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In Greek mythology and legendary prehistory of the Aegean region, the Minyans were a group among the original autochthonous inhabitants. Modern archaeologists sometimes apply the term "Minyans" differently, to indicate the very first wave of Indo-European speakers in the 2nd millennium BC, among the early Bronze Age cultures sometimes identified with the beginning of Middle Helladic culture.

Classical Greek uses of "Minyans"

Hellenic 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, a broader category of the pre-Greek Aegean peoples. This Minyas was associated with Boeotian Orchomenus, and may have represented a ruling dynasty or a tribe later located in Boeotia.

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 quite understandably 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 appalling and blasphemous 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.

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.

"Minyans" in modern usage

The beginning of the Middle Helladic period is marked by the immigration of the Minyans. According to Emily Vermeule, this was the first wave of true Hellenes in Greece. Gray "Minyan ware" is an archaeologist's term for a particular style of Aegean pottery associated with the Middle Helladic period (MH, ca. 2100-1550 BC).

It is assumed that the Mycenaean Greeks reached Crete as early as 1450 BC, and that Greek presence on the mainland dates to 1600 at the latest (shaft graves). "Minyan pottery" reaches Greece from Anatolia, already from the EH III (2300-2100 BC) period, but other aspects of the "Minyan" period appear to arrive from north Greece and the balkans (tumulus graves, perforated stone axes), and it is unknown whether Proto-Greeks were present from as early as EH III, and thus bearers of the "Minyan" culture, or if they arrived as late as 1600, displacing Minyan/MH culture.


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