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When Exactly Is Atlantis Believed to Have Existed?

Map of Lost Atlantis
Map of lost Atlantis. Credit: Public Domain

Plato’s story of Atlantis is famously set a very long time ago in the past. The figure “9000 years before Solon” is thrown around a lot in discussions of when Atlantis supposedly existed. However, did Plato really set his story of Atlantis so far in the past? According to all the information he provided, when did Atlantis exist?

The traditional date for Atlantis’ existence

Traditionally, Atlantis is believed to have existed around the year 9400 BCE. Where does this date come from, though? It comes from the information provided in Plato’s account of Atlantis as found in Critias. There, we find the narrative of Critias relating the story of Atlantis. Critias was almost certainly the poet and leader of Athens in the late-fifth century BCE.

In Plato’s account, Critias specifically says the following:

Let me begin by observing first of all, that nine thousand was the sum of years which had elapsed since the war which was said to have taken place between those who dwelt outside the Pillars of Heracles and all who dwelt within them; this war I am going to describe.

The war he refers to here is the war between Atlantis and Athens. Thus, according to this, Atlantis is said to have existed at least 9,000 years before the time of Critias. This places it around 9400 BCE. This is where the traditional date for Atlantis comes from.

How reliable is that date likely to be?

A lot of independent researchers firmly stick to this date when investigating Atlantis. For this reason, some theories attempt to connect Atlantis to the proposed Younger Dryas impact, which supposedly occurred in about 10,600 BCE. Needless to say, mainstream academics reject such a proposal on the basis that there is no evidence of major civilizations in that era in addition to other reasons.

On the other hand, many mainstream academics also stick firmly to the timeframe provided in the Critias. But for them, this is a reason to reject the story as fictional, because no archaeological or geological evidence from that era matches the story of Atlantis. It also doesn’t make sense that a story could have been preserved for so long before being recorded by Plato.

Yet, both of these viewpoints are flawed. In reality, there are countless examples of ancient writers who exaggerate people and events. For instance, Herodotus placed the adoption of the Phoenician alphabet by the Greeks 1,600 years before his own time. In reality, this occurred just 400 years before Herodotus.

Another example is Menes, the legendary first king of Egypt. The Egyptian historian Manetho placed him some 6,000 or 7,000 years before his time, yet most scholars today believe that he actually lived less than 3,000 years before Manetho.

Acropolis Parthenon
The Acropolis at Athens. Credit: Gary Bembridge/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-2.0

Evidence from Athens

Rather than taking a timeframe at face value, it is far more beneficial to examine other details in the account of Atlantis to see when it supposedly existed. As it so happens, Plato does provide some highly relevant evidence beyond just the figure of 9,000 years.

In his other account of Atlantis, found in Timaeus, an Egyptian priest explains to Solon that the city of Athens in Greece was founded 9,000 years ago. This is truly a remarkable statement that most researchers have entirely ignored. By looking at the evidence as a whole, we see that the war between Atlantis and Athens supposedly happened at approximately the same time as when Athens was founded.

Consider one important fact that this highlights. Plato’s account makes the city of Athens 9,000 years old, yet there is no archaeological evidence that it existed for so long ago. Despite this, no modern scholar would argue that this means that Athens was a fictional city. It is merely the case that Plato’s account is not wholly accurate.

Therefore, this refutes the logic that Plato’s statement about when Atlantis existed must mean that Atlantis was fictional. That is clearly not the case, as the example of Athens proves.

Furthermore, archaeology and other Ancient Greek records point to the founding of Athens as a city in approximately 1500 BCE.

How personal names show when Atlantis existed

There is more evidence in Plato’s account that points to c. 1500 BCE for the true era of Atlantis. As well as associating the era of Atlantis with the time in which Athens was founded, Plato’s account also connects the war between Athens and Atlantis with several personal names.

Plato specifically says that the Egyptian account of the war between Athens and Atlantis contained the names of several Greeks. These must have been prominent Greek participants in the war. Otherwise their names would not have been recorded. Presumably, they were military leaders or kings.

With this in mind, note that the names mentioned by Plato are: Cecrops, Erechtheus, Erichthonius, and Erysichthon. Why are these names so interesting? The very first name, Cecrops, was the legendary founder of Athens for instance. This virtually confirms that when Plato associated the Atlantean war with the era of Athens’ founding, he really was referring to the founding of Athens mentioned in other Greek records in which Cecrops was involved.

The other Greek records, such as the Parian Chronicle, place Cecrops in the 16th century BCE. Erysichthon was the son of Cecrops. Erechtheus and Erichthonius seem to be duplicates for the same king, who ruled in the 15th century BCE.

When Atlantis really existed

The sum of all this evidence is that Plato’s account points to approximately 1500 BCE as the era when Atlantis existed. While it is true that the explicit timeframe he provides places it in the distant past, it would be extremely inconsistent for a researcher of Greek legend to accept this at face value.

According to Plato, the founding of Athens also occurred 9,000 years before his time, yet other Greek records and archaeology point to c.1500 BCE as the approximate year of its true founding. Plato also mentions Cecrops in the account of the Atlantean war. Other Greek records speak of Cecrops as the founder of Athens who lived in the 16th century BCE. The other names mentioned also agree with this date.

This information is quite significant. If we can establish when Atlantis was really supposed to have existed, then we can potentially identify it with an actual civilization. As it happens, this date of c. 1500 BCE is a perfect match for the Minoan civilization. The Minoans really did go to war against the Greeks during that time period, and the Greeks really did win, just like in the legend of Atlantis. Various other pieces of evidence indeed support the identification of Atlantis with the Minoan civilization.

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