The earliest historical religions in Europe were those of the Bronze Age Aegean. Although “historical” in the sense that there are texts, the administrative texts which are preserved refer only incidentally to religion and do not throw much light on larger issues; myths, hymns and rituals were not recorded in the material preserved. It is thus hardly surprising that this era is frequently understood as being “prehistoric”: our evidence consists for the most part of archaeological materials, mostly figurines, seals, votive objects, offerings, paintings and so forth, from shrines, tombs and palaces. These are, however, complemented by a few details that can be gleaned from the contemporary texts, offering information that would otherwise be unavailable in the mute world of prehistoric archaeology.
We distinguish these civilizations of the second millennium BCE as the “Minoans” and the “Mycenaeans”. Although the terms are misleading (in the sense that the Ancients will never have understood them as we use them), both are retained here as they are widely recognized. By (a) “Minoan”, we understand the culture of the Middle and early Late Bronze Age Aegean islands (effectively Middle Minoan IB–Late Minoan IB, ca. 1900–1500 BCE), most particularly Crete, before and partially overlapping with (b) the Mycenaeans of the Greek mainland in the Late Bronze Age (Middle Helladic III/Late Helladic I–Late Helladic III, ca. 1700/1600–1050 BCE). Obviously, Mycenaean materials are prominent on Crete, and Minoan materials appear on the mainland, but the division is as clear as are the links.