The contradiction between nature and culture is one of the most influential sources of human need to develop social and technical spheres of life. In fact, all struggles between different social groups are nothing in comparison with this great competition, which lasts since the first people understood they are not equal to other animals and belong to nature only partially. People try to conquer their internal nature and transform the outer natural world into different valuable tools and devices that could make human adaptive processes easier through comfort and functionality. However, despite all advantages over other animals and cultural contributions, humans still belong to the natural world as its small part, and the natural processes can destroy a civilization or just affect its development inevitably as well as inevitable fate can. For example, the volcanic activity of the Earth is the source of great and damaging power. It shows that relationships between people and nature can be very dramatic since there were many times when nature determined the direction of human history development. This paper is an attempt to describe the impact on the history of one of the greatest volcanic eruptions – the eruption of Thera. The volcanic catastrophe of Thera caused the end of Minoan civilization, and allowed the classic Greece to appear as the new cultural center of the world.
Thera is an island situated in Santorini island group in the eastern Mediterranean near Crete. There is no data to define the date of the eruption; according to researches, it took place approximately in 1645-1500 BC, during the flourishing and dominating of Minoan civilization in Mediterranean Sea. Jan Oosthoek (n.d.) claims it probably was “one of the most severe volcanic explosions of the Holocene, the last 10000 years, and altered the history of the entire Mediterranean and Europe”. In Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), it has the sixth grade of total eight. The researchers divide that volcanic explosion into four stages, each of which had some specific features of the process; the first of them was the diffusion of dust (dry eruption), while the other stages were connected with the magmatic damaging activity. The geological result of the eruption is not so important (there appeared some magmatic tuffs, and the Mediterranean Sea changed its form in some respect) since the most significant is the eruption’s impact on the political and economic situation of the territory and the human history in general.
To understand the high significance of the Minoan eruption, it is important to underline that Thera was near Crete, the center of Minoan civilization, which controlled the Mediterranean Sea and had the most developed culture in the region during the Bronze Age. There was a city on Thera, submitted to the Minoan rulers’ power; thus, it was a part economic and political fundament of Minoan empire. The contributions of Minoan technics (especially in the field of metallurgy) and culture (there are still many outstanding pieces of Cretan art in museums) allowed this state to conduct trade and have political relations with other great states, such as Egypt, and to dictate its rules to small cities of the eastern Mediterranean, especially concerning the naval affairs. The Mycenaean civilization, which appeared at the same time in the Greek mainland, yielded to Crete in all dimensions except one: its geographical localization, which became the cause of Minoan civilization’s decline.
The first stage of the eruption of Thera caused the huge veil of dust that did not allow the sunshine to reach the ground in the region. According to Oosthoek (n.d.), the region was in darkness for several years; because of this, there was very low temperature, and the ash layer fell on the ground and oppressed the plants. Such situation caused the decline of agricultural prosperity of Cretan people, and therefore, the economic crisis. More serious problems came with the next stages of eruption, when magma transformed the island, and great earthquakes with tsunamis destroyed Cretan fleet and everything they could destroy. There were no direct victims because people left Thera before the eruption, but there were many victims because of the eruption’s influence. The great state collapsed, and there was no way to save the Minoan civilization from disappearance and assimilation with others. Most of Cretans left their native land and moved to the eastern Greek mainland, Egypt and other available lands. At last, the Mycenaean civilization took control over Crete (when the volcanic activity became not so damaging), and this change of political, economic and cultural balance caused the dominance of Greeks in the region. As a result, the Greek philosophy and science in their Western forms were created. In fact, the eruption of Thera replaced the only one significant opponent of Greeks and allowed them become the leaders in the Mediterranean.
There are many possible cultural traces and representations of the eruption of Thera. The most famous one of them can be found in the Bible and in Plato’s writings. According to modern researches, the author of the Biblical book of Exodus could interpret the dust veil and other results of that huge eruption as one of the so-called “Egyptian plagues” that God sent to punish pharaoh, who did not let Moses to release his people. Certainly, such interpretation can be reasonable because Oosthoek (n.d.) claims that the effect of the eruption was very huge and reached Egypt. Another interesting mythological interpretation of this eruption is a famous tale about Atlantis, the state of powerful people whose civilization disappeared because of their island’s immersion in the sea. Plato told the dramatic story about Atlantis as something he heard from Egyptians, and such reference is also very reasonable and makes sense.
The Minoan civilization disappeared three and a half thousand years ago. Besides, the example of the Minoan eruption still serves through both the scientific researches and literature as a symbol of human powerlessness in front of boundless influence of nature. The volcano eruption in Thera is the best illustration that human’s power over the nature is only an illusion.
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