Pax Minoica and the Okinawan Peace

· Fortifications, Linear A

In the early twentieth century, the archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, proposed the Pax Minoica (Minoan Peace) to describe the evident lack of aggression among or by the Minoans [“Minoan”]. Opponents of this theory cite evidence of fortifications, weapons, and certain sports–such as boxing (see The Minoan Origin of Karate)–to bolster their positions.

However, a fortification system, such as that found at the Cretan site of Gournia, does not provide conclusive evidence that the Minoans had reason to use it. A modern parallel may be found in the Swiss army: politically neutral Switzerland is said to have more soldiers per capita than any western democracy. Military dogma states that the most effective way to preserve Switzerland’s neutrality is to keep a “powerful citizen army” [“Swiss”]. Defense is not offense.

Another way to maintain neutrality is to cultivate indispensable good will through trade. The Minoans, as a seafaring culture, traded throughout the Mediterranean. Evidence suggests that they exported wool, cloth, currants, saffron, olive oil, wine, pottery, and cypress wood; and imported ivory, copper, gold, silver, and tin [“History”]. With their large naval fleet and considerable influence in the Mediterranean, it is reasonable to assume that the Minoans acted as middlemen (agents) for their trading partners. Their prosperity would have depended upon it.

There is much debate about whether the Egyptian keftiu describes the Minoans. Sarah Morris [1992:102] states that Egyptian records depict keftiu (from the “islands in the middle of the sea”), who bring Aegean objects in the act of paying “tribute”, which was a common practice in the ancient Mediterranean. To pay tribute was to buy the right to sail unmolested by pirates or, perhaps, to make a goodwill gift to strengthen the trade relationship . The Minoans accepted this practice as the cost of doing business. Keftiu, as a tributary relationship, appears in LinA Haghia Triadha (HT) texts 7, 87, 94, and 117 as QIF.TU.NE, which may be cognate with Japanese gifuto (gift).

As did the Minoans, the Ryukyuans (collectively known as Okinawa) became prosperous through hospitable trade. Despite its tiny size, the Ryukyuan Kingdom had established amicable trade relationships throughout southeast Asia, which included China, Japan, Java, and Korea [“History Ryukyu”]. Beginning in the 15th century CE, the Ryukyuan Kingdom paid tribute to the Chinese empire. This tributary relationship is reflected in words such as koufu (tribute and taxation), kafu (agent), and kabu (tradeable rank or goodwill). Choukou, which means bringing tribute, appears to be a Chinese word. The Shimazu clan profited from this amicable relationship after its invasion of the militarily unprepared Ryukyuan Kingdom in 1609. However, loathe to upset the China/Ryukyu tributary relationship, Japan did not annex the Ryukyuan Kingdom until 1879, when the latter became the Okinawa Prefecture [“History Okinawa”].

Gusuku Wall

However, despite their hospitable natures, it is apparent that both the Minoans and the Ryukyuans recognized the need to defend themselves from aggression. Archaeologists describe the ruined fortification walls and watchtowers of Minoan Crete. According to Owen Jarus, Gournia “sits atop a low ridge with four promontories on its coastline. Two of these promontories end in high vertical cliffs that give the town a defensive advantage”. The remains indicate that the wall of the eastern promontory was 27 meters’ long and that the wall of the western promontory was two meters’ wide [Jarus]. Another example of similar fortification is described by Rodney Castleden, who indicates that Phaistos was protected on three sides by precipitous slopes [Castleden 1990:163].

Likewise, from at least the 10th century CE, the Ryukyuans built gusuku, which began as villages that were surrounded by simple stone walls. Eventually, these gusuku (probably from soko “fortress” < seki “stone”) evolved into elevated sites on fortified hillsides [“Gusuku Sites”], as may be described by the fortification system that was found at Gournia. Gusuku walls use two methods of construction: the arrangement of either uncut rock (nozura zumi) or cut rock (kiri ishi zumi) [“Gusuku”]. At Chinen gusuku, the nozura zumi wall of the old section stands between 1.5 and two meters high. The Itokazu gusuku was constructed on a limestone hill about 180 meters above sea level and features watchtowers at both the north and the south ends. The gusuku wall stands as high as two meters in some places [“Itokazu”].

Ryukyuan troubles did not end with annexation. The Battle of Okinawa, 65 years later, is estimated to have killed more people than the combined bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Before the end of World War II, the U.S began to transform Okinawa Island into a base from which to assault the mainland. After the war, Okinawa remained under U.S. control until 1972, when the U.S. government returned the Ryukyu Islands to the Japanese government. Following the return, the U.S. had reduced its military facilities in Okinawa Prefecture from 87, in May 1972, to 38 by March 1999 [“Today’s U.S. Military”].

While the number has dwindled to 34, the impact of military predominance, military accidents, and transgressions by military personnel has left the Okinawans impatient to recover their land and their peace. While Japan’s growing sense of vulnerability to China has previously created an obstacle to the reduction of U.S. facilities [“Second Battle”], in April 2012, the U.S. and Japan signed an agreement regarding the relocation of 9,000 Marines to other parts of the Pacific [“U.S. to Move”]. Nevertheless, Futenma Air Station is unaffected by these relocations, and protest regarding the base’s continued presence is promoted by groups such as the Network for Okinawa, which has spearheaded the Close the Base initiative. Interested persons may sign a petition to close the Futenma base or may send letters to their congressional representatives. Another initiative is the Okinawa Peace Prize, which is awarded to individuals who promote peace within the Asian/Pacific region. Interested persons may read the rules for eligibility.

Okinawa remains optimistic in its quest for peace. The spirit of the Okinawan peace and, perhaps, of Pax Minoica may be found in this saying: “Once we have met, we are like brothers and sisters” [“Deliver”].

Internet References:

  1. Battle of Okinawa. Ret. on 06 Oct 2011.
  2. Chinen Castle Ruins. Okinawa 2011. Ret. on 09 Oct 2011.
  3. Deliver the Spirit of Okinawa to the World. Ret. on 12 oct 2011
  4. Gusuku. The Samurai Archives: Samurai Wiki. 22 May 2011. Ret. on 28 Dec 2011 <>.
  5. Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. Ret. on 29 Dec 2011.
  6. History of Minoan Crete. Ret. on 06 Oct 2011.
  7. History of the Ryukyu Islands. Ret. on 06 Dec 2011.
  8. History (The) of Okinawa. The Sanshin Ret. on 10 Oct 2011.
  9. Itokazu Gusuku. The Samurai Archives: Samurai Wiki. 22 May 2011. Ret. on 09 Oct 2011 <>.
  10. Jarus, Owen. Crete Fortifications Debunk Myth of Peaceful Minoan Society. The Independent. 05 May 2010. Ret. 06 Oct 2011 <>.
  11. Minoan Civilization. Ret. on 07 Oct 2011.
  12. Second Battle of Okinawa Looms as China’s Naval Ambition Grows. The Guardian. 07 Mar 2011. Ret. on 10 Oct 2011.
  13. Swiss Army. Europe for Ret. on 06 Oct 2011.
  14. Today’s U.S Military Bases in Okinawa. Ret. 07 Oct 2011.
  15. U.S. to Move Marines Out of Japan. The Guardian. 27 Apr 2012. Ret. on 13 Oct 2012 <>.

Printed References:

  1. Castleden, Rodney. 1990. Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete. London: Routledge.
  2. Morris, Sarah P. 1992. Daedalos and the Origins of Greek Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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