1. Explain the formal characteristics of Cycladic, Minoan, and Mycenaean art and architecture
2. Classify the iconographic characteristics of Cycladic, Minoan, and Mycenaean art
3. Explain the function of prehistoric Aegean art and architecture
4. Comprehend the relationship between lifestyle, geography, and the art and architecture of the prehistoric Aegean cultures
5. Discuss the evidence of intercultural contact between the three Aegean cultures, and between the Aegean cultures and ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian civilizations
6. Identify and describe the materials and techniques used to create prehistoric Aegean art and architecture


Aegean = refers to the art of the Aegean Sea, yet historians usually specify three distinct geographical areas when studying it...

1) Cycladic

Cycladic = Art from the Cyclades -or- Cycladic Islands
Named this b/c the islands form a circle around Delos.

2) Minoan

Minoan = Art from the Island of Crete
Named after the legendary King Minos.

3) Helladic (Early, Middle, Late)

Helladic = Art of mainland Greece
The Late Helladic period is referred to as the "Mycenaean period", the time when Agamemnon maintained a great citadel of Mycenae.
*We will be particularly studying the Mycenaean art in this class (as opposed to the Early- and Middle-Helladic).

NOTE: For a link to a Menu/Page that contains larger versions of most of the following images, please click here.

MAP of the Aegean

Relevant terminology
  • Geography of Cycladic, Minoan, and Mycenaean culture
  • Pre-Classical Greece and the beginning of Western Civilization
  • The sea culture and influences in Aegean Art
  • Vase painting reflecting advancements in technological skill
  • Contemporaneous with Ancient Near East & Egyptian civilizations

Outline for Examining Aegean Art


  1. Folded Arm Statuette
  2. Marble Lyre Player


  1. Palace at Knossos
  2. La Parisienne
  3. Bull Leaper Fresco
  4. Spring Fresco
  5. Kamares Ware Jar
  6. Marine Style Octopus Jar
  7. Snake Goddess
  8. Harvester Vase

[ The Trojan War ]


  1. Plan View of the Citadel at Tiryns
  2. Megaron
  3. Corbelled Gallery (in the walls of the citadel at Tiryns)
  4. Lion Gate [Mycenae]
  5. Treasury of Atreus [Mycenae]
  6. Funerary Mask
  7. Inlaid Dagger
  8. Warrior Vase


Folded Arm Statuette
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Marble Lyre Player
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  • Where are the Cyclades / Cycladic Islands located? Explain why they were given this label.
  • What material was used to create these Cycladic statuettes? In particular, where were these found?
  • How would you describe either of these figures to someone (without their being able to see them)? Could you list five (5) or more characteristics to provide them with a mental image? What would they be?
  • Purpose?
  • Explain the role that gender played in these figures.


Palace at Knossos

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Relevant links
  • Minoan Art & Knossos (c/o Kenny Mencher) - link
  • Theseus and the Minotaur (c/o Wikipedia) - link
  • Theseus and the Minotaur (Youtube) - video link
  • Theseus and the Minotaur (c/o History Channel) - video link
    A quick video "sketch" regarding the legend.
  • The Labyrinth (c/o Wikipedia) - link
  • I'm from Crete (c/o The History Teachers / Radiohead Creep parody) - video link
  • Ancient Mysteries: What happened to the Minoans? - video link
  • The Seven Wonders of Ancient Greece: Part 1 of 5 (c/o Discovery Channel) - link
  • Ancient Island of Crete - video link
    Basic information about the island of Crete.
  • Palace at Knossos - video link
    Casual video taken of the present-day complex.
  • Minoan Temple at Knossos, Crete - video link
    This is an animated Sketchup model of the restored North Entrance to the Minoan Palace (sown in the Bull Leaper fresco).
  • Crete, Knossos (& Minoan Civilization) - video link
  • The Minoans and the Mycenaeans - video link
    Teacher-made instructional video on the Aegean cultures.
  • Minoan Civilization - video link
    A survey of the rise and fall of this Bronze Age thalassocracy.
  • History of Crete (part 1) - video link
    Check out the past and present treasures of Crete.
  • History of Crete (part 2) - video link
    Check out the past and present treasures of Crete.
  • Ancient Apocalypse (BBC Presents) - video link
  • Professor Donald Kagan discusses the "The Dark Ages" - the Aegean prior to Greece's civilization (Yale Courses) - video link

  • Who discovered this once lost civilization?
  • How did the "Minoans" get their name?
  • What does the word labyrinth mean? Why are we using such a label in our discussion of the Knossos palace of Crete?
  • Provide five (5) characteristics of the palace, supporting the claim that it was a "complex & sophisticated architectural wonder".
  • What seems to be the main architectural feature here? In other words, around what aspect / room does the palace appear to be fashioned?
  • What "type" of masonry was used in the building of this palace? Explain the characteristics of this approach to masonry.
  • How does design of the Palace of Knossos on Crete suggest that the Minoans were a peaceful and nonviolent culture?
  • List five (5) characteristics of a Minoan column.
  • Describe briefly the controversial aspect associated with the excavation of Crete with respect to our present-day understanding / perspective of the Minoan civilization.

La Parisienne
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  • Whether or not the figure represents a depiction of a female priestess or a sculpture of a goddess, we simply do not know. However, there seems to be a certain degree of "freshness, charm, and elegance" to this fragment. List the characteristics which testify to this "elegance", but also state the one characteristic that is still quite conventional in this depiction of a figure.

Bull Leaper Fresco
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  • What is taking place in this fresco?
  • What convention is being utilized here, with respect to the manner in which the figures' genders are being portrayed?
  • List the similarities these figures share with those from the art of Egypt, Mesopotamia? The differences?
  • What is a "pinched waist"?
  • How is this work similar to / different from, say, the Egyptian work Ti Hunting?
  • This work is described as being painted in the "buon fresco" method. What is "buon fresco" & how is it different from "a secco fresco"?
  • Explain - How has the artist brilliantly suggested the charge, the mighty power of the bull in this work?

Spring Fresco
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  • Where is this mural found? Why might the location be an important consideration to us, as it relates to Crete?
  • (*) Why is this work significant? (hint: it is another Art History "first")
  • In what year do scholars suggest that Minoan civilization met is demise (although the reason for which it occurred is unexplained)?

Kamares Ware Jar
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  • Why do we call this jar by the title "Kamares"?
  • Some important terms to understand as it relates to pottery decorations are: figure & ground. Demonstrate your understanding of these terms by writing a sentence or two about this particular work.
  • How do the motifs used in the decoration of this vessel reflect the Minoan civilization?

Marine Style Octopus Jar
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  • Explain why the octopus depicted on this jar is perfectly suited as a subject for such a form.
  • Besides the subject, what big difference exists between this Marine style and the earlier Kamares style (namely, as it pertains to the figure /ground relationship)?

Snake Goddess
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  • Who do we think this represents?
  • What is faience and how does it relate to this image?
  • What is resting on this woman's head? What might it suggest?
  • Name one (1) characteristic about this figure reminiscent of Egypt or Mesopotamia.
  • Name the one (1) characteristic that scholars state as being "strictly Minoan".
  • Could you make a connection from this particular work to the Bull Leaper Fresco?

Harvester Vase
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  • How large is this vessel?
  • The Gardner text cites this as one of the "finest examples of Minoan relief sculpture". It also states that it differs from previous (& rather rigid / formulaic) Egyptian depictions of individuals sowing seeds and / or harvesting crops. Explain how it differs from such static repetition.
  • (*) This work represents another "first" in art history. Explain.

[ The Trojan War ] - "IF" it occurred = 1,300-1,200 BCE


Relevant links
  • The Mycenaeans (part 1 - c/o History of Greece) - video link
  • The Mycenaeans (part 2 - c/o History of Greece) - video link

  • So, around 1,500 BCE the Mycenaean culture seems to have thrived. Between 1,250-1,200 BCE, all centers and fortifications had been burned to the ground. List the two (2) reasons that scholars cite, in relation to the explanation of the Minoan demise.

Plan View of the Citadel at Tiryns
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  • How did the design (form) of this structure support its purpose (function)?
  • What was the "type" of masonry was used during the Mycenaean civilization?
  • Can you find any statements / criticism that people have made about the place?
  • Define citadel.
  • The citadels found on the Greek mainland are located near the coast, set upon the high ground of the mountainous terrain. Why might they have been positioned the way they are - set back from the Aegean sea (as opposed to being built directly on the edge of the coast)?

Corbelled Gallery (in the walls of the Citadel at Tiryns)
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  • Could you locate & explain the following vocabulary terms associated with this structure?
    • Cyclopean blocks
    • clay wedges
    • vault / gallery
  • What "type" of arch is represented here?
  • What is the name given to the "type" of masonry used here? Explain why is was labeled as such.
  • Was mortar ever applied to the joints (the various sized gaps) that exist between these huge rocks? Explain.
  • Describe the physics (forces) at play here and how it works.
  • How thick are the walls of the Tiryns Citadel?
  • In the Iliad, how did Homer describe Tiryns?

Lion Gate [Mycenae]
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Click on any of the above thumbnail images for a link to a page containing more images of this work.

  • How do the following vocabulary terms relate to this structure?
    • monoliths
    • lintel
    • corbeled arch
    • bastion
    • (masonry) course
    • high relief sculpture
  • What was the function of the gate?
  • How does the gate’s design reflect its function?
  • What would the gate have looked like in its “heyday”?
  • What is meant by a relieving triangle?
  • There are three (3) fundamental ways in which architects can span a passageway (see next section below). Here, we can see that the Lion Gate passage employs a combination of two (2) of these methods. List them.
  • What do you see within the triangular relief sculpture pediment (the very center)? What might its purpose be? What connection can be made from this central motif to earlier material in this unit?
  • Why might lions have been used as the central motif for this triangular form? What connections can be drawn from the lion motif to the work we have previously examined (Mesopotamian & Egyptian)?

Related Links
  • The Mycenaean Lion Gate - video link
    Footage from lay tourist
  • Lion Gate, Mycenae (& the surrounding Mycenaean Citadel) - video link
    Instructional video featuring excellent visuals to provide a good overall perspective of the site (c/o Smarthistory.org)

SIDE NOTE: Spanning an opening / passageway...
There are three (3) ways to do this.
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  • Be familiar with each of these methods of spanning an opening. They will be seen over and over again in the units ahead. Furthermore, you may find it helpful to keep an eye out for examples of these in your daily commute here and there. They are tried & true - quite timeless and all around us today.

Treasury of Atreus

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Click on any of the above thumbnail images for a link to a page containing more images of this work.


  • How do the following vocabulary terms relate to this structure?
    • dromos
    • tholos tomb
    • corbeled masonry
    • lintel
    • (masonry) course
    • treasury
    • closed form
  • Where was this located, in relation to the citadel?
  • Function?
  • Why don’t we see more of them? How many of these beehive-tombs have actually been preserved at Mycenae?
  • How might this entrance have looked, originally? What two (2) elements are missing?
  • Make a structural drawing of this structure. Make several drawings (views) - if necessary - in order to illustrate the manner in which this structure has been conceived. Annotate your work with the appropriate notations as they pertain to this beehive-tomb's dimension (height, circumference, etc.). You may want to apply labels to the various parts of the structure (reference those listed above).
  • State two (2) contrasting qualities between the masonry employed in this structure to the masonry used in Tiryns.
    1. corbeled masonry (Tiryns) << >> ?? masonry (Mycenae)
    2. rough, unrefined stone (Tiryns) << >> ?? stone (Mycenae)
  • Which structure do you feel demonstrates a greater sophistication of masonry technique / process? Explain.
  • What did the first discoverers of the tomb find inside?
  • Describe the six (6) shafts and explain what was found inside of them.
  • How were the royal family members treated upon their death / burial?
  • What does this say about their concept of the afterlife?
  • One fact to note about this structure concerns the immense span of its dome. Name the structure that will, eventually, surpass this amount of spanned-space? State its culture / civilization, location, and date of construction.

Related Links
  • The Treasury of Atreus - video link
    Footage from lay tourist through the home of King Agamemnon
  • Treasury of Atreus, Mycenae (located nearby / beneath the Mycenaean Citadel) - video link
    Instructional video featuring excellent visuals to provide a good overall perspective of the site (c/o Smarthistory.org)

Funerary Mask
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  • Material?
  • Technique / process?
  • Realistic or not?
  • Where was this found? Explain.
  • How similar / different than Egyptian burial practices?

Inlaid Dagger
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  • Influences?
  • 3-5 facts about the piece

Warrior Vase
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The following questions might be serve as good examples for exercising your knowledge of this unit's material (taken from various other sources - some overlap may be present):

Key Personalities
  • Heinrich Schliemann was called the “Father of Greek Archaeology;” he excavated the sites of Troy and Mycenae.
  • Sir Arthur Evans excavated and reconstructed sections of the Palace of Knossos on Crete.
  • Homer was the ancient author of the epic the Iliad, which is the literary account of the Trojan War.
  • Harriet Boyd was the American archaeologist who excavated the Minoan site of Gournia, assisted in the excavation by Edith Hall.

  • Beehive tombs / tholos (pl. tholi)
  • Citadel
  • Corbelled vault
  • Faience
  • Megaron
  • Niello
  • Palace complexes
  • Relative chronology
  • Repousse
  • Rhyton
  • Sculpture in the round
  • Shaft graves
  • Votive figures

Historical Evidence
  • Describe the major sites where Aegean art has been discovered.
  • What earlier culture influenced the chronology established on Crete?

Interpretation and Meaning
  • How does the legend of the Minotaur relate to Minoan art and architecture?
  • What types of objects are found in Mycenaean art that possibly prove that this culture was warlike and aggressive?

  • Describe the style and function of Cycladic figurines.
  • Discuss the figural style found in Minoan paintings? Are there any similarities to Egyptian art?
  • What are the most recurrent themes found in Minoan art?
  • How does design of the Palace of Knossos on Crete suggest that the Minoans were a peaceful and nonviolent culture?
  • Describe the various styles and shapes of Minoan pottery. How does Minoan pottery assist us in understanding the art and life of the people who lived on Crete during this period?
  • What are the differences in style between the Snake Goddess (from Knossos) and the ivory group of Two Women with a Child (from Mycenae)?

Materials and Techniques
  • Describe the techniques of Aegean metalwork, including the pertinent vocabulary.
  • Discuss the different techniques that were used to create ceramics throughout the Aegean period.

Compare and Discuss
  • Compare and Contrast the plan and design of the Palace of Knossos and the Citadel of Mycenae. Include in your discussion the appropriate architectural vocabulary.
  • Compare the Bull’s-head Rhyton (from Knossos) to the Warrior Vase (from Mycenae). What can theses objects tell us about the cultures that produced them?