Eruption of Thera

The Island of Thera is part of the Santorini island group and is situated in the eastern Mediterranean 110 kilometres north of Crete. The island of Thera is what remains of a large volcano that erupted more than 3600 years ago (ca. 1600 BC). This eruption is probably one of the most severe volcanic explosions of the Holocene, the last 10,000 years, and altered the course of history of the entire Mediterranean and Europe. The explosion is categorised ar a rare catastrophic super-colossal eruption with a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 7.

Thera was not uninhabited when it erupted and sported a major urban settlement that was probably similar size to Pompeii. The town and its population were closely linked to the Minoan civilisation that had developed on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC. The Minoan culture was highly developed and they build lage towns, elaborate palaces, of which Knossos is the best known, and they were major exporters of bronze. The strategic location of Create and their bronze production had turned the Minoans into the premier trading and political power in the Mediterranean. It was powerful enough to extract tribute from the Greeks and to establish colonies on the Greek main land.

The Minoan civilisation came to an abrupt end when Thera erupted violently around 1600 BC. Earthquakes preceding the eruption must have rocked the buildings on Crete and throughout the region. The eruption caused huge tsunamis destroying coastal areas and much of the agriculture along the coast. In addition, ash layers up to 20 centimetres were deposited on Crete destroying crops and vegetation. It is also very likely that the enormous quantities of sulphur dioxide and dust thrown into the atmosphere absorbed much sunlight and depressed temperatures for several years.

The combined effect of tsunamis, ash deposition and depressed temperatures must have led to harvest failure and famine. This in turn led to a collapse of Minoan society and many of the survivors fled Crete to settle on the Greek Mainland, Egypt and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean. At the same time the Mycenaean Greeks invaded the Island and replaced the Minoan rulers at Knossos. The Greeks had no written language of their own but Minoan scribes adapted their written language to accommodate the spoken language of the new Greek rulers. Minoan refugees and emigrants aided the expansion and development of the Mycenaean Greeks by disseminating their script and culture throughout the Mycenaean world.

This suggests that the Bronze Age eruption of Thera shifted the balance of power and development from Crete to the Greek mainland thus enabling the rise of Greek culture and the values and ultimately the philosophies that have underpinned much of western civilisation.

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Eruption of Thera

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