Minoan Sea Power

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Akrotiri Ships Fresco detail
detail from the Minoan ships fresco


Crete lay near the coasts of Asia, Africa, and the Greek continent placing it at a critical place in the important sea trading routes of the time. The Minoans owed their prosperity and sophistication to their success as a great maritime civilization, delpendent on the sea for trade and food. They traded with Egypt, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Greece and Spain. Minoan objects have been found in all these locations.

The Minoans lived in undefended coastal cities and had a large fleet which ensured their security and made up their trading empire. They are often called a Thalassocracy, a sea power, and the period of Minoan dominance in the Aegean is sometimes called "the Minoan Peace," due to the fact that there was no need for city walls. There is no evidence that the Minoans engaged in warfare, or acted aggressively with other cultures. They were a trading culture. The sea was critical to their prosperity and survival. The Minoans were involved in the tin trade, critical in the Bronze Age. Tin, alloyed with copper which may have come from Cyprus, was used to make bronze. They traded in saffron harvested from a type of crocus. A beautiful fresco of women gathering saffron records the use of this important resource in the Minoan city of Akrotiri on the Santorini island. It was a product of high value in the ancient world. Saffron had several purposes - one use was as a dye - it's use denoted power and wealth to the fortunate wearer of clothing dyed with the precious substance. They also traded in ceramics, copper, gold and silver.

The Minoan fleet appears to have been a trading fleet, but with weapons for defense from pirates. There is nothing in our knowledge of the Minoans to suggest that they were ever an aggressive military power, but with a large fleet they apparently felt safe enough to leave their cities unfortified in a world where warfare was constant.

Part of The Minoans a HistoryWiz exhibit

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