Before Ancient Greece

Hector on the Iliad

The manner in which Homer writes about Hector on the Iliad makes it clear and without a doubt that Hector is a man of war. His city, Troy, is extremely important to him as they all view him as their only protector. It seems that all of Troy’s soldiers receive hope and perhaps fight with greater determination when he is there to battle along with them. No one, not even his wife or son can convince him of rejecting war. Hector fights for his glory, the one of his father, the one of his son, and for the salvation of Troy’s people. However, his “warlike spirit” leads him to his death at the hands of Achilles, whom dishonors Hector’s body by dragging it around the city.

Minoan Crete

Minoan Crete is one of the recent rediscoveries of mankind. It was excavated during the first years of the 20th Century by a British archeologist named Arthur Evans. It is named after an ancient Greek legend that talks about a King named Minos who kept a Minotaur trapped in a maze of the island of Crete and sacrificed children to feed it.

Reality is, though, that we have very little information about the Minoan civilization. We had to invent for them a name, because we have no idea what they called themselves. There are many reasons for our lack of knowledge, but one of the main ones is because scholars have not yet deciphered their writing denominated Linear A. Some of ancient Greece’s writings (linear B language) have Minoan characteristics, thus we know the sounds of the linear A, but do not understand the language of Minoan civilization.

The most we have to comprehend this civilization’s culture are archeological findings. However, these discoveries do not complete the sufficient detailed information we require to sustain well founded facts about Minoan Crete’s functioning.

Based on the archeological evidence, an outline has been developed dividing Minoan Crete’s history into four major periods: Prepalatial (from 3000–1900 BC), Protopalatial (1900–1700 BC), Neopalatial (1700–1400 BC), and Postpalatial (1400–1150 BC).

In the Prepalatial (3000-1900 BC) period of Crete we find the first towns along with the beginnings of its trade and production. Craftsman worked in gold, silver, and bronze. Evidence also suggests that sea trade was already taking place. The Minoans traded metals with Egypt, Anatolia, and the Levant. No palaces existed in this era of Minoan Crete and the towns seemed to lack a central authority. We really just do not know how the people were governed during this time.

Archeological findings however, have taken us to notice that the first palaces began to appear in Crete during the Protopalatial (1900–1700 BC) period of its existence. The palaces were built near the sea and had paved roads that communicated them with the settlements outside their territory. If you see palaces, logic tells you that kings or some sort of authority inhabited them. Hence, this probably was the period where a central authority began to take over the governing of Crete. Perhaps there was also a hierarchical society consisting of royalty, nobles, peasants, and slaves.

It was during this time that the Minoans expanded their trade networks. The Minoan type of written language (Linear A) also begins to appear in this period. We think that this language evolved from hieroglyphic writing. The writings we have found of Linear A seem to be a record of trade, we do not know if any Minoan literature exists or survives.

Approximately, in the year of 1700 BC something destroyed Crete and its palaces, maybe an earthquake or invasion from Anatolia. We cannot know with certainty what caused this destruction, but we do know that the Minoans devoted themselves to rebuilding Crete after the catastrophe.

The rebuilding of Minoan Crete gave birth to the Neopalatial (1700–1400 BC) period. Here the Minoans built taller, stronger and mazelike palaces with elaborate paintings on them. Murals on the walls show some characteristics of Crete’s culture, like bull leaping. The largest palace of this type is found at the city of Knossos. This has taken some people to conclude that Knossos might have functioned as a capital of the island, or maybe just had the dominant kingdom of all cities in the island. Nevertheless, we do not know if the Minoans were warlike. The reasons are because their palaces appear to have little to no protection at all and their influence seems to be more of merchant characteristics than military.

The Minoans did have, though, a large fleet of ships, complex plumbing, paved roads, richness in trade goods, and well planned towns. But there came a time in their history where their civilization declined and fell to disappear permanently. No one truly agrees on which might have been the causes of their disappearance.

In conclusion, very little is known about Minoan Crete, but we can assure that they established well relationships of commerce all along the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean Sea. Their influence in trade spread all the way to Egypt and modern day Israel, thus they are an important civilization to consider in the development of our Western Civilization. 

Mycenaean Greece

Mycenaean Greece emerged around 1600 BC. It obtains its name from the archaeological site of Mycenae in Argolis, Peloponnese of southern Greece found by Heinrich Schliemann. When there is reference to Mycenaean Greece, we normally are talking about the Bronze Age of ancient Greece (1600-1100 BC); a time where much of the ancient Greek literature, myth, and the epics of Homer originated from.

Mycenaean civilization developed from the society and culture of the Early and Middle Helladic periods in mainland Greece. In the time of its appearance, the Helladic culture in mainland Greece had been transformed by the influence of Minoan Crete.

Mycenaean civilization benefitted from conquest and not of trade, as Minoans did. About the year of 1400 BC, Mycenae conquered Crete and the Minoan civilization. Through this conquering, Mycenae adopted the Linear A form of writing of the Minoans to form their own Greek writing called Linear B.

According to the Hellenic legend, the Mycenaeans defeated the Trojans who were their major rivals in power. However, the historical authenticity of the Trojan War is uncertain, because the only accounts of it exist in Homer’s Iliad and texts that involve Greek mythology. Therefore, we do not know with precision if the war is just a mere invention. Nevertheless, the German archeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, said to have found the ruins of Troy in Hissarlik at western Asia Minor, in modern-day Turkey. Some sources have opposed to the idea of these being Troy’s ruins, due to their inaccuracy in matching Homer’s writings of Troy, but many others have disagreed.   

Mycenae had independent cities, each was probably ruled by a King, whom was perhaps venerated or worshiped by the people. Their influence seems to be found all the way through the Aegean Sea and as far away as Italy and Egypt. Much Greek religion has its origin in Mycenaean times.

Mycenae was an important civilization that developed with greater strength the foundations for the ancient Greek civilization. It is undoubtedly an important society to consider in the study of our Western Civilization.

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