Ancient Crete

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The Fascinating History of Crete

Ancient Crete - the birthplace of European civilisation.

This page continues on from the previous
ancient history page from 7000-3700 BC...

Now we cover from 3700-600 BC below... 

Ancient Crete - Griffin Fresco from KnossosMinoan Art - Griffin Fresco - from Knossos Palace

Late Neolithic Age 6500 – 3000 BC

Little is known about this age. It seems that a great number of late neolithic deposits at the site of Knossos in Crete may have been cut away by later inhabitants in the redevelopment of structures. This sadly has destroyed much of what we could have studied today.

Ancient Crete - Early Bronze Age

Early Bronze Age 3000 – 1900 BC

The Minoans are known as the founders of Greek civilisation and the first civilization in Europe. By around 2500 BC, the Cretans mastered boat building and sea navigation to the level where the seas no longer represented boundaries for them.

The Minoans far-reaching sea trends have been confirmed by the existence of creative wares and written records. There is evidence that the Minoans travelled as far as Britain and Ireland, from where they sourced tin. This was used in their metal alloys to produce bronze. It seems this mineral was not available on the mainland or Crete. The nearest known tin mines of this age were as far as Spain, Britain, central Europe and Iran.

The records of the ancient Minoans also show signs of the surrounding cultural and artistic ideas, such as fresco art influences from Egypt and gold smithing knowledge from Syria.

Fresco of the Blue Birds - KnossosFresco of the Blue Birds - from Knossos Palace

This period was known for social upheaval, external dangers and an influx of population due to  migration from mainland Greece and Asia Minor. The Minoans, at this time, established colonies on the islands of Kythera, Thira, Rhodes, and Melos.

The Cretan travels in Africa sees them go as far as Ethiopia. The records also show them sailing the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia.

A great demand in this region developed for Minoan silverware, with texts found at Mari located in the middle Euphrates in Mesopotamia, mentioning the much-loved works of the Cretans.

In the Messara in Crete a seal of hematite was found from the Hammurabi dynasty dated from the 18th century BC, supposedly brought back from travels.

The Egyptians have written during this period of the Minoans, referred to as Keftiu, transporting Phoenician cedar to Egypt on board their ships, giving us the insight that the Egyptians did not navigate the seas, but traded with the Cretans for this service.

Diplo peleki διπλό πέλεκυ - double headed axe of CreteDiplo peleki διπλό πέλεκυ - double headed axe of Crete

Cretan crafts and earthen wares have been found in tombs in Africa and Egypt, in Illahum, Abydus and Harageh.

In Cornwall, the Cretans had left behind decorative double headed axes diplo pelekia. They also travel as far as the Baltic shore in search of amber. Many endemic pieces where crafted from this majestic material.

This creative period in ancient Crete coincides with the dawning of a new era in Egypt. It was during this period that the Egyptians first erected pyramids, the first being that of King Djoser in Saqqars.

Ancient Crete - Middle Bronze Age

Fresco of the Partridges - KnossosFresco of the Partridges - from Knossos Palace

Middle Bronze Age 1900 – 1600 BC

This age is also known as the Protopalatial Minoan age. This is the great Paleo Anactoro period of Crete, where the first palaces of Knossos, Malia and Phaistos were erected with both great ingenuity and beauty.

During this productive and creative time we see the culture develop into what would later be called Minoan.

The Cretans developed a de-centralised culture based on the abundance of the island's natural resources, and on their own commercial enterprise.

While Kriti is now mostly bare and deforested, in this ancient times timber was harvested and traded with the Aegean Islands and the Greek mainland, also it was traded further afield such as  Egypt, Syria, and Cyprus.

Ancient Crete's rich farming lands produced foods such as currants, herbs and olive oil, as well as cypress wood, wool, wine and purple dye.

Bronze Age 3000 - 600 BC

We notice that copper was known in areas such as ancient Crete or Eutrere in Boetia prior to 3000 BC, although was not used as its use was limited due to the technologies of the time.

More About Minoan Crete

Malia Palace Archaeological Site, CreteMalia Palace Archaeological Site

Zakros Palace Archaeological Site, CreteZakros Palace Archaeological Site

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