History Facts: The Minoans
Crete is the perfect place for a relaxing holiday, but did you know that it was also once home to one of the world’s most ancient civilisations?
From 3,000 to 1,100 BC Crete was ruled by the Minoans – a fascinating people who have left behind many traces of their culture, from the fabulous palace at Knossos to fragments of pottery which can be dated as far back as the Neolithic period. Named after their legendary king, Minos, the Minoans were for a long time the most advanced civilisation in the western world.
The Minoans dressed in bright colours, and dined on cheese, fish, wild fruit, milk and wine, flavoured with honey, salt and herbs. From 2,700-1,900 BC they used a primitive hieroglyphic script, which later evolved into an early form of the Greek language.
Their culture was heavily steeped in a religion which appears to have been dominated by female deities. Their most important goddess was Potnia. She had a double axe as her symbol, and offerings of honey were often made to her. Other divinities seem to include a fertility goddess, a young male deity, a goddess of wild animals, a mountain mother, a goddess of caves, a tree goddess and a bull god.
According to legend, the wife of King Minos gave birth to a hideous flesh-eating creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull. Minos kept this monster, the ‘Minotaur’ in a labrynth beneath his famous palace at Knossos. Every seven years he would force the neighbouring kingdoms to send him a tribute of seven young men and women to be fed to the creature. It was eventually slain by the Greek prince Thesius, with the help of Minos’ daughter Ariadne.