[Seph. meen-yahn; Ashk., Eng. min-yuhn]

According to Greek mythology, the Minyans (Greek: Μινύες) were an autochthonous group inhabiting the Aegean region. However, the extent to which the prehistory of the Aegean world is reflected in literary accounts of legendary peoples is subject to repeated revision.

Before World War II, archaeologists sometimes applied the term "Minyans" differently, to indicate the very first wave of Proto-Greek speakers in the 2nd millennium BCE, among the early Bronze Age cultures sometimes identified with the beginning of Middle Helladic culture. Gray "Minyan ware" is an archaeologist's term for a particular style of Aegean pottery associated with the Middle Helladic period (ca. 2100–1550 BCE). Thus the beginning of the Middle Helladic period would be marked by the immigration of these "Minyans". According to Emily Vermeule, this was the first wave of true Hellenes in Greece. More recently, however, archaeologists and paleoethnologists find the term "Minyan" to be questionable: "To call the makers of Minyan ware themselves 'Minyans' is reprehensible", remarked F. H. Stubbings. "Deriving ethnic names from pottery styles is one of the most deplorable habits in archaeology," F. J. Tritsch asserted in 1974. "We cheerfully speak of the 'Minyans' when we mean a population that uses pottery we call 'Minyan'," although he was mistaken in saying that the Greeks themselves never mention the 'Minyans' as a tribe or as a people.

The Mycenaean Greeks reached Crete as early as 1450 BCE. Greek presence on the mainland, however, dates to 1600 BCE as shown in the latest shaft graves, if material culture can be securely linked to language-based ethnicity. Other aspects of the "Minyan" period appear to arrive from northern Greece and the Balkans (tumulus graves, perforated stone axes). According to John L. Caskey's archaeological excavations conducted in the 1950s, evidence has emerged linking the proto-Greeks to the bearers of the "Minyan" (or Middle Helladic) culture.

Classical Greek uses of "Minyans"

Greeks did not always clearly distinguish the Minyans from the Pelasgian cultures that had preceded them. Greek mythographers gave the Minyans an eponymous founder, Minyas, perhaps as legendary as Pelasgus (the founding father of the Pelasgians), which was a broader category of pre-Greek Aegean peoples. These Minyans were associated with Boeotian Orchomenus, as when Pausanias relates that "Teos used to be inhabited by Minyans of Orchomenus, who came to it with Athamas and may have represented a ruling dynasty or a tribe later located in Boeotia.

Herodotus asserts several times that Pelasgians dwelt in the distant past with the Athenians in Attica, and that those Pelasgians driven from Attica in turn drove the Minyans out of Lemnos.

Heracles, the hero whose exploits always celebrate the new Olympian order over the old traditions, came to Thebes, one of the ancient Mycenaean cities of Greece, and found that the Greeks were paying tribute of 100 cattle (a hecatomb) each year to Erginus, king of the Minyans. Heracles attacked a group of emissaries from the Minyans, and cut off their ears, noses and hands. He then tied them around their necks and told them to take those for tribute to Erginus. Erginus made war on Thebes, but Heracles defeated the Minyans with his fellow Thebans after arming them with weapons that had been dedicated in temples. This behavior showed that Bronze Age rules of social decorum were over: Erginus was killed and the Minyans were forced to pay double the previous tribute to the Thebans. And Heracles was credited with the burning of the palace at Orchomenus: "Then appearing unawares before the city of the Orchomenians and slipping in at their gates he burned the palace of the Minyans and razed the city to the ground.

The Argonauts were sometimes referred to as "Minyans because Jason's mother came from that line, and several of his cousins joined in the adventure.

Archaeological evidence

When John L. Caskey of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens outlined the results of his excavations at Lerna from 1952 up until 1958, he stated that the hallmarks of Middle Helladic culture (i.e. Gray Minyan ware and the fast potter's wheel) may have originated from Early Helladic III. Caskey also states that Lerna (along with settlements at Tiryns, Asine in the Argolid, Agios Kosmas near Athens, and perhaps Corinth) was destroyed at the end of Early Helladic II. He suggested that the invaders of Early Helladic II settlements may have been Greeks speaking a prototype of the later Greek language. However, there is evidence of destruction at the end of the Early Helladic III period at Korakou (near Corinth) and Eutresis in Boeotia. Nevertheless, Caskey finds the Middle Helladic people to be the direct ancestors of the Myceneans and later Greeks.

Of course, scholars question Caskey's suggestion that (proto-Greek) Indo-European invaders destroyed Early Helladic II settlements in Greece. In fact, the layers of destruction Caskey found at Lerna and Tiryns were ultimately attributed to fire. Moreover, there are indications of Early Helladic II culture being directly succeeded by Early Helladic III culture. Overall, this indicates the strong possibility that the progenitors and founders of "Minyan culture" were an autochthonous group.


See also


  • Caskey, John L. "The Early Helladic Period in the Argolid". Hesperia, Vol. 29, No. 3. (July–September, 1960), pp. 285–303.
  • Dietrich, Bernard Clive. The Origins of Greek Religion. Walter de Gruyter, 1974. ISBN 3110039826
  • H. J. Walker (translator). Memorable Deeds and Sayings: One Thousand Tales from Ancient Rome By Valerius Maximus. Rome: Hackett Publishing, 2004, p. 146–149. ISBN 0872206742 Translation of Valerius Maximus. Factorum et dictorum memorabilium in particular, iv and ix.
  • Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
  • Hood, M. S. F. "Archaeology in Greece". Archaeological Reports, No. 7 (1960), pp. 3–35.

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