Minoan Mycenaean Civilizations Compare Contrast Essay

During the civilizations of Minoan Crete and Mycenae of mainland Greece, many changes impacted Minoan civilization in which some cultural legacies of the Minoans survived after the Mycenean takeover of the Minoans. Both Minoan and Mycenean civilizations share some differences and similarities, which shaped their cultural legacies. Many factors, such as technology, trade, geography, art, military, government, and society, changed or continued with each civilization. For example, the Minoans built a strong navy in which they interacted with other ancient civilizations, such as Mesopotamia and Egypt, without being intimidated. This allowed Minoans to be exposed to other cultures through trade and imports, which influenced their own culture. As a result, Minoans were the forerunner of Greek civilization and considered the first European civilization. While the Minoans used their navy for protection, the Myceneans used their military for expand their empire. Ultimately, Myceneans took over the Minoans. Trade appeared to be more crucial to the Minoans while the military was critical to the Myceneans.

There was a fusion of cultures between the Minoan culture with Helladic culture of mainland Greece, which evolved into Mycenaean civilization. They shared similarities and differences such as geography technology, trade, art, military, government, and society. After the ruins of both civilizations were studied, the influence of both cultures on each other is evident in which their cultural legacies changed or survived. First, one difference of the Minoans and Myceneans was the geographical location regarding different terrain and surroundings. For example, Minoans were located on an island called Crete which was surrounded by water. The climate was great for agriculture with mild winters and warm summers. In addition, the land was fertile, which produced food for the people and for export. As a result of Crete’s abundance of materials, the Minoans where able to trade many objects and natural resources with other countries such as, Egypt and the Middle East. The Minoans traded with neighboring civilizations by boat.

In contrast, Mycenae was located on the main land of Greece. Instead of trading, Myceneans concentrated on warfare. Second, one similarity between both civilizations was their military. Both relied on their military, but differed on the way the military was utilized. Third, the Minoans built a strong navy, but did not use excessive force. The Minoans used their military for protection in which they could interact with others, such as Egypt and Mesopotamia, without fear of war. In contrast, the Mycenaeans used excessive force to expand their civilization. For example, they took over the Minoans during the peak of their civilization. Their societies differed in principles, in which the Mycenaean’s society was influenced by military advancements, and the Minoans society was affected by technology, art, and trade. Fourth, the Mycenean cities were heavy fortresses while Minoans were surrounded with art of everyday life. Both appreciated art. Minoan art included pottery and art of everyday life while Mycenean art focused on hunting and war.

They also had different views on government. Fifth, another difference between Minoan and Mycenean civilization focused on the government and society. The Mycenean society was monarchial. The monarch ruled the administration as a head bureaucrat. The Myceneans were ruled by a king who accumulated wealth and power. Their king was a warlord who focused on battle and invasion. In contrast to the monoarchy, archaeological evidence demonstrated a decentralized culture without powerful warlords or centralized authority in the Minoan. In addition, the wealth was shared with the rest of society compared to the king of the Myceneans, who became wealthy. Initially, the Minoans did not have a hierarchy, which was evidenced by tombs without hierarchal structure. Later, the Minoans established an authority focused on a king while developing a bureaucracy. A social hierarchy separated people into nobles, peasants, and slaves.

Sixth, at the height of Minoan civilization, women played a powerful role in society, which was not noted among the Mycenean civilization. Today, women are gaining more opportunity and obtaining powerful roles in society. Seventh, there was an interruption of Minoan civilization in which it was debated that this was invasion of Mycenean civilization or natural disaster, such as the Thera volcano eruption or tsunami. The evidence of Mycenean cultural influence on Minoan art and trade is a strong indication. The Minoans were a mercantilist people involved in trade, but their culture after 1700 BC demonstrated organization without military aristocracy that was shown later. In fact, large number of weapons were found in the Minoan royal tombs, which may indicate the Mycenean influence. Societies throughout the world have continued the principles of both ancient societies Both ancient civilizations share similarities and difference in the importance of trade, military, art, technology, government, and society.

In conclusion, many changes impacted Minoan civilization after the Mycenean takeover of the Minoans in which some cultural legacies of the Minoans survived. The Minoan and Mycenean civilizations shared differences and similarities that have influenced their cultural legacies. Many factors, such as technology, trade, geography, art, military, government, and society, changed or continued with each civilization. While the land where the Minoans lived is deforested compared to the abundance of natural resources that existed in ancient times, a culture evolved that has been the foundation the first European civilization that has been changed, destroyed , and survived. It has a legacy that has contributed to the world and its local region through trade, military, art, technology, government, and society.

Minoan Palace Architecture

The first palace at Knossos was destroyed by earthquake in about 1700 BCE, together with other smaller palaces. (See also: Minoan Architecture.) The great building which replaced it was constructed round a large central courtyard, reached by the winding passages recalled in the story of the maze (Labyrinth) through which the Greek hero Theseus had to thread his way. West of the courtyard were the State rooms, including the audience hall and the main shrines. Behind them lay store rooms with huge clay jars for oil and corn and recesses in the floor for chests of cloth and treasure. A form of writing now known as Linear A was evolved, probably for the palace records, but is still undeciphered. On the opposite side of the courtyard were the private apartments, the upper floor reached by a grand staircase. The plastered ceilings were supported on wooden columns, tapering downwards and brightly painted. The rooms were arranged round small courtyards for light and air, giving the impression of gradual growth rather than regular planning. There was a piped water supply, drains and a form of water closet.

Note: if the Palace at Knossos had survived into the era of classical Greek architecture, it is quite possible that it would have been listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, by Antipater of Sidon and other commentators.

Minoan Painting and Sculpture

The walls of the Cretan palaces were colourfully adorned with fresco painting. Many of them show the Minoan love of nature which also inspired their pottery decoration, with delicate plants, birds and leaping fish and dolphins. This naturalistic style of painting is the first truly historical European art, and it also included scenes from palace life, with processions, bull-leaping acrobats and other human figures. Human figures of both genders are depicted as slim-waisted and athletic, though females are given lighter skin tones. Minoan sculpture was wholly naturalistic, and included figurines of snake-goddesses and female attendants in the flounced skirts and bodices seen also in Minoan mural painting. These are found in ivory carvings, gaily coloured faience and cast bronze sculpture, in which male worshippers and vigorous figures from the bull sports were also made. One of the treasures of Cretan art is the famous Palaikastro Kouros (1480-1425 BCE), one of the earliest surviving works of chryselephantine sculpture of the late Bronze Age.

Note: For later artists and styles inspired by ancient Greek art around the Aegean, see: Classicism in Art (800 onwards).

Minoan Jewellery and Decoration

The Minoans excelled in goldsmithing and the intricate art of jewellery. Rings and pendants of gold were decorated with embossed designs, filigree and granulation (the attachment of minute grains of gold), as on the pendant of two hornets, from Aegina. This miniaturist skill is seen at its finest on the engraved seals made from semi-precious stones, where lions, deer, fish or scenes from the famous bull-leaping sports were carefully adapted to the round or oval shape of the seal.

Minoan Pottery

Much of the elegance of Cretan civilisation can be seen in the painted decoration and shapes of its ancient pottery, noted for a variety of bold designs and all-over decoration. At the time of the first palaces this was decorated in red, yellow and white on a black background, using mainly abstract designs with gracefully curved patterns. Selected fine clays produced a smooth, shiny surface. Jars, cups with handles and jugs with spouts rather like teapots were made on the potter's wheel, introduced from Asia Minor. At the time of the later palaces much more elaborate decoration in dark colours on a light background was preferred. This included spiral and other pattered designs, but the greatest inspiration came from sea creatures - octopuses, squids and shellfish - and delicately painted flowers and grasses. See also: Greek Pottery (7,000 BCE onwards). For more about chronology, see: Pottery Timeline.

NOTE: For the world's oldest known ceramic pots, please see: Xianrendong Cave Pottery (c.18,000 BCE).

Mycenean Culture

The third and final Aegean culture was the Mycenean or Achean civilisation, based on Mycenae in the Peleponnese from about 1650 to 1200 BCE. In contrast with the peace-loving, self-indulgent Minoans, the Mycenaeans were pirates like those described in Homer's Iliad, the epic poem about a quarrel over loot in a raid on the mainland. Mycenean art sprang from the power of a warlike aristocracy.

Mycenean Architecture

Mycenean architecture, for instance, was designed to be impregnable: cities were protected by thick walls of massive irregular blocks of stone, which still survive impressively at Tiryns, and at Mycenae. The city of Mycenae actually comprised a remote hilltop fortress surrounded by a wall up to 20 feet thick, and travellers entered through the Lion Gate, made up of megaliths weighing several tons. The earliest remains at Mycenae are the Shaft Graves, surrounded by rings of upright stone slabs. (See also: Megalithic Art.) They date from about 1550 BCE, when Mycenean civilisation was still emerging. Among the wealth of weapons and treasure they contained were many objects showing Cretan artistic influence. A royal tomb, the so-called Treasury of Atreus, consisted of a circular stone-walled chamber with a corbel-vaulted roof nearly fifty feet high. It was reached by a passage ending in a doorway with finely carved green marble pillars and a stone lintel weighing over a hundred tons. The Mycenean cities also had their palaces, whose main feature was a megaron, a rectangular hall with an entrance porch supported on columns, entered from a courtyard. The four columns carrying the hall roof stood round a large central hearth, the focus of the feasts of the heroic society celebrated in Homer's poems. Mycenean script (Linear B) has been identified as an early form of Ancient Greek.

Mycenean Painting and Sculpture

Something of the Minoan freshness is missing from paintings which decorated the palaces of the Mycenean rulers, whose different interests were illustrated in rather rigid and formal hunting expeditions and chariot processions. Plastic art was essentially limited to relief sculpture rather than statues, and is exemplified by the Lion Gate (c.1250 BCE, Mycenae).

Mycenean Metalwork

Much of the Cretan artist's ability later served Mycenean patrons: the Vaphio cups, embossed with scenes showing the capture of wild bulls, were found in one of the Shaft Graves at Mycenae. Such objects as the gold so-called "Mask of Agamemnon", also from a Shaft Grave, show the stiffer and more reserved Mycenean taste. Other cups and bronze daggers were inlaid with gold, silver and niello, and the Myceneans appear to have discovered the art of enamelling metal with coloured glass. There was a long tradition, learned originally from Egypt, of carving cups and bowls from marble and other coloured stones. The interior was hollowed out with a tubular drill fed with sand and water, and the finishing was by laborious grinding with sand or emery. See also: Greek Metalwork.

Mycenean Ceramics

Like Cretan pottery, Mycenean ceramic art was also decorated with sea creatures as well as delicate flowers and grasses, though typically without the Minoan liveliness and elegance. The Myceneans also favoured pictorial scenes of riders in chariots and hunting, and later on, birds and animals drawn in outline, the bodies filled in with fine patterns possibly inspired by embroidery or weaving. These appeared on bowls, jars, drinking goblets and flasks with a double handle on top in the form of a stirrup.

Seafaring Nature of Aegean Civilization

Aegean cultures were largely sea-faring, and these sea-faring peoples had a different outlook from their land-based neighbours. Man as a voyager has to act as an individual, not as an anonymous member of a highly organised rigid society. He needs a different sense of time and scale from that of the cultivator and herdsman tied to his land. This sense of independence and self-confidence was to have profound influence on the mainland-based Greeks - the successors of Aegean culture, who occupied the Peleponnese and the islands. They took over, too, the seafarers view of man and society, which had a major effect on their attitude and which led in turn to their achievements in art, science and philosophy, which had such a profound impact on Renaissance art and later movements.

More Resources on the Arts of Antiquity

- Egyptian Art (3100 BCE - 395 CE)
- Egyptian Sculpture
- Etruscan Art (c.700-90 BCE)
- Sculpture of Ancient Greece
- Art of Ancient Persia (3,500 BCE onwards)
- Roman Art (c.500 BCE - 500 CE)

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