Collapse of the Minoans: Who or What is to Blame?


(“GreeceCrete”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

    In the past, many historians and archaeologists believed that the eruption of Thera, now modern day Santorini located in the Aegean Sea, was the direct and immediate cause of the downfall of the Minoan civilization. Newer research shows that this is not the case. Historians now generally point to c. 1450 or 1400 BCE as the probable dates for the destruction of the Minoans and the invasion of Crete by the Mycenaeans. However, the eruption of Thera seems to have occurred many decades or possibly even two centuries before the collapse of the Minoan civilization and the beginnings of the Mycenaean occupation.

How much of an impact did the eruption of Thera have in ending Minoan civilization then? This is the question that has plagued historians, archaeologist, and scientists for decades. Major Minoan cities, such as Akrotiri located on Santorini, were inevitably destroyed with the eruption, yet it is clear that trade and productivity continued for the Minoan people well after the fact. No bodies or human remains have been found under the ash of Akrotiri, which appears to have been abandoned before the volcanic eruption (although it is still possible the bodies are there and just have yet to be discovered). One theory suggests that years after the destruction of Akrotiri, which was a major trade-hub, the cost of transporting goods slowly increased over time as the Minoans had to spend more to maintain the same amount of trade with less shipping routes. Eventually these costs led to a complete collapse of Minoan society giving the warlike Mycenaeans an opportunity to invade Crete, possibly from the Greek mainland.

In the end the impact of Thera eruption was what caused the Minoan’s downfall, but that impact may not have been seriously felt until years later, unlike what historians had previously thought. With the burden of losing their gateway city, Akrotiri, and number of necessary ships, the now much weakened Minoans could no longer hold on as a civilization, making them easy targets for violent outside forces (the Mycenaeans) to enter and take control almost two-hundred years after the devastation of Thera.


(“Ship procession fresco, part 1, Akrotiri, Greece” by Unknown – from Le Musée absolu, Phaidon, 10-2012. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)


“GreeceCrete.” Wikimedia Commons. Web. 06 Mar. 2015.

Höflmayer, Felix. “The Date Of The Minoan Santorini Eruption: Quantifying The “Offset.” Radiocarbon 54.3/4 (2012): 435-448. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.

Knappett, Carl, Ray Rivers, and Tim Evans. “The Theran Eruption And Minoan Palatial Collapse: New Interpretations Gained From Modelling The Maritime Network.” Antiquity 85.329 (2011): 1008-1023. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Mar. 2015.

Mathisen, Ralph W. Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations: From Prehistory to 640 CE. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.

“Mycenae and Minoan Crete.” Mycenae and Minoan Crete. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.

Ship Procession Fresco, Part 1, Akrotiri, Greece. Web. Le Musée Absolu.

Wilford, John Noble. Minoan Culture Survived Ancient Volcano, Evidence Shows. The New York Times, 27 Nov. 1989. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.

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