Guangning YangClassics 51ADis 1G804457218 Minoan and Mycenaean CivilizationsDuring theGreek Bronze Age, two civilizations thrived in the Aegean region. One is calledMinoan civilization, whose based is on the island of Crete, discovered by SirArthur Evans in A.D. 1894. The other one is called the Mycenaean, which locateson the mainland Greece, first discovered by Heinrich Schliemann. Minoancivilization predates the Mycenaean by hundred of years and therefore exertssome influence on the development of Mycenaean culture. However, despite numeroussimilarities, the Mycenaean differs from the Minoan in artistic conception, ritualpractice and even social structure.
To be more specific, the difference betweentwo civilizations resides in the fact that the Minoan focuses on trade while theMycenaean focuses on warfare. This difference is revealed through the analysisthe remaining archaeology evidence meticulously, from languages, architectures,burial customs to paintings.The most directway to understand a civilization is to read its literature. The languages usedby Mycenaean and Minoan are very similar to each other, as one can tell fromtheir names: Linear A and Linear B. Linear A is a language widely used by the Minoansin the New Palace period and is commonly found on religious writings, first discoveredby Sir Arthur Evans’ excavation at Knossos (Biers, 1980, 28).
However, it isstill not deciphered until the present day. As a result, scholars could only tryto interpret the Minoan civilization via archelogy, including architecture andmaterial culture, which will be covered in the later of this essay. One majordefect of this methodology would be that the thought today is much different thanthe thought of ancient people and therefore scholar might have awryinterpretations. Luckily, scholar do have Linear B deciphered, and it is believedto be originated from Linear A.
Also discovered at Knossos, Linear B was believedto be adopted by the Mycenaeans who were able to conquer the Minoans. TheLinear B tablets reveal a ranked society with centralized bureaucracy. Althoughit also has some accounting ideas on the tablet, the words seem to suggest thatthe Mycenaean were more warlike people and they centered on they own agriculturerather than trades (Biers, 1980, 76). Therefore, even if scholars are not ableto decipher Linear A, Linear B still helps to explain a shift toward warfare ofthe Mycenaean people.The comparisonbetween Mycenaean and Minoan architecture can also give us a glimpse of the distinctivefeatures associated with each civilization. Although the inner part of thepalace follows the same construction formula for their floor plans, “post-and-lintel”,and both Mycenaean and Minoan people constructed their palaces around a centralarea, 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 occupieda large portion of the total area of the palace. The main purposes of that courtare, according to the historians, serving as the place for ritual practice andenabling 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 largerectangular room with four columns holding up the roof and standing to supportan 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 precedentof thee classic Greek temple. Like the purpose of the central courtyard in the Minoanpalace, the megaron also serves for ceremonial purpose. However, a closer lookat the outer walls of the palaces tells a different story. Although Mycenaeanarchitectures are also famous for its palaces, their palaces are actually “citadel”,or “fortress”. The Mycenaean Kings generally built their palaces on hilltop andguarded their palaces with stone walls, which act as a barrier that will resistthe attack of the potential enemies (Graham, 1960, 47). In contrast, the similararchitectures rarely appear in palatial Crete, which made the luxurious palacea “tempting targets” for their neighbors (Biers, 1980, 76).
Thus, the outer wall difference shows the warfare orientation of the Mycenaean.The materialsthat 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 beamsand 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 largescale stone to build up the so-called “megalithic architecture”.
One famousexample would come from the Lion Gate, the main gateway to the Mycenaeancitadel. where the Mycenaean is above to presents two stone lions in a “relievingtriangular”, which was designed to reduce the actual weight of stone over the lintel(Biers,1980, 68). This delicate design enabled the two monoliths to withstandthe weight of the lion sculptures and enabled the architecture to survive topresent day. Mycenaean’s strong engineering and architecture skills are also utilizedin maintaining the roads and linking the major centers altogether. The robusthighway system enables them to build not only “toll station” but also “militaryfort” along the road (Jansen, 1994, 1). This technique could help the transitionof army to be much faster and easier, increasing Mycenaean’s military influenceover its neighbor. The burial practicealso varies for the Minoan and for the Mycenaean. According to Dickinson, forMinoans, burials had been inhumane during the Pre-Palatial Period, with cremationbeing 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, Mycenaeanconstruction is famous for its “tholos tombs”, and the best-preserved tombs isthe “Tomb of Agamemnon,” or “Treasury of Atreus,” which remainsintact until the present day.
This kind of royal monumental tomb is rarely seenin the civilization of Minoan. These tholos tombs are usually family tombs andmany of them had people of different generations buried (Biers, 1980, 76). Thetombs are commonly “cave cut horizontally into the side of the hill” and composedof huge stones, which weighing hundreds of tons, owing the sophisticatedtechniques employed by the Mycenaean. Nevertheless, for common Mycenaeanfamilies, they were usually buried in large irregular chambers on the sides ofhills (Graham, 1994, 5). Here, the significant difference between the burialpractice points to a development ranked and stratified society, which implies amore centralized political system of the Mycenaean.It’s valid tosay that the Mycenaeans’ art is influenced by that of Minoan and it’s sometimeseven difficult to tell the difference between their paintings.
For instance, inalmost every mainland palaces, the frescos seem to be in Minoan style and seemto be complete with Minoan techniques. Some even suggests that the paintingswere completed by Minoan artists (Biers, 1980, 80). However, Mycenaean’s artand paints have its distinctive characteristics and motifs that differentiatethemselves from the Minoans’. Two major themes in the Minoans’ paintings are thelove for nature and the religious life in the central court, as demonstrated byits famous paintings “Flying Fish” fresco and “Bull-vaulting” fresco,respectively (Biers, 1980, 47). However, the love for nature theme disappearsin the paintings of the Mycenaeans. Trees and flowers are absent in their artisticwork 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 fornature in this case.
Animals in Mycenaeans’ art only appear either as human’shelper 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 thatthe Minoan’s paints have. Therefore, it’s fair to say that the culture for the Minoansis more natural oriented, whereas the Mycenaeans’ culture is aggressive anddemonstrates their desire to conquest.All thereasonings above come down to the fact that the Minoans and Mycenaeanscivilizations, despite extensive similarities, has fundamental differences. TheMinoans, as an earlier civilization, has a looser social structure, loves natureand focuses more on trading.
Although from archeological evidences we could seethe Mycenaeans inherit many attributes of the Minoans, but a deeper analysis onthe language, burial customs, paintings, and architectures sheds the light onthe fact that the Mycenaeans has a more complex ranked social hierarchy, ismore centralized and warlike. The Minoans’ lack of aggressiveness might beattributed to the isolated location and the Crete island, while the Mycenaeans’warlike thought might derive from its conquer of the Minoans.