THE EVIDENCE OF MILITARY TRAUMAS IN THE MINOAN AND MYCENAEAN BURIALS

Spyros Bakas

Archaeological Institute of the University of Warsaw
Association of Historical Studies KORYVANTES

 

INTRODUCTION

The Mycenaean society was based much on centralized socio-political organization, hierarchical levels on governing and warfare, with a bold militaristic character. The sources for military activity of the Mycenaeans can been identified in Linear B tablets, on artifacts, and by their burials with weaponry. The Mycenaean military structure can been classified in at least two major classes: a «warrior aristocracy» based mostly on weapons and other rich goods being found together in graves, and more ordinary soldiers who have been described in Linear B tablets. Moreover Linear B tablets refer to the “wanaxes” who were “warrior-kings” [1],  to the  “lawagetas” [2] and the “eqetas” [3] who were high-rank warriors and leaders.

Minoan civilization till recently was considered as peaceful society with no significant militaristic attribution. Modern studies though have proved the opposite as the Minoans have been revealed to be very familiar to war, with great organizational structures on massive armor constructions and military activities [4]. This brief study will try to approach the issue of military traumas and injuries in the Minoan and Mycenaean World attempting to include all the known archaeological records from burials.

 

THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE

The survived archeological skeletal evidence of militarism in the Bronze Age Greece is limited and mostly based on individual examples spreaded in few burials across Aegean area. Moreover the use of the the sword/dagger  -the most common weapon of the Aegean Bronze Age –  in battle due to its special technical use cannot provide us clear results based on the bone marks. As Molloy notes:” In fact, most effective attacks would have been against soft-tissue targets, such as the flesh of the forearms, neck, abdomen, or legs, but rarely seeking to injure bones. In relation to osteological analysis, the repercussions of this are that most forms of sword attack result in soft-tissue traumas that may be difficult to recognize or differentiate from slight excavation damage on bones.” [5] Therefore in some cases that are going to be noted we cannot be certain about the exact causes of some bone marks. Nevertheless there are several examples of clear bone cuts that can be identified as weapon cuts or thrusts.

Some of the most significant examples of burials come from the Mycenaean Athens.  In the area of the Athens’s Agora there are forty-four separate tombs or graves, 34 of which contained human skeletal remains. The majority of the tombs date to the Late Helladic (LH) III period (1400-1125 B.C.), while three tombs dating perhaps into the LH I-LH II (1550-1450 B.C.). The burials vary in style, size, and contents.

 

The author , wearing the reconstructed “Dendra Cuirass” (15 Century BC) , courtesy of Association KORYVANTES, testing the usage of the  Mycenean Spear “Eghos” (Greek “Έγχος”). The Skeleton noted as “AA 28″ from Athens could have been injured by a such weapon.

The author , wearing the reconstructed “Dendra Cuirass” (15 Century BC) , courtesy of Association KORYVANTES, testing the usage of the Mycenean Spear “Eghos” (Greek “Έγχος”). The Skeleton noted as “AA 28″ from Athens could have been injured by a such weapon.

Three of the skeletons from this cemetery have evidence of trauma that might have been the result of military activity. According to Kirkpatrick the skeleton noted as “AA 41” is the only one from a burial with weapons that had an injury that might have resulted from combat. He has a healed fracture of one of the middle ribs on the left side. An injury to the left side of the body is consistent with an injury from a right-handed assailant [6]. The skeleton noted as “AA 28” has been identified as a middle-aged male from tomb XXXVI who according to Angel has a military role :“without much doubt this Athenian was a warrior: a rounded wound depression in the posterior rim of the joint socket of the right shoulder-blade might easily result from arrow or spear thrust from behind” [7]. It is also noted that a healed fracture of the right radius, which Angel suggests might be the result of a direct force being applied during a fight.

The skeleton noted as “AA 134” is a 17-19 year old male. He has three head wounds, two with evidence of healing and one that is perimortem and likely the cause of death. The healed fractures, on the left frontal superior to the superior margin of the orbit, and at the left pterion region, have smooth margins with no evidence of infection. As Kirkpatrick notes “The skeletal evidence indicates that this young man engaged in combat at least twice in his life”. The two first healed wounds are consistent with sword wounds, both weapons that are found at the Agora from this time. The third wound which is a circular depression, is consistent with an injury from a sling stone while sling stones have not been found at the Agora of Athens [8]. Moreover, commingled males and females noted as “AA 45” from tomb IV present healed fractures to left metacarpals I and IV.  It is probable that these are both from the same male individual, but this is not definite. Although those traumas do not have any evidence of a weapon wound, it is difficult to say how they were broken and if they are associated for sure with a military activity.

Τhe Mycenaean Citadel and the Grave Circle “A” provide us also additional elements on this issue. The dead noted as “ N” in Grave III , has been identified as a man aged between 35-45 years old based on the evidence of cranial sutures. The left ulna of this man showed stress identifications [9]. This means that the “N” dead systematically accepted pressures in the left hand. This phenomenon is common in populations have to do with the handling of weapons, such as swords and shields. Probably he was carrying one of the heavy Mycenaean “tower shields” or “eight-shaped shields” that were difficult to be handled without a baldric. The extreme pressure of this massive equipment would provide serious pressure to his ulna area.

Injuries related to military activities can be even identified from the early Bronze Age. The human remains from the Hagios Charalambos cave in Crete, dated to the Middle Minoan period, present a large and unusually well preserved collection of cranial traumas. It is one of the most critical arguments on the military character of the Minoan Society, emerging the brutal fighting customs of those times.  There are at least 16 cases of cranial trauma while some of them are certainly deliberate injuries [10]. The majority of cases involve men. Many injuries are on the frontal or on the left parietal, consistent with an instinctive rightward turn of the head to avoid probably a missile or to avoid a blow from a right-handed assailant.

 An adult female noted as no 1032 present two shallow depressions/traumas on the left side of the frontal bone. One is elliptical the shape implies a blow at close range with an offensive weapon [11]. A female noted as no. 1033, has a deep trauma on the midline of the frontal bone, caused by a pointed object [12]. The female noted as 8121 sustained a blow to the left side of the forehead above the orbit, inflicted perhaps by a blunt instrument, causing distortion of the shape of the frontal bone [13]. One male noted as 8065 has an incision or cut mark over the midline of the forehead below the hairline, caused by the tip of a blade, which probably only perforated the external surface of the bone. As Chlouveraki et all note: «The wound may have been caused by a knife, the tip of a dagger or sword, or possibly even an arrowhead.”

Α man noted as no 8050  has a slight depression over the right eye with osteitis on the external surface of the bone and a depression over the right sinus area , while another male no 8136 has a trauma on the frontal bone [14]. A man noted as no 6000 has a deep circular depressed frontal cranial trauma. The internal cranial table has been correspondingly displaced inward, apparently without splintering. This person seems to have survived his injury [15]. A male noted as no AX15/13 provides evidence for multiple cranial traumas. Two separate depressions, one deeper than the other, were observed above the corner of the left orbit. On the left frontal, about 2 cm from the bregma, is a small circular lesion. There is an irregular bone surface on the anterior right parietal behind the coronal suture. As Chlouveraki et all note again: “A blow or blows must have come from above” [16]. A male noted as no. AX 14/18 shows evidence of having sustained a serious cranial injury. A right temporal-parietal fracture caused by a severe trauma to the right side of the head, which had displaced the bone inward, had healed [17].

A very interesting example of skeletal evidence of militarism of the Hagios Charalambpos cave is the male noted as 1012. He presented three traumas on the left side of the cranium: one is on the left parietal and two are on the left frontal bone. There are several possible explanations for these wounds. All three wounds may have been inflicted by an attacker (or attackers) who delivered three separate blows. All three wounds have porotic lesions and show a similar state of healing at the time of death, which indicates that they were probably all sustained on the same occasion and that the man survived these injuries. Chlouveraki et all assume that “the fact that there are multiple wounds on the left side of the skull suggests that they are unlikely to have been accidental and must have been caused by deliberate attack” [18]. A male noted as no 8124 present us a case where a large part of the skull has been removed. A blow or several blows probably shattered the left parietal, causing inward displacement of the fractured bone. The extensive shattering necessitated the removal of a large section of the cranial table. By rotating the bone there are visible marks and the relatively smooth, remodeled edge of the bone [19].

Reconstruction of Mycenaean Warrior Armour of Late Bronze Age Era (1300-1200 BC)from a Middle Eastern Colony. The Armour is based onan interpretation of the “Pylos tablets” and the newly discovered “Thebes Arsenal”. The “Epsilon Blade” Axe is based on exhibits  from the National Archaeological Museum . This type of axe was  used in the eastern Mediteranean from the 2nd millenium BC and could cause serious damages to the enemy . The man noted as “6000” from the  Hagios Charalambos cave in Crete could have injured by such a weapon.

Reconstruction of Mycenaean Warrior Armour of Late Bronze Age Era (1300-1200 BC)from a Middle Eastern Colony. The Armour is based onan interpretation of the “Pylos tablets” and the newly discovered “Thebes Arsenal”. The “Epsilon Blade” Axe is based on exhibits from the National Archaeological Museum . This type of axe was used in the eastern Mediteranean from the 2nd millenium BC and could cause serious damages to the enemy . The man noted as “6000” from the Hagios Charalambos cave in Crete could have been injured by such a weapon.

CONCLUSIONS

The Greek Bronze Age was a period of significant military activity. The limited archaeological records on military traumas through burial remnants though , do not help us on exaggerating generalized results on the type of  warfare and the use of the weapons in battle. Most of the Mycenaean examples of military traumas refer to parts of the body like ulna, shoulder, rib. The evidence of military traumas from the Minoan burials mostly refer to the skull , while there are also examples of scull traumas from the Mycenaean burials(dead noted as “AA 134”). This comes in accordance with what is thoroughly described by Homer. Even if there will be always a debate on the exact period of reference of Homer’s Epics we can find interesting correlations regarding the Late Greek Bronze Age Warfare. A detailed record of the injuries in the Homer’s Epics prove that the cranial area was one of the most preferred as an attack blow. From the total 54 injuries described in Iliad and Odyssey, twenty-nine injuries involved the head, 22 the neck and 3 both areas [20], while another statistic provides us that there were 39 fatal injuries to the head, face and cervical spine [21].

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] Fields, N. , “Mycenaean Citadels, c 1350 -1200BC”, Osprey Publishing ,2004, p57

[2] Olsen B. “Women in Mycenaean Greece. The Linear B Tablets from Pylos and Knossos”. Routledge Publishing, New York,2014, p63

[3] Donlan W. “The Aristocratic Ideal and Selected Papers”, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Chicago, 1999, p301

[4] Molloy B. “Martial Minoans. War as social process. Practice and Event in Bronze Age Crete”, the annual of the British School of Athens. Volume 107, November 2012, p131

[5] Molloy B. “Swords and Swordsmanship in the Aegean Bronze Age”. American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 114, No. 3 (July 2010), p422

[6] Kirkpatrick S.  “Skeletal Evidence for Militarism in Mycenaean Athens”, Hesperia Supplements, Vol. 43, New Directions in the Skeletal Biology of Greece” (2009), p104

[7] Angel J.L “Skeletal Material from Attica”, Hesperia 14, 1945, p297

[8] Kirkpatrick S.  “Skeletal Evidence for Militarism in Mycenaean Athens”, Hesperia Supplements, Vol. 43, New Directions in the Skeletal Biology of Greece” (2009), p106

[9] Papazoglou-Manioudaki , 2010, “Mycenae Revisited Part 3: The human remains from Grave Circle A at Mycenae. Behind the masks: a study of the bones from Shaft Graves I-VI”. Annual of the British School of Athens, pp 172-175

[10] Chlouveraki et all, “Excavations in the Hagios Charalambos Cave: A Preliminary Report” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2008), p581

[11] Chlouveraki et all, “Excavations in the Hagios Charalambos Cave: A Preliminary Report” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2008), p582

[12] Chlouveraki et all, “Excavations in the Hagios Charalambos Cave: A Preliminary Report” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2008), p582

[13] Chlouveraki et all, “Excavations in the Hagios Charalambos Cave: A Preliminary Report” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2008), p581

[14] Chlouveraki et all, “Excavations in the Hagios Charalambos Cave: A Preliminary Report” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2008), p582

[15] Chlouveraki et all, “Excavations in the Hagios Charalambos Cave: A Preliminary Report” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2008), p583

[16] Chlouveraki et all, “Excavations in the Hagios Charalambos Cave: A Preliminary Report” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2008), p586

[17] Chlouveraki et all, “Excavations in the Hagios Charalambos Cave: A Preliminary Report” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2008), p587

[18] Chlouveraki et all, “Excavations in the Hagios Charalambos Cave: A Preliminary Report” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2008), p589

[19] Chlouveraki et all, “Excavations in the Hagios Charalambos Cave: A Preliminary Report” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2008), p591

[20] Sapounakis  J et all. “Injuries to the head and neck in Homer’s Iliad”, British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery 45 (2007) p114

[21] Konsolaki E. et all “Cranial trauma in ancient Greece: From Homer to classical authors”, Journal of Cranio-Maxillo-Facial Surgery (2010) 38, P549

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Angel J.L “Skeletal Material from Attica”, Hesperia 14, 1945
  2. Chlouveraki et all, “Excavations in the Hagios Charalambos Cave: A Preliminary Report” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2008)
  3. Donlan W. “The Aristocratic Ideal and Selected Papers”, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Chicago, 1999
  4. Fields, N. , “Mycenaean Citadels, c 1350 -1200BC”, Osprey Publishing ,2004
  5. Konsolaki E. “Cranial trauma in ancient Greece: From Homer to classical authors”, Journal of Cranio-Maxillo-Facial Surgery (2010) 38
  6. Kirkpatrick S. “Skeletal Evidence for Militarism in Mycenaean Athens”, Hesperia Supplements, Vol. 43, New Directions in the Skeletal Biology of Greece” (2009)
  7. Molloy B. “Martial Minoans. War as social process. Practice and Event in Bronze Age Crete”, the annual of the British School of Athens. Volume 107, November 2012
  8. Molloy B. “Swords and Swordsmanship in the Aegean Bronze Age”. American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 114, No. 3 (July 2010)
  9. Olsen B. “Women in Mycenaean Greece. The Linear B Tablets from Pylos and Knossos”. Routledge Publishing, New York,2014
  10. Papazoglou-Manioudaki , 2010, “Mycenae Revisited Part 3: The human remains from Grave Circle A at Mycenae. Behind the masks: a study of the bones from Shaft Graves I-VI”. Annual of the British School of Athens
  11. Sapounakis J et all. “Injuries to the head and neck in Homer’s Iliad”, British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery 45 (2007)

 

 

The Author

Spyros Bakas is a postgraduate student of the Archaeological Institute of the University of Warsaw and member of the Association of Historical Studies KORYVANTES.

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PUBLISHING INFORMATION

 

 

Copyright of KORYVANTES Association – do not copy or reproduce without permission

One thought on “THE EVIDENCE OF MILITARY TRAUMAS IN THE MINOAN AND MYCENAEAN BURIALS

  1. Hi Spyros and Adonis, You may be interested to know that when working at the Instapec Center for East Crete I worked on the bones and sculls from the ‘ Hagios Charalambos Cave’ . I was particularly interested at the evidence I saw of wounds especially to the skulls. It was a very interesting project although bones are not usually my forte.

    Μου αρέσει!

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