1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aegean Civilization

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AEGEAN CIVILIZATION, the general term for the prehistoric civilization, previously called “Mycenaean” because its existence was first brought to popular notice by Heinrich Schliemann's excavations at Mycenae in 1876. Subsequent discoveries, however, have made it clear that Mycenae was not its chief centre in its earlier stages, or, perhaps, at any period; and, accordingly, it is more usual now to adopt a wider geographical title.

I. History of Discovery and Distribution of Remains.—Mycenae and Tiryns are the two principal sites on which evidence of a prehistoric civilization was remarked long ago by the classical Greeks. 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 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 till Schliemann exposed the contents of the graves which lay just inside the gate (see Mycenae), 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. Both at Sèvres and Neuchâtel Aegean vases have been exhibited since about 1840, the provenience being in the one case Phylakope in Melos, in the other Cephalonia. Ludwig Ross, by his explorations in the Greek islands from 1835 onwards, called attention to certain early intaglios, since known as Inselsteine; but it was not till 1878 that C. T. Newton demonstrated these to be no strayed Phoenician products. In 1866 primitive structures were discovered in the island of Therasia by quarrymen extracting pozzolana for the Suez Canal works; and 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 and dated by the geologist Fouqué, somewhat arbitrarily, to 2000 B.C., by consideration of the superincumbent eruptive stratum. Meanwhile, in 1868, tombs at Ialysus in Rhodes had yielded to M. A. 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 connexion 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 (q.v.) 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 relation 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, which were not to be fully revealed till Dr W. Dörpfeld resumed the work at Hissarlik in 1892 after the first explorer's death (see Troad). But by laying bare in 1884 the upper stratum of remains on the rock of Tiryns (q.v.), Schliemann made a contribution to our knowledge of prehistoric domestic life which was amplified two years later by Chr. 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 were excavated dome-tombs, most already rifled but retaining some of their furniture, 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 till the excavation of Cnossus. In 1890 and 1893 Staës 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 excavations on the Acropolis at Athens, 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 Aegean. 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 five-and-twenty settlements in and about the Mesaoréa 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 Hissarlik, in central Phrygia 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 Rhyndacus, 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. South-eastern 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, viz. Crete, so much so that, for the present, we must regard it as the fountain-head 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 (Messará) by F. Halbherr. W. J. Stillman and H. Schliemann both made unsuccessful attempts at Cnossus, 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 isles, and Western Anatolic. Evidence is still wanting for the Macedonian and Thracian coasts. Offshoots are found in the W. Mediterranean, in Sicily, Italy, Sardinia and Spain, and in the E. in Syria and Egypt. About the Cyrenaica we are still insufficiently informed.

II. General Nature of the Evidence.—For details of monumental evidence the articles on Crete, Mycenae, Tiryns, Troad, Cyprus, &c., must be consulted. The most representative site explored up to now is Cnossus (see Crete, sect. Archaeology), 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.

A. The internal evidence at present available comprises—

(1) Structures.—Ruins of palaces, palatial villas, houses, built dome- or cist-graves and fortifications (Aegean isles, Greek mainland and N.W. Anatolia), but not distinct temples; small shrines, however, and temenê (religious enclosures, remains or 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.

(2) Structural Decoration.—Architectural features, such as columns, friezes and various mouldings; mural decoration, such as fresco-paintings, coloured reliefs and mosaic inlay.

(3) Furniture.—(a) Domestic, 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, &c., these all in stone or plastered terra-cotta. (b) Sacred, such as models or actual examples of ritual objects; of these we have also numerous pictorial representations. (c) Funerary, e.g. coffins in painted terra-cotta.

(4) Artistic fabrics, 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, &c. Very little trace has yet been found of large free 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.

(5) 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.

(6) Articles of personal use, e.g. brooches (fibulae), pins, razors, tweezers, &c., often found as dedications to a deity, e.g. in the Dictaean Cavern of Crete. No textiles have survived.

(7) Written documents, e.g. clay tablets and discs (so far in Crete only), but nothing of more perishable nature, such as skin, papyrus, &c.; 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).

(8) 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.

(9) Public works, such as paved and stepped roadways, bridges, systems of drainage, &c.

B. There is also a certain amount of external evidence to be gathered from—

(1) 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.

(2) Literary traditions of subsequent civilizations, especially the Hellenic; such as, e.g., those embodied in the Homeric poems, the legends concerning Crete, Mycenae, &c.; statements as to the origin of gods, cults and so forth, transmitted to us by Hellenic antiquarians such as Strabo, Pausanias, Diodorus Siculus, &c.

(3) Traces of customs, creeds, rituals, &c., 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.

III. General Features of Aegean Civilization.—The leading features of Aegean civilization, as deduced from the evidence, must be stated very briefly.

1911 Britannica - Aegean - Phylakopi.png
1911 Britannica - Aegean -Tiryns.png
Fig. 1.— FLYING FISH FRESCO, PHYLAKOPI. Fig. 2.— BULL, WITH LEAPING BULL-FIGHTER, TIRYNS.
Cf. J. H. S. Suppl. Papers, iv. Cf. Schliemann, Tiryns, Plate XIII.





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Fig. 3.— LAMP-STAND, PHYLAKOPI.
Cf. J. H. S. Suppl. Papers, iv. Plate XXII.


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Fig. 4.— MIDDLE MINOAN VASE, CNOSSUS.
B. S. A. ix. 120, Fig. 75


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Fig. 5.— MINIATURE FRESCOES, SHOWING SPECTATORS AT ATHLETIC SPORTS, CNOSSUS.
From Photo by Dr A. J. Evans.





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Fig. 6.— FILLER VASE, ZAKRO.
J. H. S. vol. xxii. Plate XII.

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Fig. 1.— FAÏENCE PLAQUE, CNOSSUS.
B. S. A. ix. Plate III.

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Fig. 2.— MARBLE IDOLS, AMORGOS; 6-11; FIDDLE
AND MALLET TYPES, 12-14, DEVELOPED TYPES.
Man, 1901, 185, No 146
                                                                By permission of the Royal Anthropological Institute



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Fig. 3.— COLOURED BAS-RELIEF IN GESSO
DURO, REPRESENTING MALE TORSO
WITH FLEUR-DE-LIS COLLAR.
B. S. A. vii. 17 Fig. 6.

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Fig. 4.— MARBLE HEAD
FROM AMORGOS (ASH-
MOLEAN MUSEUM).

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Fig. 5.— BULL IN PAINTED PLASTER, CNOSSUS.
Photo by Dr A. J. Evans.

1911 Britannica - Aegean - Cnossus4.png
1911 Britannica - Aegean - Cnossus5.png

Figs 6, 7— IVORY FIGURES AND HEADS OF ATHLETS, BULL-FIGHTERS OR ACROBATS, CNOSSUS.
B.S.A. viii. Plates II, and III, and p. 72 sq.

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Emery Walker sc.


(1) Political Organisation.—The great Cretan palaces and the fortified citadels of Mycenae, Tiryns and Hissarlik, each containing little more than one great residence, and dominating lower towns of meaner houses, point to monarchy at all periods. Independent local developments of art before the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C. suggest the early existence of independent units in various parts, of which the strongest was the Cnossian. After that date the evidence goes strongly to show that one political dominion was spread for a brief period, or for two brief periods, over almost all the area (see later). The great number of tribute-tallies found at Cnossus perhaps indicates that the centre of power was always there.

(2) Religion.—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, viz. the cult of a Divine Principle, resident in dominant features of nature (sun, stars, mountains, trees, &c.) and 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), &c. When the iconic stage was reached, about 2000 B.C., we find the Divine Spirit represented as a goddess with a subordinate young god, as in many other E. 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, at others with snakes, as chthonic. In the ritual fetishes, often of miniature form, played a great part; all sorts of plants and animals were sacred; sacrifice (not burnt, and human very doubtful), dedication of all sorts of offerings and simulacra, invocation, &c., 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. (See Crete.)

(3) 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. Theatral structures found at Cnossus 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 Cnossian 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. 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, attest this fact. 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, &c. 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. Cnossian 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. Artificers' implements of many kinds were in use, bronze succeeding obsidian and other hard stones as the material. Seats are found carefully shaped to the human person. There was evidently olive- and vine-culture on a large scale in Crete at any rate. 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 ways were paved. Sports, probably more or less religious, are often represented, e.g. bull-fighting, dancing, boxing, armed combats.

(4) 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 intercourse with Egypt, and Aegean things find their way to all coasts of the Mediterranean (see below). No traces of currency have come to light, unless certain axe-heads, too slight for practical use, had that character; but standard weights have been found, and representations of ingots. The Aegean written documents have not yet proved (by being found outside the area) epistolary correspondence with other lands. 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.

(5) Treatment or the Dead.—The dead in the earlier period were laid (so far as we know at present) within cists constructed of upright stones. These were sometimes inside caves. After the burial the cist 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 cists awhile; afterwards the skeletons were collected and the cists re-used. The coffins are of small size, contain corpses with the knees drawn up to the chin and are found in excavated chambers or pits. In the later period a peculiar “bee-hive” tomb became common, sometimes wholly or partly excavated, sometimes (as in the magnificent Mycenaean “Treasuries”) constructed dome-wise. The shaft-graves in the Mycenae circle are also a late type, paralleled in the later Cnossian 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, unguents 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.

(6) Artistic Production.—Ceramic art reached a specially high standard in fabric, form and decoration by the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C. in Crete. The products of that period compare favourably 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 B.C. 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 Cnossian fragments, and Cnossian 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.

IV. Origin, Nature and History of Aegean Civilization.—The evidence, summarized above, though very various and voluminous, is not yet sufficient to answer all the questions which may be asked as to the origin, nature and history of this civilization, or to answer any but a few questions with absolute certainty. We shall try to indicate the extent to which it can legitimately be applied.

A. Distinctive Features.—The fact that Aegean civilization is distinguished from all others, prior or contemporary, not only by its geographical area, but by leading organic characteristics, has never been in doubt, since its remains came to be studied seriously and impartially. The truth was indeed obscured for a time by persistent prejudices in favour of certain alien Mediterranean races long known to have been in relation with the Aegean area in prehistoric times, e.g. the Egyptians and especially the Phoenicians. But their claims to be the principal authors of the Aegean remains grew fainter with every fresh Aegean discovery, and every new light thrown on their own proper products; with the Cretan revelations they ceased altogether to be considered except by a few Homeric enthusiasts. Briefly, we now know that the Aegean civilization developed these distinctive features. (i) An indigenous script expressed in characters of which only a very small percentage are identical, or even obviously connected, with those of any other script. This is equally true both of the pictographic and the linear Aegean systems. Its nearest affinities are with the “Asianic” scripts, preserved to us by Hittite, Cypriote and south-west Anatolian (Pamphylian, Lycian and Carian) inscriptions. But neither are these affinities close enough to be of any practical aid in deciphering Aegean characters, nor is it by any means certain that there is parentage. The Aegean script may be, and probably is, prior in origin to the “Asianic”; and it may equally well be owed to a remote common ancestor, or (the small number of common characters being considered) be an entirely independent evolution from representations of natural objects (see Crete). (2) An Art, whose products cannot be confounded with those of any other known art by a trained eye. Its obligations to other contemporary arts are many and obvious, especially in its later stages; but every borrowed form and motive undergoes an essential modification at the hands of the Aegean craftsman, and the product is stamped with a new character. The secret of this character lies evidently in a constant attempt to express an ideal in forms more and more closely approaching to realities. We detect the dawn of that spirit which afterwards animated Hellenic art. The fresco-paintings, ceramic motives, 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). (3) Architectural plans and decoration. The arrangement of Aegean palaces is of two main types. First (and perhaps earliest in time), the chambers are grouped round a central court, being engaged 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 hypaethral; 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 incongruous with any remains of prior or contemporary structures elsewhere. Whether either plan suits the “Homeric palace” does not affect the present question. (4) 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. There are other infinite singularities of detail; but the above are more than sufficient to establish the point.

B. Origin and Continuity.—With the immense expansion of the evidence, due to the Cretan excavations, a question has arisen how far the Aegean civilization, whose total duration covers at least three thousand years, can be regarded as one and continuous. Thanks to the exploration of Cnossus, we now know that Aegean civilization had its roots in a primitive Neolithic period, of uncertain but very long duration, represented by a stratum which (on that site in particular) is in places nearly 20 ft. thick, and contains stone implements and sherds of handmade and hand-polished vessels, showing a progressive development in technique from bottom to top. This Cnossian stratum seems to be throughout earlier than the lowest layer at Hissarlik. It closes with the introduction of incised, white-filled decoration on pottery, whose motives are presently found reproduced in monochrome pigment. We are now in the beginning of the Bronze Age, and the first of Evans's “Minoan” periods (see Crete). Thereafter, by exact observation of stratification, eight more periods have been distinguished by the explorer of Cnossus, each marked by some important development in the universal and necessary products of the potter's art, the least destructible and therefore most generally used archaeological criterion. 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. The important point is this, that throughout the nine Cnossian periods, following the Neolithic Age (named by Evans, “Minoan I. 1, 2, 3; II. 1, 2, 3; III. 1, 2, 3”; see Crete), there is evidence of a perfectly orderly and continuous evolution in, at any rate, ceramic art. From one stage to another, fabrics, forms and motives 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 artistic intrusion can be detected. This fact, by itself, would go far to prove that the civilization continued fundamentally and essentially the same throughout. It is, moreover, supported by less abundant remains of other arts. That of painting in fresco, for instance, shows the same orderly development from at any rate Period II. 2 to the end. About institutions we have less certain knowledge, there being but little evidence for the earlier periods; but in the documents relating to religion, the most significant of all, it can at least be said that there is no trace of sharp change. We see evidence of a uniform Nature Worship passing through all the normal stages down to theoanthropism in the latest period. There is no appearance of intrusive deities or cult-ideas. We may take it then (and the fact is not disputed even by those who, like Dörpfeld, believe in one thorough racial change, at least, during the Bronze Age) that 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. This conclusion can hardly entail less than a belief that, at any rate, the mass of those who possessed this civilization continued racially the same.

There are, however, in certain respects at certain periods, evidences of such changes as might be due to the intrusion of small conquering castes, which adopted the superior civilization of the conquered people and became assimilated to the latter. The earliest palace at Cnossus was built probably in Period II. 1 or 2. It was of the type mentioned first in the description of palace-plans above. Before Period III. 1 it was largely rebuilt, and arguments have been brought forward by Dörpfeld to show that features of the second type were then introduced. A similar rebuilding took place at the same epoch at Phaestus, and possibly at Hagia Triada. Now the second type, the “megaron” arrangement, characterizes peculiarly the palaces discovered in the north of the Aegean area, at Mycenae, Tiryns and Hissarlik, where up to the present no signs of the first type, so characteristic of Crete, have been observed. These northern “megara” are all of late date, none being prior to Minoan III. 1. At Phylakope, a “megaron” appears only in the uppermost Aegean stratum, the underlying structures being more in conformity with the earlier Cretan. At the same epoch a notable change took place in the Aegean script. The pictographic characters, found on seals and discs of Period II. in Crete, had given way entirely to a linear system by Period III. That system thenceforward prevailed exclusively, suffering a slight modification again in III. 2 and 3.

These and other less well marked changes, say some critics, are signs of a racial convulsion not long after 2000 B.C. An old race was conquered by a new, even if, in matters of civilization, the former capta victorem cepit. For these races respectively Dörpfeld suggests the names “Lycian” and “Carian,” the latter coming in from the north Aegean, where Greek tradition remembered its former dominance. These names do not greatly help us. If we are to accept and profit by Dörpfeld's nomenclature, we must be satisfied that, in their later historic habitats, both Lycians and Carians showed unmistakable signs of having formerly possessed the civilizations attributed to them in prehistoric times—signs which research has hitherto wholly failed to find. The most that can be said to be capable of proof is the infiltration of some northern influence into Crete at the end of Minoan Period II.; but it probably brought about no change of dynasty and certainly no change in the prevailing race.

A good deal of anthropometric investigation has been devoted to human remains of the Aegean epoch, especially to skulls and bones found in Crete in tombs of Period II. The result of this, however, has not so far established more than the fact that the Aegean races, as a whole, belonged to the dark, long-headed Homo Mediterraneus, whose probable origin lay in mid-eastern Africa—a fact only valuable in the present connexion in so far as it tends to discredit an Asiatic source for Aegean civilization. Not enough evidence has been collected to affect the question of racial change during the Aegean period. From the skullforms studied, it would appear, as we should expect, that the Aegean race was by no means pure even in the earlier Minoan periods. It only remains to be added that there is some ground for supposing that the language spoken in Crete before the later Doric was non-Hellenic, but Indo-European. This inference rests on three inscriptions in Greek characters but non-Greek language found in E. Crete. The language has some apparent affinities with Phrygian. The inscriptions are post-Aegean by many centuries, but they occur in the part of the island known to Homer as that inhabited by the Eteo-Cretans, or aborigines. Their language may prove to be that of the Linear tablets.

C. History of Aegean Civilization.—History of an inferential and summary sort only can be derived from monuments in the absence of written records. The latter do, indeed, exist in the Case of the Cretan civilization and in great numbers; but they are undeciphered and likely to remain so, except in the improbable event of the discovery of a long bi-lingual text, partly couched in some familiar script and language. Even in that event, the information which would be derived from the Cnossian tablets would probably make but a small addition to history, since in very large part they are evidently mere inventories of tribute and stores. The engraved gems probably record divine or human names. (See Crete.)

(1) Chronology.—The earliest chronological datum that we possess is inferred from a close similarity between certain Cretan hand-made and polished vases of Minoan Period I. 1 and others discovered by Petrie at Abydos in Egypt and referred by him to the 1st Dynasty. He goes so far as to pronounce the latter to be Cretan importations, their fabric and forms being unlike anything Nilotic. If that be so, the period at which stone implements were beginning to be superseded by bronze in Crete must be dated before 4000 B.C. But it will be remembered that below all Evans's “Minoan” strata lies the immensely thick Neolithic deposit. To date the beginning of this earliest record of human production is impossible at present. The Neolithic stratum varies very much in depth, ranging from nearly 20 ft. to 3 ft., but is deepest on the highest part of the hillock. Its variations may be due equally to natural denudation of a stratum once of uniform depth, or to the artificial heaping up of a mound by later builders. Even were certainty as to these alternatives attained, we could only guess at the average rate of accumulation, which experience shows to proceed very differently on different sites and under different social and climatic conditions. In later periods at Cnossus accumulation seems to have proceeded at a rate of, roughly, 3 ft. per thousand years. Reckoning by that standard we might push the earliest Neolithic remains back behind 10,000 B.C.; but the calculation would be worthy of little credence.

Passing by certain fragments of stone vessels, found at Cnossus, and coincident with forms characteristic of the IVth Pharaonic Dynasty, we reach another fairly certain date in the synchronism of remains belonging to the XIIth Dynasty (c. 2500 B.C. according to Petrie, but later according to the Berlin School) with products of Minoan Period II. 2. Characteristic Cretan pottery of this period was found by Petrie in the Fayum in conjunction with XIIth Dynasty remains, and various Cretan products of the period show striking coincidences with XIIth Dynasty styles, especially in their adoption of spiraliform ornament. The spiral, however, it must be confessed, occurs so often in natural objects (e.g. horns, climbing plants, shavings of wood or metal) that too much stress must not be laid on the mutual parentage of spiraliform ornament in different civilizations. A diorite statuette, referable by its style and inscription to Dynasty XIII., was discovered in deposit of Period II. 3 in the Central Court, and a cartouche of the “Shepherd King,” Khyan, was also found at Cnossus. He is usually dated about 1900 B.C. This brings us to the next and most certain synchronism, that of Minoan Periods III. 1, 2, with Dynasty XVIII. (c. 1600-1400 B.C.). This coincidence has been observed not only at Cnossus, but previously, in connexion with discoveries of scarabs and other Egyptian objects made at Mycenae, Ialysus, Vaphio, &c. In Egypt itself Kefti tributaries, bearing vases of Aegean form, and themselves similar in fashion of dress and arrangement of hair to figures on Cretan frescoes and gems of Period III., 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 Dynasty XVIII., especially in the town of Amenophis IV. Akhenaton at Tell el-Amarna; while in the Aegean area itself we have abundant evidence of a great wave of Egyptian influence beginning with this same Dynasty. To this wave were owed in all probability the Nilotic scenes depicted on the Mycenae daggers, on frescoes of Hagia Triada and Cnossus, on pottery of Zakro, on the shell-relief of Phaestus, &c.; and also many forms and fabrics, e.g. certain Cretan coffins, and the faience industry of Cnossus. These serve to date, beyond all reasonable question, Periods III. 1-2 in Crete, the shaft-graves in the Mycenae circle, the Vaphio tomb, &c., to the 16th and 15th centuries B.C., and Period III. 3 with the lower town at Mycenae, the majority of the sixth stratum at Hissarlik, the Ialysus burials, the upper stratum at Phylakope, &c., to the century immediately succeeding.

The terminus ad quem is less certain—iron does not begin to be used for weapons in the Aegean till after Period III. 3, and then not exclusively. If we fix its introduction to about 1000 B.C. and make it coincident with the incursion of northern tribes, remembered by the classical Greeks as the Dorian Invasion, we must allow that this incursion did not altogether stamp out Aegean civilization, at least in the southern part of its area. But it finally destroyed the Cnossian palace and initiated the “Geometric” Age, with which, for convenience at any rate, we may close the history of Aegean civilization proper.

(2) Annals.—From these and other data the outlines of primitive history in the Aegean may be sketched thus. A people, agreeing in its prevailing skull-forms with the Mediterranean race of N. 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 a savage and unproductive condition 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 Dynasties XI. and XII. (2500 B.C.?) the scattered communities of the centre of the island coalesced into a strong monarchical state, whose capital was at Cnossus. There the king, probably also high priest of the prevailing nature-cult, built a great stone palace, and received the tribute of feudatories, of whom, probably, the prince of Phaestus, who commanded the Messará plain, was chief. The Cnossian monarch had maritime relations with Egypt, and presently sent his wares all over the S. 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 Palace 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 legitimately infer also a high skill in metallurgy. The absence of fortifications both at Cnossus 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 acme 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, it appears, 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 of 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.—we observe that 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 stayed their previous decadence, and are once more possessors of a progressive civilization. They have developed a more convenient and expressive written character by stages of which one is best represented by the tablets of Hagia Triada. The art of all the 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 intercourse 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 centre, and that all the area had come under its political, social and artistic influence.

How was this brought about, and what was the imperial centre? Some change seems to have come from the north; and there are those who go so far as to say that the centre henceforward was the Argolid, and especially “golden” Mycenae, whose lords imposed a new type of palace and a modification of Aegean art on all other Aegean lands. Others again cite the old-established power and productivity of Crete; the immense advantage it derived from insularity, natural fertility and geographical relation to the wider area of east Mediterranean civilizations; and the absence of evidence elsewhere for the gradual growth of a culture powerful enough to dominate the Aegean, They point to the fact that, even in the new period, the palm for wealth and variety of civilized production still remained with Crete. There alone we have proof that the art of writing was commonly practised, and there tribute-tallies suggest an imperial organization; there the arts of painting and sculpture in stone were most highly developed; there the royal residences, which had never been violently destroyed, though remodelled, continued unfortified; whereas on the Greek mainland they required strong protective works. The golden treasure of the Mycenae graves, these critics urge, is not more splendid than would have been found at Cnossus had royal burials been spared by plunderers, or been happened upon intact by modern explorers. It is not impossible to combine these views, and place the seat of power still in Crete, but ascribe the renascence there to 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.

If this dominance was Cretan, it was short-lived. The security of the island was apparently violated not long after 1500 B.C., the Cnossian palace was sacked and burned, and Cretan art suffered an irreparable blow. As the comparatively lifeless character which it possesses in the succeeding period (III. 3) is coincident with a similar decadence all over the Aegean area, we can hardly escape from the conclusion that it was 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 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 became again abundant among the subject population, though of inferior quality. The Cnossian palace was re-occupied in its northern part by chieftains who have left numerous rich graves; and general commercial intercourse must have been resumed, for the uniformity of the decadent Aegean products and their wide distribution become more marked than ever.

1911 Britannica - Aegean - Cnossus6.png
1911 Britannica - Aegean - Crete.png
1911 Britannica - Aegean - Acropolis.png
Fig. 1.— LION-GUARDED GODDESS AND SHRINE, ON A CLAY SEALING FROM CNOSSUS.
B. S. A. vii. 29. Fig. 9.


Fig. 2.— MALE DIVINITY BETWEEN LIONS, ON A LENTOID GEM FROM KYDONIA, CRETE.
J. H. S. xxi, 163, Fig. 43.

Fig. 3.— GOLD SIGNET FROM ACROPOLIS TREASURE, MYCENAE, SHOWING THE GODDESS BENEATH A SACRED TREE, WITH ADORANTS AND SACRED EMBLEMS.
J. H. S. xxi, 108, Fig. 4.
1911 Britannica - Aegean - Cnossus7.png

Fig. 4.— BIRDS ON A TRIAD OF PILLARS, CNOSSUS.
B. S. A. viii. 29, Fig. 14.

1911 Britannica - Aegean - Minotaur.png

Fig. 5.— CLAY SEALING FROM ZAKRO, WITH MINOTAUR TYPES.
B. S. A. viii. 133, Fig. 45.

1911 Britannica - Aegean - Cnossus9.png

Fig. 7.— FAÏENCE FIGURE OF THE GODDESS, WITH SERPENT ATTRIBUTES, CNOSSUS.
B. S. A. ix. 75, Fig. 54.

1911 Britannica - Aegean - Cnossus8.png

Fig. 6.— DUAL PILLAR WORSHIP, ON A GOLD SIGNET RING, CNOSSUS.
J. H. S. xxi. 170, Fig. 48.


1911 Britannica - Aegean - Cnossus10.png

Fig. 8.— FAÇADE OF SMALL TEMPLES, COMPLETED FROM A FRESCO PAINTING, CNOSSUS.
J. H. S. xxi. 193, Fig. 66.

1911 Britannica - Aegean - Cnossus11.png
1911 Britannica - Aegean - Cnossus12.png
Fig. 1.— TESSERAE OF PORCELAIN MOSAIC IN FORM OF HOUSES
AND TOWERS, CNOSSUS.         B. S. A. viii. 15, Fig. 8.
Fig. 2.— CUP-BEARER, CNOSSUS.
Photo by Dr A. J. Evans.


1911 Britannica - Aegean - Spata.png

Fig. 3, 5.— IVORY HEADS FROM SPATA (ATTICA).
Reichel, Homerische Waffen, 1901, p. 103
By permission of A. Hölder, Vienna.

1911 Britannica - Aegean - Cnossus13.png

Fig. 4.— FRESCO PAINTING OF GIRL, CNOSSUS.
B. S. A. vii. 57, Fig. 17.


1911 Britannica - Aegean - Spata1.png

Fig. 5.— See Fig. 3.



1911 Britannica - Aegean - Cnossus14.png
Fig. 6.— FAÏENCE FIGURE
OF FEMALE VOTARY
OF SNAKE-GODDESS,
CNOSSUS.
B. S. A. ix. 77, Fig. 56.





Fig. 7.— KEFTIU (CRETAN)
BEARING AEGEAN
VASE AS TRIBUTE TO
PHARAOH.
From H. R. Hall, Oldest Civilization
in Greece
(1901).
By permission of the Society for the
Promotion of Hellenic Studies.
1911 Britannica - Aegean - Keftiu.png



About 1000 B.C. there happened a final catastrophe. The palace at Cnossus was once more destroyed, and never rebuilt or re-inhabited. Iron took the place of Bronze, and Aegean art, as a living thing, 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 as survived elsewhere issued in the lifeless geometric style which is reminiscent of the later Aegean, but wholly unworthy of it. 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 artistic spirit, instinct in the Aegean area, and 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”; and when once more we see the Aegean area clearly, it is dominated by Hellenes, though it has not lost all memory of its earlier culture.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.—Much of the evidence is contained in archaeological periodicals, especially Annual of the British School at Athens (1900— ); Monumenti Antichi and Rendiconti d. R. Ac. d. Lincei (1901— ); Ephemeris Archaiologiké (1885- ); Journal of Hellenic Studies, Athenische Mittheilungen, Bulletin de correspondance hellénique, American Journal of Archaeology, &c. (all since about 1885). SPECIAL WORKS: H. Schliemann's books (see Schliemann), summarized by C. Schuchhardt, Schliemann's Excavations (1891); Chr. Tsountas, Μυκἢναι (1893); Chr. Tsountas and J. I. Manatt, The Mycenaean Age (1897); G. Perrot and Ch. Chipiez, Histoire de l'art dans l'antiquité, vol. vi. (1895); W. Dörpfeld, Troja (1893) and Troja und Ilios (1904); A. Furtwängler and G. Löschke, Mykenische Vasen (1886); A. S. Murray, Excavations in Cyprus (1900); W. Ridgeway, Early Age of Greece (1901 foll.); H. R. Hall, The Oldest Civilization of Greece (1901); A. J. Evans, “Mycenaean Tree and Pillar Cult” in Journ. Hell. Studies (1901) and “Prehistoric Tombs of Knossos,” in Archaeologia (1905); F. Noack, Homerische Paläste (1903); Excavations at Phylakopi, by members of the British School at Athens (1904); Harriet A. Boyd (Mrs Hawes), Excavations at Gournia (1907); D. G. Hogarth, “Aegean Religion” in Hastings' Dict. of Religions (1906). For a recent view of the place of Aegean civilization in the history of Hellenic culture see Die Hellenische Kultur by F. Baumgarten, &c. (1905). Various summaries, controversial articles, &c., formerly quoted, are now superseded by recent discoveries. See also Crete, Mycenae, Troad, Ceramics, Plate, &c. (D. G. H.)