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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.

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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.
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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. 46.)
 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

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