Ancient Aegean World and Emergence of Greek Civilization

| September 11, 2018

Module Notes: Ancient Aegean World and Emergence of Greek Civilization

Detail of the Minoan Sarcophagus of Agia Triada, 1600-1450 BCE, Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. Author: Wolfgang Sauber.  Creative Commons 3.0.

Module 3 presents two cultures of the Aegean: the Minoans of Crete, and the Mycenaean people on the Greek mainland. The rarity of written evidence from this period forces historians to rely on architectural remains and artifacts to interpret the cultures. We will do the same.

Two vibrant Aegean civilizations existed that were concurrent with Middle and New Kingdom Egypt. These were the cultures of the Minoans, based on the large island of Crete (c.1900-c.1450), and the Mycenaean people, based on today’s mainland Greece (c.1600-c.1100 BCE). These were not Greeks, but pre-Greek peoples. Very few written records survive, and so we do not have the same full picture of history here that we do for the Egyptians. Archaeological evidence, however, shows these cultures to be prosperous groups whose wealth was based on seafaring trade.

Late 19th and early 20th century digs have uncovered important citadel or palace complexes related to these groups. For the Minoans, the text concentrates on the Palace of Knossos on Crete. This labyrinthine structure included living quarters, mercantile areas, courtyards, a processional corridor, theaters and religious spaces. Surviving wall paintings have an informal, even playful quality. Pottery, an important art and export item, show painted motifs whose curling, free-floating forms derive from sea life and other nature subjects.

Minoan Marine-style pot, 1600-1450 BCE, glazed ceramic, Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology, Marseille.  Author: Andree Stephan.  Creative Commons 3.0.

For the Mycenaean culture, the text concentrates on the hilltop site of Mycenae, for which this culture is named. Here, you will find massive defensive walls, evidence of palace architecture, and shaft graves which held gold funerary masks and decorative items of wealth, incorporating the same playful Minoan imagery.

In this module, you will also be introduced to the Greeks. These people migrated onto the Greek peninsula between 1200 and 1100 BCE, ending Mycenaean dominance there. History is sparce for several hundred years, but a strong Greek culture emerged around 800 BCE. We saw how important tradition and persistent conventions were to the Egyptians. The Greek culture contrasts with this traditionalism by embracing experimentation and exploration in everything from political systems, to philosophical ideas, to empirical science. Competition between the separate Greek city states helped spur on their seemingly modern notion of progress. In art, we also see experimentation and evolution of style. In this module, we can focus on pottery alone to see rapid style changes that form a traceable, linear progression. The four Greek pottery phases are Geometric, Orientalizing, Black Figure and Red Figure. Each style presents beautiful representation of Greek myths and legends, along with athletic events and secular Greek life.

Now that you have completed the module readings, please move to the next learning activity, Dissecting a Palace in Search of Minoan Culture. 

Assignment –

The written documents that come from ancient Crete are few and provide little information regarding religion, politics or lifestyle of the Minoan people. Our best window into this world is through the excavated art and architecture. For this activity, you will select evidence from the palace complex (and complex it is!) to search for clues about culture.

Begin by searching the text or online sources to locate three examples of architectural detail, wall painting, pottery or sculpture from Knossos. An exceptional site for a virtual tour has been created by the British School at Athens (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. This site provides fascinating 360 degree views of rooms. (Be aware that the initial excavator, Sir Arthur Evans, made some controversial restorations to the palace. Know that what you are seeing may not be all original.) A great website for art from Knossos is that of the Heraklion Museum in Crete (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. Painted pottery, sculpture and frescoes will be found here. Another option for learning about Knossos is this video available through the Excelsior Library:

In the essay, use your three examples as evidence for some aspect(s) of Minoan culture. You may find your material evidence indicates commerce, seafaring, or perhaps a love of nature. Maybe your sampling speaks of religion, ceremony, or costume. Be sure to identify fully your examples, and include plenty of specific description as you make a case for them as cultural evidence. Illustrations are helpful.

Essay Writing Requirements:

  1. Double-space
  2. Two pages or 500+ words
  3. Follow the APA style.
  4. Proofread: Be sure to check your work and correct any spelling or grammatical errors before you post it.
  5. Submit the essay to the assignment dropbox.
  6. Tutoring help is available through Smarthinking (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..
  7. Grammar assistance is available using the Online Writing Lab (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. (OWL).
  8. Submit the paper by the due date.

Compose your work in a .doc or .docx file type using a word processor (such as Microsoft Word, etc.) and save it frequently to your computer. For those assignments that are not written essays and require uploading images or PowerPoint slides, please follow uploading guidelines provided by your instructor.

Check your work and correct any spelling or grammatical errors. 

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