'Peace-loving' Minoans actually loved war, Irish researcher claims
Long deemed to be the peace-loving progenitors of European civilisation, the Bronze Age people of Crete – commonly known as the Minoans – were obsessed with weapons and extremely warlike, research by an Irish archaeologist has shown.
UCD graduate Dr Barry Molloy said he first began to question the view of the Minoans as a people taken up almost exclusively with trade when his studies on the Mycenaean people of the Greek mainland suggested that their fighting traditions had their origins in Crete.
“The whole way of fighting seemed to have evolved in Crete, which was quite a departure from the idea of the warlike Mycenaeans and the peace-loving Minoans,” said Dr Molloy, now a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Sheffield. “To some degree this makes sense because the creation of states and new social systems is usually accompanied by violence. It rarely happens in an egalitarian context.”
Until relatively recently, the utopian perception of the Minoans, who created the first complex urban civilisation in Europe, was framed by the British archaeologists who rediscovered their civilisation at the beginning of the last century and reconstructed the famous Minoan site at Knossos.
“They conjured up a Victorian wonderland, consisting of palaces and villas adorned with paintings of flowers, monkeys and natural scenery,” said Dr Molloy, adding that this view still cropped up in modern texts and popular culture.
But the reality was quite different, according to Dr Molloy, who drew together findings from various fields of research to show how military ways permeated Minoan society and culture. “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.”
Dr Molloy said the Minoans relied on an arsenal of weapon types that were still in use in medieval times, such as swords, battle-axes, spears, shields, helmets, slings, and bows and arrows.
Using replicas of Minoan weaponry on a pig’s carcass at Teagasc’s Food Research Centre in Ashtown, Dublin, he was able to show that their purpose was far from ceremonial, as earlier archaeologists had believed. “They could cut muscle and sinew,” he said.