Ancient Civilizations: The Minoans and Mycenaeans

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13082

Who were the Minoans? Why did they have a 1400-room palace? Did they really leap over bulls? Why did their civilization disappear? Who took over their land? And how is all that related to Greek myths?



learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Have you ever read about a place in a fictional story and wondered if such a place could actually exist - like Middle Earth in J.R.R. Tolkien's tales?

Archaeologist Arthur Evans did. Evans wondered:

Were the places spoken of in ancient Greek mythology real, and could they be located?

An example is The Myth Of Theseus And The Minotaur (Greek Myths & Greek Mythology). Was there really a king's palace with a gigantic maze (or labyrinth) where he kept a horrible man-eating monster?

The Greek islands were home to two of Europe's first civilizations: the Minoan Civilization first and then the Mycenaean.

There are many little islands scattered across the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Crete, the waters between Turkey and Greece.

map of Greek islands

On some of these islands, ancient civilizations thrived. They had rich forests, fertile land, and access to the sea for trading. They built magnificent palaces on top of hills, as well as forts and storage areas. They sailed throughout the Mediterranean trading grain, olive oil, and wine.

Learn About Minoans And Mycenaens | Animated Fact of World | World Civilization Facts for Kids with this video from Cine Kids:

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Now that you have some background information, let's take a closer look at the Minoans.


Archaeologist Arthur Evans discovered the civilization of the Minoans and gave it that name. Finding some old coins that were different from the known coins of the ancient city of Mycenae, he guessed (correctly) that there was an ancient civilization on the island of Crete which existed before the Mycenaean civilizations.

Evans purchased a large piece of property on Crete and began excavations. His findings were amazing.

He found a magnificent palace at Knossos. The picture at the beginning of this lesson shows one entrance to the palace. It spread across five acres of land with 1400 rooms! It had a home for the king, storehouses, a theater, and an arena for the dangerous sport of "bull-leaping." In this sport, a man teased a bull until the bull rushed at him. Then, he would try to leap safely over the animal. Of course, many times the man would not make it through this exercise alive!

Minoan fresco depicting bull-leaping

Image by Carole Raddato, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Evans, seeing the vast palace with its hundreds of hallways, believed this was the "labyrinth" spoken of in the Greek myth of King Minos. There were images of bulls and bull-leaping all over the Knossos palace. King Minos was said to have kept a monster, half-man and half-bull, in this labyrinth that would kill and eat people; and the king demanded young people from Greece be fed to him.

  • Wasn't the sport of bull-leaping a sacrificing of young people to an angry beast?

So Evans named this new-found culture after King Minos: the Minoans.

Watch this animated re-creation of Knossos.

Crete, The Magnificent Minoan Palace Of Knossos Europe's Oldest City from DASKALOGIANNIS:

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The palace was the center of a busy settlement. As you saw in the video, it had paved roadways and paths, bridges, and well-engineered drainage systems. All this in 2700 BC!

The Minoans dominated the islands in the Mediterranean for over 1000 years. They were expert sailors and had their own navy. They traded their goods from Egypt to Spain, and all along the Mediterranean.

The Minoan civilization probably came to an end due to a natural disaster. There was a devastating volcano eruption on the island of Santorini that had a terrible effect on Crete, either killing many of the Minoan people or weakening their civilization, so that they could not fight off invaders.

Now, move on to the Got It? section, where you'll learn a little more about the Mycenaeans, who invaded Crete and took over the civilization of the Minoans.

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