Daily Life in the Minoan Civilization

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has been an adjunct professor of religion at Western Kentucky University for six years. They have a master's degree in religious studies from Western Kentucky University and a bachelor's degree in English literature and religious studies from Western Kentucky University.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live on an island about 4,000 years ago? Read this lesson to learn about what everyday life was like as a Minoan on the Greek island of Crete.

Minoan Homes and Furnishings

The ancient Minoans on the island of Crete lived about 4,000 years ago, but had similar amenities to many people in the twenty-first century! Most of the Minoans, regardless of occupation or class, lived in large houses with several rooms. In addition to bedrooms, dining areas, and so forth, the houses actually had bathrooms with running water and ''toilets.'' While they did not have pipes and faucets like we do today, they built channels for conveying fresh water to homes and sewage away from homes.

Unlike the homes of other contemporaneous civilizations which were typically made from mud bricks, the Minoans' houses were made from stone which was effective against the elements. Within the houses, many people had luxury items like jewelry and fine vessels made from gold and silver. They made and used pottery like most other civilizations, but decorated their pottery with unique designs. Unsurprisingly for an island nation, most of their decorations were focused on the sea and depicted sea life, waves, and other beach-like themes.

Clay model of what a Minoan house would have looked like
Clay model of what a Minoan house would have looked like

Minoan Food and Medicines

As you might expect for a civilization located on the beach, one of the primary food staples of the Minoans was fish. Although they ate fish, they probably did not eat much of other types of meat. They raised sheep, goats, and cattle primarily for the production of wool and milk, though they did sacrifice bulls occasionally. Grains, particularly barley and wheat, were also important staples for the Minoans.

In addition to the basic fish and grain diet, the Minoans also grew a variety of fruits. Tree fruits such as apples, figs, and pomegranates were the most common type. The Minoans also had some vineyards where they produced grapes which they made into wine. Olives were a particularly important product because the Minoans used them to make olive oil which was used in religious ceremonies.

The Minoans were active in growing and using herbs for health purposes as well. They produced an incredible variety of herbs - probably more than are in most people's kitchens today - and thought each had unique healing or restorative properties. Some herbs, such as lavender and sage, were made into oils, much like you can find essential oils in the store today. Anise, a plant similar to licorice, was probably used to soothe digestive problems. They also used herbs like coriander and saffron as well. The Minoans were also engaged in beekeeping and apparently produced large amounts of honey. Honey was used for religious ceremonies but was also believed to have restorative effects.

Minoan Clothing and Materials

The Minoans' clothing was standard for the time and location. Men typically wore loincloths which were essentially just pieces of cloth tied around the waist, though they also wore short skirts or kilts. Women usually wore long skirts along with an open-fronted shirt. In cold weather - which was rare in Crete since it is a Mediterranean island - both men and women would wear cloaks over their clothing and tunics around their torso.

Since the Minoans raised sheep, most of their clothing was made from wool and would have been fairly inexpensive to make. They probably also harvested some flax seed which they would process and make into linen for clothing.

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