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Mycenaeans Versus Minoan Civilizations

Mycenaeans Versus Minoan Civilizations

Research papers on the Mycenaeans or the Minoan civilizations can compare and contrast them or just focus on just one of them. Paper Masters will custom write any project you have on either culture and focus the paper on whatever you wish.

For all intents and purposes, both the Mycenaeans and Minoan civilizations fell and were lost to posterity due to the following:

  • The Minoans probably beginning with the cataclysmic eruption at Thera, an event calculated as being equivalent to the explosion of a 600 kiloton atomic bomb
  • The Mycenes perhaps due to the Dorians' invasion which plunged Greece into a Dark Age.

However, if it is true that by their works shall peoples be known, we have a picture of their respective societies through the artifacts that they left behind.

Although neither Linear A, the written language of the Minoans, nor Linear B, that of the Mycenes, has been adequately translated, we have at least some understanding of their systems of government, worship and society. The Mycenaean occupation of Crete and the use by Mycenes of Minoan artisans and techniques further blurs the distinction between their two societies.

However, from a purely sociological perspective, it is difficult to argue that the Minoan culture was not in almost every respect superior to that of the Mycenes. Our vision of it is one of a well-organized, humane, productive culture, technologically advanced and politically and socially enlightened, one in which the arts flourished. The citizens led pleasant lives filled with an appreciation of their world, without the need to attack their neighbors. The Mycenaean culture by contrast was violent, unethical, bloodthirsty, opportunistic and socially unjust.

Although it is now known almost exclusively as the site of a complex maze that housed the terrible monster called the Minotaur, the Minoan culture that flourished on the island of Crete beginning in the Bronze Age was in fact a highly evolved civilization with a matriarchal religion, beautiful art crafted in many different media, a sophisticated system of writing and complex and often belligerent relations with neighboring nations. It was far more than simply a maze with a monster. This paper examines the significant aspects of Minoan culture about 3000 years ago, at the conclusion of the culture's approximately two-thousand-year span.

The history of Crete is intimately entwined with the legends that surround its most famous - and most likely - legendary leader and so we begin our exploration of Minoan culture with an examination of the legend of Minos himself. The word "Minoan" itself derives from the mythical (or at least semi-mythical) "Minos". This ruler of the island kingdom was supposed to have been the son of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Europa, a personification of the land of Europe. It is important to note that the rendition of the story of how Minos came to power actually comes down to us from Athenian sources. Given that Athens and Crete were often at war, we must be somewhat cautious in how we read Athenian accounts of Minos and Crete.

Minos was supposed to have taken the Cretan throne through the help of Poseidon (the Greek god of the sea) and later gained power over the Aegean islands. Much of his reputation rested on the fact that he rid these islands of pirates, allowing for freer and safer trade in a region of the world in which trade was of utmost economic importance. Acknowledging the reputation of Crete as a protector of safe trade in the region is fundamental to understanding the culture as a whole.

With his wife Pasiphae, who was supposed to be the daughter of the sun god Helios, Minos sired a number of children, including Ariadne and Phaedra. Pasiphae was also the mother (with a sacred bull) of the monster Minotaur, which had the body of a man and the head of a bull.

Minos's son Androgeos was killed by the Athenians, for which Crete successfully waged a war of retribution against Athens. It was because of this that Athenian drama and verse so often depict Minos as a tyrant who demanded Athenian children to be given as tribute to the Minotaur. Brushing aside the partisanship of Athenian accounts and seeing this story as metaphorical rather than literal, we might interpret it as a measure of the ways in which Minoan rulers limited the power and consumed the wealth of Athens and other Adriatic powers as Crete was for a time the dominant seafaring and trading power in the region and even beyond.

Another possible reading of the historical and archaeological record suggests that Minos was not an individual king but rather the title of the rulers of the city of Knossos, the capital of Crete and the center of the original Bronze Age culture that was the first of the great Aegean civilizations. Perhaps the story that has come down to us today of the mighty ruler Minos is in fact a combination of the accomplishments of a series of different rulers.

Like other powers that would arise in this region of the world, the Minoan culture was based in part on its people's ability to use the sea as a source of food as well as a series of trade routes. And, also like other Aegean cultures, Crete has left a lasting mark not only on its region but across the world because of the beauty of its art as well as the sophistication of its culture and religion.

By the time that Minoan culture reached the peak of its power and sophistication, it was known for elaborate palaces and beautifully planned cities as well as a number of different art forms, including Kamares ware, which featured light patterns on darker backgrounds, beautifully balanced pottery, elaborate seals and frescoes that depicted in exquisite detail both the mundane and sacred life of the Minoans (Higgins 26).

Something of the beauty of Minoan pottery - far more obvious when one views pictures of the works that survive - can be derived from reading this description of it:

The decoration [on Kamares ware] is an elaboration of the white-on-black of the previous phase but the fabric is immeasurably superior, thanks to the introduction, probably from Asia Minor, of the potter's wheel.

The above passage helps demonstrate the skill of the Minoan artisans; however, of at least equal interest and importance is that fact that it describes the importance to the Minoans of trade. Not only did goods pass into and out of Crete, but ideas and skills were also passed along the trade routes, and one of the strengths of the Minoan culture was its willingness to set aside native ways of doing things when its people discovered that their trading partners had superior methods.

Minoan frescoes - which are created when pigment was applied to still-wet (or "fresh") plaster, which results in soft, almost dreamlike imagery - are one of the primary ways through which we have learned about Minoan culture, including Minoan religion because of the wealth of detail included in the images that the fresco artists created.


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