The Minoan civilization is named after Minos, the legendary King of Crete. It is the oldest civilization in Europe, which flourished from 2600 to 1100 BCE in Crete and nearby islands.
The island of Crete is at the crossroads of three continents: Asia, Europe, and Africa. The Minoan civilization flourished because they were skilled seafarers and were able to trade with the cities in these three continents. It is contemporary with the Indus Valley civilization that was flourishing in the Indian sub-continent, but no evidence of trade between them has been found.
Language and Writing System
The language spoken by the Minoans was believed to be closer to Sanskrit than Greek. The early Minoans used the hieroglyphic writing system, but most of their writing was in Linear A, which is yet to be deciphered. However, the similar script (i.e., Linear B) was used by the Mycenaean culture has been deciphered, which led the experts to believe that the language spoken by the Minoans was a lot different from the one spoken by the Greeks.
Because Linear A script is yet to be deciphered, very little is known about the Minoan religion and its practices. Minoans seemed to have worshiped female deities and their religious symbols included sacred horns of the bull and double-axe.
Human migration and travelers from Asia, Egypt and Mediterranean had a strong influence on the Minoan religion. For the same reason, the Minoan society was multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, therefore, it is believed that the Minoans practiced different religions.
Interactions with other cultures had a lot of influence on Minoan religious practices, especially bull worship. Many cultures contemporary with Minoans worshiped the bull because it was considered a symbol of fertility.
Because the bull was part of Minoan religious ceremonies, experts believe that the bull cult was one of their religions.
Legend of Minotaur
According to Greek mythology, Minos the King of Crete lived in the Palace at Knossos where he had built a labyrinth to confine Minotaur, a creature with the head of a bull and body of a man.
Minotaur is an offspring of Minos’s wife and a bull, which was sent by Poseidon at the request of Minos during the power struggle with his brothers. Minotaur had a head of a bull and body of a man and devoured humans for food. King Minos ordered his architect to build a labyrinth in order to confine Minotaur.
A legend tells how the Minotaur was killed. According to this legend, King Minos’s son was killed by jealous Athenians when he won the Pan Athenian games in Athens. To avenge his son’s death, King Minos sent a huge naval force to wage a war against Athenians and defeated them. The defeated Athenians made a deal with King Minos to send able-bodied young men and women from Athens to Knossos to be devoured by Minotaur. After many young men were killed, an Athenian named Theseus killed Minotaur and set Athens free.
Akrotiri is a major archaeological site on the island of Santorini where buildings and artifacts belonging to the Minoan civilization were found. Akrotiri was a city that had well laid out roads, houses, storage places, and sophisticated water management systems. It was most likely a trading center.
Although Akrotiri did not have a palace complex like the Palace at Knossos, artifacts recovered from this site were similar to ones from Crete. These included numerous frescoes, Pithoi jars and pottery, and some of them were well-preserved because the site was covered by volcanic ash.
Collapse of the Minoan Civilization
A massive volcanic eruption occurred in 1646 BCE at the height of Minoan civilization destroyed the Island of Thera, which was located just 60 miles from Crete. Experts believe this cataclysmic event most likely contributed to the demise of the Minoan civilization. The volcano resulted in earthquakes and a massive tsunami that swept away the Palace at Knossos and other Minoan settlements in Crete. Although the Minoan civilization survived for another 50 years, weakened Minoans could not defend an invasion by the Mycenaeans, who eventually occupied Crete and ended the Minoan civilization in 1420 BCE.
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