Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.09.17

Gerald Cadogan, Eleni Hatzaki, Adonis Vasilakis, Knossos: Palace, City, State. Proceedings of the Conference in Heraklion organized by the British School at Athens and the 23rd Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities of Heraklion, in November 2000, for the Centenary of Sir Arthur Evans's Excavations at Knossos. BSA Studies, 12.   London:  The British School at Athens, 2004.  Pp. 600; ills. 299, tables 22.  ISBN 0-904887-45-6.  £96.00.  

Reviewed by J. D. Muhly, University of Pennsylvania (

In the year 2000 both the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the British School at Athens held celebrations in honor of 100 years of archaeological work on the island of Crete. For the Americans 1900 represented the beginning of excavation at Kavousi, by Harriet Boyd. For the British 1900 was the year that Arthur Evans began work at Knossos. For the American School these celebrations resulted in two publications: Crete Beyond the Palaces, eds. L. Preston Day, M. S. Mook and J. D. Muhly (Philadelphia 2004) and One Hundred Years of American Archaeological Work on Crete, eds. J. D. Muhly and E. Sikla (Athens 2000). For details on both of these publications see the review article by Peter Warren (Aegean Archaeology 7 [2003-2004] 67-72. For the British School there were also two publications: the conference proceedings, reviewed here, and Cretan Quests: British Explorers, Excavators and Historians, ed. D. Huxley (Athens 2000).

The British School centenary conference was a far more ambitious undertaking than the centennial at the American School. The published proceedings comprise a volume about twice the size of its American counterpart. It includes 54 papers, with some material on a CD-ROM (in a pocket attached to the inside back cover of the book), it is a bilingual publication, with eight papers in Modern Greek, and it includes bilingual abstracts of all papers. The volume is also unusual in that some authors contribute more than one paper. Maria Panagiotaki is the author of four papers and Alexandra Karetsou is author or co-author of four papers. Unlike the American conference, which dealt with archaeological work across the island, the British conference dealt solely with Knossos. Evans began work at Knossos in 1900 and this is the Knossos centenary volume. It is a remarkable tribute to the on-going, never-ending interest in Knossos. I am sure that we shall never see the day when it can truthfully be stated that nothing more need be said about the site of Knossos. The papers included in the volume include contributions from just about every scholar who has ever dealt in any serious way with any aspect of Knossian research.

Almost all the contributions included in this volume are by British or Greek scholars. I could identify two scholars from Italy, two from Belgium, one from Germany, one from Finland and three from North America. Most of the papers are of modest length, averaging about ten pages. With 54 papers this was an obvious necessity. The only exception, at 37 pages, is the paper by Vasso Fotou, dealing with the trial pits dug by Evans in 1900-1902. Many well-known aspects of Knossian studies are presented here, including:

J. Driessen, on the central court of the Minoan palace

E. Hatzaki, on the LM II-IIIB town

L. Alberti, on LM II-IIIA1 warrior graves

C. Palyvou, on outdoor space in Minoan architecture

I. Begg, on mason's marks

A. Marcar, on Minoan costume and the dating of Minoan frescoes

I. Schoep, on seal usage and administration

W.-D. Niemeier, on the Minoan Thalassocracy

P. Mountjoy, on Knossos and the Cyclades

K. Demakopoulou, on Knossos and the Argolid

T. Whitelaw, on the population of Neopalatial Knossos

A. Michailidou, on weight systems and the Minoan economy

J. Whitley, on problems connected with Orientalizing pottery.

Other papers deal with more recent technological concerns:

N. Efstratiou, A, Karetsou, E. Banou and D. Margomenou, on the environment of Neolithic Knossos

P. Tomkins, P. Day and V. Kilikoglou, on the Early Neolithic landscape

C. Knappett, on technological innovation at MM Knossos

D. Evely and Z. Stos, on LM metallurgy.

There are even several papers on more esoteric topics:

A. MacGillivray, on the astral labyrinth at Knossos

L. Goodison, on dawn light and directionality in Minoan buildings.

Although the bulk of the volume deals with Minoan Knossos, the Roman period also receives considerable attention:

L. Lagogianni-Georgakarakos, on a portrait of the Divine Augustus, probably from the time of Caligula

S. Paton, on the Colonia Julia Nobilis Cnossus

K.A. and D. Wardle, on Roman rock cut tombs

G. Forster, on Late Roman Knossos, a period during which the city was thought to have been deserted.

There is also a series of papers dealing with the life and career of Sir Arthur Evans, with the site of Knossos before and after Evans, and with the early seasons at Knossos. One of the most interesting is that by Alexandra Karetsou, "Knossos after Evans: past interventions, present state and future solutions". As the Palace of Minos now receives up to one million visitors every year something had to be done to protect the site from the depredations of mass tourism. Karetsou gives an excellent account of the problem and of the very nice solution worked out by the ephoreia in Heraklion.

This volume provides a real Knossian feast, something of a smorgasbord. Everyone is going to find interesting things in what can only be described as an attractively produced and well edited volume. All the more impressive when one realizes that the conference that resulted in this publication was but one of a number of activities organized by the British School at Athens during the 2000 centenary year. It should also be pointed out that this volume has a most useful index, something unusual in books of this nature. I was delighted to see the editors pay tribute to Barbara Hird for compiling this excellent index (p. 38).

Critical discussion of all 54 of the contributions contained in this volume is obviously impossible, short of producing a text of comparable length. This reviewer, therefore, will use his prerogative to discuss some aspects of those papers that seem to be of more general interest. Efstratiou and his colleagues, in discussing Neolithic Knossos, point to the absence of charcoal from olive trees and conclude that the olive was unknown during the Neolithic period, at least at Knossos, and perhaps not even domesticated in the Bronze Age (p. 45). This is simply not possible. There is a wealth of evidence for the production and consumption of olive oil on Bronze Age Crete. For recent work on this subject I would begin with F. R. Riley, "Olive oil production on Bronze Age Crete: nutritional properties, processing methods and storage life of Minoan olive oil," Oxford Journal of Archaeology 21 (2002) 63-75.

One of the great puzzles presented by the impressive remains of Early Neolithic Knossos, going back to ca. 7000 BC, has always been the fact that the site seemed to exist in virtual isolation. Now petrographic studies, carried out by P. Tomkins and his colleagues, indicate that not all sherds from EN Knossos are of Knossian fabric. Some seem to come from as far away as the Bay of Mirabello, in NE Crete. If they were making (and trading) pottery in the Bay of Mirabello during the EN period, then there must be EN sites to be found somewhere in that general area (pp. 56-57).

David Wilson and his colleagues present a fascinating discussion regarding the different lifestyles enjoyed at the EM I town of Knossos and the nearby (harbor?) site at Poros-Katsamba. At Poros the excavators found Cycladic pottery as well as industrial ceramics. In the town, however, the pottery was of shapes associated with drinking and feasting (p. 73). Those who dwelled in Poros seem to have been hard at work, devoting their lives to trade and industry. Back in town, however, the good life seems to have been well underway.

Jan Driessen believes that the Central Court represented the very essence of the Minoan palace such that understanding the origin of the central court is to understand the origin of the Minoan palace. The central court is, for Driessen, an architectural representation of the Cretan landscape, with valleys surrounded by mountains providing the inspiration for the design of the central court. The central court thus becomes "a cosmic reminder of the island itself" (p. 77). But valleys surrounded by mountains must constitute much of the landscape of the Mediterranean world, yet only the Minoans built palaces with central courts, all with the same orientation and very much the same dimensions. I still feel it best to look to Anatolia for the origins of the Minoan palace, as argued once again in the brilliant new book by Margalit Finkelberg, Greeks and Pre-Greeks. Aegean Prehistory and Greek Heroic Tradition (Cambridge 2005). What is important for Clairy Palyvou (p. 215) is that "the only absolutely predetermined and strictly designed space in Minoan architecture is, in fact, an open air space" (in italics in original).

Todd Whitelaw's attempt at estimating the population of Neopalatial Knossos is very much a part of the current trend to reduce drastically estimates for all ancient urban centers, including Periclean Athens and Augustan Rome (for which see G. Storey, Antiquity 71 [1997] 966-978). Evans, in 1928, and R. W. Hutchinson in 1950 had put the population of Knossos at ca. 80,000-100,000. Whitelaw suggests a population of from 14,000 to 18,000 individuals (p. 153), a much more believable figure. This question of population is also discussed by Peter Warren who surveys all the recent literature and comes up with a maximum population of 12,000 for MM III-LM I Knossos (pp. 164-165).

Many scholars have argued that the Mycenaeans conquered and took control of Minoan Crete at the end of LM IB. Central to this argument has been the presence of a number of so-called warrior graves in the Knossos area, dating to LM II-IIIA1. Are these the burials of the Mycenaean conquerors of Minoan Crete? Lucia Alberti feels that this probably is the case but that the close parallels with the Greek mainland are documented more in the pottery than in the jewelry or the bronze vessels and weapons (p. 134).

This period in the history of Minoan Crete (LM II-IIIA) is now known as Final Palatial Crete and is the subject of the paper by Laura Preston. What is remarkable about the LM II period is that, at Knossos, the distinctive pottery of this period comes entirely from the tombs that are characteristic of this period, the so-called warrior graves discussed by Alberti. Outside Knossos, however, this pottery is known entirely from settlement contexts (p. 139). Preston never refers to Mycenaean conquerors or to warrior graves. For her the tombs at LM II Knossos represent elite burials made by a group using burials as a forum for ostentatious display, but this group need not have been intrusive. These new burial practices start to spread across Crete in LM IIIA1 and this increases in intensity in LM IIIA2, at which time the palace at Knossos was destroyed (p. 140).

So what does all this mean? Where are the Mycenaeans? These two papers, by Alberti and Preston, show very clearly the major divisions that still exist amongst Minoan archaeologists in the reading of the archaeological evidence and its historical interpretation. A bemused reader might ask: What am I supposed to believe? I have a feeling that anyone who feels the need to ask such a question probably should not study Minoan archaeology.

What about King Minos and the Minoan Thalassocracy, the time when the Minoan fleet ruled the waves (if ever there was such a time)? This is the subject of the paper by Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier. The Minoan Thalassocracy is right up there with the Mycenaeans on Crete as two of the most contentious issues in present day Minoan scholarship. There are still many archaeologists who passionately reject both concepts. Niemeier, on the other hand, is a believer, willing to put his trust in the Greek literary tradition and accounts given by Hesiod and Bacchylides (p. 395).

Was there a Minoan Thalassocracy? All answers to that question have, in fact, involved conflicting interpretations of the nature of LBA trade in the eastern Mediterranean. Thus A. Bernard Knapp's article (not cited by Niemeier) on "Thalassocracies in Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean trade: making and breaking a myth," World Archaeology 24 (1993) 338-347) has very little to say about Minoan Crete as it concentrates upon conditions in Cyprus and the Levant. Knapp, however, does state that in the eastern Mediterranean "many fleets were active: Egypt, several Levantine states, Cyprus, Cilicia, Mycenaean Greece, Minoan Crete. Several polities produced raw materials, comestibles and finished products for exchange in an international exchange system that has been termed 'conditioned co-existence'. In such a situation, domination over the seas could not have existed" (WA 1993, p. 337). Much depends here on just how seriously one takes the concept of 'thalassocracy'. In studies published in 1990 and 1991 (both cited by Niemeier) Malcolm Wiener certainly established the fact that Old Palace and Neopalatial Crete was a major naval power, with 'governed' and 'settlement' colonies established throughout the eastern Mediterranean, most notably at Miletus. What we cannot determine is just how dominant the Cretan navy was during this period. The palace at Knossos certainly exudes imperial power, quite unlike any other Minoan palatial site. On the other hand, the great imperial power of the day was certainly pharaonic Egypt. One tends not to think of Egypt as a naval power, but we are now learning more and more about the significance of the Egyptian navy (see Shelley Wachsmann, Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant, 1998, pp. 9-60).

Considerations concerning a Minoan thalassocracy are intimately connected with ideas regarding the political organization of Neopalatial Crete: was the island unified, under Knossian hegemony, or did it consist of a number of independent principalities, each with its own palatial center? Again we find ourselves in the midst of controversy and conflicting interpretations, involving questions that Minoan archaeologists are still trying to answer. Proposed answers to such questions these days tend to be based upon the evidence from the use of clay sealings as part of an administrative system that, to some extent, already existed in the Early Minoan period but only in a preliterate sense as inscribed sealings only came into use in MM IB, coinciding with the establishment of the first palaces (for this date see the paper by J. Weingarten and C. F. Macdonald, in Studi in Onore di Enrica Fiandra, ed. M. Perna, Naples 2005, pp. 393-404).

The problem with such evidence, as pointed out by Ilse Schoep in her contribution to the Knossos centenary volume, is that most of our deposits of clay sealings come from the LM IB period, a time when the palace at Knossos seems to have ceased functioning as an administrative center (p. 289). The most remarkable evidence for clay sealings as administrative documents does not even come from a palace context but from what seems to have been a lavish private house. This is House A at Zakros, excavated by David Hogarth in 1900 and the subject of a forthcoming detailed study by Malcolm Wiener. These sealings were found in the LM IB destruction layer at House A but, as Schoep points out (p. 288), the only real parallels for the remarkable sealing practices documented in the House A deposit come from the sealings found in the MM IIIB Temple Repositories at Knossos. The evidence available at present seems to provide no clear answers, but Schoep seems to be in favor of independent centers within "a supra-regional administrative network" (p. 289). The autonomy of Zakros is strongly advocated by Judith Reid in her recently completed (2005) doctoral dissertation, at Victoria University of Wellington (N.Z.), on "Minoan Kato Zakro: A Pastoral Economy" (esp. pp. 49-54). Lefteris Platon, the excavator of the Zakros palace (having taken over his father's excavation), on the other hand, argues in his contribution to the Knossos centenary volume that the Zakros palace was actually built by Knossians (p. 390). A better case for direct Knossian involvement, starting already in MM III, can be made for the construction of the palace at Galatas, in the Pediada, the subject of the contribution from Giorgos Rethemiotakis and Kostandinos Christakis.

Along with administration must go weights and measures and Minoan weights and measures have become the special domain of Anna Michailidou. In her contribution to the Knossos centenary volume Michailidou presents a critical evaluation of Minoan, 'Aegean', Egyptian and Near Weight standards and the scholarly work on this subject published since the seminal article by Evans in 1906, exactly one hundred years ago. The bewildering variety of weight systems in use in the eastern Mediterranean world during the second millennium BC, as reconstructed by modern scholars, is most confusing today. What was it like for LBA merchants, involved in business transactions from Boeotian Thebes to Egyptian Thebes? Michailidou believes that, with a proper understanding of the interconnections between different weight systems, it was possible "that merchants in the Aegean, Egypt and the Levant could negotiate in foreign trade while using their own balance weights" (p. 319). For another look at this problem see A. Mederos and C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, "Converting currencies in the Old World," Nature 411 (May 2001) 437. This theory is actually described in greater detail, with a very clear conversion table, in R. Fléaux, "La clé des changes. Un système international de poids à l'âge du bronze," Sciences et Avenir 654 (August 2001) 82-84.

To Michailidou's excellent list of references could be added M. E. Alberti, "Ayia Irini: Les poids de balance dans leur contexte," Rivista, Quaderni ticinesi di numismatica e antichit√† classiche 24 (1995) 9-37 and, by the same author, "A Stone or a Weight? The tale of the fish, the melon and the balance," Annali, Istituto Italiano di Numismatica 45 (1998) 9-22. In Part 2 of the publication of the conference on Eliten in der Bronzezeit, published by the Römisch-Germanische Zentralmuseum, Monographien 43, 2 (Mainz 1999) Christopher Pare published a remarkable article on "Weights and Weighing in Bronze Age Central Europe," pp. 421-514. In spite of its title this article also deals with the Aegean, including a section on "Weighing equipment in Graves of the Aegean Late Bronze Age," pp. 470-477.

In his contribution to the Knossos centenary volume, dealing with Iron Age Crete, James Whitley takes on the tricky concept of 'Orientalizing', especially as the term is used at Knossos. Whitley sets out to see if it could be shown that 'fancy' burials tended to be made in 'fancy' urns. In other words, were the elite more receptive to influences from the Orient? The answer seems to be no, or at least not until the middle of the seventh century BC. It was at that time that the elite of Knossos had their brief fling with that oriental practice of dining and drinking from couches, known as the symposium, already adopted on the Greek mainland, especially at Corinth (p. 438).

Here Whitley has been led astray by his failure to consult recent German scholarship on Orientalizing Crete, especially the work of Hartmut Matthäus. In the Archäologischer Anzeiger for 2000, pp. 517-547, Matthäus presents a preliminary report on his work dealing with the relations between Greece and the Orient in the early first millennium BC as documented in finds from the Idaean Cave,excavated by Yiannis Sakellarakis. There Matthäus publishes fragments of a bronze votive shield with representations of what certainly looks like a symposium (p. 545, Fig. 20). At least there are people lying on couches. Such votive shields are not easy to date and, of course, there was no stratigraphy in the Idaean Cave. Matthäus, however, is confident that the bronze shield can be no later than the 8th century BC (p. 546). I think that Whitley has, perhaps, been too hasty in his observations on the history of the symposium on Crete. Cretans have always had the nasty habit of being unpredictable, and that characteristic is beautifully documented in almost every one of the contributions to this magnificent centenary volume.

With such a wealth of material on almost all aspects of Knossian research it might seem the height of ingratitude to call attention to what has been left out. There is, however, one glaring lacuna: Writing. The world of epigraphy has simply been omitted. Nothing on Bronze Age writing systems: Hieroglyphic, Linear A or Linear B, or on later Greek and Latin inscriptions. Evans concerned himself with evidence for writing at Knossos almost from the beginning of his work at the site. Many distinguished British scholars have dealt with the wealth of epigraphical evidence from Knossos. The lack of any treatment of all the evidence for the art of writing in this Knossos centenary publication is most surprising.

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