CL 28 - Classical Mythology

Historical Outline



STONE AGE (100,000-3000 BC)

Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic



The Minoans on Crete are the dominant civilization in the Aegean.

Greeks move into Greece c. 2100- 1900 BC).

Mainland Greece is influenced by the Minoans (symbols and artistry are adopted by Greeks).

Minoans named by archaeologist Arthur Evans after Minos, the legendary king of Knossos.

Minoan palaces on Crete, largest is Knossos, also Phaistos, Mallia and Zakros. Had contacts with Egypt and the Near East.

Minoan Religion:

Important symbols: bull, horns of consecration, double-axe, snake goddess.

Mother Goddess (Potnia Theron = Mistress of the Animals) the most prominent deity.

Bull-leaping perhaps a ritual conducted in the large open court at Knossos.


LATE BRONZE AGE (1600-1100 BC)

Rise of large population centers on Greek Mainland, which become fortified palaces by the end of the period (Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Thebes, Orchomenos, Athens and Iolkos).

Great wealth of rulers at Mycenae shows up in the Shaft Graves (c. 1600-1500 BC), which were excavated by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876. 30 kilos of gold, "Mask of Agamemnon," imports from Egypt, the Hittites of Anatolia and the Minoans - shows they are trading heavily with outside world.

Linear B writing system, adapted from Minoan Linear A, writes Greek and is used on unbaked clay tablets and transport pottery to record details of the palace administration.

Mycenaean culture and art is influenced by, but distinct from the Minoan: Hunting and War themes dominate their artwork, while the style is more rigid and formal.

Mycenaean Religion:

Minoan influence seen in (bull, horns of consecration, double axe, Potnia Theron).

Linear B tablets have a wide assortment of deities, many are almost surprisingly familiar: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Hermes, Dionysus, Artemis, Ares (as Enyalios), Apollo (as Paean).

Potnia, "our Lady," with several different epithets appears on tablets and in artwork: Potnia of the Labyrinth (of Minoan derivation?), Potnia of the Horses (Potnia Theron!), Potnia of the Grain (Earth Goddess, Demeter?), Potnia w/ shield and helmet (Athena?).

Mycenaean shrines were "houses of the gods/goddesses" with hearths in the center (burnt and liquid offerings) and bench altars with figurines on them. Mycenaean Religion in


DARK AGES (1100-800 BC)

Most of the palaces on the mainland (and Troy) were destroyed around 1200 BC. Life changes drastically: writing disappears, large tombs go out of use, no more palaces are built, bronze and other imported items become scarce, population declines.

Greek society becomes fragmented into small communities which eventually become the poleis of Archaic and Classical Greece.

Formative period of the Iliad and Odyssey. People were keeping the memories of the better days alive in oral tradition. At the same time, the conditions and customs of the time get added in: social structure is Dark Age, heroes cremated not buried, sometimes iron is used instead of bronze. But also memories or traditions of people, places and especially things that existed only in the Bronze Age.



Political and cultural revival stimulated by foreign contact, especially with the Near East.

Writing adopted and adapted from the Phoenician alphabet.

Trade revived, monumental architecture being built again, crafts much better produced and growing market at home and abroad, for pottery most of all.

Rise of the polis system- politically independent city-state. Citizenship of a certain city became as important as which family you belonged to.

Tyrants sometimes took over (650-500 heyday), and were very influential in promoting arts and organizing building projects necessary to accommodate the growth in population Often oligarchy (artistocratic "rule by the few").

Eventually led to democracy.

Mythical and religious images are used on Black figure and later Red figure pottery (750-500).



Greeks achieve victory over the Persians, who attempted to invade the Greek mainland in 490 and 480 BC. Greeks took tremendous pride in this and it provided a whole new stimulus to cultural pursuits and symbolism of traditional and mythological tales.

Athens organizes the Delian League to protect Greece against further attacks from the East. Turns into an empire run by Athens, sometimes brutally, contributions turn into tribute. Sparta at the head of its own league challenges Athenian power in the long, drawn-out Pelponnesian War (435-404). Sparta wins but neither do well after the prolonged war.

During the Classical Period the great names of Greek art and philosophy were active. Seen as the pinnacle of Greek culture. Great architecture and sculpture, much of which had a religious theme

Macedonian kings have become more important and in 338 Philip of Macedon takes over the Greek poleis.



Philip dies in 336 and his son Alexander the Great takes over. Attacks and conquers Persian Empire and much more, extending the Greek/Macedonian Empire to the edges of the known world. Greek culture, religion and language adopted in the East and the West.





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