Arthur Evans

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Arthur Evans : biography

8 July 1851 – 11 July 1941

In 1894, Arthur, always an active man, intrigued by the idea that the script engraved on the stones he had purchased before Margaret’s death might be Cretan, his grief abated, steamed off to Heraklion to join the circle of watchers. During his year of tending to the details of Youlbury, administering the Ashmolean, and writing some minor papers, he had also discovered the script on some other jewelry that came to the museum from Myres in Crete. He announced that he had concluded to a Mycenaean hieroglyphic script of about 60 characters. Shortly he wrote to his friend and patron at the Ashmolean, Charles Fortnum, that he was "very restless" and must go to Crete..

Arriving in Heraklion he did not connect with his friends immediately, but took the opportuniy to examine the excavations at Knossos. Seeing the sign of the double axe almost immediately he knew that he was at the home of the script. If he did not formulate the intent to excavate at that moment it must have been shortly after, when his friends gave him the tour. He turned some original thinking on the problem of succeeding in acquiring the site when all others had failed. His solution was the Cretan Exploration Fund, devised on the model of the Palestine Exploration Fund. The owners would not sell to individuals, who could not afford it, but they would sell to a fund. Apparently Arthur did not bother to explain that he was the only contributor. He bought 1/4 of the site with first option to buy the rest later. The firman was still in deficit. Politics in Crete were taking a violent turn however. Anything might happen. Arthur returned to London to wind up his affairs there and make sure the Ashmolean had suitable direction in the event of his further absence.

The pen-viper uncaged

In September, 1898, the last of the Turkish troops withdrew from Crete. The war was over, but not the fighting, as the Christians took reprisals on the Moslems, and the Moslems sought to defend themselves. The British Army forbad travel for any reason. Checkpoints went up everywhere. Arthur, Myres and Hogarth returned to Crete together, Arthur this time as correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, a role in which he revelled. His sharp tongue had not mellowed over the years. He was once again the Pen-viper, but this time there was no administration to cage him. He criticised the Ottoman Empire for its corruption, as usual. Then he criticised the British Empire for its collaboration with the Ottoman. Many officials of that empire had been Greek. Now they were working with the British trying to build a credible Cretan government. For them Arthur invented a new and eloquent term, "the Turco-British regime". He criticised the Moslems for attacking the Christians, and the Christians for attacking the Moslems. He collided with the British military, complaining vociferously to the British higher authorities.

Arthur went everywhere, investigating everything recklessly. The British public must be kept informed. He always made moral judgements, taking the side of the underdog, no matter who it was. He saw that the Moslem population was now on the decline, some being massacred, and some abandoning the island. After the massacre at the village of Eteà, he came down mainly on the Moslem side. The villagers had been attacked by Christians in the night. They sought refuge in a mosque. The next day they were promised clemency if they would disarm themselves. Handing over their weapons, they were lined up to be marched elsewhere, they were told. Instead, they were shot, the only survivor being a small girl who had a cape thrown over her to conceal her.

It is impossible now to determine what effect Arthur might have had on the authorities. Prince George was completely conciliatory, assisting in any way that he could to halt the bloodshed and establish a new Constitution. In 1899 a government of both Christians and Moslems was elected under it. Crete was a republic, although a protected one. Arthur’s political work was done.

Discovery of Minoan civilization