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The Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations

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During the development of Mesopotamia and Egyptian cultures, other cultures developed in Greece, Italy, Asia Minor coasts, in Cyprus, Crete, and the Cycladic Islands, and the Aegean Sea beaches (McNeese 56). However, the cultures that emerged to be the most developed are Minoan and Mycenaean cultures. These two civilizations were influenced by Asia and Egypt, but each civilization maintained their uniqueness.

The Minoan civilization is the most ancient culture of the Aegean cultures; it grew among the Europe, Africa and Asia crossroads, and it was named after King Minos, who was the founder of the neighboring dynasty in 2000 BCE (Scarre, and Stefoff 25). The Mycenaean culture developed during the Late Bronze Age on the Mycenae Hill in Greece mainland; later, this culture became more powerful and rich, and replaced the Minoan civilization; they took control of the Minoan trade routes in Crete and Aegean Islands (McNeese 142). The Mycenaean had a unique way of life, however, it was partly influenced by the Minoan style of life; this was because they produced pitchers which had Minoan elements, they also learnt metalwork, which was done by the Minoans and employed many Minoan workers and stayed with them for long periods (McNeese 169). This paper discusses similarities and differences between these two civilizations.


According to the inscriptions found in Mycenaean and Knossos cities, written in Linear B script on tablets, the Mycenaean worshiped gods. The names of the gods were Posedone, the Greek god Poseidon, Atana, the Greek goddess Athena, Zeus, who appeared as Diuja and was identified as the god of sky (Dietrich 116). They also had other gods such as Marineus, Diwia, Komawenteia and Dirimijo, however, the Mycenaeans’ main god was Poseidon. The Mycenaean, believed in supernatural gods, they perceived these gods as unique and according to Mycenaean, their gods were not omnipotent, they did not know everything and were not found everywhere (Dietrich 213). However, their abilities were considered as greater than human power; they could foresee the future, as well as interfere with human actions. The Mycenaean’s gods were also considered to have feeling, love and could fight just like human beings.

The Minoan, like the Mycenaean, worshiped many gods, which were headed by one god; they worshiped a snake, a dove and other objects such as double axes, horns and bulls. All the gods were headed by the snake goddess, who was considered as a universal mother, goddess of crops, animals, sea, land, weather, fertility, birth and death. The goddess was also a source of food and brought curses and blessings to the people. However, according to Dietrich, the Minoan gods, contrary to the Mycenaean, had no human feelings, and they could not love and fight, but just like the Mycenaean, the Minoan gods were assumed to have greater power than human power, and they could foresee the future, as well as interfere with human actions (Dietrich 326). Unlike the Mycenaean, which had a male god, the Minoan had only female gods, and according to the researcher, the Minoan goddesses represented only one goddess. The religious worship for both Mycenaean and Minoan was held in temples, palaces, courtyards, houses, caves and mountain peaks.


Mycenaean civilization had similar building and miniature designs to those from Mesopotamia. However, the building techniques were similar to those of Minoan; they used post and beams in most of their constructions. The Mycenaean builders expressed their creativeness through developing and building new forms of building from the existing ones. The important structure among the Mycenaean and Minoans are the tholos tombs, palaces and residential houses.

Tholos Tombs

In the earlier years, Minoan buried the dead in cave; they changed this to cemeteries during the middle period, and this was also changed to rectangular burial structure. Each had a burial structure where it buried the dead; the structure was used for over hundred years, first, they buried in the ground, and the bones were later transferred to the tombs (McNeese 148). The most common burial structure among the Minoan was the tholos; this was a circular stone tomb built in a hill slope or the ground, and designed with a dome shape with 4-13 meters diameter and a thickness of 0.7-2.5 meters. An example of tholos is ‘Tholos A’, a tomb that was found in the Phourni cemetery; it had a long entrance corridor, and the inside wall was coated with stone (McNeese 154). The lintel of the entrance was positioned at the ground level, and beneath the lintel was a grave.

The tholos tombs of the Mycenaean, like the Minoan tholos, were built in hills, and had a dome shape; the royal family members were buried in these tombs. According to McNeese, the tholos structures of the Mycenaean were influenced by the smaller tholos of Minoan civilization; initially they were built in gravel, however, with time, they started building them in ashlar stones (McNeese 159). An example of the Mycenaean tholos was the Minyas’ treasury house and Atreus’ treasury house found in Greece, the ground plan of these tholos resembled that of the Minoan tholos.


Like the Minoan, the Mycenaean architecture emphasized more on the palaces than temples. However, a Mycenaean palace looked more like a fortress while a Minoan palace looked like a labyrinth. The fortification was because of the foreign invasions, and its outline was based on the topography with the outline of the walls following the natural site contour, thus creating a barrier for invaders (Ireland 104). The example of the fortification architecture can be found in Tiryns and Mycenae.

The Mycenaean palace was laid along a tough axis, and was built as a one-story building with walls surrounded by  massive stones; this was different from the palaces of the Minoan, which were built as two-story structures (Ireland 316). The Mycenaean and Minoan had similar inside walls; they were plastered, and then decorated with frescoes.

In the Minoan palace the focus was placed more on the large inner courtyard, while the in the Mycenaean palace the emphasis was put on the megaron; the megaron was considered as a center for worship and was used for the coronation and. The megaron in the Minoan palace did not receive much attention but was used for ceremonial purposes; it had a round hearth, with a quadratic plan of four columns, which supported the ceiling with an opening for smoke (McNeese 246). The megaron in both Mycenaean and Minoan civilization had corridors, which sometimes opened to additional rooms.

Residential Buildings

The Minoan residential houses were designed as urban houses; most of them were one-story, but there were also two and three-story. This was a contrast to the Mycenaean houses, which were built in a shape like that of a megaron; the entrance of the house was shaped like a deep portico with lines leading to the central door that lead into the residence (Ireland 209). The house back was designed as an apse, it had a half-circle shaped base; however, it was mostly rectangular in shape. The residential houses of the two civilizations were different in design, but the building materials were similar; the walls of these houses were built of gravel or stone, and the upper section was built of mud, and the ceiling was made of wood (McNeese 215).

The Cities

Most of the Minoan cities were built on the coastline; they had irregular plans, with almost all of them being built with blocks, and the streets were paved, the cities also had drainage channels (McNeese 523). These cities, which included most cities of Crete were grouped around the palace or the market area, and, palaces dominated Minoan cities as well as Mycenaean cities . An example of Minoan cities is Knossos, which was also a palace, this city had an irregular plan, and it was surrounded by residential houses of the upper class, with a narrow alley separating them (Scarre, & Stefoff 36).

The Mycenaean cities, unlike the Minoan cities which were build on the coastline, were built on the hill steep or on acropolis, which are high plains. Bussagli, highlights that the Mycenaeans associated hills with status; the palace was the highest point. The Mycenaean cities, unlike the Minoan cities, had fortifications except for Tiryns and Mycenae; the fortified cities looked majestic with an array of courtyards, rooms positioned on one axis and staircases (Bussagli 69). The city of Tiryns is an example of Mycenaean cities; this city is situated on the southeast of Mycenae, and was built on a cliff that towered the plane of Argolis. The terrain of this city rises from north to south with the king’s palace at the highest point.


The Minoan civilization had many languages; the Minoan used a primitive hieroglyphic script during the Prepalatial period. According to Kristiansen and Larsson, later, during the Protopalatial period, they developed Linear A language, which they continued to use in the Neopalatial period; this language featured many symbols, and each symbol represented a number, a word or a syllable. Linear A was used in some religious functions as well as in record keeping (Kristiansen, & Larsson 407). The Mycenaeans’ language was different from the Minoan; they conquered the Minoan and replaced Linear A with Linear B, which later evolved as the Modern Greek language.


The Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations developed in different ways, lived in different times, but they have some similarities. The Mycenaean civilization customs, architecture, and the way of life were influenced by the Minoan civilization. The influence came after the Mycenaean defeated the Minoan; they lived and used Minoan workers over a long time, and this influenced their religion, their burial customs and the way they built their structures. As we have seen above their burial structures ‘the tholos’ were similar, and the way they built their palaces was also similar. The two civilizations worshiped many gods, but the Minoan had only female gods. The similarities and differences show that although, Mycenaean’s way of life was influenced by the Minoan, they still maintained their uniqueness.

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