At sunrise on the morning of July 21st, 365, an earthquake on unimaginable restrictive force destroyed nearly every town on Crete. An ensuing series of tsunamis devastated Alexandria, Egypt. The magnitude 9.0 seismic horror laid waste to coastal towns in central and southern Greece, northern Libya, Egypt, Cyprus, Sicily, and Spain. In this story I shall express my opinion (theory) that an earlier and much more dramatic event in the Middle Bronze Age, was the basis for the Atlantis legend.
“Then, at some unspecified time in the past, a terrible disaster–a true cataclysm of flood and fire […]– overtook this island, where “the earliest mansions of the gods” had been founded, destroying it utterly, inundating all its holy places and killing most of its divine inhabitants.” – Graham Hancock, Magicians of the Gods: The Forgotten Wisdom of Earth’s Lost Civilization
An Apocalyptic Reflection
The histories of the 365 A.D. event are well documented, and scientists now know many of the facts associated with this ancient apocalypse. The tsunamis killed tens of thousands, and according to eyewitness accounts, ships were washed more than 3 km (1.9 mi) inland. The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus’ writings about the event paint a landscape for the veritable end of days. His accounts tell of the whole earth racking itself to bits, the sea disappearing and then returning with a force of unimaginable power, and the dystopian aftermath right out of a Mad Max film classic. Modern archaeologists and geologists have unearthed more tangible proof, which should serve as a footnote of the devastation that must have followed the seismic disaster before and after the unparalleled Thera eruption over a millennium prior.
When this 365 A.D. earthquake and its aftershocks were finished, the whole western side of the island of Crete had been lifted nine meters (30 feet) straight up out of the Mediterranean Sea. Corals from deep beneath the sea were lifted 10 meters (33 feet) out of the water and deposited onshore. The port of Falasarna, in the far west of the island, is visible proof of the devastation, as it sits many meters inland now. Likewise, the sea caves near Paleochora attest to the magnitude of the unfathomable events. Imagine you’re living in what is now Chania Prefecture, and a level, fertile plain arises out of the sea where current-day Platanias or Kissamos sits. This is what happened. But this gigantic earthquake in a steep fault in the Hellenic Trench near Crete was, in my mind, only a reverberation from the earlier event that took place in the twilight of Minoan Crete.
The Wrath of God
If the 365 A.D. seismic event was a reactivation of major tectonic plate boundaries, the events before and after the eruption of Thera around 1540 B.C. were surely epic on a scale that is unfathomable. Likewise, if the latter event left indelible scars on Mediterranean societies based in part on socio-religious aspects, it’s safe to say the Thera-linked events probably totally reorganized faith for the people of Crete. The 365 earthquakes were seen as either a divine response or warnings of political and religious events to come or both. As for seismic events in the Aegean almost 2,000 years prior, even the smartest scientists on Earth propose only elementary theories as to what occurred when Thera exploded. And with paleoseismology and other interdisciplinary just now getting off the ground, piecing together the end of Atlantis, as it were, is still highly speculative.
All this is what leads me off into more normative endeavors to find answers. Debate still rage, even as to the dates of the Thera events and the subsequent decline of the Minoan Empire (c). And while I certainly applaud efforts into so-called Potential Earthquake Archaeological Effects’ (abbreviated PEAEs), this kind of science is a bit like looking for a child’s homework, after the dog has eaten it, and 2,000 years after the garbage was taken to the city dump.
Talk about a cold case file, the Thera catastrophe revelation lies beneath the windblown sands of time itself, so we must continue to dig, while at the same time consulting the oracle or even the Great Karnac if need be, to glue together the enormity of this Bronze Age catastrophe. Fortunately, while my ideas are highly speculative, the most learned scientists seem to draw closer to understanding the magnitude of this Thera event. Their science points to giant earthquakes being the cause of the Thera explosion, and to the ultimate demise of the Minoans beginning sometime after Late Minoan IA and before Late Minoan IB. (see Driessen & C.F. McDonald) So, based in part on the works of renowned archaeologists (who never adhere to the Atlantis myth as any part of fact), and on my own logical sense of myth as it relates to history, here’s what I think happened to the Minoans (Atlantis).
During what is known now as the Middle Minoan period (2100 to 1700 BCE), a similar (to 365) reactivation of seismic faults led to a series of very destructive earthquakes. (See the destruction of the Temple of Anemospilia at Juktas and at Kommos) The impacts of these (see in-slab earthquakes in LMI-A) on Knossos and other centers are fairly well documented now. Ultimately, in my view, the swarms of quakes escalated into ever more dramatic events, which probably caused the people living on Thera (Akrotiri) to leave the beloved island (they were not stupid). Some have theorized Akrotiri was abandoned long before the volcanic cataclysm that destroyed most of the island. Feeling relatively safe, and removed from the anger of the gods, so to speak. I’ve no trouble imagining how the refugees of Thera at Malia and other places on Crete’s northern shore must have been horrified just before they were washed violently beneath a gigantic tsunami speeded across the eastern Mediterranean by violent pyroclastic flows out of Thera’s caldera.
Archaeologists are trying to create the proper timeline of events to help frame what actually became of the mysterious Minoans. Early on, notable authorities on the subject assumed the Thera cataclysm had simply ended them. Later studies dissected and refined all the known and recently discovered data and proofs, and the latest reconstruct tells of Minoan Civilization gradually petering out over the course of a couple of hundred years. And as the sands of the hourglass of eternity go, 200 years is certainly an instant. I think it’s time we tried to understand the Atlantis legend and the cataclysm that befell the Minoans with a renewed perspective. The BBC One trailer from Atlantis: End of a World, Birth of a Legend below helps by interjecting a human element of realism.
“Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars.” – Robert E. Howard, The Complete Chronicles of Conan
But this is not what I think happened. I think that 1,000 Minoan ships washed miles inland and shattered to bits, put an end to any hope those peaceful people had of continuance. I think God spoke to the Minoans, after faint mutterings of discontent and sorrow for a few decades, in anger over systematic human problems. Knossos had clearly overextended herself, evidence of her expansionism is now prevalent, and the timeline after the Neopalatial period coincides roughly with my spiritual hypothesis here.
Belief, prosperity, and security is what painted these magnificent Minoans into the book of human existence. And all three of these facets of their society evaporated starting with earthquakes and natural disasters that probably made 365 A.D. look like a ripple in a pond. All the evidence is not in just yet, but the complicated nature of archaeological science has surely suspended the truth in a quagmire of uncertainty and dissent. This is natural, in the ways of science, after all.
But logic must play a role too, as we consider the intersection of myth and storytelling, with history. Atlantis grew too big and powerful, and the gods acted accordingly. And no, the Pillars of Hercules are not on either side of the Straight of Gibraltar. Not in my version of Atlantis.
To be continued in “The Last Priest of Poseidon” the novel.
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