published on 18 January 2012
We've all heard stories about the "Lost City of Atlantis", sunken into the ocean thousands of years ago. This intellectually and technologically advanced civilization, with its electricity and sophisticated plumbing systems, was far ahead of any other ancient culture thriving during its time. Then, like a flash, it was gone, sunken at the bottom of some ocean in a catastrophic event.
Like any great myth or legend, the question always exists: Did Atlantis exist? And if so, where was it and who were they? And why is it relevant to ancient history?
One very plausible theory is that the city of Atlantis was in fact the mysterious Minoan civilization, destroyed some 3,000 years ago in a devastating volcanic eruption that had effects reaching as far as the Orient.
The island of Thera, or modern Santorini, was part of the Minoan Empire during the Bronze Age of ancient history. Located in the Aegean Sea, the island has become the best known and one of the most visited of the Minoan sites. The theory that this group of islands could have once been the "Atlantis", is very tempting, and not completely out of the realm of possibility.
Some of the strongest arguments in favor of the Thera theory of Atlantis come from two dialogues written by Greek philosopher Plato. His works Timaeus and Critias, written around the 350s BC, used the debates and conversations of characters to discuss and reveal the thinker's own thoughts and discoveries about the ancient civilization. The main character, Solon, had traveled to Egypt, where he had learned of Atlantis from priests. In Plato's works, we learn of the city's great advances, as well as its great apocalyptic demise. Plato very much believed that the civilization of Atlantis existed. But some feel that he made the whole story up.
In modern times, the theory that the island of Thera was actually the ancient civilization of Atlantis was fiercely upheld by Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos. As the chief archaeologist behind the excavations on Thera, he passionately believed in the myth begun with Plato's dialogues.
There are many strong arguments that Thera is Atlantis:
In Plato's dialogues, Atlantis was a sea-faring and peaceable civilization. Minoan archeological evidence points to the lack of weapons as well as no depictions of warfare in its artwork, which was very common in Greek art. Like Atlantis, the Minoan culture ended in a cataclysmic way. Around 1470 BC, a massive volcanic eruption left a huge crater in the center of Thera, which turned one big island into a series of smaller islands. Whatever was in the middle is on the ocean floor now. This supports the "sunken city" story. Based on Plato's description of Atlantis physically and topographically, many believe Atlantis and Thera could have been one and the same. The ritual of bull jumping commonly depicted in Minoan artwork parallels stories told by the Egyptian priests (in the legend) that describe the inhabitants of Keftiu (a city in Atlantis) of ritual bull jumping and sacrifice.
There are also some arguments against the Thera theory:
Plato made the whole story up to serve his own needs for his dialogues. Thera and Atlantis could not be the same because of dates. Plato stated in his writings that Atlantis had sunk 10,000 years earlier. In his time, the Minoan volcano would have just occurred approximately 1,000 earlier. However, this could be explained by a simple mistake in translation of Egyptian numerals on Plato's part, or even a mistake in subsequent translations of Plato's work.
The truth about Atlantis will likely never truly be known. Like so many of the fables in ancient history (the Trojan Horse, for example) it is a captivating legend that would be made even more incredible if proven true. It is not impossible to think that a civilization so advanced would have existed so long ago.