Aegean civilization

From Academic Kids

History of Greece series
Aegean Civilization before 1600 BC
Mycenaean Greece ca. 16001200 BC
Greek Dark Ages ca. 1200800 BC
Ancient Greece 776323 BC
Hellenistic Greece 323 BC146 BC
Roman and Byzantine Greece 146 BC1453 AD
Ottoman Greece 14531832
Modern Greece after 1832

Aegean civilization is the general term for the prehistoric civilizations in Greece and the Aegean. It was formerly called "Mycenaean" because its existence was first brought to popular notice by Heinrich Schliemann's excavations at Mycenae starting in 1876. However, subsequent discoveries have made it clear that Mycenae was not its chief center of Aegean civilization in its earlier stages (or perhaps at any period), and accordingly it is more usual now to use the more general geographical title.


Distinctive features

The uniqueness of Aegean civilization has never been in doubt, since its remains came to be studied seriously. For a time the surviving remains were thought to have originated with Egyptians or Phoenicians, but with more remains uncovered this was shown to be untrue. The Aegean civilization developed three distinctive features.

Indigenous script

An indigenous writing system existed which consisted of characters with which only a very small percentage were identical, or even obviously connected, with those of any other script. The decipherment in the 1950s of Linear B unlocked the meaning of this script, but an earlier script Linear A remains undeciphered.


Aegean Art is distinguishable from those of other early periods and areas. Its borrowings from other contemporary arts are clear, especially in its later stages, but received an essential modification at the hands of the Aegean craftsman, and the product is stamped with a new character, namely realism and is a precursor of Hellenic art. The fresco-paintings, ceramic motifs, reliefs, free sculpture and toreutic handiwork of Crete have supplied the clearest proof of it, confirming the impression already created by the goldsmiths' and painters' work of the Greek mainland (Mycenae, Vaphio, Tiryns).


The arrangement of Aegean palaces is of two main types.

First (and perhaps earliest in time), the chambers are grouped around a central court, being linked one with the other in a labyrinthine complexity, and the greater oblongs are entered from a long side and divided longitudinally by pillars.

Second, the main chamber is of what is known as the megaron type, i.e. it stands free, isolated from the rest of the plan by corridors, is entered from a vestibule on a short side, and has a central hearth, surrounded by pillars and perhaps open to the sky; there is no central court, and other apartments form distinct blocks. For possible geographical reasons for this duality of type see Crete. In spite of many comparisons made with Egyptian, Babylonian and Hittite plans, both these arrangements remain out of keeping with any remains of earlier or contemporary structures elsewhere.

A type of tomb, the dome or "bee-hive," of which the grandest examples known are at Mycenae. The Cretan 'larnax' coffins, also, have no parallels outside the Aegean.

History of Aegean Civilization

In the absence of written records, only a summary history can be derived from monuments and archaeological remains. But the decipherment of writings in recent times has added much new knowledge.

Origin and continuity

A great deal of evidence has been uncovered by archaelogy which answers the question how much the Aegean civilisation, which existed for at least three thousand years, can be regarded as continuous. Aegean civilization had its roots in a long-lasting primitive Neolithic period. This period is represented by a stratum,at Knossos in places nearly 20 ft thick, which contains stone implements and shards of handmade and hand-polished vessels, showing a progressive development in technique from bottom to top.

This Minoan stratum is seemingly earlier than the lowest layer at Hissarlik. It closes with the introduction of incised, white-filled decoration on pottery, whose motifs are found reproduced in monochrome pigment. Following the end of this period was the beginning of the Bronze Age, and the first of the Minoan periods (see Crete). Thereafter, by exact observation of stratification, eight more periods have been distinguished, each marked by some important development in pottery. These periods fill the whole Bronze Age, with whose close, by the introduction of the superior metal, iron, the Aegean Age is conventionally held to end.

Iron came into general Aegean use about 1000 B.C., and possibly was the means by which a body of northern invaders established their power on the ruins of the earlier dominion. Throughout the nine Knossian periods, following the Neolithic period, there is evidence of a perfectly orderly and continuous evolution in, at any rate, ceramic art. From one stage to another, fabrics, forms and motifs of decoration develop gradually; so that, at the close of a span of more than two thousand years, at the least, the influences of the beginning can still be clearly seen and no trace of violent change can be detected. This fact would go far to prove that the civilization continued fundamentally and essentially the same throughout.

It is supported by less abundant remains of other arts. That of painting in fresco, for instance, shows the same orderly development for the later part of the period. In religion, it can at least be said that there is no trace of sharp change; beginning with a uniform nature worship passing through all the normal stages down to the anthropism in the latest period. There is no appearance of intrusive deities or cult-ideas.

The Aegean civilization was indigenous, firmly rooted and strong enough to persist essentially unchanged and dominant in its own geographical area throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.

There is slight evidences of such changes as might be due to the intrusion of small conquering tribes, which adopted the superior civilization of the conquered people and became assimilated with them. The various rebuildings of the palace at Knossos give credence to this. A similar rebuilding took place at the same period at Phaestus, and possibly at Hagia Triada.

The megaron arrangement, occurs the palaces discovered in the north of the Aegean area, at Mycenae, Tiryns and Hissarlik,indicating there were late for none are of the designs so characteristic of Crete.


The Chronology was originally based on linking archaeological remains with known Egyptian remains which can be dated to Dynasties.

The first was inferred from a similarity between early Minoan vases and others found in Egypt and dated to the 1st Dynasty 4000BC.

Other remains found at Knossos are similar to the 12th Dynasty c2500BC Egyptian remains.

A diorite statuette, referable by its style and inscription to the 13th Dynasty, was discovered in deposit in the Central Court,of Knossos and a cartouche of the "Shepherd King," Khyan, was also found there. He is usually dated about 1900 B.C.

Discoveries of scarabs and other Egyptian objects made at Mycenae, Ialysus, Vaphio, and others. with the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1600-1400 BC). While in Egypt itself, Refti tributaries, bearing vases of Aegean form, and themselves similar in fashion of dress and arrangement of hair to figures on Cretan frescoes and gems , are depicted under this and the succeeding Dynasties (e.g. Rekhmara tomb at Thebes).

Actual vases of late Minoan style have been found with remains of the 18th Dynasty, while in the Aegean area itself was evidence of a great wave of Egyptian influence beginning with this same Dynasty, such as the Nilotic scenes depicted on the Mycenae daggers, on fresco and other artefacts.

The end of Aegean civilisation is less certain -- iron does not begin to be used for weapons in the Aegean until about 1000 BC, perhaps coinciding with the incursion of northern tribes remembered by the classical Greeks as the Dorian Invasion. This incursion did not altogether stamp out Aegean civilization, at least in the southern part of its area. But it finally destroyed the palace at Knossos and initiated the Geometric Age, with which the history of Aegean civilization proper can be said to have closed.


From anthropological data based on skull shapes, a people, similar to the Mediterranean race of North Africa, was settled in the Aegean area from a remote Neolithic antiquity, but, except in Crete, where insular security was combined with great natural fertility, remained in an undeveloped state until far into the 4th millennium B.C..

In Crete, however, it had long been developing a certain civilization, and at a period more or less contemporary with Egyptian Dynasties 11 and 12. (2500 B.C.?) the scattered communities of the center of the island coalesced into a strong monarchical state, the Minoan civilization, whose capital was at Knossos. There the king, probably also high priest of the prevailing nature-cult, built a great stone palace, and received the tribute of lesser communities, likely of whom the prince of Phaestus, who commanded the Messara plain, was chief. The Minoan monarch had maritime relations with Egypt, and presently sent his wares all over the south Aegean (e.g. to Melos in the earlier Second City Period of Phylakope) and to Cyprus, receiving in return such commodities as Melian obsidian knives. A system of pictographic writing came into use early in this Minoan period, but only a few documents made of durable material have survived. Pictorial art of a purely indigenous character, whether on ceramic material or plaster, made great strides, and from ceramic forms we may infer also a high skill in metallurgy.

The absence of fortifications both at Knossos and Phaestus suggest that at this time Crete was internally peaceful and externally secure. Small settlements, in very close relation with the capital, were founded in the east of the island to command fertile districts and assist maritime commerce. Gournia and Palaikastro fulfilled both these ends: Zakro must have had mainly a commercial purpose, as the starting-point for the African coast. The peak of this dominion was reached about the end of the 3rd millennium B.C., and thereafter there ensued a certain, though not very serious, decline.

Meanwhile, at other favourable spots in the Aegean, but chiefly on sites in easy relation to maritime commerce, e.g. Tiryns and Hissarlik, other communities of the early race began to arrive at civilization, but were naturally influenced by the more advanced culture of Crete in proportion to their nearness or vicinity. Early Hissarlik shows less Cretan influence and more external (i.e. Asiatic) than early Melos. The inner Greek mainland remained still in a backward state.

Five hundred years later -- about 1600 B.C. -- certain striking changes have taken place. The Aegean remains have become astonishingly uniform over the whole area; the local ceramic developments have almost ceased and been replaced by ware of one general type both of fabric and decoration. The Cretans have avoided their previous decadence and are once more possessors of a progressive civilization. They have developed a more convenient and expressive written language by stages, which is best represented by the tablets of Hagia Triada. The art of the entire area gives evidence of one spirit and common models. In religious representations it shows the same anthropomorphic personification and the same ritual furniture. Objects produced in one locality are found in others. The area of Aegean influence has widened and become more busy. Commerce with Egypt, for example, has increased in a marked degree, and Aegean objects or imitations of them are found to have begun to penetrate into Syria, inland Asia Minor, and the central and western Mediterranean lands, e.g. Sicily, Sardinia and Spain. There can be little doubt that a strong power was now fixed in one Aegean center, and that all the area had come under its political, social and artistic influence.

The seat of power was in Crete, but envigorated by an influx of new blood from the north, large enough to instil fresh vigour, but too small to change the civilization in its essential character.

This Cretan dominance was short-lived. The security of the island was apparently violated not long after 1500 BC, when the palace at Knossos was sacked and burned, and Cretan art suffered an irreparable blow, due to the invasion of all the Aegean lands (or at least the Greek mainland and isles) by some less civilized conquerors, who remained politically dominant, but, like their forerunners, having no culture of their own, adopted, while they spoiled, that which they found. Who these invaders were we cannot say, but the probability is that they too came from the north and were precursors of the later "Hellenes." Under their rule peace was re-established, and art production, though of inferior quality, became abundant again among the subject population. The northern part of the palace at Knossos was re-occupied by chieftains who have left numerous rich graves, and general commercial activity must have been resumed because the uniformity of the decadent Aegean products and their wide distribution become more marked than ever.

About 1000 BC a final catastrophe took place. The palace at Knossos was once more destroyed, never to be rebuilt or re-inhabited. Iron took the place of bronze, and Aegean art ceased on the Greek mainland and in the Aegean isles, including Crete, together with Aegean writing. In Cyprus and perhaps on the south-west Anatolian coasts, there is some reason to think that the cataclysm was less complete, and Aegean art continued to languish, cut off from its fountain-head. Such artistic faculty that survived elsewhere was made in the lifeless geometric style that is reminiscent of the later Aegean, but wholly unworthy of it. Also, cremation took the place of burial of the dead.

This great disaster, which cleared the ground for a new growth of local art, was probably due to yet another incursion of northern tribes, more barbarous than their predecessors, but possessed of superior iron weapons -- those tribes which later Greek tradition and Homer knew as the Dorians. They crushed a civilization already hard hit, and it took two or three centuries for the Aegean artistic spirit, probably preserved in suspended animation by the survival of Aegean racial elements, to blossom anew. On this conquest seems to have ensued a long period of unrest and popular movements, known to Greek tradition as the Ionian Migration and the Aeolic and Dorian "colonizations". When once more we see the Aegean area clearly, it is dominated by the Hellenes, though it has not lost all memory of its earlier culture.

Political Organization

Evidence of monarchy at all periods on Crete can be found by the great Cretan palaces and the fortified citadels of Mycenae, Tiryns and Hissarlik, each containing little more than one great residence, surrounded by smaller buildings for the townsfolk. Pockets of local developments of art before the middle of the 2nd millennium BC suggest the early existence of separate traditions, of which the strongest was the Minoan. After that date the evidence strongly suggests that one political dominion was spread for a brief period, or for two brief periods, over almost all the area. The great number of tribute-tallies found at Knossos perhaps indicates that the center of power was always there.


The fact that shrines have so far been found within palaces and not certainly anywhere else indicates that the kings kept religious power in their own hands. Perhaps they were themselves high-priests. Religion in the area seems to have been essentially the same everywhere from the earliest period, consisting of features like the cult of a Divine Principle, resident in dominant features of nature (sun, stars, mountains, trees, etc.) and of controlling fertility. This cult passed through an aniconic stage, from which fetishes survived to the last, these being rocks or pillars, trees, weapons (e.g. bipennis, or double war-axe, shield), etc. When the iconic stage was reached, about 2000 BC, we find the Divine Spirit represented as a goddess with a subordinate young god, as in many other east Mediterranean lands. The god was probably son and mate of the goddess, and the divine pair represented the genius of Reproductive Fertility in its relations with humanity. The goddess sometimes appears with doves, as uranic (heavenly), at others with snakes, as chthonic (earthly). In the ritual, fetishes, often of miniature form, played a great part: all sorts of plants and animals were sacred: sacrifice (not burnt, and not human), dedication of all sorts of offerings and simulacra, invocation, etc., were practised. The dead, who returned to the Great Mother, were objects of a sort of hero-worship. This early nature-cult explains many anomalous features of Hellenic religion, especially in the cults of Artemis and Aphrodite.

Social Organization

There is a possibility that features of a primeval matriarchate long survived; but there is no certain evidence. Of the organization of the people under the monarch we are ignorant. There are so few representations of armed men that it seems doubtful if there can have been any professional military class. Theatre-like structures found at Knossos and Phaestus, within the precincts of the palaces, were perhaps used for shows or for sittings of a royal assize, rather than for popular assemblies. The Minoan remains contain evidence of an elaborate system of registration, account-keeping and other secretarial work, which perhaps indicates a considerable body of law. The line of the ruling class was comfortable and even luxurious from early times. This can be seen by the fine stone palaces, richly decorated, with separate sleeping apartments, large halls, ingenious devices for admitting light and air, sanitary conveniences and marvellously modern arrangements for supply of water and for drainage. Even the smaller houses, after the Neolithic period, seem also to have been of stone, plastered within. After 1600 B.C. the palaces in Crete had more than one story, fine stairways, bath-chambers, windows, folding and sliding doors, etc. In this later period, the distinction of blocks of apartments in some palaces has been held to indicate the seclusion of women in harems, at least among the ruling caste. Minoan frescoes show women grouped apart, and they appear alone on gems. Flesh and fish and many kinds of vegetables were evidently eaten, and wine and beer were drunk. Vessels for culinary, table, and luxurious uses show an infinite variety of form and purpose.Craftsmen's tools of many kinds were in use, bronze succeeding obsidian and other hard stones as the material. Seats are found carefully shaped to the human form. At least on Crete there was evidently a large-scale olive- and vine-culture. Chariots were in use in the later period, as is proved by the pictures of them on Cretan tablets, and therefore, probably, the horse also was known. Indeed a horse appears on a gem impression. Main pathways were paved. Sports, probably more or less religious, are often represented, e.g. bullfighting, dancing, boxing, armed combats.


Commerce was practised to some extent in very early times, as is proved by the distribution of Melian obsidian over all the Aegean area and by the Nilotic influence on early Minoan art. We find Cretan vessels exported to Melos, Egypt and the Greek mainland. Melian vases came in their turn to Crete. After 1600 B.C. there is very close commerce with Egypt, and Aegean things had their way to all coasts of the Mediterranean. No traces of currency have come to light, unless certain axeheads, too slight for practical use, had that character. Standard weights have been found, as well as representations of ingots. The Aegean written documents have not yet proved (by being found outside the area) to be epistolary (letter writing) correspondence with other countries. Representations of ships are not common, but several have been observed on Aegean gems, gem-sealings and vases. They are vessels of low free-board, with masts. Familiarity with the sea is proved by the free use of marine motives in decoration.

Discoveries, later in the twentieth century, of sunken trading vesels round the coasts of the region have brought forth an enormous amnount of new information about those times.

Treatment of the Dead

The dead in the earlier period were laid (so far as we know at present) within cysts constructed of upright stones. These were sometimes inside caves. After the burial the cyst was covered in with earth. A little later, in Crete, bone-pits seem to have come into use, containing the remains of many burials. Possibly the flesh was boiled off the bones at once ("scarification") or left to rot in separate cysts a while. Afterwards the skeletons would be collected and the cysts re-used. Coffins are of small size, contain corpses with the knees drawn up to the chin. They are found in excavated chambers or pits. In the later period, a peculiar "bee-hive" or "tholos" tombs became common, sometimes wholly or partly excavated, sometimes (as in the magnificent Mycenaean "treasuries") constructed domewise. The shaft-graves in the Mycenae circle are also a late type, paralleled in the later Minoan cemetery. The latest type of tomb is a flatly vaulted chamber approached by a horizontal or slightly inclined way, whose sides converge above. At no period do the Aegean dead seem to have been burned. Weapons, food, water, cosmetics and various trinkets were laid with the corpse at all periods. In the Mycenae circle an altar seems to have been erected over the graves, and perhaps slaves were killed to bear the dead chiefs company. A painted sarcophagus, found at Hagia Triada, also possibly shows a hero-cult of the dead.

Artistic Production

Ceramic art reached a specially high standard in technique, form and decoration by the middle of the 3rd millennium BC on Crete. The products of that period compare favorably with any potters' work in the world. The same may be said of fresco-painting, and probably of metal work. Modelling in terra cotta, sculpture in stone and ivory, engraving on gems, were following it closely by the beginning of the 2nd millennium. After 2000 BC all these arts revived, and sculpture, as evidenced by relief work, both on a large and on a small scale, carved stone vessels, metallurgy in gold, silver and bronze, advanced farther. This art and those of fresco- and vase-painting and of gem-engraving stood higher about the 15th century B.C. than at any subsequent period before the 6th century. The manufacture, modelling and painting of faience objects, and the making of inlays in many materials were also familiar to Aegean craftsmen, who show in all their best work a strong sense of natural form and an appreciation of ideal balance and decorative effect, such as are seen in the best products of later Hellenic art. Architectural ornament was also highly developed. The richness of the Aegean capitals and columns may be judged by those from the "Treasury of Atreus" now set up in the British Museum; and of the friezes we have examples in Mycenaean and Minoan fragments, and Minoan paintings. The magnificent gold work of the later period, preserved to us at Mycenae and Vaphio, needs only to be mentioned. It should be compared with stone work in Crete, especially the steatite vases with reliefs found at Hagia Triada. On the whole, Aegean art at its two great periods, in the middle of the 3rd and 2nd millennia respectively, will bear comparison with any contemporary arts.

Evidence of Aegean civilization

For details of monumental evidence the articles on Crete, Mycenae, Tiryns, Troad, Cyprus, etc., must be consulted. The most representative site explored up to now is Cnossus (see Crete) which has yielded not only the most various but the most continuous evidence from the Neolithic age to the twilight of classical civilization. Next in importance come Hissarlik, Mycenae, Phaestus, Hagia Triada, Tiryns, Phylakope, Palaikastro and Gournia.


  • Structures; Ruins of palaces, palatial villas, houses, built dome- or cist-graves and fortifications (Aegean islands, Greek mainland and northwestern Anatolia), but not distinct temples; small shrines, however, and temene (religious enclosures, remains of one of which were probably found at Petsofa near Palaikastro by J. L. Myres in 1904) are represented on intaglios and frescoes. From the sources and from inlay-work we have also representations of palaces and houses.
  • Structural Decoration; Architectural features, such as columns, friezes and various mouldings; mural decoration, such as fresco-paintings, coloured reliefs and mosaic inlay.
  • Furniture; (a) Domestic furniture, such as vessels of all sorts and in many materials, from huge store jars down to tiny unguent pots; culinary and other implements; thrones, seats, tables, etc., these all in stone or plastered terra-cotta. (b) Sacred furniture, such as models or actual examples of ritual objects; of these we have also numerous pictorial representations. (c) Funerary furniture, e.g. coffins in painted terra-cotta.
  • Art products; E.g. plastic objects, carved in stone or ivory, cast or beaten in metals (gold, silver, copper and bronze), or modelled in clay, faience, paste, etc. Very little trace has yet been found of large free-standing sculpture, but many examples exist of sculptors' smaller work. Vases of all kinds, carved in marble or other stones, cast or beaten in metals or fashioned in clay, the latter in enormous number and variety, richly ornamented with coloured schemes, and sometimes bearing moulded decoration. Examples of painting on stone, opaque and transparent. Engraved objects in great number e.g. ring-bezels and gems; and an immense quantity of clay impressions, taken from these.
  • Weapons, tools and implements; In stone, clay and bronze, and at the last iron, sometimes richly ornamented or inlaid. Numerous representations also of the same. No actual body-armour, except such as was ceremonial and buried with the dead, like the gold breastplates in the circle-graves at Mycenae.
  • Articles of personal use; E.g. brooches (fibulae), pins, razors, tweezers, etc., often found as dedications to a deity, e.g. in the Dictaean Cavern of Crete. No textiles have survived.
  • Written documents; E.g. clay tablets and discs (so far in Crete only), but nothing of more perishable nature, such as skin, papyrus, etc.; engraved gems and gem impressions; legends written with pigment on pottery (rare); characters incised on stone or pottery. These show two main systems of script (see Crete).
  • Excavated tombs; Of either the pit or the grotto kind, in which the dead were laid, together with various objects of use and luxury, without cremation, and in either coffins or loculi or simple wrappings.
  • Public works; Such as paved and stepped roadways, bridges, systems of drainage, etc.


  • Monuments and records of other contemporary civilizations; E.g. representations of alien peoples in Egyptian frescoes; imitation of Aegean fabrics and style in non-Aegean lands; allusions to Mediterranean peoples in Egyptian, Semitic or Babylonian records.
  • Literary traditions of subsequent civilizations; Especially the Hellenic; such as, e.g., those embodied in the Homeric poems, the legenda concerning Crete, Mycenae, etc.; statements as to the origin of gods, cults and so forth, transmitted to us by Hellenic antiquarians such as Strabo, Pausanias, Diodorus Siculus, etc.
  • Traces of customs, creeds, rituals, etc; In the Aegean area at a later time, discordant with the civilization in which they were practised and indicating survival from earlier systems. There are also possible linguistic and even physical survivals to be considered.

Mycenae and Tiryns are the two principal sites on which evidence of a prehistoric civilization was remarked long ago by the classical Greeks.

The discovery of Aegean civiliation

The curtain-wall and towers of the Mycenaean citadel, its gate with heraldic lions, and the great "Treasury of Atreus" had borne silent witness for ages before Heinrich Schliemann's time; but they were supposed only to speak to the Homeric, or at farthest a rude Heroic beginning of purely Hellenic, civilization. It was not until Schliemann exposed the contents of the graves which lay just inside the gate, that scholars recognized the advanced stage of art to which prehistoric dwellers in the Mycenaean citadel had attained.

There had been, however, a good deal of other evidence available before 1876, which, had it been collated and seriously studied, might have discounted the sensation that the discovery of the citadel graves eventually made. Although it was recognized that certain tributaries, represented e.g. in the XVIIIth Dynasty tomb of Rekhmara at Egyptian Thebes as bearing vases of peculiar forms, were of some Mediterranean race, neither their precise habitat nor the degree of their civilization could be determined while so few actual prehistoric remains were known in the Mediterranean lands. Nor did the Aegean objects which were lying obscurely in museums in 1870, or thereabouts, provide a sufficient test of the real basis underlying the Hellenic myths of the Argolid, the Troad and Crete, to cause these to he taken seriously. Aegean vases have been exhibited both at Sevres and Neuchatel since about 1840, the provenience (i.e. source or origin) being in the one case Phylakope in Melos, in the other Cephalonia.

Ludwig Ross, the German archaeologist appointed Curator of the Antiquities of Athens at the time of the establishment of the Kingdom of Greece, by his explorations in the Greek islands from 1835 onwards, called attention to certain early intaglios, since known as Inselsteine; but it was not until 1878 that C. T. Newton demonstrated these to be no strayed Phoenician products. In 1866 primitive structures were discovered on the island of Therasia by quarrymen extracting pozzolana, a siliceous volcanic ash, for the Suez Canal works. When this discovery was followed up in 1870, on the neighbouring Santorin (Thera), by representatives of the French School at Athens, much pottery of a class now known immediately to precede the typical late Aegean ware, and many stone and metal objects, were found. These were dated by the geologist Ferdinand A. Fouqu鬠somewhat arbitrarily, to 2000 B.C., by consideration of the superincumbent eruptive stratum.

Meanwhile, in 1868, tombs at Ialysus in Rhodes had yielded to Alfred Biliotti many fine painted vases of styles which were called later the third and fourth "Mycenaean"; but these, bought by John Ruskin, and presented to the British Museum, excited less attention than they deserved, being supposed to be of some local Asiatic fabric of uncertain date. Nor was a connection immediately detected between them and the objects found four years later in a tomb at Menidi in Attica and a rock-cut "bee-hive" grave near the Argive Heraeum.

Even Schliemann's first excavations at Hissarlik in the Troad did not excite surprise. But the "Burnt City" of his second stratum, revealed in 1873, with its fortifications and vases, and a hoard of gold, silver and bronze objects, which the discoverer connected with it, began to arouse a curiosity which was destined presently to spread far outside the narrow circle of scholars. As soon as Schliemann came on the Mycenae graves three years later, light poured from all sides on the prehistoric period of Greece. It was recognized that the character of both the fabric and the decoration of the Mycenaean objects was not that of any well-known art. A wide range in space was proved by the identification of the Inselsteine and the Ialysus vases with the new style, and a wide range in time by collation of the earlier Theraean and Hissarlik discoveries. A relationship between objects of art described by Homer and the Mycenaean treasure was generally allowed, and a correct opinion prevailed that, while certainly posterior, the civilization of the Iliad was reminiscent of the Mycenaean.

Schliemann got to work again at Hissarlik in 1878, and greatly increased our knowledge of the lower strata, but did not recognize the Aegean remains in his "Lydian" city of the sixth stratum. These were not to be fully revealed until Dr. Wilhelm Dorpfeld, who had become Schliemann's assistant in 1879, resumed the work at Hissarlik in 1892 after the first explorer's death. But by laying bare in 1884 the upper stratum of remains on the rock of Tiryns, Schliemann made a contribution to our knowledge of prehistoric domestic life which was amplified two years later by Christos Tsountas's discovery of the Mycenae palace. Schliemann's work at Tiryns was not resumed till 1905, when it was proved, as had long been suspected, that an earlier palace underlies the one he had exposed.

From 1886 dates the finding of Mycenaean sepulchres outside the Argolid, from which, and from the continuation of Tsountas's exploration of the buildings and lesser graves at Mycenae, a large treasure, independent of Schliemann's princely gift, has been gathered into the National Museum at Athens. In that year dome-tombs, most already rifled but retaining some of their furniture, were excavated at Arkina and Eleusis in Attica, at Dimini near Volo in Thessaly, at Kampos on the west of Mount Taygetus, and at Maskarata in Cephalonia. The richest grave of all was explored at Vaphio in Laconia in 1889, and yielded, besides many gems and miscellaneous goldsmiths' work, two golden goblets chased with scenes of bull-hunting, and certain broken vases painted in a large bold style which remained an enigma until the excavation of Cnossus.

In 1890 and 1893 Staes cleared out certain, less rich dome-tombs at Thoricus in Attica; and other graves, either rock-cut "bee-hives" or chambers, were found at Spata and Aphidna in Attica, in Aegina and Salamis, at the Heraeum (see Argos) and Nauplia in the Argolid, near Thebes and Delphi, and not far from the Thessalian Larissa. During the Acropolis excavations in Athens, which terminated in 1888, many potsherds of the Mycenaean style were found; but Olympia had yielded either none, or such as had not been recognized before being thrown away, and the temple site at Delphi produced nothing distinctively Aegean. The American explorations of the Argive Heraeum, concluded in 1895, also failed to prove that site to have been important in the prehistoric time, though, as was to be expected from its neighbourhood to Mycenae itself, there were traces of occupation in the later Aegean periods.

Prehistoric research had now begun to extend beyond the Greek mainland. Certain central Aegean islands, Antiparos, Ios, Amorgos, Syros and Siphnos, were all found to be singularly rich in evidence of the middle-Aegean period. The series of Syran built graves, containing crouching corpses, is the best and most representative that is known in the Legean. Melos, long marked as a source of early objects but not systematically excavated until taken in hand by the British School at Athens in 1896, yielded at Phylakope remains of all the Aegean periods, except the Neolithic.

A map of Cyprus in the later Bronze Age (such as is given by J. L. Myres and M. O. Richter in Catalogue of the Cyprus Museum) shows more than twenty-five settlements in and about the Mesaorea district alone, of which one, that at Enkomi, near the site of Salamis, has yielded the richest Aegean treasure in precious metal found outside Mycenae. E. Chantre in 1894 picked up lustreless ware, like that of Hissariik, in central Phtygia and at Pteria (q.v.), and the English archaeological expeditions, sent subsequently into north-western Anatolia, have never failed to bring back ceramic specimens of Aegean appearance from the valleys of the Rhyndncus, Sangarius and Halys.

In Egypt in 1887 W. M. F. Petrie found painted sherds of Cretan style at Kahun in the Fayum, and farther up the Nile, at Tell el-Amarna, chanced on bits of no fewer than 800 Aegean vases in 1889. There have now been recognized in the collections at Cairo, Florence, London, Paris and Bologna several Egyptian imitations of the Aegean style which can be set off against the many debts which the centres of Aegean culture owed to Egypt. Two Aegean vases were found at Sidon in 1885, and many fragments of Aegean and especially Cypriote pottery have been turned up during recent excavations of sites in Philistia by the Palestine Fund.

Southeastern Sicily, ever since P. Orsi excavated the Sicel cemetery near Lentini in 1877, has proved a mine of early remains, among which appear in regular succession Aegean fabrics and motives of decoration from the period of the second stratum at Hissarlik. Sardinia has Aegean sites, e.g. at Abini near Teti; and Spain has yielded objects recognized as Aegean from tombs near Cadiz and from Saragossa.

One land, however, has eclipsed all others in the Aegean by the wealth of its remains of all the prehistoric ages— Crete; and so much so that, for the present, we must regard it as the fountainhead of Aegean civilization, and probably for long its political and social centre. The island first attracted the notice of archaeologists by the remarkable archaic Greek bronzes found in a cave on Mount Ida in 1885, as well as by epigraphic monuments such as the famous law of Gortyna. But the first undoubted Aegean remains reported from it were a few objects extracted from Cnossus by Minos Kalokhairinos of Candia in 1878. These were followed by certain discoveries made in the S. plain Messara by F. Halbherr. Unsuccessful attempts at Cnossus were made by both W. J. Stillman and H. Schliemann, and A. J. Evans, coming on the scene in 1893, travelled in succeeding years about the island picking up trifles of unconsidered evidence, which gradually convinced him that greater things would eventually be found. He obtained enough to enable him to forecast the discovery of written characters, till then not suspected in Aegean civilization. The revolution of 1897-98 opened the door to wider knowledge, and much exploration has ensued, for which see Crete.

Thus the "Aegean Area" has now come to mean the Archipelago with Crete and Cyprus, the Hellenic peninsula with the Ionian islands, and Western Anatolia. Evidence is still wanting for the Macedonian and Thracian coasts. Offshoots are found in the western Mediterranean area, in Sicily, Italy, Sardinia and Spain, and in the eastern Mediterranean area in Syria and Egypt. About the Cyrenaica we are still insufficiently informed.

See also


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools