The term Ancient Crete refers to the civilization that existed on the island of Crete, just south of Greece, in the Mediterranean Sea. From around 3000–1100 B.C., inhabitants known as Minoans controlled the island of Crete and ruled the island autonomously. Despite the fact the Minoans were able to rise to a position of political and economic dominance during this time, their civilization and subsequent control over Crete was destroyed by a large volcanic eruption 300 km away, layering it in hot volcanic ash. It is from this period onward that Crete began to fall under the control of the near-by Greek city-states and eventually the Roman Empire.
The island of Crete runs approximately 260 km in length from East to West and at its widest points in the center extends about 60 km in width. Crete is set in a region of the Mediterranean that is geologically unstable, and thus the island has been affected by countless earthquakes which have caused drastic shifts in the terrain and left many of its ancient cities in ruins. Findings of submerged cities and houses during archaeological diving expeditions just off the coast of Crete have allowed modern historians[who?] to assume that the Mediterranean Sea has actually risen since the time of the Minoans. The island is dominated by a mountain range known as the White Mountains which contain some peaks that reach approximately 2500 m in height.
The Cretans are formally referred to as Minoans and formed what is considered as a civilized society around 2100 B.C. during the early years of the Bronze Age. Much of what modern historians know about the Minoans comes from Linear B which was discovered at the palace of Knossos. The tablet was translated and contained lists of inventory that is assumed to have been stored in the palace. Since the period when the Mycenaeans first inhabited the island of Crete they were ruled by a monarchy. The central or capital city of Crete appears to have been located at Knossos and remained there throughout the entire existence of ancient Cretan society. It is unclear as to what type of taxes were paid by the surrounding villagers to the crown, yet it is most likely that these people paid in tribute by providing goods and manufactured products. As stated earlier in the article the Mycenaeans did participate heavily in Mediterranean trade. Though many resources were available for the Mycenaeans on the island of Crete, there was always a constant demand for olive oil and grain (such as wheat) which were found inland on nearby Greece.
Evidence that the Mycenaeans had a set polytheistic religion is plentiful throughout several architectural remains on Crete. Figurines have been found throughout the hundreds of cult based temples on the island. These figurines depict the Ancient Cretan Gods and weakly resemble the familiar gods depicted in Greek mythology. Like in the worship of Greek mythology, the practice of both supplication and sacrifice seem to be prevalent in the Mycenaean cults. Most temple remains contain altars and statues where both of these procedures could be performed.
Any actual mythological stories or true beliefs within the Cretan religion remain a mystery to most historians. This is due to the lack in archaeological remains which were so crucial to understanding both Greek and Roman mythology.
- Willetts, R.F., The Civilization of Ancient Crete, 1992, pp. 21–37
- Warren, P., "The Aegean Civilizations", 1997, pp. 33-34
- Warren, P., "The Aegean Civilizations", 1997, pp. 24-25
- Schofield, L., "The Mycenaeans", 2007, pp. 66-67
- Spyridakis, S.V., "Cretica", 1992, pp. 123
- Willetts, R.F., "The Civilization of Ancient Crete", 1992, pp. 461-72