National Geographic : 1912 Jan
THE SEA-KINGS OF CRETE around the island coast, keeping the Minoan peace of the IEgean. THE MINOANS WERE NOT WARLIKE So long as the war-fleet of Minos was in being, Knossos needed no fortifica tions. No expedition of any size could force a landing on the island. If the crew of a chance pirate galley, desperate with hunger or tempted by reports of the wealth of the great palace, succeeded in eluding the vigilance of the Minoan cruisers and made a swift rush up from the coast, there was the bastion with its armed guard, enough to deal with the handful of men who could be detached for such a dare-devil enterprise. But in the fleet of Knossos was her fate, and if once the fleet failed she had no second line of defense on which to rely against any serious attack. There is every evi dence that the fleet did fail at last (see page 22). So far as the evidence goes, the Mi noan Empire does not appear to have been a specially warlike one. No doubt there was a good deal of fighting in its history, as was the case with all ancient empires; but the insular position of Crete and the predominance which the Minoan navy established on the sea saved the island empire from the neces sity of becoming a great military power, and the absence of spirit of militarism is reflected in the national art. While an Assyrian palace would have been decorated from end to end with pictures of barbarous bloodshed and plunder, while even the milder Egyptians would have adorned their walls with records of the conquests of their Pha raohs, the kings of the house of Minos turned to other and more gentle scenes for the decoration of their homes. Flower-gatherers and dancing-girls, har vest festivals and religious processions, appealed to their minds far more than the endless and monotonous succession of horrors with which the Mesopotamian monarchs delighted to disfigure their walls; and even the sangers of the bull ring, as seen on the Knossian frescoes, are mild and gentle when compared with the abominations where Teumman has his head sawed off with a short dagger and other unfortunates are flayed alive or have their tongues torn out. The archives of the palace at Knossos certainly show that a military force was kept on foot and was thoroughly organ ized and well looked after. There are records of numbers of chariots, and of the issue of equipments to the chariot eers of the force; and many of the tab lets refer to stores of lances, swords, bows, and arrows, a store of nearly 9,000 arrows being mentioned in one of the finds, while an actual magazine contain ing hundreds of bronze arrow-heads has been discovered. We may remember that in ancient warfare the Cretan bowmen were as fa mous as the Balearic slingers or the archers of England. On the whole, however, the genius of the Minoans, like our own, was more commercial than military, though no doubt they were not devoid of the fighting spirit when occa sion arose. Their kinsmen of Mycenae and Tiryns, less happily situated, were forced to develop the military side of life; but the position and the maritime power of Crete secured for the fortu nate island those long centuries of tran quil growth which were so fruitful in the arts of peace. A TERRIBLE CATASTROPHE SUDDENLY OVERWHELMED THE EMPIRE Probably the power and grandeur of the Minoan Empire was never more im posing than during the hundred years before 1400 B. C. The house of Minos at Knossos had reached its full develop ment, and stood in all its splendor, an imposing mass of buildings crowning the hill of Kephala, with its five stories, around the great central court, its the atral area, and its outlying dependencies. Within its spacious porticoes and cor ridors the walls glowed with the brilliant colors of innumerable frescoes and re liefs in colored plaster. The cup-bearer, the queen's procession, the miniature frescoes of the palace sports, stood out in all their freshness. Magnificent urns in painted pottery, with reliefs like those of the great papyrus vase, decorated the halls and courts, and were rivaled by huge stone amphorae, exquisitely carved.