Ancient Aegean Civilization

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  • 0:04 The Aegean Sea
  • 0:52 The Minoans
  • 2:50 The Mycenaean
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Daniel McCollum

Dan has a Master's Degree in History and has taught undergraduate History

Minos and the Minotaur. Helen of Troy. Odysseus and his Odyssey. These names, still famous today, bring to mind the glories of the Bronze Age Aegean. But what was the truth behind these legends? This lesson examines the history of the ancient Aegean.

The Aegean Sea

In the ancient world during the Bronze Age and the Classical Period, the Aegean Sea was one of the most important bodies of water of the Western world. This small sea, located east of Greece, west of Turkey, and north of the island of Crete, is what linked the cities and palaces of the region to one another and allowed for the trade of goods and ideas among far-flung peoples. In many ways, the Aegean Sea was to the ancient world what the modern freeway system is to the United States. It gave rise to a series of great civilizations, the first of the ancient world in Europe, the Minoans of Crete, and the Mycenaean of Greece, as well as lesser powers, such as Illium on the western coast of Anatolia (modern day Turkey), which was the basis for the Troy of literature.

The Minoans

The term Minoan refers to the powerful civilization that arose on the island of Crete during the Bronze Age. The name Minoan comes from the mythological King Minos, who was said to have built the Labyrinth to hide the monstrous Minotaur. Archaeologists who discovered the remains of the civilization in the 19th century named the ancient people Minoans after this king, because they didn't know what the people had called themselves.

The Minoans began to emerge as a civilization during the third millennium BCE. They developed their own form of hieroglyphic writing, called Linear A, but no one has been able to translate it. Archaeologists have uncovered writings in the ruins of the vast palaces that once dotted the landscape of Crete. These palaces were centers of Minoan government. Each would have been the home of a king who ruled the local lands and would have contained shrines for worship, workshops, and even granaries to store food. Each palace also would have been fortified, and each king would have fielded an army to defend his land, as well as numerous court officials to help lead the kingdom. The most spectacular palace was at Knossos, and it's thought that the king of this palace would have been one of the most powerful in the region.

The Minoans were involved deeply in trade, which made them very wealthy. Minoan traders would have reached such far off lands as Egypt, Anatolia, and even Canaan. They were also a religious people, but, unlike in the lands of many of their neighbors, their religion was focused mainly on the worship of a number of goddesses. They also seemed to hold the bull in reverence, and murals in the palaces depict festivals where men jumped over the animal. Additionally, they were masterful builders and engineers. Minoan cities show evidence of stone-paved roads and even working sewer systems. At their height, the Minoans had a major influence upon their neighbors, especially the Mycenaean Greeks to the north.

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