Are you ever curious about the stories behind your favourite books? In this blog, Natale Barca takes us behind the scenes of the event which led to the start of his life as an author, and reveals how the narrative of his writing story has led him to his most recent publication with Oxbow Books.
Join him on a journey around the ancient Mediterranean and discover why he was inspired to write about the complex civilizations which flourished during the Bronze Age in Knossos, Mycenae and Troy.
By Natale Barca, author of Knossos, Mycenae, Troy | 5 min read
I’m on Great Russell Street, on the stretch of pavement in front of the entrance to the British Museum, which opens into a gate. Car traffic is intense, passers-by walk briskly, it is drizzling. I close my umbrella and push a glass door painted white, ringing a bell. I enter a small, low-ceilinged room lined with books.
A saleswoman is serving customers. I try to orient myself among the books on display, reading the labels on the shelves. I scroll through the titles carefully. They are all archaeology texts. I go from shelf to shelf. When the other customers leave, the saleswoman approaches me. “May I help you?”, she asks, smiling. And I respond: “Yes, please, I’m looking for Evans, ‘Excavations at Saliagos’.” “Unfortunately, we don’t have it,” she replies, adding, “It’s from a few years ago, and is now out of print.” She encourages me to go to an antiquarian bookshop, where I might have a better chance of success. She writes the address on a piece of paper, opens a map of the city in front of me, and shows me where to go. She makes sure that I have understood (it is evident that I am an Italian tourist and I have no command of English), she hopes that I will find what I am looking for. I thank her profusely as I say my goodbyes and head to the door.
What makes you think I’m going to write a book?
“Have a nice day,” she replies, and then,“I hope you will come back to visit us when you have published your own book”. I stop in the doorway, perplexed. “What book?” I ask her. “The book you will write,” she says, confidently. And I, excited, enquire: “What makes you think I’m going to write a book”. And she, smiling: “You will”.
The Journey to Knossos, Mycenae and Troy
I did not find Excavations at Saliagos in London, but in Oxford, in the Library of the Ashmoleian Museum. It was in the reading room of that same museum that my first book La Notte dei Tempi (The Night of the Times) was born, and my life as an author began, leading me right up to my latest title, Knossos, Mycenae, Troy. The inspiration for this book came from my numerous trips to the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, and Crete. On each visit to these places, my interest in the civilizations that once flourished there grew, as did my desire to tell their story.
I must say right away that the subject covered in this book is fascinating. Writing it was for me a way of making it clear that the ‘Greek miracle’ of the fifth century BCE – the age of the Parthenon, to be clear – must be placed in the context of a process of cultural evolution that began much earlier.
On each visit to these places, my interest in the civilizations that once flourished there grew, as did my desire to tell their story.
In Crete, the first part of this process was the flowering of another civilization, that of the Minoans, which had occupied the island in the Bronze Age and which, with the arrival of the Mycenaeans, around 1450 BCE, had transformed into Minoan-Mycenaean civilization. This was a complex society, technologically advanced, rich in an aesthetic sense, which knew how to react to catastrophes with truly admirable moral strength, know-how, and inventiveness. However, the dark sides of these societies, for which evidence is provided in the form of traces of human sacrifices found in Anemospilià, Knossos, and Khanià, should not be overlooked.
The Cycladic people of the Bronze Age were sea carriers and had intense trade relations with the Minoans and Mycenaeans. Those who lived in Akrotiri, a city on the southern coast of Thera-Santorini, had embraced the Minoan models so convincingly that they in fact lost their original identity and ‘minoized’ themselves; it should perhaps be noted that Akrotiri was a Minoan colony.
These men and women lived in buildings of several floors, served by a sewer system and decorated with stupendous wall paintings. Still today it amazes me that this city was born and developed more than 3,500 years ago!
The clock of history stopped in that place because of a tremendous volcanic eruption, the most terrible that humanity can remember. The catastrophe buried Akrotiri under a thick layer of tephra (so much so that this archaeological site is now called the Pompeii of the Aegean), and caused a large part of the island to sink.
The story of that apocalypse is a focal point of Knossos, Mycenae, Troy, as is the reconstruction of the genealogy of the Mycenaean kings of Crete and the examination of questions relating to the Trojan War.
Many years after my first visit, I come once again to London – this time as a published author – hoping to return to the book shop where my journey began. I walk up and down the street several times, certain that it must be there. Eventually, I recognize the place where it was, but the sign is no longer there and the small room with the low ceiling is now occupied by another business. I am disappointed, I had so hoped to see the kind saleswoman once again, but it was not to be, so let me take this opportunity – if by some chance you happen to read this – to say thank you so much for your encouragement, your prophecy came true.
About the Author
Natale Barca was Visiting Scholar Researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, US, and Academic Visitor at the University of London’s Institute of Classical Studies. He is a member of the Society for Promotion of Roman Studies (Roman Society), London. His latest publications are focused on the political and military history of the Roman Late Republic Period, and on the life and death of ancient cities. He is the Author of 14 printed books and 1 e-book, written in Italian or in English, as appropriate. With Oxbow Books, he has published “Roman Aquileia. The Impenetrable City-Fortress, a sentry of the Alps” (2022), and “Knossos, Mycenae Troy. The Enchanting Bronze Age and its Tumultuous Climax” (2023). With Casemate Publishers: “Before Augustus. The Collapse of the Roman Republic” (2023). He has to his credit numerous citations and academic mentions, and reviews in specialized journals. When he’s not traveling the world, he spends his time writing at his home in Trieste, Italy. His web site is www.natalebarca.it
Knossos, Mycenae, Troy is available now from Oxbow Books at a special pre-publication price for a limited time
RRP: £40.00 Special Price £32.00
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