Minoan civilisation, long thought of by archeologists and interested laypeople alike as Europe’s first peaceful culture, may have been just as warlike as other Meditteranean societies at that time.
Based in Crete, and Europe’s first complex urban civilisation, no one knows what its people called themselves: they were romantically named after their legendary king, Minos.
British archeologist Arthur Evans excavated the remains of the palace of Knossos and other ancient Cretan sites in the early twentieth century. He built a view that the society that lived there was surprisingly free of evidence of war and must therefore have been remarkably peace-loving for its time. Others have expanded on his ideas, emphasising Minoan goddess worship as indicative of a matriarchal culture, too.
This lovely concept has scant supporting evidence and has now had another nail hammered in its coffin by Dr. Barry Molloy of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology. Looking for evidence of violence, war or warriors, D. Molloy found many signs that the Minoans were just as bloodthirsty as their contemporaries.
“The activities of warriors included such diverse things as public displays of bull-leaping, boxing contests, wrestling, hunting, sparring and duelling. Ideologies of war are shown to have permeated religion, art, industry, politics and trade, and the social practices surrounding martial traditions were demonstrably a structural part of how this society evolved and how they saw themselves,” he says.
Peaceful Minoan culture is probably, rather like its name, the fabrication of romantics.