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22 January 2013
War was central to Europe's first civilisation

Research from the University of Sheffield (UK) shows that the ancient Minoan civilisation of Crete had strong martial traditions, contradicting the commonly held view of Minoans as a peace-loving people. The research, carried out by Dr Barry Molloy of the University's Department of Archaeology, investigated the Bronze Age people of Crete who created the very first complex urban civilisation in Europe. Molloy's research reveals that war was in fact a defining characteristic of the Minoan society, and that warrior identity was one of the dominant expressions of male identity.
     "The study shows that the activities of warriors included such diverse things as public displays of bull-leaping, boxing contests, wrestling, hunting, sparring and duelling. Ideologies of war are shown to have permeated religion, art, industry, politics and trade, and the social practices surrounding martial traditions were demonstrably a structural part of how this society evolved and how they saw themselves."
     Even the famous Mycenaeans - Greek heroes of the Trojan War - took up the Minoan ways, adopting their weaponry, practices and ideologies. "In fact," said Molloy, "it is to Crete we must look for the origin of those weapons that were to dominate Europe until the Middle Ages - namely swords, metal battle-axes, shields, spears and probably armour also." Weapons and warrior culture materialised in sanctuaries, graves, domestic units and hoards, and could also be found in portable media intended for use during social interactions. "There were few spheres of interaction in Crete that did not have a martial component, right down to the symbols used in their written scripts." says Dr Molloy.
     "When we consider war as a normative process that had cross-references and correlates in other social practices, we can begin to see warriors and warriorhood permeating the social fabric of Cretan societies at a systematic level. The social and institutional components of war impacted on settlement patterns, landscape exploitation, technological and trade networks, religious practices, art, administration and more, so that war was indirectly a constant factor in shaping the daily lives of people in prehistoric Crete... understanding the social aspects of war 'beyond the battle' is essential if we are to better understand how elites manipulated economics, religion, and violence in controlling their worlds."

Edited from The Annual of the British School at Athens (November 2012), The University of Sheffield (15 January 2013)

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