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The Minoans And Mycenaeans History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

During the Bronze Age, the Mycenaeans and Minoans became two of the most powerful and culturally unique groups the world had ever seen. Because they resided so close to each other, they had an undeniable influence on each other and this resulted in the two groups sharing a lot of the same characteristics. Despite having a similar set of characteristics, both civilizations had several noticeable and distinct differences, most notably in the areas of architecture, arts, and languages. These differences can be understood best when examining the fact that Minoans were more trade and nature oriented, while the Mycenaeans focused more on war and strengthening their military.

The Minoans and Mycenaean civilizations both resided in present-day Greece, while the Minoans based their civilization on the island of Crete, and the Mycenaeans on mainland Greece. The Minoans, who were known particularly for their extensive trade and dominance of the sea, existed from about 27th century B.C. to 14th century B.C. until the Mycenaeans defeated them and took over (Biers, 1980, 27). On the other hand, the Mycenaeans were more war and military oriented than the Minoans, as seen by their victory over the Minoans and their material culture, which will be looked at later. As far as language is concerned, Mycenaeans appeared to use a language called Linear B, which consisted of 87 different signs and several ideograms, or graphic symbols that represents an idea or concept. There has been a large amount of evidence found in the palaces of the Mycenaean civilization in the form of clay tablets. The Minoans used a system called Linear A, a mostly syllabic script that contains 75 signs and several ideograms; unfortunately, archaeologists still haven’t completely deciphered all of the symbols (Burkert, 1985, 20). We do know however, that Linear A tablets contained accounting transactions, which supports the idea that Minoans were more trade oriented (Biers, 1980, 26). Both civilizations were very complex and advanced with complex social hierarchies; this complexity is best seen by examining the archaeological remains of each civilization’s architecture and different types of art pieces including paintings, sculptures, and pottery.

Although the Minoan and Mycenaean styles of architecture were very similar, there were still several structural differences due to their trade and military backgrounds.

Mycenaeans were especially talented at working “with large blocks of stone” (Biers, 1980, 67), a technique called megalithic architecture, which made it possible for Mycenaeans to construct enormous, heavily fortified walls that surrounded their palaces. This was in stark contrast to Minoan palaces as they probably felt that fortifications around palaces may have been superfluous due to their isolation location and strong navy. Minoans also used a post and lintel system, or in other words, “verticals and horizontals” (Biers, 1980, 29), as opposed to the Mycenaean megalithic structure. A distinct feature of the Mycenaean style of architecture is the “relieving triangle above a lintel block”, an architectural element best displayed on the Lion Gate at Mycenae (Preziosi and Hitchcock, 1999, 176).

Both civilizations had palaces with intricate and detailed floor plans that covered a vast amount of land and had a central area upon which the rest of the palace would be built around. Typically, in Minoan palaces such as Knossos, the central area would be a large courtyard which was the “focus of everyday life and served as the site for religious rituals and other ceremonial functions” (Biers, 1980, 29). On the other hand, the central area of a Mycenaean palace was called a megaron. Typically, Mycenaean palaces such as Pylos, were highly decorated; this included the “walls and the floor” and even the hearth, which had “spiral and flame patterns” painted several times (Biers, 1980, 71). Another aspect of the Mycenaean culture that showed they had a military sense was their utilization of advanced hydraulic engineering. Not only did they have great fortification walls, but they had carefully maintained roads that served as an important network connector to their various major centers (Biers, 1980, 74). While it is reasonable to conclude that both civilizations had impressive pieces of architectural work, the Mycenaeans tended to have a greater abundance of military architecture in its world.

Based on an abundant amount of archaeological evidence, it is apparent that the Minoans were more interested in nature oriented art while Mycenaeans were more interested in warlike paintings. The Minoans loved to paint frescoes with bright, vibrant colors such as terra cotta red and used these colors to depict beautiful scenes of nature (Biers, 1980, 29). Minoan also liked to use a vivid red paint to paint the floor as a “blanket of color” and not just for frescoes (Hirsch, 1980, 453). There were also many enormous bull-vaulting scenes, present in Minoan palaces. In these paintings, the bulls were typically painted brown and white while the men were painted red and then women were painted white (Biers, 1980, 46). When examining Mycenaean art it is clear that they were strongly influenced by the Minoans because you can see several Minoan themes in their paintings and frescoes. An example of this is the “procession fresco” and the “bull-vaulting scene” (Biers, 1980, 80). Despite this obvious correlation, Mycenaean art usually had a lesser emphasis on nature, which was only used as a backdrop for scenes, and a greater emphasis on warlike scenes (Biers, 1980, 82). Both societies also made terra cotta figurines but Minoans features “household goddesses” with “flaring skirts” and “raised hands” (Biers, 1980, 55) while the Mycenaean figurines were larger in scale and were primarily categorized into three types: Phi, women with no arms, Psi, women whose arms made a crescent shape, and Tau (Biers, 1980, 89). While both cultures were masterful in painting sculptures and other forms of art, the Minoans concentrated more on being detailed and nature oriented while the Mycenaeans were more plain and focused more on warlike sculptures.

Perhaps the archaeological find with the most abundant amount of evidence that backs up the idea that Minoans were more nature oriented than their counter part, the Mycenaeans, is pottery. Minoan pottery is considered to be far more decorative than that of the Mycenaeans and their pottery “attained a very high standard in both fabric and decoration” (Biers, 1980, 52). Since pottery was actually also used to determine chronology, Minoan pottery actually provided a foundation for dividing the different Minoan eras. Late Minoan IA style featured spirals with details added in white and floral motifs (Biers, 1980, 54), while Late Minoan IB style, the Marine style, featured several nature-like qualities such as the depictions of sea creatures, particularly octopus (Biers, 1980, 54). Unlike Minoan pottery, Mycenaean pottery was simple and “dull in its decoration” (Biers, 1980, 85). Mycenaean pottery was designed with a “dull black-to-brown glaze” while the Late Helladic IIIB pottery featured shapes such as a kylix, and the Late Helladic IIIC period featured “simple linear patterns” and warrior scenes (Biers, 1980, 85 and 86). The Mycenaeans and Minoans had very different tastes in pottery as the Mycenaeans went for a more simple, plain, and at times, warrior style, while the Minoans went for a more colorful, and nature like style.

Like most material culture, the religion and burial practices of the Minoans and Mycenaeans shared many similarities and had many differences. Minoan religion featured several female goddesses, prompting Arthur Evans to claim that their religion was a “Mother goddess-centered religion” (Olsen, 1998, 382). Additionally, animals and “the death and rebirth of vegetation…serve as the basis of Minoan religion” (Biers, 1980, 27). A big difference between Minoan and Mycenaean religious practices was that Mycenaean cult buildings were independent structures which avoided the Minoan practice of building multiple shrines within their settlement (Burkert, 1985, 89). Grave Circle A and Grave Circle B are two of the most significant shaft grave archaeological finds for pottery and metalwork that have ever taken place (Biers, 1980, 75). The typical burial method was “internment in chamber tombs and, for the royal family, in tholos tombs” (Biers, 1980, 76). It is quite evident that both civilizations did have particular burial practices and practiced religion, although in Mycenaean civilization burial practices took on a larger scale.

There is no doubt that the similarities between the Minoans and Mycenaeans are extensive, mostly because of their close proximity that allowed the Minoans to influence the Mycenaeans so much. While they were very similar, they also had several fundamental differences, most notably the Minoans being more trade and nature oriented while the Mycenaeans were more warlike. These differences are best understood by analyzing the different archaeological, artistic, and language aspects because they tell a story about the development of two of the greatest ancient civilizations during the Bronze Age.


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