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War was central to Europe’s first civilisation – contrary to popular belief

January 15th, 2013 | by heritagedaily
War was central to Europe’s first civilisation – contrary to popular belief
Archaeology
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Minoan fresco “Prince of the Lilies” : Wiki Commons

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.

“Having worked on excavation and other projects in Crete for many years, it triggered my curiosity about how such a complex society, controlling resources and trading with mighty powers like Egypt, could evolve in an egalitarian or cooperative context. Can we really be that positive about human nature? As I looked for evidence for violence, warriors or war, it quickly became obvious that it could be found in a surprisingly wide range of places.”

Building on recent developments in the study of warfare in prehistoric societies, Molloy’s research reveals that war was in fact a defining characteristic of the Minoan society, and that warrior identity was one of the dominant expressions of male identity.

Molloy continued: “The study shows that 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.”

Fresco of bull-leaping from Knossos : Wiki Commons

Even the famous Mycenaeans, heroes of the Greek Trojan War, took up the Minoan way of war – adopting its weaponry, practices and ideologies. “In fact,” said Molloy, “it is to Crete we must look for the origin of those weapons that were to dominate Europe until the Middle Ages, namely swords, metal battle-axes, shields, spears and probably armour also.”

Molloy found a “staggering” amount of violence in the symbolic grammar and material remains from prehistoric Crete. Weapons and warrior culture were materialised variously in sanctuaries, graves, domestic units and hoards. It could also be found in portable media intended for use during social interactions, for example, administration, feasting, or personal adornment. “There were few spheres of interaction in Crete that did not have a martial component, right down to the symbols used in their written scripts.” said Dr Molloy.

Molloy’s research looks at war as a social process – looking at the infrastructural and psychological support mechanisms that facilitated the undertaking of war and the means through which it was embedded in social logic. This approach, argues Molloy, leads to a deeper understanding of war in the Minoan civilisation: “When we consider war as a normative process that had cross-references and correlates in other social practices, we can begin to see warriors and warriorhood permeating the social fabric of Cretan societies at a systematic level.

Children boxing in a fresco on the island of Santorini. : Wiki Commons

“The social and institutional components of war impacted on settlement patterns, landscape exploitation, technological and trade networks, religious practices, art, administration and more, so that war was indirectly a constant factor in shaping the daily lives of people in prehistoric Crete…understanding the social aspects of war ‘beyond the battle’ is essential if we are to better understand how elites manipulated economics, religion and violence in controlling their worlds. By identifying the material results of warrior lifeways in all of their disparity and disorder, we gain insights into what war meant in ancient Crete.”

Contributing Source : University of Sheffield

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  • http://johanmathiesen.wix.com/deadmantalking Johan Mathiesen

    Could it really be true that any civilization as large as the Minoans could conceivably have been "peaceful"? That seems a bit of a stretch. Has there ever been any civilization of consequence that could be called peaceful? Historically, isn't it only recently that nations have begun to turn away from war, and that only hesitantly?

  • http://recoveredscience.com Peter Aleff

    This article offers lots of assertions but not a shred of evidence, except for the academic type of proof that consists of frequent repetition. The simple fact that none of the palaces had any defensive walls demonstrates that "War was [NOT] central to Europe’s first civilisation". Also, during the Minoan times, many towns were located near the coast for easier access to boats and fish and so on. Only during the so-called Dark Age when Sea Peoples devastated the Eastern Mediterranean and the waves were crowded with pirates did the Cretans relocate those towns up on the cliffs and in other positions that were more defensible against attacks from the sea. Even this trend was a reaction to an external threat and does not indicate war as central to the island culture itself.

  • http://www.slideshare.net/aivangree/jewerly-item-prince-with-the-lilies1 aivangreen

    I found next Prince with the Lilies item, please see link

    http://www.slideshare.net/aivangree/jewerly-item-prince-with-the-lilies1