Minoans and Their Connection to the Mediterranean

Off the coast of Greece lies Crete, the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean and home to one of the first European civilizations. Therefore, Crete is also home to some of the first Mediterranean art. Minoans, the ancient inhabitants of Crete, thrived off of the surrounding sea and set up multiple towns along the coast, making Crete an ideal spot for ancient maritime trade. During this time, Minoan influence boomed due to their central location in the Mediterranean. Their art and artistic styles were found everywhere from Greece to Egypt. The sea not only provided jobs and connection to ancient African, Middle Eastern, and European civilizations, but also gave them food and acted as a barrier between them and hostile societies.

The importance of the Mediterranean was an evident motif in Minoan art. Many vases and frescos from all sides of Crete depicted animals, sea battle scenes, and possible snapshots of Minoan rituals surrounding the sea. The Marine Style, a popular style of art in the Late Minoan period, completely revolved around depictions of sea life. In the 1970s and 1980s, Hugh Sackett, a notable archaeologist at the time, traveled across Greece to excavate ancient sites. He recorded all of his travels through photos, which included the island of Crete, its coastal cities, its sublime landmarks, and its art.

Mt. Ida Feb. 1975
Mt. Ida Feb. 1975

This photo shows a view of Mt. Ida, or "The Mountain of the Goddess",  from across the Mediterranean Sea. It was taken in February of 1975 by Hugh Sackett. The Sea is relatively still and the color of the lighting indicates that it's likely either dusk or dawn. The twin peaked at Mt. Ida is a landmark on Crete and home to a cave where Ancient Minoans and even travelers from other regions would pray to their gods. The cave was a spot where earthquakes would shake violently, which probably led the Minoans to think that the earthquakes symbolized the power of the gods. Priests performed rituals for the "Zeus of Mt. Ida" who was born again every year in the cave.

Pilgrim Flask with Octopus
Pilgrim Flask with Octopus

The Pilgrim Flask with an Octopus created in between 1500-1450 BCE, was found in Palaikastro, Crete, and now sits in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. It is a typical example of the Marine Style found in Late Minoan art. This pot is characterized by a black octopus that almost takes up the entirety of the pot and works to emphasize its curvature. Pieces of black coral, shells, and sea urchins reduce the negative space in between the tentacles. In fact, the entire pot seems to have some decoration, even at the mouth, whose decorations are more dilapidated than the bottom designs. This might have happened because the liquid could have worn down and dissolved the paint at the top. The name "Pilgrim Flask" was created because Christian pilgrims would often carry around a similarly shaped pot for holy water. Just like Christian pilgrims, Ancient Minoans most likely would've used this pot for liquids for religious ceremonies or rituals.

Dolphin Fresco of the Queen's Megaron at Knossos
Dolphin Fresco of the Queen's Megaron at Knossos

This frieze, done in between 1700-1450 BCE shows dolphins and other marine life. Only two of the dolphins were preserved, so the others have been reconstructed. Some other details are spiral decoration motifs on the walls and rosettes, painted to indicate that the rosettes replaced the spirals in the painting. Dolphins were perhaps the most important sea creature in Greece with multiple stories detailing their love for young boys. Although the dolphins swim in patterned lines, multiple fish swim around them giving more asymmetry to the piece. Sir Arthur Evans, the archaeologist who discovered the room, thought that the decorations and the overall size of the room meant it was for a woman and named it "The Queen's Megaron". Despite this room's name, there is no evidence that it was a queen's room of any sort.

Fishermen Fresco from West House
Fishermen Fresco from West House

The West House, which was built around 1550 BCE, displays multiple frescos on its walls. Many of them, such as this fisherman fresco, are centered around the ocean. The West House is found in Akrotiri, Thera. This fisherman was found on the middle level of the north wall in Room 5, but there was also one on the west wall that was found in a much more dilapidated state. The representation of the fishermen shows one aspect of how important the sea was to Minoans because without it, they would not have fish as a vital food source and would not have fishing as a career opportunity. 

View of Crete
View of Crete

This photo, taken by Hugh Sackett, shows a rooftop view of an unidentified town on the island of Crete in May, 1975. This town is built on a hillside spotted with trees on the coast with what looks to be a man-made, stone pier jutting out into the sea. Its proximity to the coast makes it an ideal trading spot and port city. There are no people in this photo, only residential houses on the coast and hillside and a church in the center of the image; most of the houses have a flat roof. 

Phaistos
Phaistos

This image shows The Central Court in Phaistos, Crete. This Minoan palace was built around 2200-1470 BCE. On one side of the palace faces the Libyan Sea and the other, which is shown in the image, points away from the coast toward Mount Ida. This central court closely resembles the central courts of Knossos and Mallia: all three are similar in proportion and size. All three are also oriented from North to South, suggesting that the architects followed some sort of guideline when constructing these palaces or that the central courts served one, unknown purpose. Many archaeologists believe central courts could have been used for religious affairs, processions, military reviews, or bull-leaping events.