The Minoan civilization was an Aegean Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and other Aegean islands and flourished from approximately 3650 to 1400 BC. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British archaeologist Arthur Evans. Historian Will Durant referred to it as "the first link in the European chain."

It was not until roughly 5000 BC in the late Neolithic period, that the first signs of advanced agriculture appeared in the Aegean, marking the first signs of civilization. The term "Minoan" refers to the mythic King Minos. Minos was associated in Greek myth with the labyrinth and the minotaur, which Evans identified with the site at Knossos, the largest Bronze Age Minoan site. The poet Homer recorded a tradition that Crete once had 90 cities.

The Minoans were primarily a mercantile people engaged in overseas trade. Their pottery provides the best means of dating. As traders and artists, their cultural influence reached far beyond the island of Crete — throughout the Cyclades, to Egypt's Old Kingdom, to copper-bearing Cyprus, Canaan, and the Levantine coasts beyond, and to Anatolia. Some of its best art is preserved in the city of Akrotiri, on the island of Santorini, very near the Thera eruption.

Though we cannot read their language (Linear A), and there is much dispute, it is generally assumed there was little internal armed conflict in Minoan Crete itself, until the following Mycenaean period. The armed Mycenaeans or the eruption at Thera are two popular theories for the eventual demise of Minoan civilization around 1,400 BC.