Aegean Civilizations

The lost faces of the ancient world

In the early years of the classical world Egypt gets all the love — but they weren’t the only game in town. From 3000 to 1200 B.C., the Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations developed on the coasts of the Aegean Sea.

We know little of these cultures outside of a few major excavations in the Peloponnese Peninsula, Knossos on the island of Crete, and in the volcanic ash that buried much of the island of Santorini. The homes and palaces discovered show a society that seems to have been centered around commerce. Large palaces were home to the ruling class, and served as storage houses for agricultural produce. The sprawling palaces of Crete at Knossos, Mallia, Phaistos and Zakros distinguish themselves from the Mesopotamian cities by their lack of defensive walls, and their vibrant decorations and frescos. The Minoan cultures used a language called ‘Linear A’ — though linguists have so far been unable to translate it, it’s use on cylinder seals and clay vessel seals often resembles receipts for transactions and labels of ownership. The later Mycenaean cultures wrote with a system known now as ‘Linear B’ — a variant of early Greek.

The art of the Aegean cultures provide our best glimpse into what seems to be a vibrant world of seafaring trade, snake wielding goddesses & boxing children. Many of the stories told in Greek mythology — Theseus and his minotaur, the Trojan horse and the fall of Troy, may have originated in the tangled walls of the King Minos’s labyrinthine palace & frescos of women dancing with the bulls.

Reed Enger, "Aegean Civilizations, The lost faces of the ancient world," in Obelisk Art History, Published February 09, 2016; last modified July 20, 2019,

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The Tomb of Agamemnon/The Treasury of Atreus

1250 BCE-

The Tomb of Clytemnestra

1250 BCE-

Cycladic Figure

2800 BCE

Early Cycladic female figure

3200 BCE-2800 BCE

Cycladic seated harp player

2800 BCE-2700 BCE

Cycladic female figure

2300 BCE-2200 BCE

Cycladic Kernos — Vase for Offerings

2300 BCE-2200 BCE

Minoan Pyxis Stone Lid

2600 BCE-1900 BCE

Grave Circle A (Mycenae)

1600 BCE-1550 BCE

Grave Circle B (Mycenae)

1675 BCE-1550 BCE

Electrum Grave Mask from Grave Circle B

1675 BCE-1550 BCE

Dolphin Fresco Knossos

1545 BCE

Grave Mask from Grave Circle A

1600 BCE-1500 BCE

Mycenaean Bull Rhyton

1550 BCE-1500 BCE

Mycenaean Diadem

1600 BCE-1500 BCE

Mycenaean Lion Rhyton

1600 BCE-1500 BCE

The Mask of Agamemnon

1550 BCE-1500 BCE

Bronze Bull Leaping Figure

1600 BCE-1450 BCE

Minoan Serpentine Tankard

1750 BCE-1450 BCE

Minoan Snake Goddess or Priestess

1700 BCE-1450 BCE

Haematite Amygdaloid Seal

1600 BCE-1400 BCE

Minoan Agate Lentoid

1400 BCE-1400 BCE

Throne Room at Knossos

1500 BCE-1400 BCE

Phaistos Disk

1850 BCE-1400 BCE

Minoan Haematite Cylinder Seal

1400 BCE-1300 BCE

The Lion Gate in Mycenae

1300 BCE-1200 BCE

Mycenaean Octopus Stirrup Jar

1200 BCE-1100 BCE

Minoan Bronze Tweezers

2900 BCE-1050 BCE
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