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Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
Krete; in Italian, Candia; in Turkish, Kirit. One of the largest
islands of the Mediterranean Sea, at the south of all the Cyclades. Its name is
derived by some from the Curetes, who are said to have been its first inhabitants;
by others, from the nymph Crete, daughter of Hesperus; and by others, from Cres,
a son of Zeus and the nymph Idaea. It is also designated among the poets and mythological
writers by the several appellations of Aeria, Doliche, Idaea, and Telchinia. According
to Herodotus, this great island remained in the possession of various barbarous
nations till the time of Minos, son of Europa, who, having expelled his brother
Sarpedon, became the sole sovereign of the country. These early inhabitants are
generally supposed to be the Eteocretes of Homer, who clearly distinguishes them
from the Grecian colonists subsequently settled there.
Minos, according to the concurrent testimony of antiquity,
first gave laws to the Cretans, and, having conquered the pirates who infested
the Aegean Sea, established a powerful navy. In the Trojan War, Idomeneus, sovereign
of Crete, led its forces to the war in eighty vessels, a number little inferior
to that commanded by Agamemnon himself. According to the traditions which Vergil
has followed, Idomeneus was afterwards driven from his throne by faction, and
compelled to sail to Iapygia, where he founded the town of Salernum. At this period
the island appears to have been inhabited by a mixed population of Greeks and
barbarians. Homer enumerates the former under the names of Achaei, Dorians, surnamed
Trichaices, and Pelasgi. The latter, who were the most ancient, are said to have
come from Thessaly, under the conduct of Teutamus, posterior to the great Pelasgic
emigration into Italy. The Dorians are reported to have established themselves
in Crete, under the command of Althemenes of Argos, after the death of Codrus
and the foundation of Megara. In Crete was the famous labyrinth whose construction
was ascribed to Daedalus, and about which so many legends cluster.
After the Trojan War and the expulsion of Idomeneus, the principal
cities of Crete formed themselves into several republics, for the most part independent,
while others were connected by federal ties. These, though not exempted from the
dissensions which so universally distracted the Grecian States, maintained for
a long time a considerable degree of prosperity, owing to the good system of laws
and education which had been so early instituted throughout the island by the
decrees of Minos. The Cretan code was supposed by many of the best-informed writers
of antiquity to have furnished Lycurgus with the model of his most salutary regulations.
It was founded, according to Ephorus, cited by Strabo, on the just basis of liberty
and an equality of rights; and its great aim was to promote social harmony and
peace by enforcing temperance and frugality. On this principle, the Cretan youths
were divided into classes called Agelae, and all met at the Andreia, or public
meals. Like the Spartans, they were early trained to the use of arms, and inured
to sustain the extremes of heat and cold, and undergo the severest exercise; they
were also compelled to learn their letters and certain pieces of music. The chief
magistrates, called Cosmi (kosmoi), were ten in number and elected annually. The
Gerontes constituted the council of the nation, and were selected from those who
were thought worthy of holding the office of Cosmus. There was also an equestrian
order, who were bound to keep horses at their own expense. But though the Cretan
laws resembled the Spartan institutions in so many important points, there were
some striking features which distinguished the legislative enactments of the two
countries. One of these was that the Lacedaemonians were subject to a strict agrarian
law, whereas the Cretans were under no restraint as to the accumulation of moneyed
or landed property; another, that the Cretan republics were for the most part
democratic, whereas the Spartan was decidedly aristocratic. Herodotus informs
us that the Cretans were deterred by the unfavourable response of the Pythian
oracle from contributing forces to the Grecian armament assembled to resist the
Persians. In the Peloponnesian War incidental mention is made of some Cretan cities
as allied with Athens or Sparta, but the island does not appear to have espoused
collectively the cause of either of the belligerent parties. The Cretan soldiers
were held in great estimation as light troops and archers, and readily offered
their services for hire to such States, whether Greek or barbarian, as needed
them. In the time of Polybius the Cretans had much degenerated from their ancient
character, for he charges them repeatedly with the grossest immorality and the
most hateful vices. We know also with what severity they are reproved by St. Paul,
in the words of one of their own poets, Epimenides, Kretes aei pseustai, kaka
theria, gasteres argai.
The chief cities of Crete were Cnossus, Cydonia, Gortyna,
and Lyctus, all of which see. The Romans did not interfere with the affairs of
Crete before the war with Antiochus, when Q. Fabius Labeo crossed over into the
island from Asia Minor, under pretence of claiming certain Roman captives who
were detained there. Several years after, the island was invaded by a Roman army
commanded by M. Antonius, under the pretence that the Cretans had secretly favoured
the cause of Mithridates; but Florus more candidly avows that the desire of conquest
was the real motive which led to this attack. The enterprise, however, having
failed, the subjugation of the island was not effected till some years later by
Metellus, who, from his success, obtained the agnomen of Creticus. It was then
(B.C. 67) annexed to the Roman Empire, and formed, together with Cyrenaica, one
of its numerous provinces, being governed by the same proconsul. Crete forms an
irregular parallelogram, of which the western side faces Sicily, while the eastern
looks towards Cyprus; on the north it is washed by the Mare Creticum, and on the
south by the Libyan Sea, which intervenes between the island and the opposite
coast of Cyrene. Mount Ida, which surpasses all the other summits in elevation,
rises in the centre of the island; its base occupies a circumference of nearly
600 stadia. To the west it is connected with another chain, called the White Mountains
(Leuka ore), and to the east its prolongation forms the ridge anciently known
by the name of Dicte.
This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Minoan Crete - Society
The abundant finds from Minoan Crete provide information on the changes
in Minoan society in each Minoan period. Settlements, cemeteries and works of
art reveal the rapid evolution of a geographically confined society which was
not only receptive to foreign influence, but also managed its resources appropriately
and developed a great civilization.
During the Early Minoan period (3000-2000 BC) for the first time collective
works, the technical specialisation of social groups and social ranking appear
as a result of foreign commercial relations and the successful exploitation of
raw materials (most likely by specific social groups). During this period social
consciousness was reinforced and a ruling class was established, leading to the
foundation of the palaces.
During the Middle Minoan period (2000-1550 BC), along with the appearance
of the palaces (which apart from being a distinct settlement system were also
the axis of central power) Minoan society underwent radical changes and appears
organized and centralized. The internal organization of the palatial centres demanded
the clearly defined social classes in a clear hierarchy. The character of the
palace administration allows the definition of this society as theocratic since
the concentration of power (which was certainly exercised by the palaces) was
attended by a dominant religion. However, the boundaries between politics and
religious power still remain vague since conclusions for the most part of the
Palatial period are based on archaeological finds unsupported by written evidence.
Moreover, although the mythological tradition of the Cretan King Minos influenced
the interpretation of archaeological evidence for a long time, the latest research
has indicated problems in identifying the leading figures in Minoan Crete.
The Mycenaeans introduced an administrative organization similar to
that of Mycenaean Greece, including the archive organization system and the creation
of certain new military institutions as proved by the luxurious warrior graves.
During the Post-Palatial period (1400-1050 BC) social developments that usually
result from the enfeeblement of central power took place. Power is now exercised
by several leaders who probably lived in rural villas and controlled smaller regions.
At the end of the Bronze Age power is exercised on a limited geographic
scale whereas the specialized groups which served the government machinery have
disappeared. The lack of central power leads to an increasing participation of
the urban centres in power. Moreover, the phenomenon of administrative independence
affecting religious organization is observable. The choice of new settlement locations
in naturally fortified regions indicates insecurity on the part of the inhabitants,
most likely attributable to a waning central power.
Throughout the Minoan period there is no defense system comparable
to the citadels of the Bronze Age in the Aegean and mainland Greece, which indicates
that the security of the inhabitants was ensured for most of the Bronze Age by
the so-called Minoan Peace.
This extract is cited October 2004 from the Foundation of the
Hellenic World URL below, which contains images
- Website of the Foundation of Hellenic Word
The "Minoan" Aegean World
Crete, Creta, Krete
- Crete, Krete: Perseus Lookup Tool, text search
- Creta: Perseus Lookup Tool, text search
Local government Web-Sites
Crete Region General Secretariat
Educational institutions WebPages
- University of Crete WebPages
- Washington State University WebPages
Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
Krete: Eth. and adj. Kres, Kresse, Kretaios, Kreteus, Kreteios, Kreteos,
Kretaieus, Kresios, Kretis, Kresis, Kretikos, Cretaeus, Cretanus, Cretensis, Creticus,
Cretis: Kriti; the common European name Candia is unknown in the island; the Saracenic
Khandax Megalo-Kastron became with the Venetian writers Candia; the word for a
long time denoted only the principal city of the island, which retained its ancient
name in the chroniclers, and in Dante (Inferno, xiv. 94).
I. Situation and Extent. Crete, an island situated in the Aegean basin
of the Mediterranean sea, is described by Strabo (x. p. 474) as lying between
Cyrenaica and that part of Hellas which extends from Sunium to Laconia, and parallel
in its length from W. to E. to these two points. The words mechri Lakonikes may
be understood either of Malea or Taenarum; it is probable that this geographer
extended Crete as far as Taenarum, as from other passages in his work (ii. p.
124, viii. p. 863), it would appear that he considered it and the W. points of
Crete as under the same meridian. It is still more difficult to understand the
position assigned to Crete with regard to Cyrenaica (xvii. p. 838). Strabo is
far nearer the truth, though contradicting his former statements, where he makes
Cimarus the NW. promontory of Crete 700 stadia from Malea (x. p. 174), and Cape
Sammonium 1000 stadia from Rhodes (ii. p. 106), which was one of the best-ascer-tained
points in ancient geography.
The whole circumference of the island was estimated by Artemidorus
at 4100 stadia; but Sosicrates, whose description was most accurate, computed
the length at more than 2300 stadia, and the circumference at more than 5000 stadia
(Strab. x. p. 476). Hieronymus (l. c.) in reckoning the length alone at 2000 stadia
far exceeded Artemidorus. In Pliny (iv. 20) the extent of Crete in length was
about 270 M. P. and nearly 539 M. P. in circuit. The broadest part (400 stadia)
was in the middle, between the promontories of Dium and Matalum; the narrowest
(60 stadia) further E., between Minoa and Hierapytna. The W. coast was 200 stadia
broad, but towards the E. between Amphimalla and Phoenix contracted to 100 stadia.
(Comp. Strab. p. 475.)
II. Structure and Natural Features. The interior was very mountainous,
woody, and intersected by fertile valleys. The whole island may be considered
as a prolongation of that mountain chain which breasts the waters at Cape Malea,
with the island of Cythera interposed. The geological formation resembles that
of the Hellenic peninsula; from the traces of the action of the sea upon the cliffs,
especially at the W. end, it seems that the island has been pushed up from its
foundations by powerful subterranean forces, which were in operation at very remote
times. (Journ. Geog. Soc. vol. xxii. p. 277.)
A continuous mass of high-land runs through its whole length, about
the middle of which Mt. Ida, composed of a congeries of hills, terminating in
three lofty peaks, rises to the height of 7674 feet: the base occupied a circumference
of nearly 600 stadia; to the W. it was connected with a chain called Leuka ore,
or the White Mountains, whose snow-clad summits and bold and beautiful outlines
extend over a range of 300 stadia (Strab. p. 475). The prolongation to the E.
formed the ridge of Dicte (Dikte, Strab. p. 478). It is curious that, though tradition
spoke of those ancient workers in iron and bronze-the Idaean Dactyls, no traces
of mining operations have been found.
The island had but one lake (Limne Koresia); the drainage is carried
off by several rivers, mostly summer torrents, which are dried up during the summer
season; but the number and copiousness of the springs give the country a very
different aspect to the parched tracts of continental Greece.
Mt. Ida, connected in ancient story with metallurgy, was, as its name
implied, covered with wood, which was extensively used in forging and smelting.
The forests could boast of the fruit-bearing poplar (Theophrast. H. P. iii. 5);
the evergreen platane (H. P. i. 15; Varr. de Re Rust. i. 7; Plin. xii. 1) trees,
which it need hardly be said can no longer be found; the cypress (Theophrast.
H. P. ii. 2), palm (H. P. ii. 8; Plin. xiii. 4), and cedar (Plin. xvi. 39; Vitruv.
ii. 9). According to Pliny (xxv. 8; comp. Theophrast. H. P. ix. 16), everything
grew better in Crete than elsewhere; among the medicinal herbs for which it was
famed was the dictamnon so celebrated among physicians,naturalists (Theophrast.
l. c.; Plin. l. c.), and poets (Virg. Aen. xii. 412; comp. Tasso, Gerusalem. Lib.
xi. 72). The ancients frequently speak of the Cretan wines (Aelian. V. H. xii.
31; Athen. x. p. 440; Plin. xiv. 9). Among these the passum, or raisin wine, was
the most highly prized (Mart. xiii. 106; Juv. xiv. 270). Its honey played a conspicuous
part in the myths concerning Zeus (Diod. v. 70; Callim. Hym. in Jov. 50). The
island was free from all wild beasts and noxious animals (Aelian, N. A. iii. 32;
Plin. viii. 83), a blessing which it owed to Heracles (Diod. iv. 17); but the
Cretan dogs could vie with the hounds of Sparta (Aelian. N.A. iii. 2); and the
Cretan Agrimi, or real wild goat, is the supposed origin of all our domestic varieties.
III. History. The cycle of myths connected with Minos and his family threw
a splendour over Crete, to which its estrangement from the rest of Greece during
the historic period presents a great contrast. The lying Cretans dared to show,
not only the birthplace, but also the tomb of the father of gods and men (Callim.
Hym in Jov. 8), and the Dorian invaders made Crete the head-quarters of the worship
of Apollo (Muller, Dor. vol. i. p. 226, trans.). Since the Grecian islands formed,
from the earliest times, stepping stones by which the migratory population of
Europe and Asia have crossed over to either continent, it has been assumed that
Aegypt, Phoenicia, and Phrygia founded cities in Crete, and contributed new arts
and knowledge to the island. No proof of Aegyptian colonisation can be adduced;
and from the national character, it is probable that settlers of pure Aegyptian
blood never crossed the Aegean. Traces of Phoenician settlements may undoubtedly
be pointed out; and by what cannot be called more than an ingenious conjecture,
the mythical genealogy of Minos has been construed to denote a combination of
the orgiastic worship of Zeus indigenous among the Eteocretes, with the worship
of the moon imported from Phoenicia, and signified by the names Europe, Pasiphae,
and Ariadne. There is an evident analogy between the religion of Crete and Phrygia;
and the legendary Curetes and Idaean Dactyls are connected, on the one hand with
the orgiastic worship, and on the other with the arts of Phrygia. But no historical
use can be made of these scanty and uncertain notices, or of the Minos of the
poets and logographers with his contradictory and romantic attributes. The Dorians
first appear in Crete during the heroic period; the Homeric poems mention different
languages and different races of men-Eteocretes, Cydonians, thrice divided Dorians,
Achaeans, and Pelasgians, as all co-existing in the island, which they describe
to be populous, and to contain ninety cities (Od. xix. 174). These Dorian mountaineers
converted into mariners-the Norman sea-kings of Greece-must therefore have come
to Crete at a period, according to the received legendary chronology, long before
the return of the Heraclidae. In the same poems they appear as hardy and daring
corsairs; and this characteristic gave rise to that naval supremacy which was
assigned by Herodotus, Thucydides, and Aristotle, to the traditionary Minos and
his Cretan subjects.
Theophrastus (De Ventis, v. 13. p. 762, ed. Schneidewin) stated that
the deserted sites of Cretan villages, which according to the primitive Greek
practice the inhabitants had occupied in the central and mountain regions, were
to be seen in his time. The social fabric which the ancients found in Crete so
nearly resembled that of Sparta, that they were in doubt whether it should be
considered as the archetype or copy. (Arist. Pol. ii. 7; Strab. p. 482.) But the
analogy between the institutions of the Cretan communities and Sparta, is one
rather of form than of spirit. The most remarkable resemblance consisted in the
custom of the public messes, Syssitia, while there is a marked difference in the
want of that rigid private training and military discipline which characterized
the Spartan government. The distinction between the condition of the Dorian freeman
and the serf comes out vividly in the drinking song of the Cretan Hybrias (Athen.
xv. p. 695); but there was only one stage of inferiority, as the Cretan Perioecus
had no Helots below him. Polybius (vi. 45-48), who has expressed his surprise
how the best-informed ancient authors, Plato, Xenophon, Ephorus, and Callisthenes,
could compare the Cretan polity to the old Lacedaemonian, as the main features
were so different, among other divergencies especially dwelt upon the inequality
of property in Crete, with that fancied equality which he believed was secured
by the legislation of Lycurgus. It is hazardous to determine the amount of credit
to be given to the minute descriptions which the ancient authors have made, of
the machinery by which the nicely balanced constitution of early Crete was regulated.
Their statements as to the civil virtues and the public education of the Cretans,
can be nothing but the mere declamation of after ages, seeking to contrast in
a rhetorical manner the virtues of the good old times with modern decay and degradation.
The generous friendship of the heroic ages which was singularly regulated
by the law (Ephorus ap. Strab. p. 483), had degenerated into a frightful licence
(Arist. Pot. ii. 10); and as early as about B.C. 600, the Cretan stood self-condemned
as an habitual liar, an evil beast, and an indolent glutton, if St. Paul in his
Epistle to Titus (i. 12) alludes to Epimenides. (Comp. Polyb. iv. 47, 53, vi.
The island, which collectively stood aloof both in the Persian and Peloponnesian
Wars, consisted of a number of independent towns, who coined their own money,
had a senate and public assembly (Bockh, Inscr. Gr. vol. ii. 2554-2612), were
at constant feud with each other, but when assailed by foreign enemies laid aside
their private quarrels, in defence of their common country, to which they gave
the affectionate appellation of mother-land (metris), a word peculiar to the Cretans.
(Plat. Rep. ix. p. 575; Aelian, V. H. xiii. 38, N. A. xvii. 35, 40; Synes. Ep.
xciv.). Hence the well-known Syncretism (Plut. de Frat. Am. § 19, p. 490; Etym.
Mag. s. v. sunkretisai). Afterwards centres of states were formed by Cnossus,
Gortyna, and Cydonia and after the decay of the latter, Lycyus The first two had
a hegemony, and were generally hostile to each other.
These internal disorders had become so violent that they were under
the necessity of summoning Philip IV. of Macedon as a mediator, whose command
was all-powerful (prostates, Polyb. vii. 12). It would seem, however, that the
effects of his intervention had ceased before the Roman war. (Niebuhr, Lect. on
Anc. Hist. vol. iii. p. 366.) Finally, in B.C. 67, Crete was taken by Q. Metellus
Creticus, after more than one unsuccessful attempt by other commanders during
a lingering war, the history of which is fully given in Drumann (Geschich. Rom.
vol. ii. pp. 51, foIl.). It was annexed to Cyrene, and became a Roman province
(Vell. ii. 34, 38; Justin. xxxix. 5; Flor. iii. 7; Eutrop. vi. 11; Dion Cass.
xxxvi. 2). In the division of the provinces under Augustus, Creta-Cyrene, or Creta
et Cyrene (Orelli, Inscr. n. 3658), became a senatorial province (Dion Cass. lii.
12), under the government of a propraetor (Strab. p. 840) with the title of proconsul
(Orelli, l.c.), with a legatus (Dion Cass. lvii. 14) and a quaestor, or perhaps
two as in Sicily (Suet. Vesp. 2). Under Constantine, a division took place (Zosim.
ii. 32); as Crete was placed under a Consularis (Hierocl.), and Cyrene, now Libya
Superior, under a praeses. (Marquardt, Handbuch der Rom. Alt. p. 222.) In A.D.
823, the Arabs wrested it from the Lower Empire (Script. post Theophrast. pp.
1-162; Cedren. Hist. Comp. p. 506). In A.D. 961, the island after a memorable
siege of ten months by Nicephorus Phocas, the great domestic or general of the
East, once more submitted to the Greek rule (Zonar. ii. p. 194). After the taking
of Constantinople by the Franks, Baldwin I. gave it to Boniface, Marquess of Montferrat,
who sold it, in A.D. 1204, to the Venetians, and it became the first of the three
subject kingdoms whose flags waved over the square of San Marco. The Cretan soldiers
had a high reputation as light troops and archers, and served as mercenaries both
in Greek and Barbarian armies (Thuc. vii. 57; Xen. Anab. iii. 3. 6; Polyb. iv.
8, v. 14; Justin. xxxv. 2). Fashions change but little in the East; Mr. Pashley
(Trav. vol. i. p. 245) has detected in the games and dances of modern Crete, the
tumblers (Hom. Il. xviii. 604) and the old cyclic chorus of three thousand years
ago. (Il. xviii. 590; Athen. v. p. 81.) The dress of the peasant continues to
resemble that of his ancestors; he still wears the boots (hupodemata), as described
by Galen (Com. in Hippocrat. de Art. iv. 14, vol. xviii. p. 682, ed. Kuhn), and
the short cloak, Kretikon, mentioned by Eupolis (ap. Phot. Lex. vol. i. p. 178),
and Aristophanes (Thesm. 730). It is doubtful whether there are any genuine autonomous
coins of Crete; several of the Imperial period exist, with the epigraph Koinon
Kreton, and types referring to the legendary history of the island.
IV. Itinerary and Towns. Crete, in its flourishing days, had a hundred
cities, as narrated by Stephanus, Ptolemy, Strabo, and other authors:- Centum
urbes habitant magnas uberrima regna. Virg. Aen. iii. 106. (Comp. Hom. Il. ii.
649; Hor. Carm. iii. 27.34, Ep. lx. 29.) These cities were destroyed by the Romans
under Q. Metellus, but ruins belonging to many of them may still be traced. The
ancients have left several itineraries. The Stadiasmus of the Mediterranean, starting
from Sammonium, made a periplus of the island, commencing on the S. coast. Ptolemy
began at Corycus, and travelled in the contrary direction, also making a complete
tour of the coast; after which, starting again from the W. extremity of the island,
he has enumerated several inland cities as far as Lyctus. Pliny began at nearly
the same place as Ptolemy, but travelled in the contrary direction, till he arrived
at Hierapolis; after which he made mention of several inland towns at random.
Scylax commenced at the W. coast, and proceeded to the E., grouping inland and
coast towns together. Hierocles set out from Gortyna eastward by Hierapytna, nearly
completing the tour of the coast; while the Peutinger Table, commencing at Tharrus,
pursued the opposite route, with occasional deviations. In the library of the
Marciana at Venice are several reports addressed to the Serene Republic by the
Proveditori of Candia, some of which contain notices at more or less length of
its antiquities. One of these, a MS. of the 16th century, La Descrizione dell'
Isola di Candia, has been translated in the Museum of Classical Antiquities, vol.
ii. p. 263, and contains much interesting and valuable matter. In the same paper
will be found a very accurate map of Crete, constructed on the outline of the
French map of Dumas, Gauttier, and Lassie, 1825, corrected at the E. and W. extremities
from the hydrographic charts of the Admiralty, executed from recent surveys by
Captains Graves and Spratt. Crete has been fortunate in the amount of attention
which has been paid to it. The diligent and laborious Meursius (Creta, Cyprus,
Rhodus, Amstel. 1675) has collected everything which the ancients have written
connected with the island. Hock (Kreta, Goittingen, 1829, 3 vols.) is a writer
of great merit, and has given a full account of the mythological history of Crete,
in which much curious information is found. Mr. Pashley (Travels in Crete, London,
1837, 2 vols.) is a traveller of the same stamp as Colonel Leake, and has illustrated
the geography of the island by his own personal observation and sound judgment.
Bishop Thirlwall (Hist. of Greece, vol. i. p. 283, foll.) has given a very vivid
outline of the Cretan institutions as they were conceived to have existed by Aristotle,
Strabo, and others...
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)