Defensive architecture of prehistoric Crete in wider context

This project proposal is a continuation of research that Tomas Alusik had previously dealt with during his PhD. The Minoan civilization – civilization of Bronze Age Crete – has been considered for a substantially long time the very peaceable one. From the very beginning of the 20th century until the end of 1970s the Minoans were believed to be a peace-loving nation with no interest in war. Therefore much less attention has been paid to other, less attractive or “minor” features of Minoan civilization, for example the sphere of defensive or military architecture or warfare. Despite some scholars have been dealing with the sphere of Minoan defensive architecture especially during the last twenty years (e.g. S. Chryssoulaki, B. Rutkowski, K. Nowicki, N. Schlager), there are still many problems and the question of Minoan fortifications cannot be considered as fully solved.

The problem of Minoan warfare and defensive architecture is a subject of some debate in the last years. For example, in April 1998 there was large conference on Bronze Age Aegean warfare held at the University of Liège, where also various problems in Minoan warfare (and defensive architecture too, of course) were discussed (Laffineur (ed.) 1999). But as with many other topics in Minoan studies, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the evidence, and there is disagreement over the meaning of the evidence we do have. But there still remain several problematic and controversial topics concerning Minoan defensive architecture and especially their context (social, historic and regional; relation between defensive architecture and warfare etc.).

The most important problem concerning Minoan defensive architecture is its general context (architectonic, regional, social, chronological etc.). Based on his participation in several excavations, and surface survey projects, many visits and observations/topographical investigations Tomas Alusik is focusing in this project on several questions in the following contexts:

  • Functional context”: To analyse the functions of individual types or structures, of individual types of settlement with defensive architecture and of this kind of architecture in general.
  • Context of living”: To study the relations and contacts among various “defensive” and “non-defensive” sites – habitation (e.g. settlements), economic (e.g. farmsteads) and religious ones (e.g. so-called peak sanctuaries); that is analyse the settlement pattern.
  • Context of warfare”: The relations between defensive architecture and the sphere of warfare – did the warfare (tactics, weaponry etc.) influence the form of defensive architecture? Was the defensive architecture built always on locations which were not quite adequate from the topographic point of view? Is the defensive architecture at all able to compensate topographic and strategic drawbacks of the place? Despite this fact, why is some defensive architecture, huge looking at sight, built on strategically inconvenient places?
  • Chronological context”: To try to establish more precise chronology is one of the most important part of further research on the Minoan defensive architecture. The majority of the buildings and defensive architecture is dated only for a consideration of the ceramics collected around the remains of the architecture and the building technique (eventually combining both), but the chronology is often not accurate, not even in the cases verified by the excavations. In the framework of this research it would be also possible to catch the change (if any) of function(s) of “defensive” sites/structures in various chronological periods.
  • Social context”: This point would examine deeper the problems and hypotheses outlined in the previous research. The most important task is to discover the reason for the construction of defensive architecture (in certain periods – piratic raids, unstable social organization (threat of riots), state of war (military reasons) or only the effort to demonstrate power and prestige and to discourage the potential attackers (psychological function))? Did the social reasons somehow influence the appearance (for example the building technique or compactness) or the form (specific architectural type) of the defensive architecture in specific localities in certain period?
  • Regional context:” Questions connected to this context are to a certain extent similar to those rising from the “context of living”. It means above all to observe the development of the defensive architecture (how many sites/structures in which periods, which types etc.) in certain geographic regions and its parts. Several appropriate model micro regions will be designated within Crete (based on topography, quantity and type of sites, including the ones with defensive architecture, and published literature) and they will be processed by detailed multistage analysis in several different ways. A general context of Minoan defensive architecture in bigger geographical units (Sitia, Lasithi Mountains etc.), even on the whole island, can be deduced afterwards, based on the results of this analysis.

The intermediate results of this project are three conference presentations: “Aspects of Aegean Bronze Age Warfare” workshop (Athens 2009), “13. Österreichischer Archäologentag” conference (Salzburg 2010 – see Alusik 2012) and “Fokus Fortifikation: Fortifications in Antiquity” conference (Athens 2012 – see Alusik in press).

Tomas Alusik has been still dealing with the study of the wider aspects of Aegean Bronze Age warfare, incl. the defensive architecture. His related activities (see “Projects” section for more information) are:

  • Defensive architecture of prehistoric Crete in wider context
  • Excavations at Choiromandres – a part of “Minoan Roads Research Programme” (2007)
  • Archäologische Geländeprospektion Südostkreta (2008)
  • Excavations in Gournia (2011)


For more information on Minoan defensive architecture and some of the above-mentioned problems and questions see:

Alusik, T. 2007: Defensive architecture of prehistoric Crete. British Achaeological Reports – International Series 1637, Oxford.

Alusik, T. 2012: Die Befestigungsanlagen der Bronzezeit im ägäisch-anatolischen Raum aus der minoischen Perspektive. In: Reinholdt, C. – Wohlmayr, W. (Hrsg.): Akten des 13. Österreichischen Archäologentages. Klassische und Frühägäische Archäologie, Paris-Lodron-Universität Salzburg, vom 25. bis 27. Februar 2010, Wien, s. 11-18.

Alusik, T. in press: Fortifications of Prehistoric Crete: The Current State of the Research. In: Frederiksen, R. et al. (eds.): Fokus Fortifikation. Proceedings of the Conference on the Research of Ancient Fortifications Organized by the International Research Network Fokus Fortifikation, Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th – 9th December 2012.

Driessen, J. – Macdonald, C. F. 1997: The Troubled Island: Minoan Crete before and after the Santorini Eruption. Aegaeum 17, Liége – Austin.

Laffineur, R. (ed.) 1999: Polemos. Le contexte guerrier en Egée a l’age du bronze. Actes de la 7e Rencontre égéenne internationale, Université de Liége, 14 – 17 avril 1998. Aegaeum 19, Liége – Austin.

Nowicki, K. 2000: Defensibles Sites in Crete c. 1200 – 800 B.C. (LM IIIB / IIIC through Early Geometric). Aegaeum 21, Liége.

Van de Maele, S. – Fossey, J. M. (eds.) 1992: Fortificationes Antiquae. McGill University Monographs in Classical Archaeology and History 12.


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