The Goddess on Crete

The story of the Minoan civilization on Crete is one of my personal favorites... because their island location enabled them to avoid a direct invasion by the Kurgans, their society in many ways demonstrates how peaceful Goddess cultures might have evolved, if allowed to follow a path of their own choosing.

The first evidence of a large-scale and continuous occupation of the island does not appear until about 6000 BCE, so obviously the population was not indigenous, but must have come from somewhere else. The original colonists very probably arrived on rafts. In that case, the prevailing currents in the Aegean Sea indicate a point of origin somewhere on the western coast of Turkey. The currents run at a speed of about 1 knot, and the distance is about 200 miles, so they might have made such a journey in as little as 8 days.

Major currents of the Aegean Sea

Beginning around 6000 BCE we find typical Neolithic settlements on Crete, which closely resemble those found in Turkey during the same time period (see Catal Hoyuk, etc). For example, agricultural crops such as wheat, barley and lentils are in evidence, as is the domestication of sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle.

From 6000 BCE until about 2800 BCE the people of Crete seem to have had no contact with the outside world, and remained at much the same level of development. However, around 2800 BCE, we begin to see evidence of trade with the Cycladic islands, western Turkey, and the Phoenicians of Lebanon, in the form of pottery and some copper objects.

By about 2600 BCE, techniques of weaving and of making bronze began to arrive on Crete... and with each passing century, contact with the more advanced societies in the region continued to benefit them. It was not until about 2100 BCE however, that a major revolution of technology occured, which truly marks the birth of what we now call the Minoan civilization.

In order to properly understand this great technical revolution, we must take a moment to consider the general situation in the Aegean at the time. The western states of Turkey and the Phoenicians were the predominant seafaring powers. The Phoenicians themselves had most probably migrated to Lebanon from Turkey, sometime around 4500 BCE. Indeed, although they were surrounded by the Canaanites on three sides, they always remained a distinctly seperate group... and their society bore many similarities to those of western Turkey, such as their advanced shipbuilding techniques, architecture, artistry, etc.

The people of the western states of Turkey, the Phoenicians, and Minoans all shared a peaceful Goddess-based philosophy, and by 2100 BCE they were known to have well-established close cultural ties and friendships. At that time, the invasion of Turkey by the Hittites began, as well as an invasion of Phoenicia by the Amorites. Archeological excavations reveal that habitation of Phoenicia virtually ceased at exactly that time... their great and thriving cities, such as Tyre, Sidon and Byblos were suddenly abandoned.

Meanwhile, at exactly at that time, great changes came to Crete. Large and beautiful palaces were built, such as the one at Knossos , which was discovered by Sir Arthur Evans in the early 20th century. The Minoan palaces strongly resemble those found in Phoenicia and western Turkey... they featured hot and cold running water, flush-toilets, ventilation and lighting shafts, etc. In addition, public apartments existed for the common people, as well as many types of specialty and craft shops.

Furthurmore, two unique systems of writing also appeared at this time. One, known as Linear A , bears an amazing similarity to another script of that general time period, which was later discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in the ruins of Troy. The other writing system is known as Cretan hieroglyphs , and also appears to have originated in Turkey. Unfortunately, we have yet to decipher either script.

Some additional clues can be found in the Minoan use of mountain-tops and caves for their religious rites, as well as their distinctly Near and Middle-Eastern burial customs... all of which first appear on Crete at this time. This evidence suggests that both the Turks and Phoenicians, fleeing from a military invasion, migrated to Crete around 2100 BCE... and they brought with them a highly advanced technology, which would become the basis for the golden age of the Minoan civilization.

Between 2100 BCE and 1500 BCE, the Minoans became the greatest seafaring nation in the eastern Mediterranean. Their many manufactured goods, especially pottery and bronze objects, were of the highest quality... and through trade, they accumulated vast fortunes. Moreover, during this entire 600 year period, there is no record of them ever having any involvement in a war.

The story of the Minoans came to an abrupt and tragic end around 1500 BCE, when a nearby volcanic island known as Thera exploded. The Thera eruption was one of the worst in recorded history. Thera was completely destroyed, and a massive tsunami struck the north coast of Crete, which would have destroyed any ships in port at the time. Volcanic ash then fell on Crete, causing the loss of most of their agricultural crops.

The eruption of Thera, in conjunction with several large earthquakes, severely dammaged the Minoan civilization. In addition, the Mycenaean Greeks, attracted by the great wealth of the Minoans, took advantage of these natural disasters, and launched a military invasion. Around that time, archeologists tell us that the Minoans seem to have completely disappeared, leaving behind their beautiful palaces and once-thriving cities.

Meanwhile, at Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia, excavations reveal that around 1450 BCE both cities became permanantly repopulated, and quickly grew into vibrant centers of trade. Yet another clue comes to us from their system of writing, known as the Phoenician abjad. As Sir Arthur Evans was quick to note, many of the symbols in the Phoenician abjad are almost identical to those used in the Cretan hieroglyphs.

Could the Minoans, when faced with a volcanic eruption, earthquakes, and an attack by the Mycenaean Greeks, have made the decision to migrate... and might they have chosen to return to the very places with which their ancestors had close historic ties ? It seems probable that some of the Minoans relocated to the western states of Turkey, while others apparently returned to Phoenicia, which they quickly built into a world-class trading power.

If this theory is correct, it may very well explain why, during the Trojan war in 1200 BCE, when the western states of Turkey and their allies attacked every coastal city in the eastern Mediterranean, there was one significant exception... they never attacked Phoenicia, even though the Phoenician cities were quite wealthy, and lacked any heavy defenses.

Looking back on the Minoan golden age, we see a people whose prosperity was based not on conquest and pillage, but on manufacturing and trade... and who managed to avoid war almost entirely. Although their written records still remain undeciphered, the many beautiful frescoes in their palaces speak to us of a happy people, enjoying a good life. There is not one depiction of warfare, nor a harsh-looking monarch to be found. Indeed, their cities included few fortifications, and no significant cache of weapons or other military equipment has ever been found.

Without exception, the Minoan frescoes portray the beauty of the natural world. People and animals are shown in idyllic, pastoral settings. Bright, cheerful colors predominate. There are not many depictions of deities, however a number of scenes do show women who appear to be Priestesses, such as the one below.

The "Blue Ladies" frescoe
From the Palace of Knossos, 1600 BCE

Our knowledge of Minoan deities comes primarily from depictions on cylinder seals, and figurines found near intact shrines. All of the deities portrayed are female. Archeologists continue to debate whether the various images are merely aspects of one Great Goddess, or are in fact seperate deities. The images are usually described as a fertility goddess, an Earth goddess, a Mother Goddess, a mistress of the animals, or a household goddess, etc.

One image which is especially interesting was found on a cylinder seal in the palace of Knossos. It depicts a woman standing on a mountain-top, flanked by two lions. Clearly, that is the image which we have come to associate with the Great Mother Goddess Cybele, as found in Turkey.

Another interesting symbolic object frequently found on Crete is the labrys , or double-edged ax. When depicted in murals, these axes are always held by women, in what appears to be a ceremonial manner. They may have been a mark of royalty, or more likely had a religious significance... for example, as a representation of a Priestess's authority to perform sacrifices, in order to provide food for a community. It may be noted that the labrys was also used as a religious symbol in the Near East, and among the Amazons in particular.

It's clear that the Minoans possesed a peaceful society based on trade, had an advanced level of technology and art, and a religion involving female deities and clergy. Their civilization is extremely significant, because it demonstrates that violence and patriarchy are not necessarily a natural result of population increases, or jealousy over material wealth... rather, they are linked to the fundamentally different sort of cultural values that arrived with the Kurgans.