In Art History, three Greek Bronze Age cultures — Cycladic, Minoan, and Mycenaean — offer us insight into early Greek life. The region of the Greek Islands was a sea-faring, culture sharing community both trading and warring through their proximity. Unified by the sea, cultures that took advantage of trade built large palaces rich with artwork and precious metals devoted to the ceremony of power and religion. These civilizations predate Greek myth, democracy and scholarship lated attributed to Hellenistic Greek society (ca 323 BCE death of Alexander the Great – 146 BCE Battle of Corinth.)
Cycladic Art from Cyclades Greece (3200-2000 BCE)
Cycladic, Art of Cyclades in Greece – During the period between 3200 and 2000 B.C. the small Cycladic islands (Cyclades, Greece) in the Aegean became home to a flourishing pre-Greek culture. The most prominent craft in Cycladic culture was stone-cutting, especially marble sculpture. The abundance of high quality, white marble on the islands, encouraged its wide use for the creation of a wide range of artifacts. Among these, Cycladic Statues are the most distinctive Cycladic creation because of the great numbers in which they are found, and the significance they held for their owners. The majority of Cycladic Figurines show women, nude with the arms folded over the belly and the long feet, soles slopping downwards. We do not know whether they were meant to show mortals or deities, but probably symbolized the worship of the Mother Goddess. In this case, the statues may have been conceived as representations of the Goddess, or companions to her.
More reading about Cycladic Art on the Metropolitan Museum website.
Minoan Art (3000-1100 BCE) from Crete, Greece
Minoan, Art of ancient Crete in Greece -Inhabiting the Greek islands of Thera and Crete between 3000-2000 BC, the Minoan Civilization flourished because of its extensive sea trade with the Egyptians and its many colonies. When it disappeared after the volcanic destruction of Thera, the residents left behind remnants of a highly advanced culture which celebrated the sea in frequent artistic references to animal and sea life designs.
One of the most famous painted frescoes from ancient Crete is the Minoan Bull Jumpers fresco (belos). Bull jumping is believed to have been part of Minoan ritual. In this image, a priestess vaults head-first over a charging bull. The original painting was removed from the Palace of Knossos to be preserved in the Heraklion Museum, Crete.
The Pennsylvania Museum of Art has a detailed article online about Minoan Bull Jumping.
Mycenaean Civilization (1750-1050 BCE)
Mycenaean, Art of ancient Mycenae on mainland Greece – This late Bronze Age culture were fierce warriors who prospered from extensive trade with Minoan Crete and beyond through sea networks. They built a large palace with Cyclopian, large sized stones and were memorialized in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Adding to their legend, when Heinrich Schliemann excavated a tomb at Mycenae, he named a golden object, the Mask of Agamemnon. Language advanced with the used of Linear B script revealing a highly organized feudal kingship. By the late 13th century their towns mysteriously declined.
Looking for a small figurine or jewelry memento of the Early Greek Civilizations? Here is a small selection.