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Ravaging the Wine Dark Sea: Attacks on Crete by Sea Raiders during the Bronze Age

David James Stewart
Thesis: May 1997
Chair: Bass
Nautical Archaeology Program

The Minoan civilization of Bronze Age Crete is one of the most interesting and enigmatic of the ancient world. Writing over half a millennium after the end of the Bronze Age, the historian Thucydides stated that king Minos of Crete had built a navy and kept the sea free of pirates. The first archaeological excavations on Crete early this century revealed many unfortified sites lying close to the coasts. It seemed inconceivable that unprotected settlements could have existed on the Cretan coast unless the Minoans had indeed possessed a strong navy. Blending archaeology and historical tradition, scholars interpreted the Cretan Bronze Age as a time of peace. Evidence shows, however, that Bronze Age Crete was not always peaceful. The end of the Bronze Age was a time of great destruction in many parts of the eastern Mediterranean, and Crete was no exception. On Crete, the end of the Bronze Age was accompanied by abandonment of the coasts, the use of refuge sites, and the construction of fortifications. The pattern of these occurrences suggests that they were due in large part to attacks from the sea. While evidence for sea raids is most pronounced near the end of the Bronze Age, there is evidence that such raids occurred in earlier times as well.

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