At dawn on a day sometime before or after 1600 BC, humanity’s closest link to Utopia fell from the grace of the gods. That morning a Minoan priestess held her arms outstretched to the blackened skies over Keftiu, as her people prayed fervently at her feet. As soot and ash fell on that lush Eden and lined the edges of magnificent temples, not one among them foresaw the gods’ betrayal to come. The fate of the Minoans was sealed on that day.
Today, science and fantasy swirl around the puzzle that was the Bronze Age’s brightest glimmering idea. Blessed from the heavens, the Crete of four thousand years ago must have been unsurpassed in riches, glory, and harmony. Protected by what was certainly the most powerful fleet in ancient times, the thalassocracy of the Minoans had no real enemy, no real equal. On some days I can see them walking in shadow here, dressed in their colorful garments, ghosts of Atlantis, if you will.
I also imagine what they must have felt when a disaster of unbelievable magnitude fell upon them. Science only reveals distant echoes of a volcanic event ten times more destructive than Krakatoa, the second most explosive event in the last million years. A deeply religious people, the Minoans must have been a society of walking dead, both physically and spiritually, when the earth mother finally shunned them.
There is still much speculation as to the decline and fall of the so-called Minoan Empire. Some theorists claim the monstrous Thera volcanic event wiped these mysterious people from the face of the Earth. Other scientists tell us the Thera event was only the beginning of the end of the once great sea power. Science has yet to fully reveal the scope of the eruption and its aftermath, but if one tunes in to Crete’s spirit, it’s not hard to imagine an Apocolypse.
Imagine a society, probably ruled over by a priestess cult, one where the men were always on the great sea, sailing a thousand of ships bound for the waiting world. It must have been a society where the division of responsibility was a more perfect one. This seems evident from the archaeological evidence at hand. How did Utopia end? This can only be felt for now, until my wonderful scientific colleagues prove or disprove the legends and myths.
As for wonderous Atlantis? Well, a brilliant archaeologist working here on Crete advises me, “Stay away from Atlantis speculation, Phil.” I cannot, however. Especially when the study of Minoan shipbuilding with composit materials, an art lost for almost three thousand years. And when I look on their ceramic art in all its ingenuity, or the unique architecture, or advance metallurgy that cannot even be reproduced today, their show of technical superiority was centuries ahead of all others in the Bronze Age. One visit to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum has dazzled each and every friend visiting us on the island. If you go there, with the right mindset, you will experience what they did.
I can imagine how waves of tsunamis hit Crete, caving in seaside villas, drowning a hundred thousand men at once, bashing to splinters the world’s greatest fleets, and leaving a defenseless society led by priestesses at the mercy of warlike peoples. The mysterious burning of the temple/palaces seems like no mystery for me. The sacred stores of crops and trade goods rapidly depleted under nuclear winter, faith in ritual and God starved in the empty bellies of the Cretans. The screams of slaughtered temple elites resonate with those murdered by the Ottomans and other invaders – we are all human, in or out of Eden. An excerpt from our friends at Cretan Beaches illustrates the Minoan dependency on their navy:
“The Minoan fleet, the strongest of its era, as evidenced by several findings in the Mediterranean, brought wealth to Crete from the trade of the famous Cretan cypress and agricultural products. Built-in large yards, such as the shipyard of Saint Theodori at Vathianos Kambos, ships were loaded with timber, honey, wine, pottery and olive oil from the ports of Dia, Katsambas, Komos, Zakros, Psira, Mochlos, Niros, Petras, sailing towards all directions of the Mediterranean as far as Scandinavia.”
Think about it. The Minoans were involved in the tin trade, critical in the Bronze Age. Tin. Imagine rate and critical cargoes reaching every port from Knossos to the Baltic Sea! What would precious saffron harvested from a type of crocus off Crete be worth, let alone advanced ceramics, copper, gold, or even weapons made from the best metallurgists in the world? In these regards, our Minoans had no equals for hundreds and hundreds of years. You may liken them to the British Empire, only without conquest and war on their minds. And their utter destruction would have impacted the whole world.
What sort of catastrophe was this Thera eruption? So far scientists have traced its telltale footprints around the globe. The tsunami and pumice evidence are found in Israel, Egypt, and Turkey, and cores from North America attest to clouds of volcanic dust spread worldwide. The Tempest Stele, which was erected by Pharaoh Ahmose I early in the 18th Dynasty of Egypt, c. 1550 BCE hints at a cataclysm of unspeakable force. The fragments of taken from 3rd Pylon of the temple of Karnak at Thebes speak of “pyramids collapsing – and all that existed having been annihilated.” Thought to be an eyewitness account of the Thera event, this speaks of the “gods expressing themselves” and of their discontent.
Archaeologists have so far isolated very little evidence of tsunami-related destruction on Crete, but I feel that this is only because funding and focus have been missing. New research from a multidisciplinary group comprised of archaeologists, volcanologists, and other experts should create a wider window. Until then, we should examine the best and worst-case scenarios for the Thera destruction.
It’s my belief that this unique event literally washed away most of what was truly Minoan. What remains, I think, are the remnants of stone, ceramic, and metal, along with some flakes of dies and paint, from a place far richer than we imagine. Still, we are left with more speculation, but new evidence suggests the Minoan eruption may have caused a widespread disrupt to Babylonia and beyond, and probably sealed the fate of the Minoans.