The Greek Civilization
The Greek Civilization
Peoples of the Fertile Crescent probably settled the area we today call Greece as early as 6000 BC. The beginning of an identifiable Greek culture, however, goes back only about as far as 2000 BC with the arrival of the Achaeans. These people came from southeastern Europe, between the Carpathian and Ural mountains—the region we today refer to as the Balkans.
The Achaeans remained on the mainland, eventually establishing trade relationships with the Aegean islands and other settlements in the region. This trade network fostered the eventual supremacy of the Greek language through- out the region.
The earliest Achaean palace dates to about the seventeenth century BC, at the city of Mycenae in the Peloponnese (the southernmost section of the Greek peninsula). This city eventually gave its name to the Mycenaean civilization, when the Achaeans invaded and took over Crete.
Geographically, Greece is rocky, mountainous, and somewhat barren. Its poor soil and hilly topography make it ideal for such crops as grapes, olives, and apricots, and for herding sheep and goats. As in any island culture, fish also became a staple of the Greek diet.
Throughout the centuries of their civilization, most Greeks were subsistence farmers, and the economy relied more on barter than on purchase for coin or currency. The Greek economy was a mercantile economy, meaning that it was based on buying and selling and trade, but it was by no means an economy of mass production. Pottery, jewelry, and other everyday and luxury goods were made by hand, one at a time. The number of artisans was not large.
The Minoan Civilization on Crete
The Minoan civilization arose on the large island of Crete about 2000 BC. Knossos was the main Minoan city; others included Phaistos and Malia. Minoan civilization was quite sophisticated, featuring an absolute ruler, a thriving mercantile economy, and vast palaces.
The king was called minos, hence the name Minoan . There are numerous ancient legends of King Minos of Crete but no historical evidence of any individual of that name. Historians believe that minos was a title, not a person’s name. The minos was an absolute ruler who identified himself with the gods; the people were entirely subject to his arbitrary will. The magnificent size and scale of the Minoan palaces is clear evidence of Minoan belief in the divinity of their king.
Social classes on Crete at this time included artisans and literate scribes in addition to farmers, fishermen, shipbuilders, and sailors. The artisan class created a steady stream of luxury items for both export and local use; the jars, amphorae, jewelry, and other objects of the period were remarkably sophisticated and beautiful. Archaeologists have discovered troves of written records that testify to the large group of scribes.
Manufacturing and trade were vital to the Minoan economy, because Crete was poor in natural resources, particularly the metals that were necessary for making weapons and tools. Like any island population, the Cretans were superb sailors and shipbuilders. They maintained an extensive trade network through- out the Mediterranean region.
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