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Although it is now known almost exclusively as the site of a complex maze that housed the terrible monster called the Minotaur, the Minoan culture that flourished on the island of Crete beginning in the Bronze Age was in fact a highly evolved civilization with a matriarchal religion, beautiful art crafted in many different media, a sophisticated system of writing and complex and often belligerent relations with neighboring nations. It was far more than simply a maze with a monster. This paper examines the significant aspects of Minoan culture about 3000 years ago, at the conclusion of the culture’s approximately two-thousand-year span.
History of Crete
The history of Crete is intimately entwined with the legends that surround its most famous – and most likely – legendary leader and so we begin our exploration of Minoan culture with an examination of the legend of Minos himself. The word “Minoan” itself derives from the mythical (or at least semi-mythical) “Minos”. This ruler of the island kingdom was supposed to have been the son of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Europa, a personification of the land of Europe. It is important to note that the rendition of the story of how Minos came to power actually comes down to us from Athenian sources. Given that Athens and Crete were often at war, we must be somewhat cautious in how we read Athenian accounts of Minos and Crete.