Architecture of Minoan Crete: Constructing Identity in the Aegean Bronze Age

Architecture of Minoan Crete: Constructing Identity in the Aegean Bronze Age

Architecture of Minoan Crete: Constructing Identity in the Aegean Bronze Age

Architecture of Minoan Crete: Constructing Identity in the Aegean Bronze Age


Ever since Sir Arthur Evans first excavated at the site of the Palace at Knossos in the early twentieth century, scholars and visitors have been drawn to the architecture of Bronze Age Crete. Much of the attraction comes from the geographical and historical uniqueness of the island. Equidistant from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Minoan Crete is on the shifting conceptual border between East and West, and chronologically suspended between history and prehistory. In this culturally dynamic context, architecture provided more than physical shelter; it embodied meaning. Architecture was a medium through which Minoans constructed their notions of social, ethnic, and historical identity: the buildings tell us about how the Minoans saw themselves, and how they wanted to be seen by others.

Architecture of Minoan Creteis the first comprehensive study of the entire range of Minoan architecture--including houses, palaces, tombs, and cities--from 7000 BC to 1100 BC. John C. McEnroe synthesizes the vast literature on Minoan Crete, with particular emphasis on the important discoveries of the past twenty years, to provide an up-to-date account of Minoan architecture. His accessible writing style, skillful architectural drawings of houses and palaces, site maps, and color photographs make this book inviting for general readers and visitors to Crete, as well as scholars.


The past twenty years have been extraordinary in Minoan archaeology: G. Rethemiotakis discovered a new Palace at Galatas; the Shaws excavated monumental harbor facilities at Kommos; M. Tsipopoulou excavated fascinating buildings at Aghia Photia, Petras, Halasmenos, and elsewhere. In addition to these new projects, many excavations initiated at the beginning of the twentieth century have either continued or been revived, and much of Crete has been systematically surveyed. The Institute for Aegean Prehistory built a new research center in Pachyammos. Dozens of international conferences have provided opportunities for innovative scholarship. At a time when much of the rest of the academic world and particularly academic presses are financially threatened, new scholarly journals and monograph series have been launched in Belgium, Italy, Great Britain, Poland, Greece, and the United States.

One of the byproducts of the surge of scholarship has been increasing specialization. Excavators concentrate on specific sites, and surveyors focus on selected regions. Many scholars restrict themselves to particular periods (for example, Early Minoan, Middle Minoan, or Late Minoan III) or media (pottery, tombs, frescoes, or faience, for example). As a result, we have any number of excellent excavation reports and symposia papers, but no general synthesis. The primary goal of this book, therefore, is to provide the first overall history of Minoan houses, Palaces, tombs, and towns from the Neolithic period through LM IIIC. Placing things in the larger picture changes their appearance and their significance.

There are many ways to study architecture. One can study materials and techniques, as J. Shaw has so thoroughly done (Minoan Architecture). One can study changes in style, as most traditional architectural histories do. One can study function—how the buildings were used—as did most of the papers in two symposia organized by the Swedish Institute (Hägg and Marinatos 1987; Hägg 1997). Or one can focus on the relation between the house (an architectural unit) and the household (a social unit), as the recent STEGA conference did. In this book I shall consider all these issues in passing, but my primary concern is with the meaning of buildings.

Architecture does more than provide shelter. It is, perhaps first and foremost, a medium for conveying meanings. The thesis of this book is that architecture is one of the chief media through which humans shape their identities and present themselves to others. Through architecture we construct our identities as members of families, of communities, of particular social classes, and of regional, national, and international groups. (I discuss the concept of identity in more detail in Chapter 1.)

Only a small portion of this book is based on my own fieldwork. The recent flood of important, insightful scholarship has almost entirely reshaped the field. My role is to serve as a journalist, selecting, reporting, and synthesizing some of the most interesting stories in order to provide scholars who are not necessarily specialists in the Aegean Bronze Age with access to these ongoing conversations.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.