Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.05.17

W.G. Cavanagh, M. Curtis, J.N. Coldstream, A.W. Johnston, Post-Minoan Crete. Proceedings of the First Colloquium on Post-Minoan Crete held by the British School at Athens and the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 10-11 November 1995.   London:  The British School at Athens, 1998.  Pp. 134.  ISBN 0-904887-29-4.  £19.  

Reviewed by Angelos Chaniotis, University of Heidelberg (
Word count: 2811 words

Until very recently, most publications concerning the period between the collapse of Palatial Crete and the Venetian occupation in the early thirteenth century monotonously repeated that Minoan and Early Iron Age Crete have monopolized the interest of modern research and that important periods for which evidence abounds -- especially the Hellenistic and Roman periods -- have been neglected. Such statements were sadly accurate in the '80s, when books like I.F. Sanders' Roman Crete (Warminster 1982) were reminding Cretologists of the necessity to intensify research on these late periods but were hardly finding any imitators. Things have changed, unfortunately not so much with regard to the publication of the Post-Minoan material hoarded in the Cretan Archaeological Collections,1 but certainly with regard to studies covering central aspects of history and archaeology.2 The initiators of the First Colloquium on Post-Minoan Crete should be congratulated for the idea of organizing a Colloquium specifically dedicated to this subject; the second colloquium has already taken place (this time on Crete, in 1998).

The volume under review assembles 16 of the 23 papers presented during the colloquium.3 There is a little something for everybody, since the articles concern many sites and regions (Agia Triada, Apollonia, Kavousi Kastro, Knossos, Phaistos, Praisos, Sphakia), all the periods from Late Minoan to Roman, and an impressive variety of aspects, such as religion, settlement patterns, culture, ethnicity (see the table of contents, at the end of the review), numismatics, political history, and society. In this review I will not follow the chronological order, in which the papers are arranged in the volume but I will attempt to identify areas of research.

Many papers summarize the results of excavation and survey work which have dramatically improved our knowledge of settlement history, in general and with regard to particular sites. The most spectacular case is that of Sphakia in West Crete, an isolated and neglected region, under study for more than a decade by Moody, Nixon, Price, and Rackham. Their paper discusses various aspects of settlement history (I single out the discussion of itinerant settlements) and demonstrates through a study of large Graeco-Roman sites (Tarrha, Araden, Anopolis, Phoinix) the methodological problem of "diachronic and synchronic comparability in the analysis of survey data from large sites": large sites need to be compared with themselves, larger and smaller sites within the same survey areas need to be compared, larger sites of different periods within the same survey area, or within different survey areas, need to be compared.

Whitley presents a summary of the results of the survey of the Praisos region, which has led to the identification of several Minoan sites ('guard towers', one shrine, tombs) as well as a refuge settlement at Kipia (ca. LM IIIc-900); here, the earliest phase of occupation at Praisos (ca. 1200-500 B.C.) has attracted most attention. In Kavousi Kastro Coulson focuses on the Proto- and Late Geometric phases of the settlement. The Late Geometric period is characterized by an expansion of the settlement (via terracing and levelling) and by an effort for axial arrangement and regular planning of the buildings (esp. buildings H and A); this indicates the existence of a central political authority.

The development of an important building complex at Kastro (the Northwest Building, LM IIIc-7th cent.), which in the Protogeometric period comprised four houses -- probably occupied by the members of the same (expanded) family --, is presented by Mook, who focuses on the wall construction techniques and the architectural features (the use of stone, double-faced walls, flat roofs made of clay and soil supported by wooden beams, doorways, staircases, floors, circular hearths, wall benches); the builders, who were probably the inhabitants, adjusted the buildings to the topography, but there is a tendency towards interconnecting rooms on a single terrace.

D'Agata sketches the transformation of the sacred area at Agia Triada (Piazzale dei Sacceli) from the Geometric to the Hellenistic period, basically in the light of the clay figurines found there. Cucuzza presents a panorama of the Geometric finds at Phaistos and points to the unanswered question of continuity from LM IIc to the Protogeometic period (cf. below). Paton discusses one of the most interesting buildings of Roman Knossos, the Villa Dionysos, named after the representation of the god on a magnificent mosaic floor. The discovery of an annotated draft of a plan made by C.A. Ralegh Radford before the Second World War sheds some light on the construction history of this building, whose function still remains unknown; Paton reminds us that there is no evidence that the Villa served a religious function.

Several articles are dedicated to the study of material culture and art history. Turner presents a unique find from the Kastro at Kavousi, a small lead pendant in the form of a female head in the Deadalic style (a goddess?) surmounting a disc. It may be an uniquely Cretan creation of the seventh century but with some associations abroad: lead votives are characteristic of Lakonia, the headdress resembles an Egyptian sun disc with a uraeus in front, while the ring resembles ring pendants surmounted by a figure in Northern Greece. Turner rightly points out that this object reflects the complexities of Crete's relations abroad; an association with the cult of Athena or Artemis is tempting but not at all certain.

Watrous proposes yet another restoration of the facade of Temple A at Prinias, based on the original and intriguing observation of the similarity of this building to Egyptian architecture and arrangement of decoration (esp. in Mastabas). Watrous restores a central pillar on the facade on analogy of the early temples at Kommos, Samos, and Thermon, and a flat roof; he identifies the sculptures as depicting Artemis and the Kouretes, the mythical prototypes of young males undergoing initiation; the number of the riders (nine) corresponds in fact to the number of the Kouretes, but on the other hand we know nothing about their association with horses and riding -- a difficult activity on the wild mountains where the Kouretes are usually located. The motif of the riders may indeed be related to aristocratic initiation and self-representation. One should not forget that many Cretan names are composed with the word hippos.4

In an elegantly written paper Moignard discusses the 'decorative syntax', 'transformational grammar', and 'three-dimensional morphologies' of some Orientalizing pottery from the Knossos North Cemetery. She demonstrates the originality and the wit of the Orientalizing artists in the use of traditional motifs and shapes: bees are arranged in such a way as to form a 'flower' or an X, bees and lotuses are combined in a delicate tracery of loops and bows, diagonal lines form nets, and vessels with the body of an owl, a monkey or a siren, or with spouts in the form of animal heads are full of life. With Moignard's observations the anonymous artists become personalities, like, e.g., her "Monday-Morning Painter": "his work, though often ambitious, has that notably hung-over feel" (p. 82).

A last group of papers deals with problems of the political history and topography of Classical and Hellenistic Crete. Stefanakis studies a series of mid-fourth century silver staters minted by a polis whose name starts with the letters KY. He demonstrates that these coins should be attributed to Kytaion; their iconography suggests strong ties (possibly an alliance) of Kytaion with Axos; Kytaion should be located in the vicinity of Axos (possibly at Almirida); Agia Pelagia, sometimes identified with Kytaion, should be identified with Apollonia (as already suggested by St. Alexiou). Stefanakis' identification of Kytaion with the toponym ku-ta-to in the Linear B texts is linguistically improbable (not to say impossible), but his suggestions are supported by other strong arguments.

The title of Karafotias' paper ("Crete in search of a new protector") evokes erroneous assumptions about the political history of the late third and early second centuries, since it implies that all the Cretans were regarding Nabis of Sparta as a possible protector, a replacement for Philip V. Fortunately, this unlucky title conceals a very informative and sound (but not terribly innovative) treatment of the relations of Cretan poleis to Philip V of Macedonia and Nabis of Sparta. Karafotias argues convincingly that Nabis did not possess but only influenced cities in West Crete; this is how one should understand the phrase "quam urbem haberet" in Livy xxxiv 35,4; it is also plausible that Nabis (not unlike most other Hellenistic monarchs) needed Crete as a supplier of ships, mercenaries, and pirates, but the author does not make very clear what the Cretans expected from Nabis in return. This paper has suffered from many mistakes in the Greek texts, and in his translation of I.Cret. II Aptera 5 A Karafotias has misunderstood all the Roman filiation formulas (e.g., Lucius Cornelius Publius Scipio, instead of Lucius Cornelius, son of Publius, Scipio).

De Souza makes a strong case for economic motives behind the Roman conquest of Crete. His paper is an important contribution to the history of late Hellenistic Crete because it reminds us of the need to subdivide the Hellenistic Age into smaller periods;5 de Souza demonstrates that the Late Hellenistic period (ca. 120-70 B.C.) is a period of economic and political strength and suggests that the Romans conquered Crete in order to exploit the island's considerable wealth.

Metenides attempts to interpret the appearance of Artemis Ephesia on tetradrachms struck in Gortyn in 68-66 B.C. He recognizes the historical background of these coins in the support Cretan cities had offered to Mithridates VI of Pontos; Metellus chose the image of the Ephesian goddess in order to draw attention to the Ephesian massacre staged by Mithridates and to commemorate his victory. This conclusion is very convincing; less certain is the existence of a cult of Artemis Ephesia in Crete. We know of a temple of Artemis (without an epithet) in Gortyn, but, as Metenides himself admits, this is no proof for the cult of Artemis Ephesia. He draws our attention to a fragmentary inscription of the imperial period from Gaul (IG XIV 2524), which reports of the dedication to Apollo of a statue. The text refers to anassa Ephessou and to Kresia phosphoros, but the relation between the two theonyms is not clear, because the crucial words are fragmentary (anass[.. E]phesou Kresian phaesphoron), and the text of the inscription is misprinted in the volume (with anassa restored in the nominative: anass[a E]phessou). Anassa is usually restored in the dative; in this case the text reports that someone dedicated to Apollo and to the mistress of Ephesos a statue of the Cretan phaesphoros. Only if anassa is restored in the accusative does the text refer to "the mistress of Ephesos, the Cretan phaesphoros"; but there seems to be no space for three letters in the lacuna. But even without a cult of Artemis Ephesia Metellus' propagandistic aims seem to me convincingly reconstructed.

Finally, Harrison argues that Roman Crete was an ordinary senatorial province, no more and no less properous than other senatorial provinces. The island's tranquil anonymity after a period of wars allowed the Cretans to enjoy a high level of material confort. The results of survey work and excavations allow the authors of the volume, in several cases, to address questions of a more general interest: continuity and change, identity and legitimation of claims, ethnicity and settlement history. In the case of Agia Triada D'Agata observes an expansion of the sacred area in the ninth century; when the site was reoccupied by Phaistos -- possibly in order to assert rights on the territory -- visible Minoan remains (Stoa FG) were re-used, a pattern known from other Cretan sites (e.g., Amnisos, Symi Viannou). The finds indicate the cult of a goddess (Artemis?) in the Geometric period. The cult declined in the seventh century (due to the rise of Gortyn?), and, when the cult started again in the early Hellenistic period, the recipients of the offerings were different: Velchanos6 and possibly Demeter.

The question of genuine or constructed continuities is addressed by Coldstream (in a summary of a paper published elsewhere), who points to the re-use of Minoan chamber graves and Late Minoan III A-B larnakes in the North Cemetery at Knossos in the late ninth century for the inhumation of children -- an interesting case of reverence of the Minoan past by the inhabitants of the prosperous Geometric city.

The question of continuity is addressed by Cucuzza from a different angle. He focuses on a building complex in Phaistos ('building AA, P, Q') in a Geometric quarter west of the Minoan Palace. If the size of this building suggests a 'ruler's dwelling' (B. Hayden), there are also some indications of cultic activity and banquets; Cucuzza observes that the so-called temple of Rhea (possibly a temple of Leto Phytia, where according to the literary tradition initiatory rituals took place) was built at the end of the 7th cent., after the abandonment of the Geometric quarter. This may be a case of transition from ruler's dwellings to temple, as suggested for other areas by A.J. Mazarakis-Ainian, but Cucuzza is wise enough to leave the question open.

In one of the most stimulating articles of the volume, Whitley addresses the interesting question what is specifically 'Eteocretan' in the material remains of an 'Eteocretan' city such as Praisos. Nothing, except for the few Eteocretan inscriptions (texts of a preHellenic language, written in the Greek alphabet between the 6th and the 3rd cent. B.C.), distinguishes Praisos from other Cretan cities. This is his point of departure for a series of considerations on issues of ethnicity. I think that the subject is too large to be dealt with -- even in a preliminary form -- in five printed pages. Whitley is certainly right in pointing to the uncertainty whether Eteocretan remained a spoken language among the majority of the Praisians in the period in which Eteocretan inscriptions were written. He is not to blame for not considering other indicators of ethnicity -- however constructed -- such as month names, onomastical material, cults, etc., since we lack such material in the case of Praisos; but exactly for this reason one should be cautious. I should point out that the name of the only tribe attested for Praisos (Pharkaris) is unique for Crete with regard to its form (with the -is ending). Similar names of tribes (e.g., the ten Athenian tribes, the tribes Rhadamanthis and Kranais in Kaunos), are indicators of a late and artificial introduction of tribes, named after eponymous heroes. This may suggest a difference between the institutions of Praisos and the other Cretan cities and a late and artificial introduction of the phylai.

The volume is beautifully produced and carefully edited (with the exception of occasional mistakes in Greek texts and the lack of an index); in some cases one has the impression that the space assigned to the papers (5-13 pages) was too short for the development of an argument. The overall impression is that this book brings us one step further in the study of Post-Minoan Crete. Besides the presentation of material and the discussion of selected aspects, some questions recur in several of its chapters, perhaps indicating areas for future research: settlement history and terriorial dynamics, ethnicity and construction of identity, continuities and disconinuitiues, the role of external relationships, the need for both a microscopic analysis of particular regions and short periods of time as well as diachronic research and comparison of Crete with other regions of the Eastern Mediterranean.

List of papers:

(1) A.L. D'Agata, "Changing patterns in a Minoan and Post-Minoan sanctuary: the case of Agia Triada", pp. 19-26.

(2) J. Whitley, "From Minoans to Eteocretans: the Praisos region 1200-500 B.C.", pp. 27-39.

(3) W.D.E. Coulson, "The Early Iron Age on the Kastro at Kavousi in East Crete", pp. 40-44.

(4) M.S. Mook, "Early Iron Age domestic architecture: the Northwest Building on the Kastro at Kavousi", pp. 45-57.

(5) J.N. Coldstream, "Minor Redivivus: some nostalgic Knossians of the ninth century BC", pp. 58-61.

(6) N. Cucuzza, "Geometric Phaistos: a survey", pp. 62-67.

(7) L.A. Turner, "New Daedalica: a figured lead pendant from the Kastro at Kavousi", pp. 69-74.

(8) L.V. Watrous, "Crete and Egypt in the Seventh Century B.C.: Temple A at Prinias", pp. 75-79.

(9) E. Moignard, "Native wit: some orientalizing pottery from the Knossos North Cemetery", pp. 80-86.

(10) J. Moody, L. Nixon, S. Price, and O. Rackham, "Surveying poleis and larger sites in Sphakia", pp. 87-95.

(11) M. Stefanakis, "A mid-fourth century BC alliance coinage on Crete? The case of Kytaion reassessed", pp. 96-104.

(12) A. Karafotias, "Crete in search of a new protector: Nabis of Sparta and his relations with the island", pp. 105-111.

(13) Ph. de Souza, "Late Hellenistic Crete and the Roman conquest", pp. 112-116.

(14) N. Metenidis, "Artemis Ephesia: the political significance of the Metellus coins", pp. 117-122.

(15) S. Paton, "The Villa Dionysos at Knossos and its predecessors", pp. 123-128.

(16) G.W.M. Harrison, "Crete the ordinary", pp. 129-134.


1.   Among the few exceptions I single out publications of material from the Italian excavations at Gortyn, the British excavations at Knossos, the French excavations at Lato, and the excavations conducted by the University of Crete at Eleutherna. For some material from the Idaean Cave see P. Sapouna, Die Bildlampen römischer Zeit aus der Idäischen Zeusgrotte auf Kreta (BAR Int. Ser. 696), Oxford 1998.
2.   Most of the recent bibliography can be found in A. Chaniotis (ed.), From Minoan Farmers to Roman Traders, Stuttgart 1999, 359-380.
3.   The following papers were presented in the Colloquium but are not published in the volume: J.B. Carter, "Prinias and Carchemish: Syro-Phoenician Iconography Re-Contextualised in the Sculptural Program at Prinias"; A. Chaniotis, "Polis and Sanctuary in Classical and Hellenistic Crete: An Epigraphic Survey"; H. Matthäus, "Crete and the Near East during the 9th and 8th Centuries B.C. New Investigations on the Bronzes from the Idaean Cave of Zeus"; K. Nowicki, "Changes of the Settlement Pattern in Dark Age Crete"; K.A. Wardle, "Knossos 2000: New Light on the Roman City"; D.C. Haggis, "The Port of Tholos and Some Observations on the Position of Crete along the Egyptian 'Corn Route'" (published in Oxford Journal of Archaeology 15, 1996, 183-209); D. Viviers, "De la declaration d'amour au Code de Lois: l'education musicale en Crete"; E. Konstantinidi, "Jewellery in the Burial Contexts of Geometric Crete"; S. Garraffo, "Gortyn's Excavations and Coin Circulation in Roman and Byzantine Crete".
4.   See A. Chaniotis, "Von Hirten, Kraeutersammlern, Epheben und Pilgern: Leben auf den Bergen im antiken Kreta", in G. Siebert (ed.), Nature et paysage dans la pensée et l'environnement des civilisations antiques, Paris 1996, 98.
5.   Cf. W.V. Harris, "Crete in the Hellenistic and Roman Economies", in A. Chaniotis (ed.), op.cit. (note 2), 355f.
6.   On his cult on Crete see now G. Capdeville, Volcanus. Recherches comparatistes sur les origines du culte de Vulcain, Rome 1995.

Read Latest
Index for 2000
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:26:49, Friday, 03 April 2009