From around 2000 BC, people living close to the Mediterranean Sea, such as the MINOANS, Mycenaeans, and PHOENICIANS, built strong wooden ships powered by sails and oars. They established long-distance sea routes linking Europe, Africa, and Asia, and became wealthy sea traders. Later, they sailed to explore and set up colonies.
Traders braved the stormy Mediterranean waters to earn as much as possible through overseas business. The most profitable cargoes included silver from Spain (used to make coins), tin from Britain, and copper from Cyprus. The tin and copper metals were smelted to make bronze. Phoenician cloth, colored purple with a dye made from shellfish, was so expensive that only kings and queens could afford to buy it.
From 3000 BC to 1450 BC, Minoan kings ruled the eastern Mediterranean area from the island of Crete. The kings grew rich by trading with other islands and demanding offerings from less powerful peoples. They lived in vast, elegantly decorated palaces.
In c. 1450 BC, the Mediterranean island of Thera (now Santorini) was destroyed by a volcanic eruption. At nearby Crete, sea levels rose, dust blotted out the Sun, and the Minoans’ crops died out. Then the palace at Knossos, Crete, was attacked by the Mycenaeans. By c. 1100 BC, the Minoan civilization had disappeared.
The Phoenicians lived on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and were powerful from around 1000 BC to 500 BC. They lived as farmers, foresters, and craftworkers who were highly skilled in woodworking, glass-making, and textile production.
The Phoenicians sailed all over the Mediterranean Sea. A few ventured farther—to western Spain, southeast Britain, and western Africa—and built new cities in the regions where they traded. Their most famous city was at Carthage, in North Africa, which remained powerful until the Romans destroyed it in 146 BC.