC, and it served as a proof of the prestige of the upper social classes. During the Pre-Palace, Early Minoan Period, the arts of seal carving, stonework, faience and ceramics were developed. The composition of the faience material is interesting. The mixture consisted of mortar, quartz, sandstone or flint and a solution of sodium carbonate, which was baked after being placed in special molds at 870oC. The result was the solidification of ivory-like material. In the Pre-Palace, Middle Minoan Period, the frescoes made their dynamic appearance. The colorful representations appeared as decoration in palaces and luxurious villas and followed the technique of fresco painting. The painting style went through several stages, which were characterized by the use of different colors each time. It started in the Middle Minoan I with a simple two-tone, passing to the multi-color of the Middle Minoan II and continued during the same period, ending with the characteristic trichrome of red, black and white. In the Neo-Palace Period, the color chart of the paintings focused more on yellow and blue, as can be seen from the “women’s mural” in Knossos. The writing systems used, according to A. Evans, during the 2nd millennium, were hieroglyphics, Linear A and Linear B. Of the writings, only Linear B has been read which was deciphered in 1952 by M. Ventris and J. Chadwick. Its common features with Linear A are that they are both syllabic scripts, which means each symbol corresponds to a syllable of a word and not to a character (letter), and that they both share the same conceptual content, economical character. The content of the hieroglyphics on the other hand, although their reading has not yet been achieved, has been found to be of religious nature.