Aegean: Minoan Art (3,000-1,100 BCE)

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Palace of Knossos
Phaistos Disc
Bull leaping fresco, Knossos

Wall painting of a shrine, Knossos
Octopus design vase
Harvest Rhyton

Aegean Art was the art and sculpture created in the lands and islands, surrounding and in, the Aegean Sea during the Bronze Age. It runs up until the until the 11th c BCE, after that it is considered as Ancient Greek art. Aegean Art is usually considered within three cultures – the non-Greek Minoan and Cycladic cultures, and the Mycenaean Greeks.

The Minoan civilization flourished on Crete and other Aegean islands between 3,000 and 1,100 BCE. It represents the first advanced civilization that emerged in Europe as evidenced by its four-storey palaces, tools, artworks, writing systems and evidence of its network of trade around the Aegean islands, with Mediterranean settlements and into the Near East..

It is ‘Minoan’ because of its mythical King Minos and the tale of his labyrinth and Minotaur. The best of Minoan art was preserved in the city of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini (aka Thera). A major catastrophic volcanic eruption, one of the largest in human history, devastated the Aegean island of Thera in around 1,600 BCE, it was followed by earthquakes and tsunamis. This destroyed the Minoan settlement at Akrotiri, the communities and agricultural areas on other islands and the coastline of Crete with subsequent earthquakes and tsunamis. From 1,550 BCE the Minoan civilization faded away without any agreed explanation.

‘Minoan’ writing used Cretan hieroglyphs and developed in parallel its own Linear A writing system. It was succeeded by Linear B, which was used by the Mycenaeans to write an early form of Greek. No texts in Linear A have yet been deciphered.


The remnants of the North Portico of the Palace of Knossos. The colums are cypress trunks, and appear wider at the top than bottom, Greek columns are wider at the base.
The palace was located just south of modern-day Heraklion and boasted 14,000 sq m of rooms, it had a small town in antiquity. Growing into what some claim as Europe’s first city (lower image is an artist’s impression of the city).
Other settlements built cities – Mallia, Phaestos and Zakro.
Minoans were colourul there walls and pvements were made red through using an ochre.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: heraklion.gr

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Phaistos Disk is made from fired clay from the palace of Phaistos, Crete, dating to the middle or late Minoan Bronze Age. It is 15cm in diameter, and features 241 tokens, comprised of 45 distinct signs. These were hieroglyphic ‘seals’ pressed into the soft clay, in a clockwise spiral into the centre of the disk. It has not been deciphered and one source claims it is a fake. The images show both sides of it.
This colourful fresco was discovered in the Palace of Knossos. Its theme is bull-leaping (linked to the Minotaur myth?).
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

This Knossos wall painting shows Minoans attending cult in a sacred grove and around a large tripartite shrine or temple. It is dated to 1,580-1,530 BCE.
This 27cm high vase was dicovered at Palaikastro and dated to c1,500 BCE. It has an unusual octopus design and is at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.
Pottery at Knossos was prolific, heavily-decorated and so uniquely-styled by period that it can be used as a layer diagnostic by archaeologists. The lower image shows a display at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion from Pyrgos. east Crete.

Image source: khanacademy.org

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons
This ‘Harvest Rhyton’ is a steatite drinking container showing a relief of twenty-seven men with harvesting tools. It is dated to 1,450 BCE and is on show at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

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