Hellenic Civilization and Its Precursors

7.2.1. Early Groups

One of the early Mediterranean cultures was that of the Minoans, who developed on the island of Crete between 3200 and 2000 B.c., building shrines at the beginning of this interval and temples at the end of it. At its peak, Crete

22 Hero mentions Archimedes and is in turn mentioned by Pappas;so his dates must fall in the period ~200 b.c. to 300 A.D.;to the extent that a description of a lunar eclipse described by Hero represents a record of Hero's own observation of it, Neugebauer (1938,1939) finds only one eclipse that fits this description: that of Mar. 13-14, 62 a.d., hence the 1st century date (see ยง5.2.1.2, Table 5.2 for further details).

dominated a colonial empire, trading with communities as far away as Syria and Egypt. Its decline after the great volcanic eruption of Thera (~1500 B.c.) and the subsequent invasion by Mycenaeans is well documented (for a recent summary, see Castledon 1990). Images of the Sun and Moon are found that have suggested worship of these objects. A disk, probably of the Sun, is sometimes depicted between the horns of a bull's head. The bull's horns were a prominent feature of sacred altars, and they still can be seen in the ruins of the Minoan complexes. Although a version of the sea-god Poseidon, the main deity in mainland Greece during the Mycenean period, may have been a principal deity, a multiple role for deities seems likely. According to Castledon (1990, p. 129), Poseidon probably had three manifestations: In the sky, he was worshipped as the Sun and Moon, and on Earth, in the form of a bull, and beneath the earth, he took the form of tsunamis and earthquakes. This is analogous to the late Orphic aspects of the goddess Artemis (her aspect on the earth), manifested as Persephone (below) and Selene (above). The later Myceneans were ancestral Greeks.

The Greeks had a typical Mediterranean culture, dependent on a wide range of crops. Dominant were the grains, especially wheat; vegetables included peas, chick-peas, lentils, and onions; grapes were grown, particularly for wine; flax was used for linen; a wide range of fruit trees included olives, oranges, lemons, apples, peaches, pears, and others. They also raised domesticated donkeys, sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, and horses and tamed a wide range of other animals. They did substantial amounts of fishing and a little hunting, mostly for show. They were great enthusiasts for sports, theatre, and warfare. Each city was independent in the earlier period and governed by a hereditary king, later largely replaced by a variety of elected officials. There was a large body of specialists, including physicians, whose office was hereditary (they claimed descent from the god Asklepios, son of Apollo, who was sometimes identified with Mercury and sometimes with the Sun). Menial tasks were performed by serfs and slaves. Iron and bronze metallurgy were well developed, and weaving (earlier wool, later linen and cotton) was important, but they had no tailored clothing. Trading was extensive, both among the city states and with outside groups; important commodities included wine and slaves. Silk was imported. Water transport was in moderately good sailing vessels, and on land they used a variety of wagons and chariots, sometimes on well-paved roads. They had writing, first a script borrowed from Crete, soon replaced by a form of the Phoenician alphabet. There were extremes of wealth and poverty and great pressure on resources that resulted in massive infanticide, especially of females. Coinage furnished an economic exchange and lending at interest was a regular feature of the economy (the most common lenders were the temples). Except for Dionysiac orgies, religious festivals seem to have been generally orderly, but certainly occasions for merriment and feasting. As Cyrus Gordon (1965) has emphasized, much Greek mythology is close to Canaanite and Hebrew beliefs and ultimately partly of Mesopotamian derivation. Festivals varied from city to city and were regulated by a variety of chaotic local calendars (fully described by Ginzel 1906, Vol. 2).

For the most part, the Greeks lived in homes of plastered mud; occasionally, they lived in stone houses. By the 6th century b.c., they were building large and impressive public structures, including temples.

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