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 school 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, both gods and goddesses, have ended up in the Hellenic Greek pantheon through the very common process of borrowing. Rhea and Dionysus are obvious examples but there's a pretty good chance that Athena, Poseidon, Aphrodite, and several others also began their existence among the Minoans or came into existence as syncretisms between Minoan and Greek deities. Like many other cultures, the Greeks happily borrowed deities from practically everyone they came in contact with. So it's easy to see why people might think the Minoans were Greek.

But Crete was settled in Neolithic times (6000-5000 BCE) by people who came down from Anatolia 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 came there in successive waves during Paleolithic and Neolithic times. In other words, they weren't Indo-Europeans, but were there before the Indo-Europeans.

The Greeks, in contrast, were Indo-Europeans. The Mycenaeans, the earliest Greeks, came down through Greece to the Mediterranean and came into contact with the Minoans around the middle of the 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 two cultures influenced each other (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) and continued in contact, and apparently conflict as well, until Minoan civilization collapsed and the so-called Greek Dark Ages began.

An awful lot of what we know about the Minoans has filtered down to us via the Greeks - Homer and later writers who lived centuries after the fall of Minoan civilization - because we simply can't read any of the texts the literate Minoans left behind. Linear A, their writing system, has yet to be deciphered, though we can read Linear B, the script the Mycenaeans used that's an adaptation of Minoan Linear A.

So Minoan mythology often gets lumped in with Greek mythology simply due to the fact that the remnants of it that are easy to access were written by the Greeks. 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.

So no, the Minoans weren't Greek. Please make a note of that. Thanks.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.