Ariadne's Tribe: Minoan Spirituality for the Modern World

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A Bit of a Rant: The Minoans weren't Greek!

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

One of the biggest misconceptions about the Minoans, the people who lived on the Mediterranean island of Crete during the Bronze Age, is that they were Greek. They weren't.

Let's look at where this misunderstanding comes from and find out who the Minoans really were.

First of all, it's a good idea to distinguish between modern national boundaries and ancient cultures. The island of Crete has been a part of the modern nation of Greece for about a century, so most history texts lump the two together simply because it's easier to divide the world up based on the modern map we're familiar with. And because of the great antiquity and popularity of Crete's history, the modern nation of Greece is more than happy to include it in their PR, including such spectacular events as the opening ceremony to the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

A lot of Minoan deities have ended up in the Hellenic Greek pantheon through the common process of borrowing. Rhea, Dionysus, Britomartis and Eileithyia are obvious examples, but there's a pretty good chance that Athena, Poseidon, and several others also began among the Minoans or came into existence as Bronze Age syncretisms between Minoan and Greek deities. Like many other cultures, the Greeks happily borrowed deities from practically everyone they came in contact with.

People have been traveling to Crete seasonally since at least 130,000 BCE. But Crete was permanently settled in the Neolithic era by people who came down from Anatolia in the ninth and tenth centuries BCE and has been continuously occupied since then.

DNA analysis shows that the Minoans were part of Old Europe, the original inhabitants of the continent who migrated there in successive waves during Paleolithic and Neolithic times. In other words, they weren't Indo-Europeans, but were there before the Indo-Europeans. This same DNA evidence shows that the Minoans had brown skin, brown eyes, and dark brown to black hair.

The Greeks, in contrast, were Indo-Europeans. The Mycenaeans, the earliest Greeks, migrated down through Greece to the Mediterranean and came into contact with the Minoans in the third to second millennium BCE, after Crete had already been settled and populated for more than four thousand years and had already built up cities, towns, and temple complexes all over the island.

The Mycenaeans were part of multiple waves of Indo-European migration out of the Pontic-Caspian steppe westward into Europe. The Indo-Europeans had somewhat lighter skin and hair than the Old Europeans, including the Minoans.

You should know that there's a lot of push-back in Greece about the Minoans' origins due to the difficult relationship between the modern nations of Greece and Turkey. Due to that political situation, a lot of Greeks are unwilling to accept the hard data of DNA evidence that shows that the Minoans came from Anatolia (modern Turkey) and prefer instead to believe that the Minoans were Greek, even though they weren't.

The two cultures - the Minoans and the Mycenaeans - influenced each other a great deal. OK, if we're honest, the influence mostly went in the direction of the Mycenaeans borrowing lots of their cultural markers from the Minoans: art style, writing, deities, clothing style, and so on.

The two cultures continued in contact, and conflict as well, until the destruction of the major Minoan cities by the Mycenaeans or their hired mercenaries around 1450 BCE, and then the final destruction of Knossos, possibly by a local uprising, around 1350-1300 BCE. Not long after, the so-called Greek Dark Ages (the Late Bronze Age collapse) began, and life changed so drastically that nothing resembling Minoan culture remained.

The relationship between the Minoans and the Mycenaeans is similar to that between the Druids and the Romans as well as that between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the colonizing Europeans. The Mycenaeans began by trading with the Minoans but ended by conquering, or attempting to conquer, them and destroying their culture. And most of what we know about the Minoans today comes via the Mycenaeans, who had at best an ambivalent relationship with them.

Much of the textual evidence about the Minoans has filtered down to us via the Greeks because we can't read any of the texts the literate Minoans left behind. Linear A, their writing system, has yet to be deciphered. We can read Linear B, the script the Mycenaeans used that's an adaptation of Minoan Linear A, but some of its vocabulary is still debated. And the Linear B tablets were accounting / bookkeeping records, not literary texts, so the material in them is limited.

Minoan mythology often gets lumped in with Greek mythology due to the fact that the remnants of it that are easy to access were written down by the Greeks centuries after the destruction of Minoan civilization. But including Minoan mythology in with Greek mythology makes about as much sense as including Celtic mythology in with Roman mythology because the Romans were the main ones who wrote about the Celtic gods and goddesses. The two cultures were separate and distinct. We should honor them both by recognizing their individuality.

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Laura Perry is a priestess and creator who works magic with words, paint, ink, music, textiles, and herbs. She's the founder and Temple Mom of Ariadne's Tribe, an inclusive Minoan spiritual tradition. When she's not busy drawing and writing, you can find her in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.


  • Thesseli
    Thesseli Wednesday, 12 October 2016

    Calling the Minoans 'Greek' is kind of like calling Native Americans 'European settlers'.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Wednesday, 12 October 2016


  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis Thursday, 13 October 2016

    It's not quite the same thing. For one thing, modern Greek genetics are hardly uniform and show quite a bit of influence from Africa rather than the European mainland (the predominant Y-chromosomal haplogroup in Greece, for instance, is E, rather than R or I, the haplotypes most commonly associated with Europe). And while mtDNA haplogroup H is most common in both Greece and most of Europe (and among the Minoans, according to the article linked above), it's also strongly associated with Middle Eastern populations that do not speak Indo-European languages.

    Conversely, the genetic profile of American Indians is almost completely different from that of white settlers, suggesting a much starker displacement of the original population. The most common Y-chromosomal haplogroup among the indigenous peoples of the America is Q, for instance, rather than R, and the most common mitochondrial haplogroup is A, rather than H.

    This is not to say that Laura's point is incorrect; she absolutely is right that the Minoans are not Greek. The Minoans preceded what we understand as Greek culture by several centuries, spoke a different language, and according to most of the evidence had fairly distinct practices. They should be regarded as a separate people from the Achaeans just as she says in the same manner we should regard the Sumerians as a separate group from the Akkadians who replaced them. But comparing their fate to that of the American Indians is likely ill-advised.


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  • Thesseli
    Thesseli Friday, 14 October 2016

    Wow, way to overthink a humorous observation... ;)

  • Agnes Toews-Andrews
    Agnes Toews-Andrews Saturday, 15 October 2016

    Here is a little info . . .As far as Aphrodite is concerned, she was born in Mesopotamia. She did not come into existence in Crete. She is also known as Astarte, in the M.E. Inanna and Ishtar. I am a reincarnation of her. In that lifetime about 8000 years ago, I traveled around a lot; and by my own 'wings', an apparatus attached to my back pack. I am Niburian/Pleiadian hybrid. I spent a lot of time on the Isle of Cyprus, that was one of my homes . . .

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