1.What key aspects of the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures lived on among the later Greeks? 2.What were the principal political and social achievements of the Greek Archaic period? 3.In what ways do Greek religion and philosophy differ from each other?
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Temple of Hera, Paestum. Ca. 560–550 BCE. Limestone. Archaic temples set patterns long
used by the Greeks. The buildings were aligned east-west, with the entrance in the east. A vast
altar stood before the entrance, and people gathered around it to share a sacrificial meal. The
enclosed space inside the temple’s colonnade was off-limits except to the priests.
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2
The Aegean
The Minoans, the Mycenaeans, and the Greeks of the Archaic Age
Preview Questions
1. What key aspects
of the Minoan and
Mycenaean cultures
lived on among the
later Greeks?
2. What were the
principal political and
social achievements
of the Greek Archaic
period?
3. How do epic and lyric
poetry differ from each
other?
4. in what ways do
Greek religion and
philosophy differ from
each other, and how
do both differ from the
achievements of the
Mesopotamians and
Egyptians?
B
E
Minoans, the Mycenaeans, and then the Greeks. The former two were the
N
first to achieve civilization in Europe from about 2000 to 1200 BCE. On
the island of CreteNand in southern Greece, these peoples built complex
E the Minoans to the Mycenaeans and the Mycenaeans
societies only to fall,
to the dorians. ForTabout three centuries after 1100 BCE the Greek world
was poor, isolated,T
and a cultural backwater. Then, between about 800 and
500 BCE the Greek, world entered the Archaic period. Archaios in Greek
Three significant peoples thrived in the Aegean basin: the
means “ancient,” or “beginning,” and this was indeed the beginning of
Greek history and culture in the strict sense (Timeline 2.1, Map 2.1). On
B
A
gean basin coaxed a subsistence living from the thin, stony soil and turned
R
to the sea for trade, conquest, and expansion. From the Bronze Age to the
B
iron Age, Minoans, Mycenaeans, and Greeks interacted with and learned
A surrounded them, chiefly those of the Hittites and
from the cultures that
the Egyptians, but R
whether it was in systems of writing or forms of sculpA were never content merely to borrow. They always
ture, Aegean peoples
rocky coasts and rugged islands and peninsulas, the peoples of the Ae-
adapted, blended, and, finally, superseded the contributions of other cultures. The Greek genius
2 was partly a matter of stunning originality and
partly a matter of creative
synthesis.
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The building to8the left, a Greek temple in the doric style, symbolizes
many aspects of the Archaic period. it is balanced, ordered, and propor-
2
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classical period (see Chapter 3). This temple, now in ruins, is located in
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southern italy, an area colonized by Greeks who left the mainland amid
tioned, but it does not yet achieve the harmony and beauty of the later
political and economic strife. Greeks not only learned from their neighbors, they also exported their own culture. Temples were usually the largest and most elegant buildings in a polis, the city-state form of political
organization that was a key achievement of the Archaic period.
The peoples of Mesopotamia and Egypt seem at once remote and familiar, whereas the Greeks seem utterly familiar; they seem to be “like us.”
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CHAPTER TWO: The Aegean
Timeline 2.1
MINOAN AND MYCENAEAN CULTURES
All dates approximate and BCE
2000
3000
Early Minoan
1700
Middle Minoan
1450
High Minoan
1100
Late Minoan
First destruction Rebuilding Second destruction
of palaces at of palaces in of palaces at
Knossos and grandiose
Knossos and
elsewhere
style
elsewhere
MINOAN CIVILIZATION, CRETE
1250
1900
Mycenaean Dominance
Dorian
Invasions
B
Trojan
1500
War,
Mycenaeans
E
fall of
rule Greek
Troy
peninsula
N
1380
N
Mycenaeans rule
eastern Mediterranean
E
MYCENAEAN
T CIVILIZATION, PELOPONNESUS
T
,
Mycenaeans
arrive on
Greek
peninsula
The most profound and recognizable features of the
Western tradition derive from the Greeks. Whether
one thinks of political institutions, literary forms, or
aesthetic tastes, the Greeks were both original and
influential. The Greeks shifted focus from gods and
godlike rulers to men and women. Ordinary people
were seen as having some control over their destinies
and some moral responsibility for their actions. By the
fifth century BCE the philosopher Protagoras could
proclaim, “Man is the measure of all things.”
PRELUDE: MINOAN CULTURE,
3000–1100 BCE
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Civilization was already flourishing in Mesopotamia
and Egypt when it first emerged in Europe, among the
Neolithic settlements on the island of Crete. By about
2000 BCE, a prosperous and stable mercantile culture had emerged, and between 1700 and 1500 BCE,
it reached its high point in wealth, power, and sophistication. This society, labeled Minoan after the legendary King Minos, had a complex class system that
included nobles, merchants, artisans, bureaucrats, and
laborers. Noble life centered on palaces, and twentiethcentury archaeological excavations of several palace
sites indicate that communities were linked in a loose
political federation, with the major center at Knossos
[NAH-sauce] on the north coast. Remarkably, Minoan
palaces had no fortifications, suggesting that the cities
mat76655_Ch02_032-055.indd 34
1100
800
Dark Ages
Mycenaean
civilization
eclipsed
800
Beginning
of Archaic
Age
remained at peace with one another and that the island
itself faced no threats from sea raiders. Crete’s tranquil
B image is confirmed by the absence of weapons in excaA vated remains.
The palace of Minos, at Knossos, is the principal
R source of knowledge about Minoan Crete. The ruins,
B covering some three acres, though no longer paved or
provide a sense of the grandeur and expanse
A walled,
of this once-magnificent site (Figure 2.1). The palace inR cluded an impressive plumbing and drainage system
a complex layout of rooms and passageways on
A and
several levels. Belowground, a storage area contained
huge earthenware pots that held grains, oils, and wines,
2 probably collected as taxes from the populace and serving as the basis of trade and wealth. Beautiful friezes
8 (bands of painted designs and sculptured figures)
8 decorated the walls of rooms and hallways. Frescoes,
wall paintings made by applying paint to wet plaster,
2 of sea creatures (dolphins and octopuses), of beautiful
T women, and of intriguing bull-leaping rituals (Figure 2.2) enlivened the palace walls. These remains are
S highly revealing but, unfortunately, early Minoan writing, called Linear A, a syllabic system, cannot be read.
No one knows the language of the Minoans, which
adds to the mystery surrounding their origins.
Minoan religion appears to have been matriarchal,
led or ruled by women, centering on the worship of a
mother goddess, or great goddess, creator of the universe and source of all life. Statues of a bare-breasted
earth goddess with snakes in her hands show how the
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Prelude: Minoan Culture, 3000–1100 BCE
35
Learning Through Maps
Black Sea
THRACE
Dardanelles
MACEDONIA
Sea of
Marmara
Troy
Poseidonia
(Paestum)
Mt. Olympus
THESSALY
MAGNA
GRAECIA
(Italy)
Thermopylae
Thebes
Plataea
Ithaca
Medite
Syracuse
rran
FR IC
0
100
200
NOR
TH A
0
SALAMIS CHIOS
SAMOS
Marathon
Corinth
Athens
Mycenae
DELOS
Aegina
Argos Tiryns
PELOPONNESUS
Sparta
LACONIA
A
SICILY
200 mi
400 km
MHS63
MAP
2.143 THE AEGEAN WORLD, 479 BCE
ean
ASIA MINOR
(Persian Empire)
Aegean
Sea
LESBOS
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S eN
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IONIA
Miletus
RHODES
Knossos
CRETE
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C IA
mat76620_m0201.eps
This
map
shows the location of the Minoan, Mycenaean, and Greek Archaic Age civilizations. 1. Consider the role of the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas
First
proof
in shaping these three civilizations. 2. What were the centers of Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations? 3. Why do you think the location of Troy helped to make
it a wealthy and strategic city? 4. Locate the major city-states of the Greek Archaic Age. 5. How did geography influence the origins and strategies of the
Persian War?
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A
Figure 2.1
North Entrance, Palace of
Minos, Knossos, Crete. Ca. 1750–1650 BCE.
The palace complex, with courtyards,
staircases, and living areas, now partially
restored, indicates that the royal family lived in
comfort and security, surrounded by works of
art. When British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans
uncovered these ruins in 1902, he became
convinced that he had discovered the palace
of the legendary King Minos and labeled the
civilization Minoan.
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36
CHAPTER TWO: The Aegean
Figure 2.2
Bull-Leaping. Ca. 1500 BCE. Archaeological Museum,
Heraklion, Crete. This fresco (approximately 32 inches high) from the
east wing of the palace at Knossos is one of the largest paintings recovered
from Crete. The association of young men and women with bulls in this
scene brings to mind the legend of the Minotaur, in which seven youths
and seven maidens were periodically sacrificed to a monster, half-man and
half-bull, who lived in an underground labyrinth, supposedly on Crete. A bull
cult may have been central to Minoan religion. Scholars have long debated
whether the depiction of bull-leaping is real or fanciful. Prevailing opinion
holds that skilled athletes could have performed the trick of vaulting over a
bull’s horns and back.
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deity was portrayed by the Minoans, but the precise
purpose of these statues is unknown (Figure 2.3). Minoans also honored numerous minor household goddesses and venerated trees and stone pillars, to which
they probably attributed supernatural powers. Near
the end of their era, the Minoans began to bury their
dead in underground tombs and chambers, but neither the reason for the new burial practice nor its ritualistic meaning has been discovered.
Around 1600 BCE, Crete suffered when a nearby
volcanic island erupted. About a century later, the
mainland Mycenaeans conquered Crete but did not
destroy Knossos. Around 1375 BCE, Knossos was devastated but it is not known how or why. The inhabitants of Crete had always relied heavily on trade, and
this did not change under Mycenaean domination until about 1100 BCE.
The Greeks of the later Archaic Age had no direct
knowledge of Minoan culture, but the Greek attitude toward the Minoans was shaped by mythology.
Myths are traditional stories told about bygone eras
by later peoples who are seeking to explain some of
mat76655_Ch02_032-055.indd 36
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Figure 2.3
Earth Goddess with Snakes. Ca. 1600–1580 BCE.
Faience, ht. 131/2″. Archaeological Museum, Heraklion, Crete. This
cult figure was discovered in the Treasury of the Knossos Palace. Her
triangular dress, with its apron and flounced skirt, is similar to those of
Cretan youths in surviving frescoes.
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Beginnings: Mycenaean Culture, 1900–1100 BCE
their basic political, social, or religious practices and
ideas. They are often communal and comforting in
their explanations, and frequently provide insights
into peoples’ ways of thinking. As an example, Crete
is traditionally the birthplace of the god Zeus. The Minoans worshiped a Zeus who was born in a cave, grew
to manhood, and died. They venerated the site of his
birth and honored him as a child. The later Greeks,
however, believed Zeus to be the immortal father and
ruler of the Olympian deities, and they were incensed
by the Minoan belief that the god had died. The grain
of truth in this story may be that, although the Greeks
eventually dominated Crete in physical terms, elements of Minoan religion found their way into later
Greek beliefs; thus, in a sense, the Olympian gods were
born on Crete. Cretan influences on Greece may also
be detected in language, social organization, and economic pursuits, although the Archaic Greeks did not
regard the Minoan past as part of their heritage.
BEGINNINGS: MYCENAEAN
CULTURE, 1900–1100 BCE
Mycenaean culture, named by archaeologists for Mycenae, a prominent fortress city, developed on the rugged
lower Greek peninsula known as the Peloponnesus.
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An aggressive warrior people, perhaps from the plains
of southern Russia or from the upper Tigris-Euphrates
valley, the Mycenaeans arrived on the peninsula in
about 1900 BCE, and, by about 1500 BCE, they ruled
the entire Peloponnesus. More is known about the Mycenaeans than about the Minoans. The archaeological record is more abundant, revealing several palace
sites and numerous splendid artifacts. But writing is
also critical in two distinct respects. First, the Mycenaeans adapted Cretan Linear A writing to their own
language, a primitive form of Greek, and produced
thousands of Linear B tablets. These tablets contain
administrative and commercial documents that aid in
understanding Mycenaean government. Second, the
Bmuch later Iliad and Odyssey are set in the Mycenaean
Eworld and contain a good deal of authentic informaabout it.
NtionJudging
from the Iliad, Mycenaean society was arisNtocratic and hierarchical. A confederation of autonokings might occasionally accept the leadership
Emous
of one of their number. For example, in the Trojan
TWar, Agamemnon of Mycenae was the leader of all
Tthe Greeks. Excavations at Mycenae, especially its impressive Lion Gate (Figure 2.4), hint at the wealth and
, power of kings. Literary and artistic depictions suggest a society that prized military prowess. Linear B
documents suggest a bureaucratic system that was
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Figure 2.4
The Lion Gate at Mycenae.
Ca. 1300 BCE. The Lion Gate is a massive
structure of four gigantic blocks—two posts
and a beam forming the entrance and a
triangular block on which are carved the two
9-foot-high lions and the central column. So
impressive were the megalithic Mycenaean
fortresses to the later Greeks that they called
them “cyclopean,” convinced that only a race of
giants, the Cyclopes, could have built them.
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38
CHAPTER TWO: THE AEGEAN
adept at raising taxes. There were certainly merchants
in the Mycenaean world, the majority of whose people
were farmers. Slavery existed but its exact significance
is not clear.
Excavations show that the Mycenaeans appreciated
fine objects and achieved a high level of technical skill.
Within the citadel of Mycenae, six shaft graves (vertical burials) were discovered. One of them contained
a spectacular gold burial mask (Figure 2.5) traditionally called the “Mask of Agamemnon.” On discovering it, the famous German archaeologist Heinrich
Schliemann telegraphed Berlin, “i have looked on the
face of Agamemnon.” Probably not—but it is a good
story. The graves do reveal the care with which the
Mycenaeans attended to the remains of their dead. it
is tempting to think that they may have learned this
from the Egyptians. Near Sparta, archaeologists unearthed a pair of gorgeous drinking cups, one of which
is shown in Figure 2.6. The energy of the figures depicted on the cup is palpable, but no less noticeable is
the technical mastery of the unknown artist.
After their conquest of the Minoans, the Mycenaeans extended their raiding and trading activities
throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Between 1210
and 1180 BCE, they attacked the wealthy and strategic city of Troy, on the western coast of present-day
Turkey (see Map 2.1). it is delightful to think that the
face of the beautiful Helen launched a thousand ships,
but the Trojan War was only the culmination of a
bitter trade dispute. Although similar expeditions had
brought spoils to the Mycenaeans on earlier occasions,
this long, exhausting foray weakened them. The Myceaneans were no match for the dorians, who invaded
or migrated from the north in about 1100 BCE.
Technology in Minoan Crete and Mycenae
Early cultures in the Aegean—Minoan and Mycenaean—
built on the bronze technology of earlier Near Eastern models (see Chapter 1). Bronze was the preferred
metal of Mycenaean artisans, as it was for the Minoans before them, but copper, tin, silver, and gold were
also used. All these metals were available from mines
B and deposits in the Mediterranean basin, except tin,
which came from the British isles. Crete and Mycenae
E used bronze for weapons and everyday objects until
N both societies collapsed before the onset of the iron
Age, in about 1200 BCE.
N in military technology, the Minoans and the MyE cenaeans followed the lead of Near Eastern neighbors
but made some advances too:
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• Bronze weapons: daggers, swords, spears, and
javelins; and body armor, such as shields, helmets, and leg and arm coverings
• introduction of the horse and of horse-drawn
chariots by 2000 BCE
• Redesigned chariots by 1300 BCE, with six
wheel spokes instead of four and axles under
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Figure 2.5
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Mask of Agamemnon. Ca. 1500 BCE. Thinly beaten gold,
c. 12″ across. National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Although this
is the only Mycenaean gold burial mask so far discovered, it is likely that
high-status persons, especially kings, may have had such masks placed in
their graves. This is reminiscent of the burial masks on the sarcophagi that
held the mummies of prominent Egyptians.
mat76655_Ch02_032-055.indd 38
Vapheio Cup. Ca. sixteenth century BCE. Gold, 31/2″
high. National Archaeological Museum, Athens. This gold cup, one of
two discovered in a tomb at Vapheio near Sparta, Greece, shows a man
attempting to capture a bull. At the bottom of the image, the hunter tries
to ensnare the bull by means of the net held in his outstretched arms. The
curved line of the animal’s arched back helps frame the scene, while the
bull, with its size and muscular body, seems to be winning this ferocious
struggle between man and beast. This cup is thought to be from the
Mycenaean period, because its execution is less refined than the exquisite
artistry of the other cup (not shown here), which is attributed to the Minoan
style. However, both goldsmiths used the same technique: hammering out
the scenes from the inside of the cup.
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the rear platform, which enhanced stability and
maneuverability
• Advances in shipbuilding: extending the height
of the mast, enlarging the size of the sails, and
redesigning the oar to increase rowing power
THE ARCHAIC AGE, 800–479 BCE
After the Mycenaeans, Greece entered a period known
as the Dark Ages, “dark” because little is known about
it. People lived in isolated farming communities and
produced only essential tools and domestic objects.
Commercial and social interchange among communities, already made hazardous by the mountainous
terrain, became even more dangerous, and communication with the eastern Mediterranean kingdoms
nearly ceased.
Yet some fundamental changes were slowly occurring. Political power was gradually shifting from
kings to the heads of powerful families, laying the
foundation for a new form of government, and iron
gradually replaced bronze in tools and weapons, ushering in the Iron Age in Greece. Many Mycenaeans
fled to the coast of Asia Minor, which later came to
be called Ionia, thus paving the way for the formation
of an extended Greek community around the Aegean
and Mediterranean Seas.
In about 800 BCE, the Greeks emerged from years
of stagnation and moved into an era of political innovation and cultural experimentation. Although
scattered and isolated, they shared a sense of identity
based on their common language, their heroic stories
and folktales, their myths and religious practices, and
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Figure 2.7 Acropolis, Athens. View from the west. The Acropolis dominates
TAthens in the twenty-first century just as it did in ancient times when it was the center
Athenian ceremonial and religious life. Today it is the towering symbol of Athens’s
, ofcultural
heritage as well as the center of the local tourist industry. A landmark in the

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