Ancient World

Aegean Civilizations
The lost faces of the ancient world

Aegean Civilizations, Ancient World

When talking ancient history, Egypt gets all the love—but they weren’t the only game in town. From 3000 to 1200 BCE, 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 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, its 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 is a glimpse into their vibrant world of seafaring trade, snake wielding goddesses & boxing children. Many of the stories told in Greek mythology, like Theseus and his minotaur, or the Trojan horse and the fall of Troy, originated in the tangled walls of 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 November 06, 2022,

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The Tomb of Agamemnon/The Treasury of Atreus, Aegean Civilizations

The Tomb of Agamemnon/The Treasury of Atreus

The Tomb of Clytemnestra, Aegean Civilizations

The Tomb of Clytemnestra

Cycladic Figure, Aegean Civilizations

Cycladic Figure 2800BCE

Early Cycladic female figure, Aegean Civilizations

Early Cycladic female figure 3200 – 2800BCE

Cycladic seated harp player, Aegean Civilizations

Cycladic seated harp player 2800 – 2700BCE

Cycladic female figure, Aegean Civilizations

Cycladic female figure 2300 – 2200BCE

Cycladic Kernos — Vase for Offerings, Aegean Civilizations

Cycladic Kernos — Vase for Offerings 2300 – 2200BCE

Minoan Pyxis Stone Lid, Aegean Civilizations

Minoan Pyxis Stone Lid 2600 – 1900BCE

Grave Circle A (Mycenae), Aegean Civilizations

Grave Circle A (Mycenae) 1600 – 1550BCE

Grave Circle B (Mycenae), Aegean Civilizations

Grave Circle B (Mycenae) 1675 – 1550BCE

Electrum Grave Mask from Grave Circle B, Aegean Civilizations

Electrum Grave Mask from Grave Circle B 1675 – 1550BCE

Dolphin Fresco Knossos, Aegean Civilizations

Dolphin Fresco Knossos 1545BCE

Grave Mask from Grave Circle A, Aegean Civilizations

Grave Mask from Grave Circle A 1600 – 1500BCE

Mycenaean Bull Rhyton, Aegean Civilizations

Mycenaean Bull Rhyton 1550 – 1500BCE

Mycenaean Diadem, Aegean Civilizations

Mycenaean Diadem 1600 – 1500BCE

Mycenaean Lion Rhyton, Aegean Civilizations

Mycenaean Lion Rhyton 1600 – 1500BCE

The Mask of Agamemnon, Aegean Civilizations

The Mask of Agamemnon 1550 – 1500BCE

Bronze Bull Leaping Figure, Aegean Civilizations

Bronze Bull Leaping Figure 1600 – 1450BCE

Minoan Serpentine Tankard, Aegean Civilizations

Minoan Serpentine Tankard 1750 – 1450BCE

Minoan Snake Goddess or Priestess, Aegean Civilizations

Minoan Snake Goddess or Priestess 1700 – 1450BCE

Haematite Amygdaloid Seal, Aegean Civilizations

Haematite Amygdaloid Seal 1600 – 1400BCE

Minoan Agate Lentoid, Aegean Civilizations

Minoan Agate Lentoid 1400 – 1400BCE

Throne Room at Knossos, Aegean Civilizations

Throne Room at Knossos 1500 – 1400BCE

Phaistos Disk, Aegean Civilizations

Phaistos Disk 1850 – 1400BCE

Minoan Haematite Cylinder Seal, Aegean Civilizations

Minoan Haematite Cylinder Seal 1400 – 1300BCE

The Lion Gate in Mycenae, Aegean Civilizations

The Lion Gate in Mycenae 1300 – 1200BCE

Mycenaean Octopus Stirrup Jar, Aegean Civilizations

Mycenaean Octopus Stirrup Jar 1200 – 1100BCE

Minoan Bronze Tweezers, Aegean Civilizations

Minoan Bronze Tweezers 2900 – 1050BCE

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