The Thera Eruption Shaped History and Led to Today’s World
One of the most powerful eruptions in recorded history occurred in Thera, today’s Greek island of Santorini, sometime between 1642 and 1540 BC. It was four times as powerful as the gigantic Krakatoa explosion of 1883. It sundered the island of Thera, and wiped out the flourishing Minoan settlement of nearby Arkotiri and surrounding islands. That gave rise to the legend of the vanished civilization of Atlantis, which was doomed by a natural catastrophe and swallowed by the sea. Beyond legend, however, Thera’s eruption had the greatest impact of any volcanic eruption on human history. The consequences stretched far beyond its own era, with knock on effects and a chain of causation leading directly to the world in which we live today.
In addition to the immediate devastation of Thera and surrounding islands, the eruption produced powerful tsunamis that devastated Crete. That greatly weakened Crete’s Minoan civilization, led to its decline, and put it on the path to extinction. The Minoans were the Mediterranean’s greatest naval power, as well as the dominant power of the Aegean, including what became Greece and the Greek world. A trading power, the Minoans were oriented towards Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean, and were strongly influenced by those civilizations. While the Minoans flourished, the Aegean world in their thrall was by necessity oriented in the same direction, and strongly influenced by the Egyptian and eastern civilizations as well.
Thera’s eruption weakened Crete and the Minoans, creating a power vacuum in the Aegean. It was filled by the emerging Mycenaeans, in mainland Greece. The Myceneans went on to conquer Crete and destroy the Minoans, and became the dominant power of the Aegean. However, unlike the Minoans, the Mycenaeans’ energies were not focused on trade with Egypt and the Levant. Instead, they focused on colonizing the Aegean, the western coast of Asia Minor, the Black Sea coast, and the western Mediterranean.
That change of orientation significantly reduced Egyptian and eastern influences upon the Greeks. Thus, when the Greek world flourished centuries later, long after the Mycenaeans had themselves disappeared, it would do so as a civilization and culture distinct from those of Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean, not an extension and outpost of those civilizations. And since western civilization is founded upon that of the ancient Greeks, an argument could be made that today’s western civilization and its impact on the modern world would not exist but for the Thera eruption.