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A Brief History of the Island of Crete As it Relates to Minoan Pottery

Level: Middle School, High School
Grades: 6-12 | Age: 11+ | Written by: Andrea Mulder-Slater
[Andrea is one of the creators of]

In the article series Minoan Pottery, you can read about the various stages of Minoan pottery, the styles, uses and sources of inspiration. Beginning with a brief history of the island of Crete will allow a better understanding of the culture known as Minoan...

Stone Age ( _ - 2400 BC)
There is, to date, no written evidence that man arrived on the island of Crete before Neolithic times.

The peoples of the island at this time were seafarers, or semi-nomadic groups with their origins in Asia or North Africa. The were primitive peoples whose existence depended on hunting and fishing, with the people living in or near caves. They used tools of both stone and bone and they made simple clay pottery. Later migrants to the island introduced basic agriculture, the domestication of animals, the knowledge of how to build clay brick dwellings and the idea of decorating their simple pottery pieces.

Copper and Bronze Age (the Minoan era. 2600 - 1100 BC)

Pre-Palatial (2600 BC - 2000 BC)
Newcomers from, it can't be said for certain where (possibly Asia Minor), came to the island around this time. These new peoples intermingled with the existing islanders. The new environment stimulated an individual culture that we now know as Minoan. One result of this influx of newcomers, was that a new artistry appeared in the treatment of pottery.

Proto (1st) Palatial (2000 - 1700 BC)
This time period saw the construction of the first palaces at Knossos, Phaestos and Mallia. Also during this time, a more systematic and hierarchic society came to be. Trade was increased with Egypt, Asia Minor, Africa, the Aegean Isles and the Mediterranean world in general.
Major achievements were seen in arts and crafts including stone carving, gold work, jewelry, sculpture, painting and - of course - pottery.
Around 1700 BC, the main palaces of Crete appear to have been struck by an earthquake or some other natural disaster. However, there seems to have been no break in the continuity of Minoan culture.

Neo (2nd) Palatial (1700 - 1400 BC)
After the natural disaster of 1700 BC, the palaces at Knossos, Phaestos and Mallia were reconstructed. The concentration of power at this time was at Knossos, with the legendary King Minos being the leader.
All of the arts and crafts were practiced during this time. Vase making in particular flourished with a movement toward more naturalistic decoration.
Around the year 1500 BC (there seems to be conflicting evidence as to the absolute correctness of this date, however, 1500 BC appears to be the most accepted to date) Knossos and many of the other centers of Minoan society appear to have been simultaneously overwhelmed. The most generally accepted theory is that there was a catastrophic explosion of Thera - the volcanic island located north of Crete - accompanied by a rain of volcanic matter, a tidal wave and an earthquake on Crete itself. Another theory revolves around the possibility of invaders or rebel forces attacking and burning down the palaces. Whatever the event, it marked the end of the Minoan society and culture as it had existed before.
Around 1450 BC, the Myceneans came to Crete and took over the administration of the island, rebuilding the palaces and playing an active role in what was left of Minoan life.

Post-Palatial (1400 - 1100 BC)
During the years following the great disaster of 1500 BC and the takeover of 1450 BC, although Minoan social, religious and artistic patterns seem to have been broken up, the arts and crafts of these people did not completely disappear (they were just altered slightly and added to by the Myceneans).
Portions of the Minoan sites were restored and reoccupied. Some Minoans founded new villages elsewhere on the island. However, for all intents and purposes, after the year 1100 BC, the Minoan culture was no more.

Because the above information is included here to help illustrate the Minoan Pottery article, we will end the history of Crete here, at 1100 BC. However, this in no way marked the end of civilization on this island. Many peoples (Archaens, Myceneans, Dorians, Romans, Venetians and Turks) all made Crete their home in the years following 1100 BC.

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For more Ancient History articles and resources, be sure to visit N. S. Gill's website at

A fantastic site on the history of Minoan Crete can be found at

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