Next we are progressing into the "so-called" area of the "WESTERN HERITAGE", as we move further west away from Egypt and the Near East to the Mediterranean cultures. It is unfortunate that nineteenth century scholars used this phrase to refer to the Euro-American cultural tradition (includes art, music, literature, philosophy, mythology, etc.) to such an extent; that they engrained the term into our consciousness; with scholars debating still its legitimacy. On "Etudes" there will be discussion groups where you may participate, using certain articles, debating the validity of this term, particularly for art. Especially troubling is that many programs, books, videos, such as the BBC "Art of the Western World", (which you may use in the Library Learning Resource Center, and is an excellent program in many ways); begins with Greece, not Egypt, Mesopotamia or Prehistoric. In studying art and artistic influences, it is easy to see that the "Western" artistic heritage really begins with Egypt--a country the Greeks admired considerably, borrowed from greatly.  Plus, it seems evident that historians, like HERODOTUS, who wrote on Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, as well as his own country, Greece, were much more in touch with a global "world view" than many Americans or Europeans today.


A Cycladic Sculpture The Minoan, Santorini Boxing Boys Mask of Agamemnon from Mycenae
A Cycladic Sculpture The Minoan, Santorini
Boxing Boys
Gold Mask of Agamemnon
from Mycenae

Due to the lack of extensive written sources, much of our knowledge of these cultures derives from either geography or later Greek mythology. Thus, the name Aegean refers to the ancient cultures, which bordered the Aegean Sea or were located on the islands within. Looking at the map in your text, you will note how the area is closed off by the large island of Crete to the South. Overall, scholars have identified three different cultures, (see photos above), the earliest being the "Cycladic", starting around 3,000 BC, whose people settled on the many small islands in the Aegean. Next came the Minoans (a name which derives from the later Greek legend of a group of kings titled Minos), the people on the large island of Crete, and lastly the Mycenaeans who settled on the Greek mainland, particularly the lower peninsula of Greece, which is called the Peloponnese. Looking on the map, you will see the cities of Mycenae (from which the cultural name is derived), also Tiryns, and Vaphio; all are important sites for archaeological finds. This culture reached it peak about 1300 BC, and developed a thriving warrior aristocracy, building heavily fortified cities (Tiryns has some of the largest fortification walls in history, some 30 feet thick). Undoubtedly the Mycenaeans being on the mainland--unlike the Minoans, the safer island culture", whose navy had control of the Aegean Sea during their peak; felt the need to ward off invasion from tribes to the North (the Dorian tribe will eventually overtake them after war and possible economic collapse). Note also on the map (see text) the city of Troy, on the coast of what is presently Turkey or ancient Anatolia.

Why is the city of Troy famous and known to many of you? Why does the USC football team have a Trojan horse run on to the field at touchdowns?

Yes, this is a reference to the "Greek - Trojan Wars", and the legend of the "Trojan horse" used as a gift/strategy for the Greeks to get beyond this foreign walled city across the sea.

Question?    What is our source for these stories? To what extent do these legends influence Greek artists?  (These are questions for you to answer on the "Etudes" Discussion Board.)


The Island of Crete where the Minoan civilization reached its peak probably around 1500 BC, was described by the later Greeks as "the Island of milk and honey" where, according to legend, Zeus--one of the major Olympian gods--was born. From Greek legends like this, from their art works, as well as from archaeological evidence verifying their ships and extensive trade, we can glean a picture of the Minoans as a very flourishing, peaceful, and possibly even carefree people, involved in trade with many other ancient cultures, including Egypt, Phoenicia, parts of Africa, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and other regions of Palestine and the Near East. We will study primarily their palace on the north coast of Crete at a site called Knossos.

Since the 1960's, the Minoans have been the most acclaimed and studied, partly due to excavations on the neighboring island of Santorini (or ancient Thera). (Incidentally, by now you are getting used to the idea of two names for everything one being the ancient or mythological name and the other the modern geographic name. I will try to use, and would rather that you learn the current geographic name wherever possible. Hopefully some of you will be interested in traveling there some day!!) This island, about 75 miles north of Crete, believed to be a colony of the Minoans, was partly destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption around the peak of Minoan civilization. See p. 35 of the "Art 2 Prehistoric - Gothic Online Handbook" for more information on this volcano and Santorini.  

This volcano, called Santorin today, was four times greater than the largest recorded in history, and virtually caused the island to explode and a large central area to sink beneath the sea. It reduced a large circular island into a crescent shape, creating a crater that is approximately 33 sq miles. On the surviving section,--a flourishing tourist-oriented island today, used in many films--at a site called Akrotiri, there have been major on-going archeological excavations, giving us even further insights into this colony of the Minoans. Many of the FRESCOES found here have been moved to the National Museum in Athens.

Explore the links below for images into this world.

(NOTE: To get back to this site after you have viewed the following links, you must minimize or close their window completely. The ARTII site stays open underneath for cross referencing.)
National Museum of Athens
To learn of a special exhibition on Bronze Age Europe in the age of Odysseus

The Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean
Ancient Aegean

 Last Published 7/14/16