There has been much speculation as to whether the Santorini eruption inspired the legend of Atlantis, which Plato said drowned in the ocean. Although some experts think the legend of Atlantis was just invented, others say the explosion might have given rise to the tale of a lost empire by helping to wipe out the real-life Minoan civilization that once thrived in the Mediterranean.
I have had trouble with this claim for a long time. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Even setting aside the obvious problem of how Plato would learn about an event that no ancient historians—Greek or Egyptian—between 1600 BCE and 300 BCE made reference to, we have a chronological problem. The eruption at Thera took place around 1620 BCE, but the Minoans soldiered on for two centuries after this. (Only 5 mm of ash fell on Crete itself, not enough to destroy the civilization.) In fact, following 1600 BCE, the Minoan palaces actually increased in size. Minoan civilization continued on until the Mycenaeans invaded around 1420 BCE and took over the island. Much of what had been Minoan continued on under the new rulers, down to the end of Mycenaean civilization in 1200-1100 BCE. This just doesn’t sound like the Apocalypse to me.
While Santorini was undoubtedly destroyed by the volcano, there is little evidence that the island was, frankly, important enough to have lingered in the historical memory of the faraway mainland Greeks, or even the Egyptians, for 1,300 years. The larger Minoan civilization didn’t fall, and the whole theory of a Minoan Atlantis just doesn’t work out chronologically. Worse, since the Egyptians and the mainland Greeks both knew who the Minoans were (the Egyptians traded with them), it seems difficult to imagine that they somehow turned them into a second, unrelated civilization (Atlantis) while also maintaining memories of Minoan Crete, as evidenced by the Daedalus and Minotaur myths.
I think the answer is fairly simply: Like Euhemerus’s contemporary fantasy island of Panchaea, Atlantis is simply the product of Plato’s imagination.
All the news coverage of Santorini goes to show is that if an alternative claim is published in a high-profile book and featured in enough documentaries on cable TV, it can exist in a world beyond facts.