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AEGEAN CULTURE AND EARLY
Early Mediterranean people, myth and the arts
THE RISE OF ANCIENT GREECE
Western civilization takes root
NOTE: Although we have included “The Rise of Ancient Greece” material in
the Chapter 2 Summary and all relevant Key Terms, we suggest treating all of
Greek art within the context of Chapter 3. Greek art demonstrates quite
clearly the concept of the evolution of art, and it works very well to focus upon
the Classical phase, presenting it in terms of what came before and what
followed. Therefore, please see Chapter 3 in the Instructors’ Manual for all
Greek material, including Resources.
After completing this chapter, the student should be able to . . .
. . . define key terms.
. . . compare and contrast the arts and cultures of the Aegean and Early
. . . outline the specific contributions of the Minoans to architecture.
. . . identify the Presocratic philosophers and outline their specific ideas.
. . . trace the development of visual arts in Early Greece.
. . . compare and contrast black-figure and red-figure pottery.
. . . explain the connection between the Greek religion and its culture and
. . . name some of the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTIONS
1. What contributions to architecture are specifically Minoan?
2. Compare and contrast the Woman of Willendorf to the Cycladic statuette of a
woman. What were the beliefs associated with each one? What does the
appearance of each say about their respective cultures of origin?
3. Examine the Toreador Fresco and works from Mesopotamia featuring bulls.
Why was the image of the bull so important to these cultures? How are some of
these ideas still important today and how do we see them presented?
4. Who were the two early archeologists working in the Aegean and what were
their discoveries? What are some of the differences between archeology then and
how it is practiced now?
5. How are Gilgamesh and Achilles alike or different in representing the idea of
an “epic hero”? What about their characters reflects the values of either
Mesopotamian culture or Homeric Greek culture?
6. Outline the characteristics of a few of the Greek pantheon and compare them
to other gods or goddesses from contemporary religions you may be familiar
with. How are the deities different?
A number of cultures flourished along the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean and
on the islands of the Aegean Sea between about 3000 and 1100 B.C.E. For centuries the
principal evidence that these cultures existed was found in Homer’s Greek epics, The Iliad
and The Odyssey, until the discoveries of archeologists Heinrich Schliemann (Troy and
Mycenae) and Arthur Evans ( Knossos on Crete), confirmed the truth of Homer’s words.
These civilizations were the basis of later Greek traditions and beliefs.
The early Aegean period was dominated by a rich maritime culture which included
trading with Egypt. In addition, the Aegean cultures shared a common Greek language.
The earliest Aegean civilization developed in the Cyclades about 2500-2000 B.C.E.
Archeologist Sir Arthur Evans established that life flourished on the island of Crete
between about 2800 and 1400 B.C.E. The Minoan civilization had developed significantly
by 2000 B.C.E. Then about 3000 B.C.E., Greek-speaking peoples began to invade the
Greek mainland from the north, inaugurating the Mycenaean Age. After 1500 B.C.E.,
when the Minoan culture began to decline, these mainland peoples began to have
increasing influence. They built strong fortresses and were more militaristic. Mycenae was
the richest and most powerful center, so the entire culture has taken its name from this
In about 1000 B.C.E., the Greeks of the mainland began to forge a new
civilization that would last until the fifth century B.C.E. The history of this
civilization is divided into the Geometric period, from 1000-700 B.C.E.; the
Orientalizing period, from 700-600 B.C.E.; and the Archaic period, from about
The Geometric Period is sometimes referred to as the Heroic Age, since it was
during that time that Homer created his poetic epics The Iliad and the Odyssey.
The communities which began to emerge took the form of independent city-states,
each called a “polis.” It is the development of the Greek polis which led to the later
Western ideal of democracy. In the Orientalizing period, the Greek city-states began
to trade abroad and to colonize. For the first time in 300 years, Greece made contact
with the civilizations of the Near East, in particular, Egypt and Persia. These
contacts had a great impact on Greek art and life. The Archaic period was a time of
rapid change and development in ancient Greece.
Nothing distinguishes the rise of ancient Greece as a civilization more than its
love of pure thought. The Greeks were the first to practice “philosophy,” literally “the
love of wisdom,” in a systematic way. Both before the ascendancy of Socrates and his
pupil Plato in the fifth century B.C.E. and after, Greek thinkers hotly debated the nature
of the world and their place in it. Prominent groups included the materialists, who
explained the world in terms of the four elements; the atomists, who conceived of the
world as being made up of atoms and the void; and the pythagoreans, who viewed
numbers at the heart of all things.
MyHumanitiesKit RESOURCES, CHAPTER TWO
Interact – Closer Look:
Snake Goddess or Priestess
Review and Explore
College Art Association
Write and Research
Linear A and B
polis (pl. poleis)
kouros (pl. kouroi)
kore (pl. korai)
SUGGESTED TEACHING OUTLINE
I. AEGEAN CULTURES
A. BRIEF HISTORY
B. CYCLADIC CULTURE [ca. 2500-2000 B.C.E.]
2. [Fig. 2.1] Statuette of a woman, third millennium B.C. E.
TEACHING STRATEGY: Contrast the Woman of Willendorf [Fig. 1.2] with
the Cycladic statuette of a woman [Fig. 2.1]. Examine how both figures are
thought to have been connected with early beliefs about human fertility.
Discuss again how scholars must resort to piecing together clues as to a work’s
function and meaning.
TEACHING STRATEGY: Compare this statuette with modern works by
Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi , or Barbara Hepworth. Ask students to
list what similarities they observe. Are they coincidental?
3. [Fig. 2.2] Landscape, wall painting with areas of modern reconstruction, from
Akrotiri, Thera, Cyclades, before 1630-1500 B.C.E.
C. MINOAN CULTURE [ca. 2800-1400 B.C.E.]
Sir Arthur Evans, British archaeologist (1900)
TEACHING STRATEGY: discuss in detail the work of Evans at Knossos,
including methods of archaeology and of reconstruction. Have students
consider the role of myth (such as that of King Minos and the labyrinth) in
spurring on the efforts of early archaeologists. What have been the positive
effects of archaeology, and what have been some negative effects? In this
regard, particularly consider how archaeological methods have improved over
TEACHING STRATEGY: show a documentary about the discoveries at
2. Palace at Knossos [Figs. 2.3 and 2.4]
The Myth of the Minotaur
TEACHING STRATEGY: consider showing Titian’s The Rape of Europa as
you recount the myth
3. Minoan Fresco: [Fig. 2.4]: Toreador Fresco, Palace Complex, Knossos, Crete,
ADDITIONAL LECTURE TOPIC: explain the meaning of the bull in
ancient cultures and bring the topic up to date with Picasso’s art (such as
Guernica) and the continuing practice of bullfights and the “running of the
bulls” in Spain.
4. Minoan Religion [Fig. 2.5] Snake Goddess, from the Palace Complex, Knossos,
Crete, ca. 1700-1500 B.C.E. Also, in MyHumanitiesKit, examine Chapter Two,
Closer Look: Snake Goddess or Priestess?
ADDITIONAL LECTURE TOPIC: Use the “Then and Now, the Snake
Goddess” section of the chapter as a springboard for presenting the nature of
historical revisionism that has occurred in response to the Feminist
ADDITIONAL LECTURE TOPIC: discuss what the authors call “the
demonization of women” in ancient cultures.
5. Minoan Painted Pottery
6. Discoveries at Thera
ADDITIONAL LECTURE TOPIC: Consider presenting the ongoing Greek
excavations at the site of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini (ancient Thera).
D. MYCENAEAN CULTURE [ca. 1600-1300 B.C.E.]
Heinrich Schliemann, German businessman turned archaeologist (late
The Legend of Agamemnon:
[Fig. 2.8] Gold mask, from tomb V of Grave Circle A, Mycenae, ca. 1550-
2. Citadels [Fig. 2.6] Lion Gate, Mycenae, ca. 1300-1200 B.C.E.
Cyclopean Masonry (relate term to the mythological Cyclops)
4. Mycenaean Pottery
[Fig. 2.9] Warrior Vase, from Mycenae, ca. 1200 B.C.E.
II. THE RISE OF ANCIENT GREECE – Please see Chapter 3 in the
Student self-reviews: MyHumanitiesKit, Review and Explore
MyHumanitiesKit, Image links
Barber, R.L.N. The Cyclades in the Bronze Age. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press,
Betancourt, Philip P. A History of Minoan Pottery. Princeton: Princeton University
Cadogan, Gerald. Palaces of Minoan Crete. London: Methuen, 1980.
Doumas, Christos. Thera, Pompeii of the Ancient Aegean: Excavations at Akrotiri,
1967-1979. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1983.
The Wall-paintings of Thera. Athens: Thera Foundation, 1992.
Fitton, J. Lesley. Cycladic Art. 2nd ed. London: British Museum, 1999.
Graham, James W. The Palaces of Crete. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Higgins, Reynold. Minoan and Mycenaean Art. Rev. ed. World of Art. New York:
Thames & Hudson, 1997.
McDonald, William A., and Carol G. Thomas. Progress into the Past: The Rediscovery
of Mycenaean Civilization. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1990.
Marinatos, Nanno. Art and Religion in Thera: Reconstructing a Bronze Age Society.
Athens: Mathioulakis, 1984.
Preziosi, Donald and Louise Hitchcock. Aegean Art and Architecture. Oxford History of
Art. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999.
Warren, Peter. The Aegean Civilizations from Ancient Crete to Mycenae. 2nd ed.
Oxford: Elsevier-Phaidon, 1989.
Crete & Mycenae. Museum Without Walls. KVC Home Video, 54 minutes.
King Minos and the Minoans of Crete. Films for the Humanities and Sciences, 48
Minoan Civilization. Films for the Humanities