Thursday, 17 January 2013

Warlike Minoans

War was central to Europe's first civilization, contrary to popular belief
Research from the University of Sheffield has discovered that the ancient civilisation of Crete, known as Minoan, had strong martial traditions, contradicting the commonly held view of Minoans as a peace-loving people.

The research, carried out by Dr Barry Molloy of the University of Sheffield's Department of Archaeology, investigated the Bronze Age people of Crete, known by many as the Minoans, who created the very first complex urban civilisation in Europe.

"Their world was uncovered just over a century ago, and was deemed to be a largely peaceful society," explained Molloy. "In time, many took this to be a paradigm of a society that was devoid of war, where warriors and violence were shunned and played no significant role.

"That utopian view has not survived into modern scholarship, but it remains in the background unchallenged and still crops up in modern texts and popular culture with surprising frequency.
Personally, I'm not very surprised about this re-appraisal of the relationship of Minoans with war. There are multiple lines of evidence for Minoan power (e.g., the Thucydidean thalassocracy, the belief in Minos and Rhadamanthys as judges in Hades, the Theseus/Minotaur/Attican tributes legend) that have always suggested to me that the Bronze Age Cretans did not achieve pre-eminence only due to the attractiveness of their culture and/or their trading acumen, but also because they actually projected power by force.

One of the biggest arguments for Minoan pacifism was the lack of fortifications in Minoan sites. But, I've never found that argument convincing, because this lack might actually signify an excess of power (strong nations having no need of fortifications), and we need not forget that other unfortified city called Sparta, which, hopefully, no one could ever mistake as a champion of pacifism.

The Annual of the British School at Athens, 107, pp 87-142doi:10.1017/S0068245412000044


Barry P.C. Molloy

Together with politics, economics and religion, war is one of the fundamental factors that canshape a society and group identities. In the prehistoric world, the sources for the study of war are disparate and their interpretation can be inconsistent and problematic. In the case of Cretein the Bronze Age, a systematic analysis of the evidence will be undertaken for the first time inthis paper, and this opportunity is used to critically evaluate the most effective ways of employing the widely agreed sets of physical correlates for ancient war in the archaeological record. A further objective in exploring the diachronic roles of war in these societies is to movethe discussion from a niche field to a more integrated, and systematic, social analysis. Theexistence and character of a warrior identity is examined, and it is proposed that it oftenconstituted a conspicuous element of male identity. The varying scales and time spans throughwhich war can influence a society are discussed, and a broad framework for understanding war in social process, practices and events is proposed.


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