Partially restored ruins of Knossos palace, Crete (Photo: Bernard Gagnon)
The Minoans—the first non-Greek high civilization of Europe—flourished on Crete from 2000 to1450 BC until conquered by mainland Greek warriors. On Santorini, another non-Greek culture called Cycladic thrived until the volcanic island exploded and sank into the sea (ca. 1525 BC). Santorini’s coastal capital was buried by debris, but excavations revealed much architecture and splendid frescoes depicting contemporary life.
Archaeologist Robert R. Stieglitz, a specialist in maritime interconnections, explores the cultural legacies of two marvelous ancient Aegean civilizations through their architecture, material culture, and artistic creations.
9:30–10:45 a.m. The Hellenic Heroic Age
Greeks called the centuries prior to the Trojan War the Heroic Age (1600-1200 BC), celebrated in legends and artworks about heroes such as Perseus, Jason, Hercules, and Minos. For these Greeks (now designated Mycenaeans), Minoan Crete was the Aegean cultural hub. The Trojan War waged by the Mycenaeans against Troy and its allies terminated the Heroic Age.
11 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Minoan Crete
In 1900, Sir Arthur Evans unearthed on Crete a lost palace civilization remarkable for its vivid artworks. He named it “pre-Hellenic” but later settled on “Minoan” after the legendary King Minos of Knossos. The Minoans were literate but their writing (Linear A) remains undeciphered. The island’s palaces were dominated by Knossos until the ruling class, language, and script were displaced by Greek Mycenaean warlords from the mainland about 1450 BC.
12:15–1:30 p.m. Lunch (Participants provide their own lunch)
1:30–2:45 p.m. Mycenaean Crete
Some 3,000 Mycenaean tablets (deciphered from Linear B) found by Evans at Knossos revealed a centralized feudal system headed by a divinely chosen monarch called wanax (lord). Minos of Knossos was the most famous. The Greek warriors were also enterprising merchants and artists, maintaining interconnections within the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. Shortly following the Trojan War, their culture collapsed (1150 BC) and was displaced by other Greek mainland groups.
3–4:15 p.m. Cycladic Santorini
Excavations on Santorini unearthed a thriving Cycladic culture during the 2nd millennium BC. The remarkable frescoes preserved within the ashes at Akrotiri depict the prosperous lifestyle of the islanders.
Stieglitz, an emeritus professor at Rutgers University, has excavated at harbors in Greece and Israel and leads archaeological tours in the eastern and western Mediterranean.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit
The luxurious allure of Santorini has beckoned throughout the centuries. Smithsonian magazine reports on why modern island-lovers, like their ancient counterparts, are drawn to it.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)