The 1st Civilisation of the Western World?

14 Aug

Image from Bettany Hughes Official Web Page

Watched a documentary on More 4 yesterday. “The Minoans“,  is one episode of a series called “The Ancient World with Bettany Hughes”

More about Bettany Hughes here.

Wikipedia information about Minoan Culture here and Arthur Evans here.

There seems to have been much debate about “The Minoan Peace
The society seems to have an equality of class and gender that I have not heard of before and also seems to have been formed through matriarchy rather than the normal patriarchial regimes of the region.

Perhaps we in the 21st century can learn a lot from Minoan culture?

“Though the vision created by Arthur Evans of a pax Minoica, a “Minoan peace”, has been criticised in recent years,  it is generally assumed there was little internal armed conflict in Minoan Crete itself, until the following Mycenaean period. As with much of Minoan Crete, however, it is hard to draw any obvious conclusions from the evidence. However, new excavations keep sustaining interest and documenting the impact around the Aegean.

Despite having found ruined watchtowers and fortification walls,  Evans argued that there was little evidence for ancient Minoan fortifications. As Lucia Nixon said, “…we may have been over-influenced by the lack of what we might think of as solid fortifications to assess the archaeological evidence properly. As in so many other instances, we may not have been looking for evidence in the right places, and therefore we may not end with a correct assessment of the Minoans and their ability to avoid war.”.

“.It seems that for many centuries Minoan Crete remained free from any invaders and managed to develop a distinct self-based civilization which was probably the most advanced in the Mediterannean area during the bronze-age.”

From Wikipedia : Archeologist Sir Arthur Evans, bust located at Knossos palace, Crete.

Bettany Hughes’ documentary brings forward other factors to bear not least the many earthquakes that ravage Minoan Crete and the resilience of the Minoans to rebuild their homes and live a civilized life,

Introduction to the programme from the Channel 4 Website

Bettany Hughes visits Crete to recount the story one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever made.

The tale of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth is perhaps the most compelling of all Greek myths. Just over 100 years ago, English archaeologist Arthur Evans went to the ‘Minotaur’s Island’ to explore the roots of this myth and discovered instead a sophisticated Bronze Age civilisation that had been lost to history for thousands of years.

He called them The Minoans, and the riches of their culture astonished the world, prompting Evans to proclaim them the first civilisation of the Western World.

But was this view unduly romantic? Recent archaeological discoveries have added fascinating layers of complexity to the picture originally painted by Evans.

A fresco found at the Minoan site of Knossos, indicating a sport or ritual of "bull leaping", the red skinned figure is a man and the two light skinned figures are women.

There also seems to have been a gender equality within Minoan culture:
The Minoan religion focused on female deities, with females officiating.The statues of priestesses in Minoan culture and frescoes showing men and women participating in the same sports such as bull-leaping, lead some archaeologists to believe that men and women held equal social status. Inheritance is thought to have been matrilineal.The frescos include many depictions of people, with the genders distinguished by colour: the men’s skin is reddish-brown, the women’s white.

It seems there is still a great deal more to discover and be learned from Minoan Society and Cuture:

The Minoans were primarily a mercantile people engaged in overseas trade. Their culture, from 1700 BC onward,shows a high degree of organization.

Fresco Image from Wikipedia

It is believedthat the Minoans were involved in the Bronze Age’s important tin trade: tin, alloyed with copper apparently from Cyprus, was used to make bronze. The decline of Minoan civilization and the decline in use of bronze tools in favor of iron ones seem to be correlated.

The Minoan trade in saffron, the stigma of a mutated crocus which originated in the Aegean basin as a natural chromosome mutation, has left fewer material remains: a fresco of saffron-gatherers at Santorini is well-known. This inherited trade pre-dated Minoan civilization: a sense of its rewards may be gained by comparing its value to frankincense, or later, to pepper.

Objects of Minoan manufacture suggest there was a network of trade with mainland Greece (notably Mycenae), Cyprus, Syria, Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and westward as far as the coast of Spain.

Minoan men wore loincloths and kilts. Women wore robes that had short sleeves and layered flounced skirts. These were open to the navel allowing their breasts to be left exposed, perhaps during ceremonial occasions.Women also had the option of wearing a strapless fitted bodice. The patterns on clothes emphasized symmetrical geometric designs. It must be remembered that other forms of dress may have been worn of which we have no record.

Concentration of wealth played a large role in the structure of society. Multiroom constructions were discovered in even the ‘poor’ areas of town, revealing a social equality and even distribution of wealth.

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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in History


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