A modern reconstruction of the Argo, the ship of the Argonauts or rather their flagship, by the Historical Association “Argonauts 2008”. Argo was an early Bronze Age penteconter.
By Periklis Deligiannis
CONTINUED FROM PART I
As it was mentioned, the Argonauts docked at first in Lemnos Island, where Jason had a love affair with the local queen Hypsipyle with whom he had two sons. This episode is sometimes interpreted as a Minyan colonization of Lemnos and the neighbouring and closely related island of Imbros. During the Trojan War, the people of the two islands were not sided with the Mycenaeans, at least from the beginning of the war, but that does not mean that they were not akin to them. The reason is that the mentioned islands were near the coasts of the Troad and Thrace (most of the Thracians were allies of the Trojans) and thereby they were obliged (or threatened) to join the Trojan alliance. It is also very plausible that the mercantile and geopolitical interests of the Lemnians and the Imbrians were identical to those of the Trojans. Other ancient literary sources inform us that after the destruction of Troy, Lemnos and Imbros were occupied by Pelasgians who actually were non-Greek Tyrsenians from Lydia, kinsmen of the Etruscans of Italy. It is obvious that the Pelasgi/Tyrsenians evicted the Minyan settlers from the two islands. In the Archaic period the latter became Greek again, when the Athenians occupied them evicting their Tyrrhenian/Tyrsenian inhabitants and colonizing them.
After Lemnos, the Argonauts anchored at the island of Samothrace very close to the Thracian coasts, then crossed the Hellespont and from there they faced adventures in the territories of the Doliones, the Bebryces and the city-principality of Salmydessos, which they lie on the south coasts of the Propontis (Sea of Marmara) with the probable exception of the latter. Next the Argonauts crossed the perilous strait of the Symplegades (probably the modern Bosphorus in Turkey) and thus managed to reach the Black Sea. There, they first docked in the land of the Mariandyni tribe at the north coast of Asia Minor. The aforementioned peoples of the south Propontis coasts were rather of proto-Phrygian and proto-Thracian stock who had already settled in Asia Minor, while the country of the Mariandyni can be identified with the one of the Palaites (the land Pa(ph)la, the subsequent Classical Paphlagonia) or even of the Gasga (Kaska) mentioned in the Hittite royal archives at Hattusas.
Finally Jason and his men sailed to Colchis, probably on the eastern coasts of the Black Sea, at the foot of the Caucasus. The dangers and struggles that Jason and the Argonauts faced in Colchis and their subsequent escape with the Golden Fleece, rather reflect their martial confrontations with the natives, and the ultimate success of their campaign. Princess Medea’s assistance to Jason possibly represents some Colchian dissidents who opposed the king (the legendary Aietes), although the aid of a princess (or generally a woman with power) to the occasional mythical hero with whom she always has a love affair, is a common element in the Greek myths and deserves no interpretation.
A question arises: if the expedition succeeded, what was the reason that not any later Mycenaean naval missions or campaigns took place in the Black Sea? (at least not mentioned in the Greek literature). The answer rather lies in the gradual strengthening of Troy VI and her maritime control on the Hellespont straits. The new powerful Troy and her allies closed the ‘sea gates’ to the Black Sea for centuries, until her final destruction by the Achaeans at the end of the Trojan War (mid-13th century BC in my opinion, which I analyzed in my book: ‘The Trojan War’).
In the List of the Argonauts (Table in Part I) there are eight Minyan heroes, seven Lapiths, seven Achaeans and probably seven Danaans. The Danaan and Achaean heroes are localized in a few areas (Southeast Thessaly, Laconia, Argolis and Salamis), while the Minyans and the Lapiths are more dispersed, which evidence indicates their political superiority. I also reached the following conclusions concerning the Helladic mainland of this period, by studying the distribution of the Argonauts in the various Greek tribes/regions. The Danaans still retained much of their old power, as evidenced by the increased number of Argonauts that they probably provided, although this power was now limited only to Argolis. The strengthening of the Achaeans and their expansion to southern Greece are also evident (their cradle is located in Southeast Thessaly, namely in Achaia Phthiotis).
The presence of the Tyndarids/Dioskouri Castor and Pollux in Laconia is perhaps an anachronism, as it is definitely the case for Heracles (Hercules) at Thebes. The cult of the Achaean deity of Heracles was established in Thebes after the two Argive campaigns against her, that is well after the Argonaut campaign. But if we consider that the mention of Heracles in the Argonautic List is not a later addition (possibly of the Archaic era), then the hero does not represent Thebes on the List but the Achaeans of Tiryns and Mycenae which are not mentioned in the Argonautic Catalogue. If Heracles’ mention is a later addition, then the Achaeans had not yet occupied the two latter cities of Argolis, which in this case were also entirely controlled by the Danaans. In any case, the contribution of Thebes in the campaign can not be represented by the Achaean Heracles, but by some unknown Cadmeian hero, whom Heracles “ousted” in the local mythological tradition due to a later literary intervention (distortion) in the List of the Argonauts.
Jason removes the Golden Fleece, in a vase-painting. The episodic way by which the Fleece was acquired by the Argonauts, rather echoes their martial confrontations with the Colchians.
Because of the mentioned conclusions, I believe that the Argonaut expedition chronologically belongs to a period in which the Lapiths and the Minyans were probably in the prime of their power, the Danaans still retained much of their old political strength and the Achaeans was the rising power which was expanding in the mainland and would shortly absorb the Danaans and replace the first two mentioned peoples in the hegemony of Mycenaean Greece. The absence of Crete and the other distant (from the mainland) islands from the Argonautic List, except Samos, reflects the indifference of the Minoans, the Cycladits and the other islanders for the campaign, and possibly their dissatisfaction for the increasing naval skillfulness and power of the mainlanders and especially the Minyans.
Plutarch describes Jason (whose name means the ‘healer’) as the sole ruler who by common decision of the Greeks, had the right to keep at his disposal warships manned by numerous crews in order to confront the pirates of the Aegean (Plutarch: Life of Theseus). This information may reflect the control of the North Aegean Sea by the fleet of Iolkos, apparently after the settlement of the Minyan colonists in Lemnos and Imbros, which islands became Iolkos’ naval bases. Toynbee detected the presence of Minyans also in the large island of Lesbos around the 14th c BC, where they probably settled at the time of the Minyan sovereignty in the Northern Aegean region.
(1) Fragments of the History of Hercules by Herodorus of Heraclea, in Plutarch: Theseus (Parallel Lives).
(2) Apollonius of Rhodes: Argonautica
(3) Strabo: Geography (Geographica)
(4) Herodotus: Histories