THE HISTORY OF CRETECHRONOLOGICAL VIEW OF THE HISTORY OF CRETE
Palaeolithic and Mesolithic period.
According to previous views, Crete was first inhabited in the Neolithic period. However, there are some remnants, which prove that the island had been inhabited since the Mesolithic or even in the Later Palaeolithic period. There is a quite reliable sign of Palaeolithic civilisation in the island, which is dated at c.8000 BC or even before. In a small cave, near the village Asfentos at Sfakia there were inscribed the first known frescos of Crete, which were discovered at the early 1960s. This small cavern is located at a crag slope on the way from Asfentos to Kallikrati. At the entrance of the cavern, there is an open and flat space of about 2000 square metres. The inscriptions were made in different chronological periods, and for this reason, they are drawn upon one another. They are outlines of objects or animals (deer, antelope, bow with arrows, spear, ship, small branch of tree) or abstract lines (geometric and tectonic, and some others made of dots). These images confirm the existence of hunters at the mountainous area of Sfakia in the preneolithic period.
403. Rock paintings at Asfendo Cave, at Sfakia.
Other important elements proving that there was a Mesolithic civilisation in Crete, were found at the begging of our century by the French investigator France at the Trypiti beach of Herakleion, and towards the eastern area of Rousses (where the Herakleion airport is now located). These were small tools made of stone, from hornfels and blades of obsidian. Small pieces of obsidian that were found with the blades, in the rocks, show that the working out of the imported material was made there as well. A similar indentation was found many years later during excavations at Katsambas in Herakleion. Apart from the small stone tools, France also found big tools, such as axes made of local limestone, which can be dated at the Palaeolithic age. The small stone tools are dated at seventh millennium BC and are representatives of the cultural stage, which was before that of the non-ceramic or preceramic of Knossos. Knossos was the hinterland of the seaside zone Trypiti-Rousses.
Neolithic and Subneolithic period
In Crete, the Neolithic period begins at c.6200-6100 BC and ends in the middle of third millennium BC. It is divided into three sub-periods: the Earlier, the Middle, and the Later. The last one ends to a Neolithic or Subneolithic period. In middle of the Neolithic period, the inhabitants of the island began constructing primitive settlements. These settlements were usually near springs and fertile areas. The most expanded and wealthy city was Knossos. Also, the settlements of Phaistos and Katsambas are remarkable. The building materials are stones, usually crude stones, used for the substructure, bricks for the walls, and branches of trees for the roof.
The construction of these settlements does not mean that people abandon the security of the caves. Most of these caves are being dwelt until the end of the later Neolithic period. The most important are the following: Acrotiri, near Chania, Platyvola at the mesa of Kerameia in Chania, Gerani, near Rhethymnon, Hellenospelio at Amari of Rhethymnon, Eileithyia, near Amnisos, Trapeza, and Miamo. In the caves, they used to dwell in the outer chambers, which were near the entrance. The inner chambers were used as tombs and for ritual procedures. In addition, natural hollows, outside the caves, were used as tombs. Some chambers of the caves were used for the storage of materials, which were used for the manufacturing of tools. In the Gerani cave, a pit full of bones of animals was discovered and nearby there were some stone tools of various sizes. Axes and hammers with a hole in the middle for the wooden butt, are the main weapons of the Neolithic man. Also, very common are the blades of obsidian (volcanic rock from Melos and Nisyros).
The vessels are usually basinal. These are handmade and they were put on the fire of the hearth. Since the middle phase of the Neolithic period, the vessels are slender, and the surface of them has a glossy colour and is adorned with inscribed geometric patterns. In the later Neolithic period, there is a larger variety of vessel shapes and the technique becomes even better. In addition, the surface of the pots has now a russet shade, which is silken.
Generally, life in the Neolithic period is peaceful and the habitants of the island try to improve their living conditions and their artistic progress.
Prepalatial period (2800/2600-2000/1900 BC)
The earlier Prepalatial period has a subneolithic and transitional character. We can assume this observing the pottery of this period, which has some new elements but it is based on the style of the previous period. It is the first time that a close kiln is used for the making of the pots, and thus we have some attempts for new styles and decorative techniques. The most important new rhythms are those of Pyrgos (from a tomb-cave in northern Crete, near Gouves) and of Agios Onoufrios (from the vaulted tomb at Mesara, near Phaistos). The Pyrgos style vessels have black or grey surface and silken decoration, which is like strings of wood. It consists of lines, circles, and spirals. The pots have various forms, but the most characteristic one is the cup with two cones. The Agios Onoufrios style has reddish or black decoration (usually linear) in a pale background. The pots of this style have various forms too. The most common is the prochous, which has spherical body, round foot and nib-like neck. Another characteristic style is that of Lebena (nowadays Lenta), which is like the Pyrgos style. Its main difference is the white colour, which is used instead of black and grey. These vessels have some new elements such as the animal like hands. The importation and the imitation of cycladic vessels, especially from Pelos of Melos, show the special bonding between the two islands at this earlier period.
We do not have many elements of the architecture of these settlements of this earlier period. It is the first time we have vaulted tombs (Lebena, near the Odigitria Monastery at Asterousia). Myrsini at Sitia is the eastern place, were a vaulted tomb was discovered. However, the most important period for the development of the Minoan civilisation is the second Prepalatial period. The main settlements of this period seem to be in the southeaster Crete. In Mesara and the coastline the Libyan sea were discovered the most characteristic burial memorials of this period, the vaulted tombs. Despite the existence of tombs in this area, there are not yet discovered the settlements of the people who were buried in these tombs. In Knossos and Phaistos seems that the settlements of the two earlier prepalatial periods had been exscinded when the hills were flattened for the foundation of the first palaces. On the other hand, two prepalatial settlements have been discovered in the eastern Crete, at Isthmos in Ierapetra; near the village Vasiliki the one, and the other near the village Myrtos. Settlements of the same periods have been at the adjacent area of Gournia.
In the eastern and later in the northern and central Crete (Hellenica and Kastri at Palaikastro, Zakros, Tourtouloi at Praisos, Chrysolakos at Malia, Fournoi at Archanes), the rectangular tombs, which were divided into smaller compartments, is the most common tomb type. The corpses were either left on the ground or they were buried in earthenware jars or sarcophaguses. The older sarcophaguses have been discovered in the burial cave of Pyrgos. Other burials had taken place in caves, lodges, or recess on rocks (Pachyammos, Sfougaras at Gournies, and The canyon of the dead at Zakros) and in small sarcophaguses on the beach. In the Mochlos and Mesara tombs, there were found valuable jewellery made of gold, semiprecious stones and faience, and the first seals made of ivory and steatite. In goldsmithery, almost all the techniques have been used (foils and sheets of gold, patterns inlaid with gold, use of wire) the ivory seals are cylindrical or conical or they have the form of the head of an animal. These seals were found in tombs at Mochlos, Mesara, and Sfougara.
During the third prepalatial period, the close relationship between Crete and the Cyclades had been discontinued and therefore there was no direct contact with the Greek mainland. Many buildings of the Cretan centres are attributed to this period (at Vasiliki, Palaiokastro, Zakros, Agia Fotia, Pseiras, Mochlos, Koumasa, Apesokari, Agia Triada, and Tylissos). To this group of buildings, we should add the houses, which were discovered beneath courts of the palaces at Knossos, Phaistos, and Malia. The majority of the seals, which were found in tombs, is dated to this period. The seals are made of different materials and have various patterns. Towards the end of this period the representations on the seals begun to have symbolic character like pictorial writing. The third prepalatial period had a transitional character towards the great Palatial period. The Minoans have already established settlements overseas, as at Fylakoti of Melos and Kythera. The cycladic ships are still the super marine power.
Palatial civilisation (1900-1380 BC)
In c.1950 BC, the first palaces are being built in Knossos, Phaistos, and Malia. The palaces are the headquarters of local chief princes, centres of administration and worship. Prince of Knossos rules all over the island, where peace and security dominate. The Cretan thalassocrats colonise the islands, which are around Crete, and the minoan element is widespread all over the Mediterranean Sea. The archaeological evidence proclaims the lap of wealth that the princes had, and the high cultural level of the period. We have masterpieces of every art that were made in this period. A forceful earthquake destroyed almost utterly the above palaces in c.1643 BC. However this is not the end of that civilisation.
The palaces were rebuilt not long later. Now they were much more luxurious. A new palace was built in Zakros, in eastern Crete. The Minoans establish new centres of trading. However, the destruction that the earthquake caused was followed by another destruction that of the state structure. In this period, we have a group of local rulers with luxurious settlements, who are tributary to the main ruler. This is the period that the Minoan civilisation reaches its top. In c1450 BC, a great disaster flattened all the Minoan centres. Most of these centres are being abandoned and Knossos is being reconstructed. Life continues, but now the rulers are Mycenaeans. The invaders are small in number and they will be merged gradually with the local population. In c.1300-1350 BC, we have the smash up of the Knossos palace, which will not be reconstructed again. Knossos and Phaistos are still densely populated, and apart from them, there are many other cities all over Crete. However, this is a decadent period for Crete. Crete is not the super marine power anymore, and the arts are in a decadent period too. In c.1100 BC, most of the cities are being abandoned and their citizens inhabit inaccessible mountainous regions.
LIFE IN MINOAN CRETE
The Minoan civilisation became famous at the beginning of our century because of the excavations by Sir Arthur Evans. It was like unearthing from the nebulae of the past, a new mythical world, unknown until then but very ravishing. The archaeological scientific research on the Minoan civilisation that was done during the continuous excavations by Greek and non-Greek scientists did not deprive the subject of its interest, but it became much more interesting. Of course, it is not easy to visualise the daily life in Minoan Crete; this happens not only because it has to be based on artefacts, which are contradictory testifiers, but also because the minoan civilisation, like every human activity, was not something static and fixed. Since 2600 BC, when the Neolithic civilisation ends, until 1400 BC, i.e. 1200 years, there had lived many generations of the human race and various things happened, in the island and overseas, which affected their life.Since 2000 BC and until 1700 BC the island reaches its greater prosperity. The “dynasties” are now of no importance and the local princes become powerful kings.
In c.1900 BC the first luxurious palaces are being built in Knossos, Phaistos and Malia. The three kings are almost equal and there is no enmity among them. In c.1643 BC, a disastrous earthquake ruins the palaces. After that earthquake, new palaces are built, which are larger and nicer. Minos, king of Knossos, seems to have the entire principality of the island during this period. In addition, in this period, the Cretans colonise peacefully the islands of the Aegean Sea and the coastline of Asia Minor.
The Cretans were sailors, and they had intercourse with all the other nations of the Mediterranean. In the Greek mainland, which was inhabited by the Achaians, the Cretan influence was obvious in art and fashion during the 17th century. On the other hand, the Achaians, who are powerful in the Greek mainland, become powerful in the sea as well. Hence since 1450 BC they dominate Crete.
Cookers, weaving weights, agricultural and carpentry tools, unearthed from agricultural regions, oil mills and wine presses, are the artefacts on which we are based to visualise the daily life of the peasants. We can imagine their small settlements, surrounded by fruitful trees. We can almost see men who work on agriculture, pastoralism, hunting, and apiculture, and women with their household duties, such as wheat milling, weaving, sewing, and embroidery of the clothing. Based on the burnt to ashes products and the minoan terminology of the plants, we can assume that Minoans used to cultivate their land and grow cereals, legumes and plenty of vegetables in their orchards. In addition, the greatest part of their production is wine, olive oil, and wheat.
These products became known to the other habitants of the Aegean islands by the Greeks. According to the ancient tradition, the Minoan Cretans were those who taught to the rest of Greece, the systematic cultivation of the olive tree, the vineyard and the wheat. Stafylos (the Grape man) was Cretan and he was the son of Dionysos and the Cretan princess Ariadne. He run away to Pepartho – nowadays Skopelos – and he is the ancestor of Spermo, Oino, and Elais. In Samothrace, recently there were found tables inscribed with Cretan hieroglyphics. Similar tables had been found in Knossos and they are talking about the importing of vineyards. The Minoan Cretans were not just good farmers. They also study the healing features of the plants. A kind of popular medicine is being developed. It is based on the experience they have and thus they are able to distinguish which plants can be used in pharmacy. Seals with Cretan hieroglyphics on them, which were found in Zakros, refer to types of drugs, such as strychnine on the seal with the famous deer-head man. The aromatic plants and the aromatic seeds are now very popular and they become merchandised products. Also, the farmers have flocks of oxen, sheep, pigs, and goats.Oxen are very useful for transports and agriculture. The Minoans have no horse until the Postminoan period (1600 BC), when it is imported for the first time. They have asses, which are also used for transport among the urban centres. In these centres, there are summoned agricultural products and timber. Oaks, firs, and cypresses are used for shipbuilding.
Of course, the Minoan civilisation was not just a civilisation of farmers. Apart from the population that dwells the countryside, there is the population of the cities. These cities are not away from the coastline. The coastline of Crete, and especially the northeaster, had never been so densely inhabited. The bigger cities have town centres and all the roads end in these centres. The dominant parts of the cities are the palaces (Phaistos, Knossos, Malia, and Zakros). Their courts, their gardens, the reception halls, the temples, the private suites of the royal family, the warehouses, their height, the buildings with many floors and balconies, comprise a labyrinthine complex of buildings. In addition, the royal courts of the princes that are around the palaces are very luxurious as well. Those royal courts seem to belong to military or administrative officers of the upper class or to priests. An example is the royal court of Archanes, which is near Knossos. These courts have well done interiors with walls covered with shiny plaster or beautiful frescos, with silken floors, well done floors, hydraulic installations, and baths. All these testify the existence of an elegant society that lives a life of high quality. This society builds comfortable houses with tasteful interiors. However, these courts have also some smaller rooms and not too far from them are some poor settlements as well.
The city of Gournia gives us a very characteristic image for the special construction of a Minoan city. It has small workshops, which are well preserved, and the house of the ruler is on the top of the hill where the city is built. We will not be able to understand the social organisation of the Minoan world unless we understand the centralised character of the Minoan economy, which is based on the capital. The palace is the central point for the life of the whole city. The king has divine power. He is the great priest, the great judge, and the great general. He is surrounded by priests and officers. In the private apartments, the scriveners record on tables the slaves, the armour, the flocks and the incoming of the palace.
The guards are awake and patrol. The state wealth and the navy belong to the king. The princes of the provinces are representatives of him and they have to live an analogous life. Wealth and luxury give to them the social image that their status necessitates. The king is also the great diplomat who accepts in his court the representatives of foreign states. Apart from him, the princes of Palaiokastro, Pseira and Mochlos accept quite often the official visitors from East, Syria, or Cyprus. The palace also does commutation of products. The Egyptian texts are talking about the commutation between the Pharaohs and Babylon, Cyprus and Crete. The “Ceftiou” (Cretans) take from the Pharaoh gold, ivory, luxurious textiles, perfumes, slaves from Nouvia and playful monkeys for the royal gardens of Minos. In return, they give to the Pharaoh the beautiful products of their metalworking. Apart from the royal commerce, there are some merchants who trade in small scale. It is doubtful whether there was large-scale commerce during the Minoan years by non-royal merchants.
There in no “demos” in the Minoan world and the existence of slavery is doubtful. A group of artisans is depended on the palace or the royal courts of the princes. There, they have their workshops and they produce beautiful pieces of pottery, sculpture, goldsmithery, or seal making for the king or the prince. Of course, we can not exclude the possibility of the existence of an independent class of artisans, organised in craft guilds, who work in the cities.
Royal or not, these artisans always create masterpieces and it is obvious that their creative and reproductive mind has no limits. The freedom that the Minoan artisan enjoys is of no doubt. This explains the variety of forms and the indignation for new expressional ways. This is characteristic for the development of the Minoan pottery and sculpture and the existence of great local workshops all over the island.
However, journeys, work, and the function of the state mechanism are not the most important things in life of those people. Their Mediterranean nature seeks social activities.
They love celebrations, religion festivals, dancing and singing. Homer says that the Cretans are great and skilful dancers. Dancing is the way that those agile men and brunette women express and enjoy themselves. We can imagine them living in their elegant and simple furniture houses, which are cool during the summer and warm during the winter. They have mobile braziers and lamps in the rooms that are not naturally illuminated. Their perfect hydraulic system, which is spread all over the house, shows how important was hygiene for the Minoans. In addition, physical exercise very important for them because it gives them good physical condition and charm and elegance. They drive chariots, they take part in acrobatics with bulls, and they participate in all festivals, ritual procedures, and symposia. In contrast to the rest of Greece where woman always indoors, Minoan women participate in every social activity. The gentleness of the Minoan ladies seats them in the first seats in public meetings. They arrive in litters, carried by slaves. They are perfumed, elegantly dressed. In frescos, we see women being talkative and sociable, while they are waiting for the opening of the festivals. Also, the rest of the day, they are sitting in the palace, sewing, or playing the minoan board game called “zatrikio”. Their intercourse with the opposite sex tones up their smartness. We know Minoan fashion from the female idols that have been found. The main characteristic of Minoan fashion is the emphasis on femininity and the curves of the female body. The dresses are rich, colourful, with a lot of drapery and they have wide belts that are stretched round the waste.
The corset is very tight leaving the breast bare, and has short sleeves and long necks. They often wear hats and their hair are elaborately combed and adorned with jewellery. Whatever their economical status, Minoan women have collections of jewellery in wide range. At home, they usually walk on bear foot, wearing bracelets around their ankles. Of course, sometimes they wear shoes too. They also use lipsticks, make up, they colour their nails and maybe their hair too. Men too, take care of themselves. They have long hair but they are always beardless and well shaven. Although, their clothing is very simple, they wear many pieces of jewellery. However, their appearance is very masculine. Of course, their masculine appearance is the result of their daily exercising. Running, wrestling, and playing with the bull are their favourite activities. In addition, they are skilful swimmers and hunters.
Political, social and economical life are not the only sectors with which the Minoan world has to do. All these sectors of life are deeply influenced by religion. Every intellectual and artistic activity is inspired by the Great Minoan Goddess. She rules not only the cosmos but also the daily human life. She is the Great Mother Goddess and she has many abilities. She is the “tamer of the beasts”, the “Britomartis” that means the sweet virgin, goddess of the virgins and the births, peaceful and matron of war. She is the Earth Goddess, and the Sea and Heavens Goddess. She causes the earthquakes and makes trees, plants and flowers bloom and have fruits. She owns the stars, she rules the waves, she protects the ships. There are no other gods.
Often, she is accompanied by the young god of flora and other demonic creatures. Cretan people believe that flora itself is the carnation of the Young God or the Holy Infant. Following the annual circle of nature, the vegetation of trees and plants, and then their wilting, the Minoans made birth, death, and the rebirth of the Young God, part of their religion. This god is called “Belchanos” (god of beasts) or “Yakinthos” (weak as child). In his various minoan images, he is presented as partner of the Mother Goddess or as her child. However, sometimes the Minoans used to worship instead of the Young God, a Young Goddess who was dying and resurrecting each year. This young goddess was Ariadne, daughter of king Minos. It is obvious that Minoan religion was monotheistic, combined with ancient cults of stone worship. The goddess is the centre of this religion and she is represented with many symbols: double axes, tridents, stars, thunders, wheat, etc.
The Minoans used to worship the Great Goddess in caverns, in darkness where stalactites make a mystic atmosphere. Also, they worship her in small dark rooms which are something like domestic altars, or on mountain tops where they burn purgatorial fires and through prays, magic ritual procedures and pleads, they try to communicate with the Goddess. Other rituals seem to take place in open areas, the courts of the palaces and the sacred hills. These procedures are lead by the King, officers, priests and musicians who accompany the priestesses when they dance in a rhythmic and ecstatic way. The crowd that participates gives to rituals a public character.
The top-ranking priestess is the queen, who appears in a specific part of the ritual and symbolises the coming of the goddess. If someone will add to these rituals, the sacrifices with animals, the libations and the acrobatics with the bull, he could see that Minoan religion combines mysticism with publicity.
The religious hymns are the only thing that we do not know. On Minoan literature, we can make only assumptions. A nation with such warmth and artistic activity should have sung in its language, which is Greek, about its daily life, but also to its divinity. In addition, our knowledge about the Minoan theory on death is very limited. They respect their dead; they bury them in vaulted tombs, in earthenware jars or in sarcophaguses. They put with the corpse, his signets, and his weapons, vessels and censers. However, we do not know the purpose of this type of engraving. What happens to the soul and what is the nature of the human body is very doubtful. On these matters, even the ancient Greeks expressed many different theories. Similar might be the minoan opinion since, according to the hieroglyphics and Linear A, their writing, they were Greek as well. Certainly, the Minoan Greeks do not believe in metaphysics, like other oriental cultures of the same period, nor they try to preserve whatever has to do with the dead, on the honour of him, as it happens in Egypt. They used to believe that each man’s life follows the fate, according to the text of the pin from Mavro Spilio of Knossos. Living in the Mediterranean environment and climate, which is so beautiful, they wanted to live every moment of their life. Of course, they knew that one day they will die but they were dealing death creating for the eternity. The only thing that they did not know was when chaos would come. The Great Goddess did not save them from disaster. In 1450, an earthquake and a great wave that the earthquake caused, at the upheaval of the Thera volcano, obliterated their life. They run away to the mountains to save their lives, leaving whatever they possessed. After the earthquake, the Minoans met their second disaster, the Achaian dominion in their country. Some of them immigrated to other lands, and some others inhabited isolated areas. All these people could not certainly imagine that after thousands of years, their life would be the object of excavations and archaeological research.
According to the Greek tradition, Cretans inhabited the Aegean insular area under the rule of kings and princes in the Minoan period. Rhadamanthys dwelt Euboea and his attendance dwelt smaller islands. Stafylos in Peparithos – nowadays Skopelos -, Oinopoion in Chios, Anios in Naxos, Euanthis in Thasos. They introduced the cultivation of cereals, olive tree, and vineyard. According to the ancient tradition, Minos himself established colonies in Kea and Megarida. In the islands of the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean area, there were many cities of the name “Minoa”. Althamenis inhabited Rhodes, Sarpedon immigrated to Lykia, and Miletos gave his name to the city he founded in Caria. The Carians and the Lykians were always considered to be of Cretan root. Many names of places are common or similar in Crete and Southwester Asia Minor. In addition, the most important oracles and temples of Greece, as Delphi, Olympia, and Eleusis, are linked with Cretan myths. In Kythera, the cult of Aphrodite was related to that of the Minoan divinity. The same happened with the cult of Paphian Aphrodite in Cyprus.
The tradition of the origins of the Mycenean dynasties from Egypt, Phoenicia, and Lykia, gives indirect link with Crete, since in these countries there were Cretan colonies. Minyes, whose name is cousin to that of Minos, inhabited Iolkos and their civilisation had cretomycenean characteristics. The excavations show that the historical reality on Minoan colonisation is hidden under myth. In Melos, there was established one of the greatest colonies during the Neopalatial period. The flourishing of the second settlement at Phylakoti, which has many elements of Minoan architecture, happens to be in the second half of the Neopalatial period. In the same period, another settlement reached its top, in Agia Eirini of Kea. This settlement had fortification with gates and towers, similar to that of Phylakoti. The temple, which is near the eastern gate, is faddish. It has portal, alcove, sanctuary, and rooms of vestry. In this temple, the larger scale idols of the Minoan divinity have been found. In Thera, at Acrotiri, under a thick pan of pumice stone and ash, there was discovered one of the most important and best-preserved settlements of the Aegean. Its houses are luxurious. They have two or three floors, beautiful frescos, and large warehouses. All these elements show life of high quality, similar to that of the Minoan palaces. In Skopelos, there was discovered a royal tomb filled with gems of cretomycenean art, at Staphylos. In Kythera, a Cretan colony was excavated. In the island of Rhodes, at Trianta, there was a minoan settlement, and minoan vaulted tombs were discovered in Kos and Karpathos. In addition, settlements, which show close relationship with the Minoan civilisation, were discovered in Miletos and in Iasos of Karia.
Another colony has been discovered in Phoenicia, especially at Ugarit (nowadays Rhas Samra). Minoan civilisation taught many things to the Achaians, who were responsible for its destruction. In Mycenae, there were found many artefacts, which show minoan influence. The Achaians were taught by Cretans about agriculture and navigation. The Achaians were bellicose. Mycenae is actually a castle. Its cyclopean walls are well preserved until nowadays. The Mycenean civilisation did not preserve the elegance of the Minoan civilisation.
POSTPALATIAL CIVILISATION (1380/1350-1100 BC)
The destruction of the palace at Knossos did not mean the total destruction of Crete. Minoan civilisation went on, despite the obvious gradual decline. The Mycenaeans dominate the Aegean and the eastern trade, surpassing the Minoans. The Mycenean influences Cretan civilisation, but it does not assimilate it totally. Although Crete is a province of the Mycenean State, the island preserves its bonding with its glorious past. The memory of the past of Crete is vivid until the age of Homer, who has references about Knossos, Minos, Rhadamanthys, Daedalus, and the “chorus”, i.e. the antechoir that he created for Ariadne. Even during the Trojan War, Crete was a superpower. Idomeneus, king of Knossos, participated in this war with eighty ships.
In 1380/1350 BC, the destruction, which was probably caused by the unexpected second attack of the Achaians, conduced to the massive habitation of the Achaians from Attica and Peloponnese. This is confirmed by the various names of places in Crete and by the Greek tradition. However, original Mycenaeans arrived in Crete fifty years later. Only one postpalatial settlement has been excavated at Kefali, at Chondros Viannos. Parts of settlements of the same period have been excavated at Stylos, at Samonas Apokoronou, and at Kasteli, near Chania. Postpalatial altars have been found in ruins of very old buildings, in many places. Some of these places are Koumasa, Mitropoli Gortynas, Gournia, and Palaiokastro. Pottery, the vaulted tombs, signet-making continue the last phase of development of the palatial rhythm. However, all these sectors declined in the last phase of the period.
The last postpalatial phase coincides with the upheaval in the eastern Mediterranean that was caused by the descent of the marine nations. The Philistines, nation that inhabited Palestine, after attacking Egypt, were considered to have Cretan roots.
SUBMINOAN AND PROTOGEOMETRIC PERIOD (1100-900 BC)
The Subminoan period coincides with the descent of the Dorians, who came to Crete via Peloponnese. According to the tradition, Heraklides Tektamos or Teuktamos, son of Doros, who was the leader of mixed tribal group, consisting of Prohellenes, Pelasgians, Mycenaeans, Achaians, and Dorians, established the first Dorian dynasty in the island. In the Odyssey, Homer is referring to the racial mosaic of Crete.
When the warlike Dorians arrived in Crete, they found the island in decline. The population was remarkably reduced due to martial adventures, and, according to Thucydides, due to pledge and hunger. However, the Cretans did not surrender to the enemy so easily. Those who resisted more, they became slaves who were shared and given to the conquerors by lottery. Some others became depended villains who were cultivating the land and they had special protection by law. Those who did not resist had homage with freedom but with no political rights.
Those who did not want to surrender, they run away to the mountains, at the maintops of Lasithi and the mountainous eastern Crete. The area round Praisos was called land of the Eteocretans. The Eteocretans were the original Minoan Cretans, who according to inscriptions that were found in the area maintained their language until the beginning of the Classical period.
11th century (Subminoan period) is characterised by the survival of many Minoan elements in daily life, art, and religion. In contrast, in 10th century (protogeometric period) there was wide use of dividers and ruler in pottery. The new geometric spirit generally influenced Art. There are many settlements in Crete, which were constructed in this period. In the architecture of these settlements, we observe Minoan elements. The settlement on the inaccessible mountaintop of Karfi, at Lasithi, is one of the most important Subminoan centres or shelters of this period. In the same period, there were constructed the settlements of Vrocastro, Kavousi, Praisos, Knossos, Phaistos, Gortyna and Prinia. In western Crete, there have not yet been found any settlements. However, the protogeometric cemeteries that have been found near the village Modi, at Chania, testify the existence of those settlements.
The terracotta model of house that has been found at Tekes, Herakleion (near Knossos) is a beautiful example of house from this period. Based on this model, we presume that houses were built with hacked stones. In addition, they had large wooden door with ventilator, decorated with concentric circles, embossed frame, windows, triangular windows at the rear and tube-like chimney. The Subminoan and early Greek settlement of Knossos has not yet been found. The cemeteries that are in the area testify the long inhabitation from 1100 BC until c.630 BC. Then, Knossos had been vacated and was re-inhabited in the 6th century BC. Certainly, Knossos was a vigorous centre with wide luster all over the island and overseas.
GEOMETRIC AND ORIENTAL PERIOD (900-650 BC)
In geometric period, mainly in the 8th century BC, new Greek city-states are being established. Some of them are Dreros, Lato or Hetera, Rhizenia (Prinias) and Axos. Lato or Hetera, northwester to Agios Nikolaos, was a characteristic example of city-state with developed residential organisation. This town had long life, from Subminoan until the Hellenistic period. Dreros had also very developed residential organisation. The city had an early temple of Delphinian Apollo and continuous agora. In the acropolis of Gortyna, there is one of the older temples. Gortyna was established in the late 9th century BC. The Cretan temples had never been voluminous. Only in the Hellenistic period, there is in Crete the “en parastasi” type of temple, with two or three columns among the pilasters of the facade. In the 8th century, the influence of Attica is obvious on the large pottery of Knossos, whereas the smaller scale pottery is influenced by the protocorinthian style. It is the first time, we have mythological representations, like the one of Zeus with the thunder in front of the tripod and Gea underneath it. The Knossian pottery workshop influenced many regions, such as Eleftherna, Arkades, and Mesara. The far-out eastern Crete was uninfluenced by Knossos. Vessels from Kavousi, Andromylous, Sykia, at Sitia, Episkopi at Piskokefalo, and Berati at Sitia, have curvilinear decoration made by free hand. In the 6th century, the oriental decoration themes were adopted in the geometric style. Colourfulness, which flourished in c.700 BC, is minoan characteristic. Pottery from Arkades has greater influence than Knossos, but also has its local characteristics. In this period, there are many worthy local workshops, from which we have masterpieces of pottery, sculpture made of various materials. Some examples are bronze shields from Idaion Andron and Palaiokastro, gold jewellery, bronze belt and quiver from Fortetsa, and the idols of Britomartyr- Artemis from Olous and of Athena from Knossos.
ARCHAIC PERIOD (650-500 BC)
The early archaic period is period of great prosperity for the Cretan school. The main centres of this school are Eleftherna, Prinias, Dreros, Gortys, and Axos. The most characteristic examples of daedalic plastic art are the torso from Eleftherna, the goddesses and the warrior cavalcade from Prinias, the bronze statuettes of the “apollonian triad” from Dreros and the terracotta idols from Gortys and Axos.
The archaic period is the last period of prosperity and cultural development in the island. The particularity, which since the age of the first Minoan palaces characterises Crete, shades away by the end of the 6th century BC. The best sculptors (Dipoinos and Skyllis) and architects (Chersiphron and Metagenes) immigrate to Peloponnese and Ionia. This blood letting is the result of corruption in the intellectual circles of the island, but also of the martinet Dorian lifestyle. This new lifestyle has changed the Minoan spirit to the well-known metropolitan Spartan limits.
In the following periods, sculpture and pottery are in decline. The artefacts from the excavations testify the tendency of low quality imitation of pottery from the mainland Greece, and especially Attica. Jewellery is still in high standards. Very characteristic examples of this period are the silver pieces of jewellery that have been found in Tarra (buckles, pins and rings). On the other hand, the coins of the Hellenistic age are of very good quality and we can assume that they continue their tradition. Finally, in the Roman period, very interesting are the colourful glass vessels. One of the most important glasswork-shops is that in Tarra.
CLASSICAL PERIOD (500-330 BC)
In this period, according to the ancient poets, writers or lexicographers, the residential complex of Crete has been expanded and over than 150 cities are known. The most important of them are: Knossos, Gortys, Phaistos, Tylissos, Lyktos, Chersonisos, Vienna or Viannos, Priansos, Rhizenia in central Crete, Axos (or Oaxos), Eleftherna, Lappa, Rhithymna, Sybrita, Aptera, Cydonia, Elyros, Kisamos, Phalasarna, Lissos, Polyrrenia, Tarra, Yrtakina in western Crete, Milatos, Dreros, Lato, Olous, Ierapytna, Praisos, Itanos, Sitia, Ambelos in eastern Crete. Many of those place-names are Minoan and Mycenaean, whereas the Dorian names are hardly recognisable.
Competition between cities of the same area became harder. Hence, in the west Cydonia was conflicting Apollonia, in the centre, Knossos was conflicting Lyttos and Phaistos was against Gortys, and in the east, Itanos was against Ierapytna and Olous against Lato. For this very reason, Crete was isolated and did participated neither in the Persian Wars nor in the Peloponnesian War. The only fact that has to do with the second war, is when the Athenians tried to dominate Cydonia, being helped by the Gortynians.
In 5th and 4th centuries BC, Knossos and Gortys became capital cities. The smaller towns confederated with them. Thus, city federations were made, which had as their aim to increase their influence as much as possible. These federations were interchangeable, since the lesser towns were often going from the one federation to the other. In 4th century BC, and mainly during the war 346/345 BC, we have the first mercenaries, who had very important role in the inner conflicts of the island. Some of these conflicts are the one of Knossos against Lyktos, Cydonia, and Gortys. However, the Cretans did not use mercenaries for expansion wars overseas. The stride of coinage testifies the conflict among the cities of the island, which tried to be the economical superpower of the island.
In addition, in this period, ancient cults and especially orphic belief, which have Cretan roots, revive. According to the Orphics, man comes from the Titans, who had tasted the flesh of the divine infant Zagrea, or from Uranus and Gee, combining the human-mortal element with the divine-immortal. The entry to the Helysia after death, was aloud only to the blessed ones. Blessed were those who had preserved the divine elements of their roots. In golden orphic foils, which have been found in tombs of Crete, there is recorded the conversation between the soul of the Orphic and the divinity of the Helysia. The votary confirms that he belongs to the blessed generation and the divinity shows the way to a spring among cypresses. The revival of the orphic believes goes with a general revival of mystic cults and we have more people visiting the great temples of the ancient cults (Idaion Andron, Zeus Thenata in Amnisos, Dictaian Zeus in Palaiokastro). In addition, we have the worship of Minoan god Belchanos in Agia Triada. This religious revival was not only the outcome of inner thought, but it was also influenced by the ancient Minoan tradition. This tradition gave to the island prestige, even until the very late antiquity. Crete was religious centre. This is assumed by the interest that was expressed in the Hellenistic period by writers, in the Cretan myths and cults. Also, in this period, many people come from other regions of the Greek world, and we have the making of the top inscriptive object of Orphics, the disc of Phaistos.
HELLENISTIC PERIOD (330-69 BC)
This period is characterised by continuous civil wars and interference of out-comers in the in-house matters of the island. According to Polybius, Knossos and Gortys subjected central Crete, apart from Lyktos, which they took in 220 BC with alliance of 1000 Aitolian warriors. The city was rebuilt with alliance by the Spartans. In the same period, the Polyrrenians, the Lappaians and their allies sought for help by Philip E’ and the Achaians. Thus, they succeed to isolate the cities-allies to Knossos. Hence, the Cretans were fighting each other, in and out if the island. In 201 BC, new civil was broken out among the Cretan cities and there was upheaval in the whole island.
The Kilikians pirates were using the ports of the island, and they were plaguing Rome. Then the Senate of Rome took advantage on the situation and intervened in the inner matters of the island. In 172 BC, in the conflict between Gortys and Cydonia, Cydonia asked for help Eumenes B’ of Pergamos. During the Hellenistic age, there is observed a general and gradual development of the democratic constitutions in all cities. The “ekklesia” of the deme and the “boule” became more powerful. In addition, there were tendencies for further federations among neighbour states. The most characteristic federation is the one of Ore in southwestern Crete (late 4th century BC) and also the “koinon ton Kretaeon”, the Cretan republic, which was established in the mid 3rd century BC, with initiation of Gortys. Members of this republic were: Gortys, Knossos, Phaistos, Lyttos, Rhaukos, Ierapytna, Eleftherna, Aptera, Polyrrenia, Sybrita, Lappa, Axos, Priansos, Allaria, Arkades, Keraia, Praisos, Lato, Viannos, Malia, Eronos, Chersonisos, Apollonia, Elyros, Yrtakina, Eltynia, Anopolis, Araden, Istron and Tarra. Phalasarna, Olous, Itanos, and Cydonia were not members. The Cretan republic was instrumenting complimentary decrees, was granting immunity and consular titles, and it was giving wishes. The most important artefacts from this period, are coins of each city and inscriptions of treaties, alliances etc. Sometimes, these inscriptions are our unique sources about the existence of some cities
ROMAN PERIOD (69 BC-330 AD)
In the mid 2nd century BC, Knossos becomes again the capital city of the island. In Knossos, there was organised the struggle against the pirates and the Romans, for the independence of the island. However, Rome did not change her policy until the Mithridatic wars, when the Cretans offered their piratic navy to the king of Pontus. Marcus Antonius, who was called Cretan, under the pretension of repressing piracy, he tried to attack Crete, but he did not succeeded because the Cretans resisted (71 BC). The Senate was thinking seriously how they could vanquish the island. They did not accept the proposal for peace, friendship, and alliance that the Cretans made when they realised the danger they were running. The Romans demanded surrender of the Cretan leaders, 300 hostages, the navy, and 4000 silver talanta as martial amends. The Cretans did not accept these conditions. This was the reason for the entrusting of systematic operations to Consul Cointus Caecilius Metellus in 69 BC, aiming to the subjection of the island. Metellus achieved his aim after continuous sieges of Cretan cities (Cydonia, Knossos, Lyttos, Eleftherna, Lappa, and Ierapytna that was defended by the general Aristion). Thus, Crete became Roman province. It was the first time that Crete was under the yoke of a foreigner.
The consolidation of the Roman rule in the island opens a new period, which is characterised by impervious stability. Apart from the larger cities, such as Gortys and Ierapytna, even the lesser towns, such as Kisamos and Chersonisos, have theatres. This influence was not of great importance for the Hellenism of Crete. The simultaneous existence of the Greek theatre counterbalanced this Roman influence. There were many theatres all over the island. The architecture of this period, in Crete, is still in the Greek style. Only some special constructions, aqueducts, sinks, and thermae have Roman origins. Some decorative patterns are considered influence from Asia Minor and Syria. Sculpture is still according to the Greek tradition. There are many famous sculpture workshops in Athens, Miletos, and Paros. We have no works of painting but the few mosaics that have been found in Knossos and Sybrita are of low quality.
The Greek language, as in the rest Hellenistic world, had very important role in preserving the Greek identity of the Cretans. The “koine” (common) was already propagated in Crete in the Hellenistic times. This can be presumed based on the inscriptions, which preserve decrees between Cretan cities, or between Cretan cities and other Hellenistic cities or rulers. The simultaneous use of the Common and the Doric dialect was wide and there was continuous effect between each other. There are forms of the one dialect in texts of the other. This linguistic amalgam is common in later periods as well. It is believed that same phrases of the Eteocretan Greek language are used even in this period. The characteristic feature of the Eteocretan language is that it has many multi-compound Greek words. It is remarkable that Christianity, which was inspired in Crete very early, used the Common Greek language. This language was also used for the Hellenisation of the Jewish of the island. In 2nd century AD, Cretans took part in the “Panellenion”, according to the inscriptions that testify elections for Cretan representatives in the panhellenic conference.
BYZANTINE PERIOD – ARABIC AND VENETIAN DOMINION (330-1669 AD)
In the first (A’) Byzantine period (330-824 AD), Crete’s fortune was depended on the disunion of the Roman Empire. When Theodosios the Great was emperor (395 AD), Crete became issue of the Byzantine Empire with Byzantine general. In this period, which lasted until 824 AD, Christianity is strengthened and the first paleochristianic basilicas are being built. One of them is basilica of Apostle Titus. The Saracen Arabs were booted out from Spain and Alexandria. Their chief was Abu Chaps Omar. They embarked in south Crete in 824 AD. The conquerors built in Herakleion fortifications and around the fortifications they dug in a ditch. This ditch gave to the city the name El Chandac/Chandacas/Candia. In 961 AD, the Byzantine with Nikephoros Phokas, took Crete back. However, the Arabs caused many problems in many sectors. Phokas took up strong motivations for the economical development of the Cretans and he consolidated his political power over the island. He was also interested in the enlivenment of Christianity and the rousement of national identity of the Cretans. In 1082, Alexios B’ Komnenos sent colonists with twelve young noblemen at head. He privileged them and he conceded them land so that they would inhabit the island and reinforce the local population.
The names of the dynasties that the noblemen came from were Chortatzides, Kallergides, Melisinoi, Phokades, Gavalades, and Blastoi. These names are subsists even in our days. The Byzantine dominion ended in 1204, when the Crusaders gave Crete to Bonifatios Monferatikos. Bonifatios sold the island to the doge of Venice, Errico Dandolo. Dandolo succeeded until 1212 AD to remove the Genoatians who had inhabited Crete as well. Since then, there is a long period under the Venetian dominion and Crete is a kingdom excluding Sfakia, which had local autonomy, since they were never totally dominated.
TURKISH DOMINION (1669-1898 AD) AND UNION WITH GREECE.
Turks dominate Crete in the period 1669-1898AD. In 1832 until 1840, the island was given to the Egyptian general Mechmet Ali by the Sultan as present for his help against the revolutionised Greeks
In 25 August 1898, there was a great slaughter in Herakleion. In this slaughter, the Turks killed the English ambassador and seventeen English soldiers. Then under the force of the Great Superpowers (England, France, Russia), the Turkish army abandoned the island and Crete became independent with Prince George of Greece as consular resident commissioner (9th December 1898). The Cretan parliament resolved the union of Crete with Greece. In 1905, Eleftherios Venizelos organised the revolution of Therissos. The revolutionaries forced Prince George to resign, they abolished the residency constitution, and they notified the union with Greece (1908). The European forces retracted their armies. The union was done officially after the end of the Balcanic Wars (1912-1913). They signed the treaty of London (17/13 May 1913) and the Sultan waived from his rights. In 1 December 1913, the union is notified and the Greek flag is risen at Firka castle in Chania. King of the Hellenes, Constantine, and Eleftherios Venizelos were present.
In Crete, the first excavations were done in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos, who was researcher from Herakleion, in the area of Knossos. The artefacts were presented to European museums (London, Paris, Rome, and Athens) but also to the Educational Society of Herakleion, which later became the Archaeological Museum of Herakleion. Schleiman wanted to continue the excavations but the Turkish authorities did not permit it to him. In 1894, Sir Arthur Evans came to Crete and in 1900, he started his excavations in Knossos, which was concluded in 1930-31. English scientists continue Evans’ excavation programme. In addition, the Archaeological school has excavated in Palaiokastro, Karfi, Myrtos, and parts of Zakros.
The Italian archaeological school has excavated in Phaistos, Agia Triada, Axos, and Arkades.
The French archaeological school has excavated in Malia and Chrysolakos.
The American archaeological school has excavated in Vasiliki, Pseira, Mochlos, and Gournia.
Finally, the Greek archaeologists, apart from the lesser archaeological researches they have done, they have excavated in Zakros, the Bathypetrou houses, in Tylissos, Sklavokampos, Apodoulos, Archanes, Cydonia, Piskokefalo, Kofina, Maza, the vaulted tombs at Mesara, Katsambas, Kyparissio, Levina, Armenes, Stylos, Maleme, Platyvolas and Gerani etc.
problems regarding this web site should be directed to