The History of the Culture of War
War and the Culture of War at the Dawn of History:
Ancient Crete
5,000 years of increasing monopolization of the culture of war by the state

The History of the Culture of War

What is culture and how does it evolve?

Warfare in prehistory and its usefulness

The culture of war in prehistory

Data from prehistory before the Neolithic

Enemy images: culture or biology

War and the culture of war at the dawn of history

--Ancient Mesopotamia

--Ancient Egypt

--Ancient China

--Ancient Greece and Rome

--Ancient Crete

--Ancient Indus civilizations

--Ancient Hebrew civilization

--Ancient Central American civilization

Warfare and the origin of the State

Religion and the origin of the State

A summary of the culture of war at the dawn of history

The internal culture of war: a taboo topic

The evolution of the culture of war over the past 5,000 years: its increasing monopolization by the state

--1.Armies and armaments

--2.External conquest and exploitation: Colonialism and Neocolonialism

--3.The internal culture of war and economies based on exploitation of workers and the environment

--4.Prisons and penal systems

--5.The military-industrial complex

--6.The drugs-for-guns trade

--7.Authoritarian control

--8.Control of information

--9.Identification of an "enemy"

--10.Education for the culture of war

--11.Male domination

--12.Religion and the culture of war

--13.The arts and the culture of war



Summary of the history of the culture of war


The Minoan civilization on Crete which lasted about 600 years following 2000 BC, took a course quite different from other civilizations, prompting speculations that their culture was more like a culture of peace than a culture of war. According to the section on The Aegean World in the UNESCO history, there were no fortifications and no glorification of war :

"In the second millennium BC there were no fortifications in Crete, and the Minoan iconography depicts neither scenes of war nor even warriors [Note added by editor: extensive fortifications have been found in more recent excavations.] What is more, neither the graves nor the other Cretan environments of the time have yielded any weapons. However, the recollection of a Minoan thalassocracy [empire of the sea] was perpetuated in the traditions handed down to the Greeks by the Cretans. It is consequently assumed that an understanding prevailed among the Minoan states and that they were afforded protection against any seaborne attack by their fleet or that of their allies. This situation has been termed the pax minoica."

As mentioned earlier, there is a strong causal relation between the culture of war and the status of women. In this regard, it seems appropriate that the status of women in ancient Crete was more equal than that of women in other ancient civilizations. For example, it is remarkable that it is a woman who is leaping over the bull in the wall painting illustrated in Plate 49 in the UNESCO volume. According to the preceding source, women played important social roles:

"Cretan women took part in social and religious events and, furthermore, played an important part in society. It would, however, be rash to conclude from this that Cretan society was matriarchal . . "

Similarly, the state appears to have been less authoritarian than in other ancient civilizations. The role of the king was unlike that on the Greek mainland where "the Mycenean king, or annex, was required to be a great warrior" . .

"In the Minoan states, the king is thought to have performed the functions of priest and judge but did not wield power of any note in other matters."

In general, according to the UNESCO history, the Cretan civilization was peaceful compared to that on the mainland of Greece which, like other empires in the ancient world, was a culture of war.

"The rich repertoire of the wall paintings is an inexhaustible source of information on the flora, the fauna and the environment of the period, the dress, hairstyles, and various - economic, social, religious - activities of the inhabitants of the Aegean. Through these wall paintings the different nature of the worlds, the Minoan and the Mycenaean, emerges: that of Crete and the islands is peaceful and happy, that of the Greek mainland martial and harsh."

The civilization of Ancient Crete did employ some slaves, although it appears that unlike in other empires, they were obtained through trade rather than military conquest. Slaves are not mentioned in the UNESCO history. However a search of literature on the subject reveals that slaves had more freedom than in other empires. The Gortyn Laws (about 450 BC) that have been preserved as stone inscriptions in Crete make reference to rights of marriage and property: "XI. If a slave going to a free woman shall wed her, the children shall be free; but if the free woman to a slave, the children shall be slaves; and if from the same mother free and slave children be born, if the mother die and there be property, the free children shall have it; otherwise her free relatives shall succeed to it."

The roles of master and slave were reversed during the Hermaia festival in Crete as inscribed on an ancient altar and described on the Kairatos Internet site (see references). "In the Hermaia festival the slaves were enjoying in the houses of their masters, and the masters had to serve them. At first, this was ritual procedure, but later it became custom and part of the tradition." And according to Versnel (1990), "Ephoros even knows of a festival in Kydonia on Crete where the serfs, the Klarotes, could lord it in the city while the citizens stayed outside. The slaves were also allowed to whip the citizens, probably those who had recklessly remained in the city or re-entered it."

To take part in a discussion about this page, click below on the Culture of Peace Dialogues:

discussion board

World Peace through the Town Hall


1) The difference between "peace" and "culture of peace" and a brief history of the culture of war

2) The role of the individual in culture of war and culture of peace

3) Why the state cannot create a culture of peace

4) The important role of civil society in creating a culture of peace

--Peace and disarmament movements

--Ecology movement

--Movements for human rights

--Democracy movements

--Women's movement

--International understanding, tolerance and solidarity

--Movements for free flow of information

--The strengths and weaknesses of civil society

5) The basic and essential role of local government in culture of peace

--Sustainable development

--Human rights

--Democratic participation

--Women's equality


--Transparency and the free flow of information

--Education for a culture of peace

--Security and public safety

--Some ongoing initiatives

6) Assessing progress toward a culture of peace at the local level

--Culture of peace measurement at the level of the state

7) Going global: networking of city culture of peace commissions

8) The future transition of the United Nations from control by states to popular control through local governmental representatives

9) What would a culture of peace be like?