The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization which arose on the island of Crete. The Minoan culture flourished from approximately 2700 to 1450 BC; afterwards, Mycenaean Greek culture became dominant on Crete. The term "Minoan" was coined by the British archeologist Sir Arthur Evans after the mythic "king" Minos.
The archaeological evidence points to only a few reasonable certainties about Minoan history. Around 3000 BC, Crete was settled by a people who probably came from Asia Minor, who, by 2000 BC was already living in cities, trading with other nations in the Mediterranean, and employing a hieroglyphic system of writing, probably derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics. This hieroglyphic writing would eventually evolve into a linear script. They built magnificent palace centers at Knossos, Phaistos, and Kato Zakros; these palaces seem to have dominated Cretan society. We have no idea what language they spoke, but they certainly spoke a non-Hellenic language (that is, a language not closely related to Greek) and probably spoke a non-Indo-European language.
All archaeological evidence suggests that the Cretan states of the first half of the second millenium BC were bureaucratic monarchies. While the government was dominated by priests and while the monarch seemed to have some religious functions, the principle role of the monarch seemed to be that of "chief entrepreneur," or better yet, CEO of the Cretan state. For the Cretans operated their state as a business, and entrepreneurship seemed to be the order of the day. While the bulk of the population enjoyed the wealth of international trading, the circumstances of that trade was tightly controlled from the palace. Beneath the king was a large administration of scribes and bureaucrats who carefully regulated production and distribution both within the state and without. This administration kept incredibly detailed records, which implies that they exercised a great deal of control over the economy.
In order to facilitate trade, the Cretans and their Aegean relatives developed the most advanced navy that had ever been seen. While scholars earlier believed that Crete must have been a "thalossocracy," that is, a "sea power," that view has been seriously challenged. The Cretans probably did not develop a military navy, as did the Egyptians, but concentrated solely on trade and mercantilism. They did build what looks like warships, but it seems that these warships were most likely mercantile ships with the capability of defense against pirates.
Their trade was extensive. The Egyptians were highly familiar with the Cretans, who even appear in Egyptian art. Cretan artifacts turn up all over Asia Minor, and they seem to have been involved in trade with the tribal clans living on the Greek mainland. All of this concentrated mercantile activity produced great wealth for the Cretans, which went into massive building projects, art, and technological development.
The downfall of the Cretans was a slow and painful process as near as we can tell. After five centuries of prosperity, the palace centers were destroyed by an earthquake in 1500 BC. The cataclysm may have been more serious. Around 1500 to 1450 BC, the island of Strongphyle, a volcano, erupted in an explosion four to five times greater than the explosion of Krakatoa in 1883. This explosion fragmented the island into several small islands, and the caldera of the volcano is centered on the island of Thera; therefore, the event is called the Thera eruption.
Archaeological evidence suggests the explosion was not unexpected; on the island of Thera, the Cycladic city of Akrotiri was abandoned by its inhabitants shortly before the eruption. The earthquake activity preceding the explosion levelled several Minoan cities in the islands surrounding Strongphyle, and probably levelled Knossos as well. But the eruption itself would have produced tidal waves that would have destroyed all the palaces and cities on the northern coast of Crete, including Knossos.
Whatever happened, the Minoans, weakened by this catastrophe, seem to have been conquered by the Myceneans, who, influenced by the Aegean civilizations, had developed their own civilization on the Greek mainland.
Religion: The most apparent characteristic of Minoan religion was that it was polytheistic and matriarchal, that is, a goddess religion; the gods were all female, not a single male god has been identified until later periods. The head of the Minoan pantheon seems to have been an all-powerful goddess which ruled everything in the universe.