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The Palace of Minos was built over several centuries from about 2000 onward. It was an extensive structure, with an impressive grand staircase and many wings, additions, and storage chambers. In designing some of its architectural features the Minoans displayed remarkable technical ability. The palace had a plumbing system with water running through fitted clay pipes, and the palace windows were covered with a form of glazed windowpane. It was in the grace and beauty of their art that the Minoans achieved their greatest distinction. Minoan art bears witness to a civilization that valued elegance and style. The walls of the palace were decorated with frescoes showing jeweled ladies in elaborate gowns and graceful young men bearing cups and vases; paintings of gardens, birds, and animals express the Minoans' delight in nature. Minoan pottery often depicts marine themes: plants from the sea, flying fish, and lively renderings of the octopus. The gaiety and freedom of these designs are almost unique to Minoan artists.

The peaceful nature of Minoan civilization is suggested by the absence of fortifications at Knossos and at palaces excavated at other sites in Crete. Knossos was clearly the wealthiest of the Cretan cities and, judging from the size of its palace, was the center of a complex administration. Surviving records indicate that the king was served by an efficient bureaucracy. He probably acted as priest in religious ceremonies, for there is no evidence of a powerful priestly class like that of Egypt. Among the deities worshiped—and perhaps the chief one—was a bare-breasted goddess who was thought to rule over the world of nature.

Much of the wealth of Crete was generated by trade. The Greek historian Thucydides wrote that Minos was the first man to have a sea empire. We have no information about Minos from any sources close to his possible era, but there is a hint about the power of Minos in the legend of the Minotaur (the "Minos-bull"), the monster who lived in a labyrinth and devoured girls and boys sent to him as tribute.
This legend, with Thucydides' evidence, suggests that the Greeks had a memory of a powerful ruler who dominated parts of the Aegean Sea. But any Cretan dominion overseas was not an empire in the modern sense, for Crete lacked the manpower to control it directly. At most, its dominion consisted of a group of trading posts distributing the products of Crete.

About 1380, according to a widely accepted date, disaster engulfed Knossos and other Cretan cities; the stately palaces were burned or destroyed. There is continuing debate about what caused this catastrophe. A massive earthquake on the nearby island of Thera, about 1500, must have weakened Crete as well and may have assisted the Greeks in asserting their domination in the fifteenth century B.C.; perhaps the disaster ca. 1380 was connected with a quarrel or rebellion against Greek rule. In any event, the Greek  city of Mycenae had now entered on a period of prosperity and power.





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