Those peaceful Minoans

Fresco of an acrobat on a bull with two female acrobats on either side.
Minoan fresco of an acrobat on a bull with two female acrobats on either side.

Minoans, who lived on the island of Crete, were contemporaries of the Harappans. But unlike the Harappans, they were known more for their monumental palaces and mansions. The civilization came to an end by fire, ash or flooding when the volcano on the Greek island of Santorini blew up. Till recently, it was believed that this civilization was devoid of war and now new evidence suggests it was not so.

“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.”
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.

This is interesting because the Harappan civilization is also considered to be a peaceful one; you do not find glorified rulers, or depiction of conquest or warfare. There are no jars or seals depicting battle and no trace of armed conflict. It remains a mystery as to how such a vast domain was governed. One theory is that trade and religion were the instruments of authority and not warfare. But then as Michel Danino writes in The Lost River, only less than 10 per cent of the 1140 Mature Harappan sites have been excavated. The buried ones may have a different story to tell.

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