Flowering of Minoan Civilization

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What were the major differences between the Minoan civilization and the Mycenaean civilization?

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Considering that the Mycenaeans borrowed many cultural elements from the Minoans, there are naturally many similarities between the two civilizations. That being said, their differences are noteworthy.

The Minoans were primarily a seafaring people. Their power base was built on trade and economic relations. They appear to have been content to limit their territory to the island of Crete. They were adept at building friendly relationships with other peoples which fostered close and mutually beneficial commercial ties. While they did have a military, they seem to have utilized it sparingly overall.

The Mycenaeans, on the other hand, regularly expanded their territory through military force and coercion. They maintained a large fighting force that they used to conquer nearly all of Greece and the Aegean. They forced conquered peoples to pay a tribute system which helped to further fund their territorial pursuits.

In religious matters, the Minoans appear to have put their main focus on worshipping female deities. The mother-goddess, in particular, seems to have been of particular importance. The Mycenaeans had a more diverse range of gods. They seem to have prayed to gods that are more closely recognizable as the Greek pantheon that would come to be worshipped by later Greek peoples. They also made burnt offerings to their gods, a tradition that would become the hallmark of Greek worship, while the Minoans likely did not.

Minoan material culture is characterized by the skilled artistic works that they left behind. Many elaborate frescoes and other works indicate an importance placed on the visual arts. As a result of their international contacts, much of the art and architecture of the Minoans was influenced by Egyptian, Syrian, and Mesopotamian design. The Myceneans also produced art, but it seems to have been less developed overall and is more representative of a home-grown Greek style. The Myceneans built many strong fortifications, something that the Minoans did not do.

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The major difference between the Mycenaeans and the Minoans was the way in which they organized their society. The Mycenanaeans had a civilization that was based around warfare and conquest. The city-states of Mycenae were strictly organized around class lines. The wealthy lived inside a walled citadel where the king's palace was situated. The farmers and laborers resided outside of the city walls. Farmers did not benefit from their work, as most of their surplus was taxed and collected by the aristocracy. There is very little evidence that women had a voice in the warrior society.

The Minoans, on the other hand, were a society that based their culture around trade and diplomacy. From the island of Crete, they were advanced enough to travel the Mediterranean to establish trade partners and acquire wealth. This Cretan civilization appears to be among the first egalitarian civilizations in the world. Through archeological discovery, it appears that all citizens enjoyed the prosperity of the trade networks. Women were afforded a significant measure of rights in society in the scope of government participation, commerce, and sport.

After the Myceneans conquered the island of Crete, they were very impressed by the level of culture and sophistication. Historians believe that the Mycenaeans adopted most of the ideas of the Minoans, which would suggest that the Minoans were the fathers of Greek civilization.

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The Minoans were a maritime civilization that developed on the island of Crete around 3,000 BCE.  They had trade routes to Spain, Egypt, and modern-day Turkey (we refer to this as Asia Minor).  Socially, they were relatively egalitarian in regards to social classes and gender equality, although it is necessary to point out that no civilization since the invention of agriculture in the 7,000's BCE has had true gender equality.  Culturally, the Minoans enjoyed dancing, music, and had a fascination with the bull.  In fact, myth tells us that the Palace at Knossos had a labyrinth built nearby, and a minotaur (half human half bull) lived inside the labyrinth.  

The Minoans were a cultural model for the Mycenaeans.  Mycenae was settled around 2,700 BCE on mainland Greece.  Most of the Greek myths and Homeric hymns come from the Mycenaean Period.  They also traded on the Mediterranean, but also had the benefit of a strong agricultural economy; because Crete was relatively small, the Minoans did not have as much land for agriculture.  

Unlike the Minoans, the Mycenaeans had a strong military, reflected in their art.  Evidence suggests that the Mycenaeans used horses in military combat.  Their social system was much more stratified.

The Mycenaeans invaded Crete several times in the mid 15th century BCE for copper and ore (for weapons).  By 1450 BCE, the Minoan culture had fallen to the stronger Mycenaean military.  The Mycenaeans fell around 1,100 BCE with the rise of the Dorian Greeks.

So, to recap:

  • Mycenaeans had a stronger military
  • Minoans relied more on sea trade
  • Mycenaeans lives on the mainland
  • Minoans lived on the island of Crete
  • Minoan cultural elements concerning bulls stayed on Crete
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Minoan civilization differed from Mycenaean in several ways.

The first major difference was language. The Mycenaeans spoke a version of Greek, written in a syllabary called Linear B. The Minoan language is unknown. Minoan writings have been found in two forms, a hieroglyphic script (most famously used on the Phaistos disk) and a later script called Linear A. Neither of the two Minoan scripts have been deciphered. Linear B tablets appear in Crete dating after 1500 BC in Knossos, suggesting Mycenaean conquest or administrative takeover.

Next, the Minoans appear more artistically and architecturally sophisticated than the Mycenaeans, with stunning frescoes and other art works. Much of Mycenaean art looks almost imitative of Minoan.

Next, Crete was a sea power and the mainland a land power. Minoan cities were not walled by Mycenaean ones were.

Finally, there were significant religious differences. The "bull-jumping", for example, which seems an important part of Minoan religious iconography is not present on the mainland.




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