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by Archaeology Newsroom

New maps and the ancient peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean

The way we hang up maps, that is North up and South down, a consensus regarded as a natural fact, conveys the subconscious but firm idea that the countries of the North lie higher than the countries of the South and that the people of the North are superior to those of the South. In the writings of the historians, linguists and archaeologists of the last century who formed a still effective viewpoint regarding the origins of the ancient Greek civilization, this world image is traceable and quite eloquent: southward movements are described as “downward”. According to the laws of gravity, conquerors always descend from “on high” from the manly North, flooding and submerging the swampy, passive, effeminate South. This world image has been decisive in the interpretation of philological, historical and archaeological finds concerning the relations of the Minoan with the Mycenaean civilization, as well as the provenance of the ancient Greek “nation”. Even before the Linear B script was deciphered, it was already known that the ancient Greek language consisted of two layers, one Indo-European and one not Indo-European. Under the influence of the notions mentioned before, the first, the “higher” layer which was characterized as the more purely “Greek” was attributed to the Indo-Europeans who descended from the North, while the second layer, the “pre-Hellenic” was assigned to the non Indo-European native population which was naturally under the authority of the first. However, the semantic analysis of the two lingual layers show that the terminology of the dominant layer, “άναξ” (=lord), “βασιλεύς”(=king), “ξίφος”(= sword), “θώραξ”(=cuirass), “χιτών”(=robe), “χρυσός”(=gold), is not Indo-European. This fact is also confirmed by the deciphering of the Linear B script, and reinforces Evans’ theory of the suzerainty of the “Minoans” over the already Greek-speaking Peloponnese, and also on the Minoan roots of the Mycenaean civilization, a theory rejected in haste in the light of the influence of the cartographic consensus mentioned at the beginning of this article.