Guangning civilizations thrived in the Aegean region. One is

Guangning Yang

Classics 51A

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Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations

During the
Greek Bronze Age, two civilizations thrived in the Aegean region. One is called
Minoan civilization, whose based is on the island of Crete, discovered by Sir
Arthur Evans in A.D. 1894. The other one is called the Mycenaean, which locates
on the mainland Greece, first discovered by Heinrich Schliemann. Minoan
civilization predates the Mycenaean by hundred of years and therefore exerts
some influence on the development of Mycenaean culture. However, despite numerous
similarities, the Mycenaean differs from the Minoan in artistic conception, ritual
practice and even social structure. To be more specific, the difference between
two civilizations resides in the fact that the Minoan focuses on trade while the
Mycenaean focuses on warfare. This difference is revealed through the analysis
the remaining archaeology evidence meticulously, from languages, architectures,
burial customs to paintings.

The most direct
way to understand a civilization is to read its literature. The languages used
by Mycenaean and Minoan are very similar to each other, as one can tell from
their names: Linear A and Linear B. Linear A is a language widely used by the Minoans
in the New Palace period and is commonly found on religious writings, first discovered
by Sir Arthur Evans’ excavation at Knossos (Biers, 1980, 28). However, it is
still not deciphered until the present day. As a result, scholars could only try
to interpret the Minoan civilization via archelogy, including architecture and
material culture, which will be covered in the later of this essay. One major
defect of this methodology would be that the thought today is much different than
the thought of ancient people and therefore scholar might have awry
interpretations. Luckily, scholar do have Linear B deciphered, and it is believed
to be originated from Linear A. Also discovered at Knossos, Linear B was believed
to be adopted by the Mycenaeans who were able to conquer the Minoans. The
Linear B tablets reveal a ranked society with centralized bureaucracy. Although
it also has some accounting ideas on the tablet, the words seem to suggest that
the Mycenaean were more warlike people and they centered on they own agriculture
rather than trades (Biers, 1980, 76). Therefore, even if scholars are not able
to decipher Linear A, Linear B still helps to explain a shift toward warfare of
the Mycenaean people.

The comparison
between Mycenaean and Minoan architecture can also give us a glimpse of the distinctive
features associated with each civilization. Although the inner part of the
palace follows the same construction formula for their floor plans, “post-and-lintel”,
and both Mycenaean and Minoan people constructed their palaces around a central
area, the outside fortification wall reveals the difference between the two civilizations.
The central part of the floor plan shows the influence of Minoan on Mycenaean architecture.
The Minoan palace is centered around a rectangular paved court, which occupied
a large portion of the total area of the palace. The main purposes of that court
are, according to the historians, serving as the place for ritual practice and
enabling the penetration of sunshine and warmth to its surrounding rooms (Biers,
1980, 29). The Mycenae palace also has a similar central focus for its construction,
although it’s not a courtyard but a hall instead. It’s called megaron, a large
rectangular room with four columns holding up the roof and standing to support
an opening of the ceiling to let out the smoke from the palace (Biers, 1980, 70).
The megaron is believed to be unvarying for many years and is regarded as a precedent
of thee classic Greek temple. Like the purpose of the central courtyard in the Minoan
palace, the megaron also serves for ceremonial purpose. However, a closer look
at the outer walls of the palaces tells a different story. Although Mycenaean
architectures are also famous for its palaces, their palaces are actually “citadel”,
or “fortress”. The Mycenaean Kings generally built their palaces on hilltop and
guarded their palaces with stone walls, which act as a barrier that will resist
the attack of the potential enemies (Graham, 1960, 47). In contrast, the similar
architectures rarely appear in palatial Crete, which made the luxurious palace
a “tempting targets” for their neighbors (Biers, 1980, 76).
Thus, the outer wall difference shows the warfare orientation of the Mycenaean.

The materials
that both civilization use to build up the palace are also significantly different.
Woods are widely used for Minoan palace, both for the walls and for the beams
and the framework of the palace, whereas stones play a minor role in the building,
cutting into set shapes as “dressed masonry” for wall construction (Biers,
1980, 29). Conversely, the Mycenaean is well-known for its skills to work with large
scale stone to build up the so-called “megalithic architecture”. One famous
example would come from the Lion Gate, the main gateway to the Mycenaean
citadel. where the Mycenaean is above to presents two stone lions in a “relieving
triangular”, which was designed to reduce the actual weight of stone over the lintel
1980, 68). This delicate design enabled the two monoliths to withstand
the weight of the lion sculptures and enabled the architecture to survive to
present day. Mycenaean’s strong engineering and architecture skills are also utilized
in maintaining the roads and linking the major centers altogether. The robust
highway system enables them to build not only “toll station” but also “military
fort” along the road (Jansen, 1994, 1). This technique could help the transition
of army to be much faster and easier, increasing Mycenaean’s military influence
over its neighbor.

The burial practice
also varies for the Minoan and for the Mycenaean. According to Dickinson, for
Minoans, burials had been inhumane during the Pre-Palatial Period, with cremation
being extremely rare. The body is just laid down within a contracted position. Moreover,
in the most common “house tombs”, figurines and other items were rarely founded
(Dickinson, 1994,
218).  On the contrary, Mycenaean
construction is famous for its “tholos tombs”, and the best-preserved tombs is
the “Tomb of Agamemnon,” or “Treasury of Atreus,” which remains
intact until the present day. This kind of royal monumental tomb is rarely seen
in the civilization of Minoan. These tholos tombs are usually family tombs and
many of them had people of different generations buried (Biers, 1980, 76). The
tombs are commonly “cave cut horizontally into the side of the hill” and composed
of huge stones, which weighing hundreds of tons, owing the sophisticated
techniques employed by the Mycenaean. Nevertheless, for common Mycenaean
families, they were usually buried in large irregular chambers on the sides of
hills (Graham, 1994, 5). Here, the significant difference between the burial
practice points to a development ranked and stratified society, which implies a
more centralized political system of the Mycenaean.

It’s valid to
say that the Mycenaeans’ art is influenced by that of Minoan and it’s sometimes
even difficult to tell the difference between their paintings. For instance, in
almost every mainland palaces, the frescos seem to be in Minoan style and seem
to be complete with Minoan techniques. Some even suggests that the paintings
were completed by Minoan artists (Biers, 1980, 80). However, Mycenaean’s art
and paints have its distinctive characteristics and motifs that differentiate
themselves from the Minoans’. Two major themes in the Minoans’ paintings are the
love for nature and the religious life in the central court, as demonstrated by
its famous paintings “Flying Fish” fresco and “Bull-vaulting” fresco,
respectively (Biers, 1980, 47). However, the love for nature theme disappears
in the paintings of the Mycenaeans. Trees and flowers are absent in their artistic
work and warlike or hunting scene replaces them to be the major them of Mycenaeans.
Animals do appear in their paintings, yet the they do not imply the love for
nature in this case. Animals in Mycenaeans’ art only appear either as human’s
helper to hunt, such as dogs or horse, or as humans’ prey, such as bears (Biers,
1980, 80). Moreover, it’s worth to notice that the Mycenaean paintings,
although painted by artists with similar techniques, lack the specificity that
the Minoan’s paints have. Therefore, it’s fair to say that the culture for the Minoans
is more natural oriented, whereas the Mycenaeans’ culture is aggressive and
demonstrates their desire to conquest.

All the
reasonings above come down to the fact that the Minoans and Mycenaeans
civilizations, despite extensive similarities, has fundamental differences. The
Minoans, as an earlier civilization, has a looser social structure, loves nature
and focuses more on trading. Although from archeological evidences we could see
the Mycenaeans inherit many attributes of the Minoans, but a deeper analysis on
the language, burial customs, paintings, and architectures sheds the light on
the fact that the Mycenaeans has a more complex ranked social hierarchy, is
more centralized and warlike. The Minoans’ lack of aggressiveness might be
attributed to the isolated location and the Crete island, while the Mycenaeans’
warlike thought might derive from its conquer of the Minoans.