Generally, it is believed that the Minoan civilization on Crete was peaceful and their culture was more like a culture of peace than a culture of war.

But I've read an article lately that suggests that their civilization was warlike.

So, is there enough evidence for such a suggestion?

  • 4
    Just to be clear, you're asking whether you should believe an anonymous, unsourced, nonspecific belief (that contradicts every observation of human history) and a researched article in a scholarly journal?
    – MCW
    Aug 6 '14 at 16:52
  • The answer is that we do not know. The subject is controversial, as it always happens in such cases, when there is no enough hard evidence. The article you cite mentions some evidence. Whether this is "enough evidence" or not enough, everyone is free to decide. Some scientists decide according to their pre-conceptions.
    – Alex
    Sep 26 at 12:15

The wiki subsection on the Minoan Peace is worth a read - it presents the arguments for and against the Minoans as warlike, and is well cited. The crux of it is this:

About Minoan warfare, Branigan concludes that "The quantity of weaponry, the impressive fortifications, and the aggressive looking long-boats all suggested an era of intensified hostilities. But on closer inspection there are grounds for thinking that all three key elements are bound up as much with status statements, display, and fashion as with aggression.... Warfare such as there was in the southern Aegean EBA early Bronze Age was either personalized and perhaps ritualized (in Crete) or small-scale, intermittent and essentially an economic activity (in the Cyclades and the Argolid/Attica) " (1999, p. 92). Archaeologist Krzyszkowska concurs: "The stark fact is that for the prehistoric Aegean we have no direct evidence for war and warfare per se" (Krzyszkowska, 1999).

The Live Science article in question appears to reflect a minority viewpoint not well supported by archaeological or historical evidence - if the Egyptians or Hittites tangled with a major thalassocracy like the Minoans, they didn't document it, and they documented pretty much everything else going on. This supports the idea that the Minoan defenses were impressive enough to make the other regional powers keep their distance, but they were not aggressive or "warlike".

  • 2
    So the conclusion is: They had no war, and the wars they did have didn't count because they looted stuff and thus it was economic. And to say that having found oodles of military weapons that there is no evidence for war is risible. That IS evidence for war.
    – Oldcat
    Aug 6 '14 at 17:33
  • @Oldcat - The argument isn't that the Minoans were pacifists, the argument is that they were not an expansionist militarized society. For all of their arms and fortifications, the evidence is that they went to war rarely and in campaigns of very limited scope (trade wars and grudges between nobles rather than seeking conquest or hegemony). Aug 11 '14 at 11:41
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    The distinction seems to be more special pleading than sensible. There is evidence that they participated in war, for attack or defense. Warships are useful in attack far more than defense, as they decay if not used. Crews need practice. And in this area, like many others I'm not sure the difference between raiding and trading is more than a matter of opportunity. Carthage never conquered the hinterlands much like Rome did, but they were warlike enough.
    – Oldcat
    Aug 11 '14 at 17:44
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    @Oldcat - Here's the deal tho: there is no evidence these weapons were used in extensive wars of aggression in either the historical or archaeological record. As a counter-example, we have both from their contemporaneous neighbors in the Mediterranean, the Egyptians and the Hittites, who were aggressive and expansionist and would be major sparring partners if the Minoans were actually war-like, and not simply pork-barrelling or potlaching with defense spending projects. Aug 11 '14 at 19:50

I think they were warlike, but mainly my reasons for feeling this is :1 They had slaves. In the Bronze Age slavery was a result of warfare. What do you do with the prisoners? It became so profitable in other civs that the situation became reversed and you made war to attain slaves, and then sell them for a lucrative price. #2 They amassed so much wealth and they had to protect it. This meant not only aggressive war mongering would probably evolve, but also defensive wars. They fought a war against Aegean pirates according to the myths. They swept the sea of pirates. I am sure the pirates didn't just shuffle off without a fight.

Mind you this is just my view from my interpretation of the myths, the art, surrounding cultures, and purely inductive, as i am not an archaeologist, nor an anthroplogist, but I have an MA in Ancient History and taught it, along with Ancient Literature for 43 years at a prestigious prep school.


They controlled the entire land mass they could control using the technology at their disposal (the island of Crete). Now think about how that would have come about, and what the consequences would be.
Reasons for that are relatively simple:

  • manpower was low, too low to attack the far away mainland (or the islands close to it)
  • amphibious operations had not yet been invented, the technology would not exist for several hundred years to transport large groups of people across open water. It was risky enough for the occasional lone trading ship to cross that sea.
  • resources. Gathering enough bronze and other raw materials to equip a force large enough to successfully carry out an invasion of mainland Greece (the only target even theoretically close enough) was just about impossible for the island state.
    So even if they were warlike historically, circumstances would mean they would have no way to practice that after conquering the pacifying Crete itself (and maybe a few nearby small islands).
  • 2
    At this time, "amphibious operations" were just trading ships full of armed troops. If they can trade, they can raid. Often the two were mixed, as the Vikings did.
    – Oldcat
    Aug 6 '14 at 17:35

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