The Aegean civilization is a collective term for the Bronze Age civilizations surrounding the Aegean Sea, usually extended to include the preceding Stone Age cultures there. Early archeological work in the area was performed by Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870s–80s, whose successes included the location of Troy, and early in the century by Sir Arthur Evans. The Bronze Age cultures of the Aegean have been identified as follows: Helladic, the cultures of the Greek mainland, including subdivisions such as Macedonian; Cycladic, the cultures not only of the Cyclades but of the Aegean Islands except Crete; and Minoan, the cultures of Crete, so named by Evans for Minos, in legend the most powerful of Cretan kings. The Late Helladic cultures are often termed Mycenaean.
Around 3000 BC, the region was invaded by Chalcolithic (i.e., bronze- and stone-using) peoples displacing the previous Neolithic inhabitants. This population appears to have remained static until around 2000 BC, when the Greek tribes arrived on the mainland, overpowering and submerging the previous cultures. Around the same time Crete established a powerful seafaring empire, and throughout the area there were rapid and substantial advances in the arts, technology, and social organization. Around 1550 BC it would appear that the Mycenaeans occupied Crete, and certainly by this time the Greeks were established as the dominant culture in the area. The Cretan civilization seems to have been eclipsed about 1400 BC. During the 17th century there emerged on the mainland a wealthy and powerful aristocracy, whose riches have been discovered in many of their tombs. It would appear that for several hundred years there was a period of stability, since fortifications were not added to the aristocrats' palaces until the thirteenth century BC. The artistry of this era is exquisite, as evidenced by archeological discoveries in the tombs: gold cups superbly wrought, small sculptures, jewelry, dagger blades inlaid with precious metals, and delicate frescoes. During the thirteenth century BC there probably was a war with Troy, ending with the destruction of that city around 1260 BC and a general decline of the civilizations as whole into the so-called Dark Ages.