Two distinctive civilizations appeared on the eastern Mediterranean during the International Bronze Age. Both societies were quite dynamic for their time and are remembered in history as the Minoans and Mycenaeans. The Minoans called the island of Crete home, while the Mycenaeans resided on mainland Greece.

Each experienced excellent periods of economic growth in these ancient times. Here is a look at each civilization.

Economic Growth in Minoan Society

Minoans Uses Geographical Advantages

Early Minoan societies were heavily enmeshed in economic growth during the Bronze Age. During these years many European civilizations were making the progressive transition from hunting and gathering to agricultural farming, but for most civilizations, this transformation was occurring slowly. An abundance of forests and the presence of cooler climates contributed to this sluggish development and it delayed their "modernization" with their eastern and southern counterparts for thousands of years; cities were also slower to develop. However, despite the slowness exhibited during this time in history, the Minoan civilization had an advantage in climate, which fostered them the ability to grow large enough to develop a prosperous economy.

Control over Production of Wealth

In Minoan society the rulers controlled the specialized artists and held strict control over production of wealth. These leaders instructed farmers how much to grow and allocated how much of the crops they could keep for personal use, the rest to be turned over to the ruler. This practice suggests early levels of establishment of governmental control over its' citizens with laws and regulations. As part of its economic development, the Minoans established a broad practice of international trade, but it was not anything like today's capitalism; the government maintained a tight control over imports and exports, and reaped the benefits of this trade.

Minoan civilization was centered around four major administrative palaces - Knossos, Phaistos, Mallia, and Zakros. Shrines for worship, commerce headquarters, warehouses and living quarters for the rulers and the elite were located at the palaces.

Trade Hubs Emerge

Minoans were very enmeshed in economic development securing a busy merchant Navy and emerging as a "thriving center of long distance trade" (Levack, et al). Small urban communities began to import copper and tin from the Eastern Mediterranean as early as 2000 BC Crete was the established center of long distance trade and trade routes expanded significantly under their domain. Trading posts found by archaeologists indicated that the Minoans traveled extensively for trade and had far reaching commercial relationships with other regions. Their economic trade was probably tightly linked with maintaining good political relations in order to remain prosperous with trade; doing business with other countries was a good method to attain this goal.

Remnants found indicate the Minoans achieved a significant amount of wealth. As part of their commerce, the Minoans exported luxury goods such as jewelry, stones, carvings and painted vases and generated additional wealth through their exports. Their rulers kept careful and exact records on clay tablets to account for wealth and possessions. They also developed linguistics, using Linear A to scribe; this was a simplified hieroglyphic developed around 1700 BC Due to their advances, the Minoans became the most advanced in the Mediterranean until their society was surpassed by the Mycenaeans in 16th century BC.

Tablet cypro-minoan 2 between circa 1230 and circa 1050 BC
Credit: Jastrow (via Wikimedia Commons)/Listed as Public Domain

Photo description: Tablet inscribed with Cypro-Minoan 2 script. Late Bronze III, between circa 1230 and circa 1050 BC.

Volcanic Eruption

Approximately 1645 BC to 1500 BC, a volcano on the Island of Thera (there is still some discussion on when exactly this eruption happened 1), located between Crete and mainland Greece, erupted. This eruption severely impacted Minoan commerce as ships were probably destroyed and trade was interrupted. Fifty years after the volcanic eruption, Minoan commerce appears to have come to a swift end and Minoan Crete collapsed. Other theories suggest the Minoans were invaded, possibly by the Mycenaeans, yet somehow the eruption did not end their civilization as it did the Minoans. 4

The Minoan society was quite an advanced civilization for its time. Its terrain and climates differed from the ones which slowed European growth in general which gave them an advantage. Additionally, the different climates and terrains also led to diversity in societies. This diversity ultimately laid the economic foundation for subsequent European cultures that would emerge in the future. While the Minoans were not as old as its Middle Eastern counterparts, this civilization seemed to have done quite a bit of work in progressing society during this era which would impact future communities and growth

Mycenaean Society was a Progressive one

Elite Maintained Strong Control

Mycenaean society was very progressive and innovative during its era. As noted above, other civilizations in Europe were struggling with slowly making the changeover from hunting and gathering to agricultural farming. However, during this era the Mycenaeans were busy nurturing, fostering and growing a prosperous economy. The civilization was a short-lived one, but its accomplishments during the last segment of the Bronze Age did much in setting a foundation for future innovations.

Like the Minoans, the elite also maintained strong control over economic issues in Mycenaean civilization; tight control over trade was maintained. The common people were directed by the elite on what to do in terms of agricultural work. The leaders and members of society who were embroiled in palace life had control over the economic elements. The members of Mycenaean society who centered around palace life not only commerce, but also controlled economic sustenance since the palaces functioned as administrative centers of food collection and distribution. "The palaces also acted as a manufacturing center producing trade valuables such as pottery, jewelry, tapestries and other trade goods" (Levack, et al). Textiles were a huge part of Mycenaean industry. It seems the palace was centric as being the heart of the Mycenaean society.

Mycenean walls in Arma, Boeotia, Greece
Credit: Romanesco at Greek Wikipedia/Public Domain Image

Photo Description: Mycenean walls in Arma, Boeotia, Greece

Innovation of the Mycenaeans

The Mycenaeans were innovative with scribing and had adopted and subsequently built upon the Minoans' Linear A (this was a simplified hieroglyphic developed around 1700 BC) to develop Linear B script. This latter method of scribing was a bit more advanced and eventually became the foundation for the Greek language spoken today; Linear B is considered an early dialect of Modern Greek language. Additionally, the Mycenaeans also had carefully kept accounting methods. They had formulated a way to track all assets, taxes and revenues, keeping detailed records of imports, exports and raw materials. The scribes essentially supervised the economy, but the civilization was dominated by the war-like elite.

Mycenaean Expand Trade

At some point the Mycenaean people assumed control of both commerce and trade routes after the volcanic eruption occurred on the Island of Thera which had collapsed the Minoan society.  It's unclear whether the Mycenaeans took advantage of the Minoans' misfortune or if they defeated them and took control. They built upon previously established Minoan commercial routes and created strong links with Egypt and other coastal towns. Trade relationships reached out and expanded as far west as Spain and Northern Italy.

Historians largely believe these two societies were significant in paving the road to the future economic foundation for subsequent European cultures that would emerge over time. If not for both the Minoans and the Mycenaeans, civilization development may have been significantly different.

[Related reading: Aegean Apocalypse: What Happened in 2100 BC?]