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Life in Ancient Crete Part I: Minos

Charles Seltman

At the time when the Homeric poems received their final form, the Greeks still retained a tradition that Crete, under the sway of an heroic ruler called Minos, had once been a great sea-power, embracing in a single empire all the islands and the greater part of mainland Greece. This powerful organization, we now know, began to take shape about 2000 B.C. and increased in importance for about six hundred years. Then it came to so sudden and disastrous an end that it ceased to figure as an historical episode and passed into the realm of tradition and myth. Fifty-two years ago, Sir Arthur Evans, being greatly interested in material evidence of a bronze-age civilization in Crete, began his excavations of the Palace of Knossos and revealed to the astonished world of learning one great discovery after another; for here was “the most ancient centre of civilized life in Greece and with it, of our whole continent.” As excavation progressed, a chronological system had to be invented and used to describe the whole Bronze Age in Crete, and the pre-hellenic name “Minos” supplied an appropriate label. Accordingly the term Early Minoan was used for the period between 3000 and 2200 B.C., Middle Minoan for that between 2200 and 1500 B.C., and Late Minoan to cover the effective period from 1500 to 1400 B.C. Each of these three periods was then divided up into three sections. Year by year the uncovering of the Palace at Knossos— and subsequently of other palaces and complex Cretan buildings—proceeded; whereupon strange facts began to emerge; for the ancient Minoans proved to have attached importance to a number of structures, practices and pastimes which one associates mainly with modern western civilization.

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