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Ancient Minoan and Assyrian Culture, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Much can be told about a culture based on their buildings’ architecture and design. Since many ancient people left behind written records that cannot be deciphered, archeologist must read into their artifacts to learn about their culture and daily life. The Minoan complex at Knossos on the island of Crete and the Citadel of Sargon II in modern day Iraq give insight into the politics and religious beliefs of the people who made them. These enigmatic structures were built by very cultures.

Minoan Complex at Knossos

The Minoan complex at Knossos remains an enigma in the world of archeology. When discovered it was dubbed a “palace” yet there is little consensus that it actually served this purpose.  However, when the complex, which has been dubbed a labyrinth (Castleden (2002) 6) by some, is compared to buildings from such cultures as the Greeks or Hittite Anatolia (Caslteden (2002) 6) it seems the “palace” may actually be a temple.   There are many different theories on what purpose the Minoan complex might have served.  It is sure, however, that this complex was a very important cultural center to the ancient Minoans.

There are several features of the complex at Knossos that tell us much about the culture that created it.  The complex is built without fortifications of any kind.  Castleden (150) tell us that one of the most notable features of the complex is its unobtrusiveness of entryways. “Knossos had 7 or 8 entrances, all different in design, and all more or less devious routes toward the Central Court; it may be that the twists and turns of these passages had some magico-religious significance.”  So although the complex appears to be chaotic, there is order to the madness that is discernable to the careful eye.  The Minoans had a unique sense of art that was visible in not only their sculpture, painting and mosaic work, but was also evident through their architectural design.

According to Chatzakis, Lyrintzis, and Angelakis (2006) the waste water management system of the Minoan civilization was highly advanced.  This tells us that the Minoans were a technologically advanced culture that used their skills to create a more comfortable existence for themselves.  They were one of the first cultures to have flushing toilets and advanced plumbing that delivered water to bath tubs inside apartments at Knossos.  Advanced techniques were used by the Minoans to create storm water sewage systems that would allow storm water to flow into sedimentation tanks (Chatzakis, Lyrintzis, and Angelakis 2006).  Finding such a technically advanced culture that at pre-dates the Greeks was a shock to many archeologists.  However, the Minoans have left us clues to their complex culture and society through their architecture and art.

The palace contained vast storage areas for holding “giant ‘pithoi’, which were large clay vases, used to store olive oil and wine. An average pithoi held about 1100 pounds of fluid. ” (Knossos 2009)  There were also “stone holes beneath the pithoi used to store more valuable objects, such as gold.” (Knossos 2009).  From the architectural design of their complex, it is obvious the Minoans were a wealthy people who enjoyed a luxuriant lifestyle.  They had plenty of resources available for trade.  Grain mills, oil presses and wine presses have been found in the palace complex, which tells us that the people who lived here were self sufficient. As well, they were part of a large trade network. Artifacts from Africa, Egypt and Syria have been found at the palace. From the depictions of themselves they left behind, if they are truly depictions of the Minoans themselves, we can see that they were an athletic and fit people who enjoyed a rich and full life.

The Minoans were not a warlike people. The architecture of the palace and city was not built with defense in mind. For example, the palace depended on water that was piped in from over 10 kilometers away by a series of aqueducts. If the Minoans had had enemies, this would have been an easy way to attack the city, since no hidden springs have been found at the palace. Attacking armies had only to cut off the water supply and wait. There is no sign that this ever happened, and in fact, images of war are absent from the Minoan palace. Instead, frescoes depicting dolphins, bulls and griffins are common. No weapons or fortifications have ever been found at the complex of Knossos.

There are many Minoan artworks that show the Minoans participating in a bull-leaping event.  These images have mystified archeologists and made many wonder if this was an actual event or if it was only fanciful.  “Controversy has always surrounded the Minoan’s bull-leaping exploits, and there are many who are skeptical that the event ever took place.” (Castelden (2002 ) 147).  This is mainly because the even seems to be quite dangerous, with the participants shown grasping the bull’s horns and leaping over the bull.  It is obvious that he bull had special meaning to the Minoans. Castleden (2002) contends that (147) “Feats as daring as those shown on the frescoes and sealstones are certainly possible and they probably were really performed, but it seems likely that they were carefully choreographed and presented to make them seem as dangerous as possible.” (Castleden (2002) 147)  Double horns are found all over Knossos and were a symbol of their kingdom.  An amphitheater discovered near the palace could have been where these types of religious events took place.

Based on the discoveries found at Knossos, it is obvious that the Minoans had a rich and complex culture that was technologically advanced.  Lack of warlike images and defenses also tell us that these were a peaceful people, or at least they were not worried about being attacked by enemies.

Citadel of Sargon II of Assyria

Sargon II ruled Assyria from 722 to 705 BCE. During his reign he undertook a massive building campaign on the Citadel of Sargon II at Dur Sharrukin. Sargon II was a warrior king who conquered other city-states to expand his kingdom. The city had to be built to withstand attack, since the Assyrians were almost always at war. Therefore the citadel, which covered about a square mile of area, was completely encircled by a thick defensive wall. Enclosed within the citadel was Sargon’s massive palace complex that was comprised of over 200 courtyards and rooms. The palace sat on over 25 acres in a completely walled citadel.

The Assyrians were a war-like people who prided themselves as conquerors. They were merciless to anyone that opposed them. However, they also prided themselves on their generosity because they would forgive any who surrendered peacefully. The citadel of Sargon reflects the politics of the Assyrians in many ways. The citadel is completely enclosed by a thick stone wall to defend against attacking armies. The palace, which Sargon described as a “peerless palace” sat on a mound elevated 50 feet. It took a considerable amount of effort to raise the entire palace 50 feet since it encompassed an area of over 25 acres. Sargon II wanted to ensure his palace, which he considered a visible expression of his grandeur-copied, was visible to anyone approaching the citadel.

The palace complex is built both to amaze and to overwhelm visiting emissaries. There was only one entrance to the palace, making it also highly defendable as well as grand and beautiful. This was necessary for the protection of the royal family. The large courtyard from which all visitors entered was lined with giant statues depicting the king and his courtiers. Once inside, the king met foreign emissaries in rooms that were long and high and brightly painted. Sargon wanted visitors to feel amazed by his strength and power because he relied on his foreign conquests to further his political goals.

The citadel of Sargon was built by the hands of the people he conquered. In a translated text he claims, “I built a city with (the labors of) the peoples subdued by my hand, whom Ashur, Nabu and Marduk has caused to lay themselves at my feet and bear my yoke.” (Kleiner and Mamiya 32) He saw himself as appointed by the Gods to rule, and the Gods had rewarded him by “giving” him other city-states to reign over. The Assyrians built a ziggurat in the citadel for the gods to ensure their continued support for their military campaign. The ziggurat was an impressive structure meant to gain the gods favor because the Assyrians believed they needed the support from the Gods in order to remain successful.

The ziggurat was dedicated 6 different gods. Each God was given their own sanctuary. It is believed by archeologists that the ziggurat originally had 7 stories; however, only 4 remain today. It is a testament to the zeal of the Assyrians for their Gods that the ziggurat is still standing today, over 2,000 years later.

Both the Complex at Knossos and the Palace of Sargon both served as cultural centers for the their respective cultures. However, while the Assyrians built to defend and intimidate, the Minoans seemed to build more for beauty and luxury. The palace of Sargon had only one main entry way so that visitors could be carefully controlled. In contrast, the palace at Knossos had at least 4 main entryways, which means visitors were free to come and go. While the Assyrians were always ready for attack from enemies, the Minoans seemed to not have this same fear.  Their culture seemed more one friendly trade, while the Assyrians were a conquering culture.  Though both cultures have been gone for millennia, their culture, beliefs, and religion still talks to us from the stone buildings they left behind.

References

Castleden, Rodney. (2002) Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete. Great Britain: TJ International, Ltd. Padstow, Cornwall.

Chatzakis, M.K., Lyrintzis, A.G., Mara, D.D., Angelakis, A.N. (2006) Sedimentation tanks through the ages. 1st International Symposium on Water and Wastewater Technologies in Ancient Civilizations. Web. Retrieved from http://www.a-angelakis.gr/files/4%20FR79.pdf

Kleiner, Fred S., Mamiya, Christin J. (2006)  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective Volume I. Belmont, California: Thompson Wadsworth.

Knossos  (2009) Only Crete, n.a., Web. retrieved from http://www.onlycrete.com/WPWC.htm?Forts%20and%20ruins/Knossos1280.htm

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