5.1 Early Greece

The island of Crete (kreet) was the cradle of an early civilization that later influenced Greeks living on the European mainland. The people of Crete, however, had absorbed many ideas from the older civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Photo of a rocky coastline and inland area with winding steppes and roads.

From the Aegean Sea coastline and islands like Karpathos, shown here, early Greek civilizations traded with Egypt and the Middle East.


  • Identify the influences on Minoan culture and how the civilization prospered.
  • Summarize how the Mycenaeans ruled the sea trade and started the Trojan War.
  • Describe the works of Homer and their influence on Greek culture.

Key Terms

  • Knossos
  • shrine
  • fresco
  • Trojan War
  • strait
  • Homer

Minoans Prosper From Trade

Washed by the warm waters of the Aegean (ee JEE un) Sea, Crete was home to a brilliant early civilization—and the first European civilization. We do not actually know what the people who built this civilization called themselves. However, the British archaeologist Arthur Evans, who unearthed its ruins in the early 1900s, called them Minoans after Minos, a legendary king of Crete. Minoan civilization lay buried for more than 2,500 years. Excavations by Evans and later archaeologists revealed much about this early civilization. Today, the Minoans are recognized not only for their unique civilization but also for their contribution to the rise of civilization in Greece, on the nearby mainland of Europe.

A Crossroads Location

Location affected the early people of Crete. They lived at the crossroads of three continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. Early on, they engaged in seaborne trade. From their island home in the eastern Mediterranean, they crossed the seas to the Nile Valley and the Middle East. Through contact with the older civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, they acquired artistic ideas and technologies such as metalworking that they adapted to their own culture.

Minoans developed several systems of writing during their long history. The first used hieroglyphs, although it does not seem related to Egyptian hieroglyphs and has not yet been deciphered.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments