Colleagues in Crete inform me of a recent breakthrough which may change our view of Minoan Civilisation. The partial decipherment of the Disc of Phaistos by Dr. Gareth Owens has allowed an international team or researchers to use a combination of a powerful code-breaking algorithm and modern linguistic analysis to analyze the symbols of Linear A tablets and compare them with symbols on the Phaistos Disc and Linear B tablets. This powerful approach has not yet led to the complete decipherment of the still mysterious script, but has nevertheless allowed specialists to draw meaningful conclusions about Minoan society from 2000 to 1450 BCE.
From what has become known, the analysis of the previously impenetrable symbols has already yielded a lot of the tablets’ secrets. Among other things, it has confirmed what archaeologists suspected all along – that the tablets were used to record the inventories and other financial details of the palatial system.
But by far the most important conclusion the study of the tablets has yielded so far is the confirmation that the collapse of the Minoan civilization and its replacement by the Mycenaean one was indeed due to the volcanic eruption of nearby Santorini, although indirectly so.
Apparently, the eruption (sometime in the mid-17th century BCE) caused such extensive damage, that the ruling elite found it difficult to repair the palace complexes and other vital structures, such as ports, while maintaining the exuberant lifestyle (evidenced in frescoes and other artifacts) by using existing resources. The tablets contain information of extensive imports of raw materials and manpower from Crete’s trade partners, Egypt and the kingdoms of mainland Greece.
The meticulously kept tablets seem to indicate that either these imports were loans or were bought on credit. In any case the analysis of the tablets reveals that the Cretans found themselves unable to provide adequate compensation to the providers of these resources, who felt compelled to send envoys to oversee the restitution promised by the Minoan Cretans.
The numerical symbols on Linear A tablets leave no doubt that the quantities of various resources collected by the palace complexes, such as grain and wool, rose sharply within the span of a generation. The research team concludes that probably the local regime sought to satisfy the demands of its trade partners by raising taxes, which in turn must have caused a general drop in the standard of living, as attested by a statistically significant drop in quantity of small votive figurines donated to the island’s shrines at the time. Clear evidence of cannibalism also belong to this period, during which the number of peak sanctuaries declines, while those that remain, come under direct control of the palace complexes. Meanwhile, structures known as “villas” appear at various spots on the island. The team hypothesizes that the heavy taxation and consequent hardship must have caused considerable unrest among the population and the “villas” are interpreted as a means of controlling the population and securing agricultural resources.
It is at this time (1490-1412, during the reign of Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep II) that men in recognizable Cretan garb are depicted (on the grave of an official, Senenmut) bringing valuable items and characteristically Minoan vessels to the Egyptian court. These finds are in agreement with already known Egyptian sources which clearly mention the visit of Egyptian diplomats in Crete. The best known one, at the monument of Amenhotep III at Kom el-Hetan indicates that Egypt’s interests and contact with the island were maintained even after the collapse of the Minoan culture.
A little later, at around 1450-1375, a Mycenaean military presence is found on the island (warrior graves of Knossos). Whether these forces were invited by the regime to protect themselves from local uprisings or whether they were sent by one or more of the mainland kingdoms to protect their interests on the island remains unknown. The undisputed fact however is that the archaeological record clearly shows Minoan culture being replaced by the Mycenaean one not long afterwards. The style of the artifacts changes perceptibly and the records start being kept in the Linear B script, in the language of the mainlanders.
The researchers’ conclusion is that by overspending, the Cretan regime undermined itself and the island’s entire culture. Seeking help from its partners came at a great cost; the heavy burden alienated the population and dissolved the state’s power base, which, eventually, found itself at the mercy of its neighboring states, which did not hesitate to avail themselves of the opportunity.
To a Greek, this scenario seems not only plausible, but eerily familiar too; undoubtedly, those who are not taught by history are doomed to repeat it.
Dear friends, readers and colleagues,
If you haven’t already, please notice the date this post was published. Although the information contained in the various links is all real, what is not real is:
- the partial decipherment of the Linear A script (hasn’t happened yet)
- the drop in the number of votive offerings at Cretan sanctuaries (no such thing has been observed)
- the synthesis including conclusions about economic and social unrest (although there is a theory about possible religious unrest, which may have broken out on the island after the Eruption). My own theory is of course entirely fictional, based on the current Greek situation.
Thanks for reading 😉