Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


14 October 2011

The Theran eruption and Minoan palatial collapse: new interpretations gained from modelling the maritime network

Carl Knappett, Ray Rivers & Tim Evans Antiquity 85 (September 2011): 1008-1023.

Abstract (from the Introduction)

We seek in this paper to provide a novel perspective on the possible causes for the demise of Cretan Bronze Age palatial society c. 1500 BC using a mathematical model developed from a previous study (Knappett et al. 2008). Various explanations have been proposed for the collapse—a tsunami generated by the Theran eruption destroying the Minoan fleet, an invasion by Mycenaean mainlanders, or internal socio-political turmoil and unrest. Today many scholars would see many such factors, natural and social, combining in some way. And although most do see some role for the Theran eruption, the fact that it took place some 50–100 years before the collapse makes it difficult to envisage what that role might have been. One persuasive argument sees indirect though insidious effects, both economic (such as ash-fall polluting the water supply and compromising crop yields in east Crete) and social, such as ideological uncertainty. However, this accounts for neither the apparent continuing prosperity at some sites, nor the robust exchange activity across the Aegean; for these and other reasons some scholars have resisted the above interpretations

We tentatively put forward a new explanation that has the advantage of accounting for both the continued prosperity post-Thera, and the eventual collapse. Our approach is based on network modelling and sees the dynamics of network exchange at the regional level as critical to the ongoing success or otherwise of the Cretan Bronze Age palatial system. We argue that the strong continuing economic activity subsequent to the eruption is in reaction to it, yet also ultimately contains the seeds of instability and collapse.


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