History of Minoan Crete
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Our digital history of the Minoan civilization begins on the island of Crete around 3500 BCE. Its Bronze Age urban civilization developed up to around 2000 BCE, and then declined from 1450 BCE through the early Greek Dark Ages, which extinguished it around 1100 BCE. It was the first advanced civilization in Europe, and it left behind palaces, polychromatic frescoes, and Greece’s first writing systems, Linear A (undecipherable) and Linear B. Crete sat astride a widespread network of trade throughout much of the Mediterranean, and its pottery was found in every port.
The Minoan civilization was rediscovered by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in the 20th century. He called the civilization “Minoan” after the mythical King Minos, who inhabited a palace at Knossos that held the legendary Labyrinth and its terrifying Minotaur. The Minoan civilization is the earliest of its kind in Europe: “the first link in the European chain”, in the words of historian Will Durant.
It built large and elaborate palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, up to four storeys high. They featured elaborate indoor plumbing and walls decorated with frescoes of leaping bulls and spinning dolphins. The largest Minoan palace is that of Knossos, followed by Phaistos. Minoan Crete enjoyed extensive trade throughout the Aegean and Mediterranean and the Near East. Trade and art spread to the Cyclades Islands, the Old Kingdom of Egypt, copper-rich Cyprus, Canaan, the Levant, and Anatolia. Some of the best Minoan art was preserved by a volcanic eruption that buried the city of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini. This anticipated the eruption of Vesuvius that buried and preserved the Roman architectural treasure trove of Pompeii.
The reasons for the slow decline of Minoan civilization, beginning around 1550 BCE, are a mystery. Perhaps it was the Mycenaean invasion from mainland Greece, perhaps it was the massive volcanic eruption of Santorini and the tsunami that swept through the Aegean.
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