Minoan and Mycenaean Pottery
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Minoan/Mycenaean Pottery

black pottery with light designs on it
Kamares ware (Crete, ca. 2000 BC)

While the Mycenaean Greeks were making the gray Minyan Ware, the Minoans on the island of Crete were producing vividly colored pots with black backgrounds known as Kamares ware (ka-MARR-ays).

minoan octopus vase
Here is a Minoan octopus vase.

Then in the Late Bronze Age, around 1500 BC, the Minoans shifted to painting creamy backgrounds with wildly flowing ocean scenes of fish, seaweed, and octopuses,.

mycenaean vase
Late Bronze Age Mycenean vase

About the same time, the Mycenaeans also began painting creamy backgrounds with pictures of real things (as in the earlier Dimini period), but the Mycenaeans mainly didn't choose ocean creatures. They painted horses, chariots, men and women instead.

mycenaean palace style
Mycenean octopus pot (Palace style)

In the end of the Mycenean period, after the Greeks had conquered Crete, Mycenean potters began to imitate Minoan (Cretan) pottery styles. But when the Mycenaeans copied Minoan octopus pots, they painted the octopus much stiffer and more symmetrical, much less wild than the Minoan ones (and not looking so much like octopuses or seaweed). That's the same attitude that Mycenaean painters doing frescoes in the palaces showed too.

symmetrical octopus vase
A later octopus vase
abstract octopus vase
An even later octopus vase

Towards the end of the Late Bronze Age, the octopuses got simpler and simpler, and more and more abstract. During the Greek Dark Ages, Greek artists painted the octopus just as one long wavy horizontal line around the middle of their vase.

Learn by doing: draw your own octopus
More about Sub-Mycenaean (Dark Age) pottery

Bibliography and further reading about Late Bronze Age Greek pottery:


Hands-On Ancient People, Volume 2 : Art Activities about Minoans, Mycenaeans, Trojans, Ancient Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans (2004).

The Archaeology of Greece: An Introduction, by William R. Biers (1996). Biers writes very clearly and has a lot of good pictures.

Greek Art and Archaeology (3rd Edition), by John G. Pedley (2002) This has a lot of good information and is pretty readable. Plus, the author is really an expert in this field.

The Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge World Archaeology) by Oliver Dickinson, Norman Yoffee (Editor) (1994)

Minoan and Mycenaean Art, by Reynold Higgins (2nd revised edition 1997) The standard book for college students.

More about Sub-Mycenaean (Dark Age) pottery
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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