Sporadic contacts, perhaps indirect, between Egypt and Crete go back into the third millennium BCE. The first truly sustained contact, however, began with the rise of the Minoan palaces early in the second millennium BCE, continuing then through the end of the Late Bronze Age (c.1150 BCE).
Old Kingdom objects, primarily stone vessels, have been found at a number of sites on Crete, as have Second Intermediate Period objects, such as a calcite (Egyptian alabaster) lid with the cartouche of the Hyksos king Khyan that was uncovered at Knossos. In the Nile Delta region of Egypt, fresco wall paintings were discovered at the Hyksos capital of Avaris (present-day Tell ed-Dabʿa), with scenes of bull-leaping, are similar to those more commonly found on Minoan Crete. Debate currently rages as to whether those paintings date to the Hyksos period or to the Egyptian reoccupation of the city during the New Kingdom, early in the eighteenth dynasty.
Certainly, contacts between Minoan Crete and Egypt flourished during the eighteenth dynasty. For example, numerous New Kingdom Egyptian objects have been found on Crete, and a number of Minoan ceramic vessels have been found from that time in Egypt, indicating that trade and contact were ongoing (albeit, perhaps, sometimes indirectly via Canaanite merchants). In addition, wall paintings and inscriptions record visits from “Keftiu” (usually identified as Crete and the Minoans), primarily during the time of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III. The Keftiu were depicted as bringing inw (usually translated as “tribute” but with a secondary meaning of “gifts”) to the pharaoh and were most likely representations of actual commercial missions or diplomatic embassies between Minoan Crete and New Kingdom Egypt. While precise depictions were replaced by less precise portrayals of Minoan wall paintings after the time of Thutmose III, the inscriptions continued and only become stereotyped during the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties.
Perhaps the most important of all those inscriptions was that found at Kom el-Hetan, dating from the time of Amenhotpe III, which not only mentioned Keftiu but listed Knossos, Phaistos, Kydonia, and Lyktos, among other Aegean place names. Objects with the cartouche of Amenhotpe III and his wife Queen Tiye have been found at several such Minoan sites, and they may indicate a connection to the list at Kom el-Hetan. Perhaps an official Egyptian embassy was sent to the Aegean by Amenhotpe III, of which the Kom el-Hetan list and some scarabs are the only remaining extant evidence—but the hypothesis remains to be proven.
The Keftiu frequently shared their place in Egyptian inscriptions with “Tanaja” (the Mycenaean Greek mainland) and the “Isles in the Midst of the Great Green” (the Cycladic Islands), indicating that the Minoans on Crete were not the only peoples from the Bronze Age Aegean with whom the New Kingdom Egyptians were in contact. After the fourteenth century BCE, Minoan-Egyptian contacts seem to have declined in favor of Mycenaean-Egyptian contacts, probably reflecting a sociopolitical change in the Bronze Age Aegean, rather than a conscious decision on the part of the Egyptians. Contact between Egypt and Crete resumed again in the first millennium BCE.
See also MEDITERRANEAN AREA.
- Cline, Eric H. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: International Trade and the Late Bronze Age Aegean. Oxford, 1994. An overview of the international trade in the Mediterranean during the second millennium BCE; catalog of Egyptian objects in Crete and chapter on Egypt are particularly relevant.
- Kemp, Barry J., and Robert S. Merrillees. Minoan Pottery in Second Millennium Egypt. Mainz, 1980. Discussion of exports from Crete found in second millennium BCE contexts in Egypt.
- Pendlebury, John D. S. Aegyptiaca: A Catalogue of Egyptian Objects in the Aegean Area. Cambridge, 1930. Original catalog of Egyptian objects found in Crete and elsewhere in the Bronze Age Aegean; now updated by Cline (1994).
- Pendlebury, John D. S. “Egypt and the Aegean in the Late Bronze Age.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 16 (1930), 75–92. Original discussion of Egyptian contacts with Crete and other areas in the Bronze Age Aegean; now updated by Cline (1994).
Eric H. Cline