The Greek Bronze Age: Crete and Mycenae


Since the 6th century BC, the island of Crete was conquered by a people of an unknown origin and towards the 2nd century BC evolved into a prosperous and glorious civilization. Excavations disclosed non fortified and impressive palaces illustrating a refined luxury with a rich decoration of a very liberal artistic expression that demonstrated an epoch full of life and happiness. Towards 1700 BC, Knossos became the centre of this brilliant Aegean culture but many documents written in the linear A script have unfortunately not yet been elucidated.

The Cretan monarchy was also known as the Minoan civilization named after the legendary king Minos. According to Thucydides, the Greek historian of the 5th century BC, Minos was the first great personality who was a “thalassocrat”, to build a navy and rule the sea and enforce his supremacy on the islands of the Cyclades, by founding the major part of the first colonies. Female divinities of the sky and the underworld predominated Cretan religion and these divine creatures were blended into two categories; the goddess of fertility and the warlike virgin which perhaps were just different facets of one deity: the Great Goddess. It was a common feature that a number of Mediterranean and Asian cults assimilated with the woman’s role in Cretan society for the woman was apparently free and happy, rivaling with men. The value of the Minoan civilization is very great for it was the first true civilization in Europe that formed the basis for the later, brilliant, Greek civilization, the Mycenaean.

Unfortunately the island underwent a series of earthquakes and was also probably devastated by foreign intrusion or by civil war but by the end of 1500 B C after the volcanic eruption of Thera, Crete was completely destroyed.

On the continent – Mycenae

Towards 2000 BC, the Achaeans arrived settling down around Mycenae, Argos, Tyrinthen and Pylos. These new comers spoke Greek and founded a civilization that reached its height between 1400 and 1200 BC. This civilization emerged from the Argolid, in the northeastern Peloponnesus that was dominated by Mycenae. It was greatly characterized by monumental fortifications, strongholds of independent princes sometimes united under the Mycenaean king who might have been an overlord. The great Greek bard Homer dedicated his epics to Agamemnon, the Mycenaean warlord who led the city-states of the Achaeans to the Trojan war. Excavations have proved the existence of these citadels and the palace found at Mycenae matches Homer’s description of Agamemnon’s residence that gave an insight to the affluence and prosperity of this civilization.

They subjugated Crete and led expeditions to the Near East and Sicily and centuries later the Greeks would regard this epoch as the age of heroes. When the Mycenaeans inhabited the Cretan palace of Knossos, art melded forming an amalgamation of Minoan and Mycenaean culture and invented their own script known as Linear B, which was an improved derivative of Linear A.

Unlike the Minoan era the class diversification of rich and poor, higher classes and lower became more established, with extreme wealth being mostly reserved for the King, his entourage and other members of the royal circle. This led to internal strife and conflict with the lower classes becoming impoverished that completely destroyed the cities of Mycenae and Tirynth putting an the end to this civilization and heralding the advent of the Greek Dark Ages.

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