The bull jumping fresco, Knossos
Crete may have been inhabited since the palaeolithic but the oldest evidence of human occupation was found at Knossos and
dates from 6100-5700 BC. But Crete's greatest civilization was that of the Minoans who first appeared around 3000BC.
Unlike the mainland Mycenean culture that eventually took over the island (1400-1100 BC), the Minoans did not have walled city states but a network of royal palaces
that seemed to have exercised a peaceful control over the island from palaces such as that at
"Around the end of the prepalatial period (...) Crete seems to have offered an advanced way of life,
prosperity and impressive signs of progress. It still had thick woods and many streams; and the inhabitants, dark-eyed, swift,
vivacious and lightly-dressed, lived in the crowded villages, not very different to today, near the streams and on the
coast, and close to the groups of vaulted tombs where their forefathers lay. Its seas were traversed by fleets of trading
vessels sailing to the ,
Egypt and Asia Minor in order to buy obsidian, gold, copper, silver and ivory in exchange for Cretan products (...).
The olive was already cultivated, cattle, goats, sheep and pigs were reared and the island as a whole was densely
inhabited, even on the south. At their festivals they played at bull-vaulting, and their religion seems to have been
based on the worship of a Mother Goddess." (S.T. Alexiou Minoan Civilization trans. by Cressida Ridley, Heraklion.)
Minoan Crete was a maritime economy, projecting its power throughout the eastern Mediterranean with
a powerful navy. Minoan settlements have been found at numerous trading ports of call, including Skopelos and
. The Cretans seem to have been in contact with the Egyptians and devised their own
writing system, unique to their island, that used a syllabic system half way between hieroglyphics and an
Detorakis (1994:26) comments on the apparent freedom and importance of women in Minoan Crete:
"In contrast to other ancient cultures in which women (...) appear to live in the shadow of male
domination, women (in) Minoan Crete participated actively and on an equal footing with men in all aspects of social life.
They had a prominent place at religious festivals and public occasions where, indeed, they are shown as being
carried in litters borne by servants, and they took part in dangerous games, religious ceremonies, and even went hunting alongside men."
The 'dangerous games' referred to are those of the bull dancers, requiring the participants to leap over the back of a bull.
In Frommer's Greek Islands John S.Bowman concludes that few travellers need to be sold on
Minoan Crete but many are unaware of the rich history left by later civilizations, including the Byzantines, Venetians and