A Comparison of Minoan and Mycenaean Palace Structures

A Comparison of Minoan and Mycenaean Palaces

Many similarities and differences exist between palace complexes in the Minoan and Mycenaean state; however, this brief essay will argue that differences, as seen in art and architecture, signal that the Mycenaeans – while they did borrow from the Minoans – were a distinctively different culture. The architecture of the Minoan palace at Knossos (c. MM IB) and the Mycenaean palace at Mycenae (c. LH II-IIIA), in connection with other settlements, will be used to analyze their differences and similarities.

Similarities between the two palaces appear in their role as a center for commerce and a key player in a redistribution economy. Attested to by large storage facilities at both complexes and the presence of economic documents written in Linear B at Mycenae, it is likely both acted as centers for economic administration and direct redistribution of goods to smaller settlements, usually in the form of gifts for deities. Their economic value is further attested to by the presence of Kamares ware and “Special Palace Tradition” wares that were produced at Knossos. After the takeover of Crete by Mycenaeans in the LH IIB period, Mycenae began to produce a style of pottery clearly influenced in theme by “Special Palace Tradition.” Additionally, Mycenaean frescoes show a heightened Minoan influence in their sense of motion and use of fluid and organic shapes.

Reconstruction of the Palace Complex at Knossos

Reconstruction of the Palace Complex at Mycenae

However, as was said earlier, the differences in art and architecture point to two very distinct cultures with differing practices. These differences can be seen in the general layout of the palace at Knossos as compared to Mycenae. Although they share a same organic shape, as opposed to the symmetrical forms seen Egypt or Mesopotamia, the palace at Knossos was focused around religion, whereas the palace at Mycenae was focused around the state. The presence of horns of consecration, lustral basins, heavy religious overtones in frescoes, a western facing “window of appearances,” and its basic centralization around a courtyard where ceremonies could take place signals that the complex probably played a large role in religious life on Crete or at least in the surrounding area. Meanwhile, the palace at Mycenae was largely geared towards the wanax and the state. This can be seen in its layout which, as opposed to Knossos, is centered around a number of courts with the core being the royal megaron. Additionally, frescoes at Mycenae are much more likely to depict scene of military conquest, hunting, or military themes in general (e.g. shield decorations) than religious scenes. While it could be proposed that campaign scenes, such as those seen in the West House on the island of Thera, could have appeared on the walls of Knossos, the vast majority of surviving – and therefore later – frescoes depict bucolic, marine, or religious scenes. Additionally, the fortifications (e.g. walls, water storage) constructed at Mycenae clearly show that there was great concern for protecting what was probably the seat of a regional power. After the destruction of Minoan civilization, Mycenaean civilization grew even more independent of Minoan influences. Its trend towards replicating eastern styles, themes, and designs, can be seen as a continued desire by the Mycenaeans to replicate the state centralized civilizations of the east. In general, the architecture of the complex at Knossos shows an emphasis on religious life, meanwhile the complex at Mycenae shows a heightening centralization around the wanax and the state.

In conclusion, although the Mycenaeans borrowed from the Minoans in art and architecture, they never abandoned their state-centralized ideology. After the collapse of Minoan Crete, this ideology is made clearer as Eastern examples of king and state centered settlements are further incorporated into the Mycenaean state.