Ancient literary sources CRETE (Island) GREECE - GTP - Greek Travel Pages
gtp logo

Location information

Listed 6 sub titles with search on: Ancient literary sources for destination: "CRETE Island GREECE".

Ancient literary sources (6)

Perseus Encyclopedia


  Agela (agele). An assembly of young men in Crete, who lived together from their eighteenth year till the time of their marriage. An agele consisted of the sons of the most noble citizens, who were usually under the jurisdiction of the father of the youth who had been the means of collecting the agele. It was the duty of this person, called agelates, to superintend the military and gymnastic exercises of the youths (who were called agelastoi), to accompany them to the chase, and to punish them when disobedient. He was accountable, however, to the State, which supported the agelai at the public expense. All the members of an agele were obliged to marry at the same time. In Sparta the youths entered the agelai, usually called bouai, at the end of their seventh year.


The Cretan Constitution

  As for their (Cretans) constitution, which is described by Ephorus, it might suffice to tell in a cursory way its most important provisions. The lawgiver, he says, seems to take it for granted that liberty is a state's greatest good, for this alone makes property belong specifically to those who have acquired it, whereas in a condition of slavery everything belongs to the rulers and not to the ruled; but those who have liberty must guard it; now harmony ensues when dissension, which is the result of greed and luxury, is removed; for when all citizens live a self-restrained and simple life there arises neither envy nor arrogance nor hatred towards those who are like them; and this is why the lawgiver commanded the boys to attend the "Troops," as they are called, and the full grown men to eat together at the public messes which they call the "Andreia," so that the poorer, being fed at public expense, might be on an equality with the well-to-do; and in order that courage, and not cowardice, might prevail, he commanded that from boyhood they should grow up accustomed to arms and toils, so as to scorn heat, cold, marches over rugged and steep roads, and blows received in gymnasiums or regular battles; and that they should practise, not only archery, but also the war-dance, which was invented and made known by the Curetes at first, and later, also, by the man who arranged the dance that was named after him, I mean the Pyrrhic dance, so that not even their sports were without a share in activities that were useful for warfare; and likewise that they should use in their songs the Cretic rhythms, which were very high pitched, and were invented by Thales, to whom they ascribe, not only their Paeans and other local songs, but also many of their institutions; and that they should use military dress and shoes; and that arms should be to them the most valuable of gifts.
  It is said by some writers, Ephorus continues, that most of the Cretan institutions are Laconian, but the truth is that they were invented by the Cretans and only perfected by the Spartans; and the Cretans, when their cities, and particularly that of the Cnossians, were devastated, neglected military affairs; but some of the institutions continued in use among the Lyctians, Gortynians, and certain other small cities to a greater extent than among the Cnossians; in fact, the institutions of the Lyctians are cited as evidence by those who represent the Laconian as older; for, they argue, being colonists, they preserve the customs of the mother city, since even on general grounds it is absurd to represent those who are better organized and governed as emulators of their inferiors; but this is not correct, Ephorus says, for, in the first place, one should not draw evidence as to antiquity from the present state of things, for both peoples have undergone a complete reversal; for instance, the Cretans in earlier times were masters of the sea, and hence the proverb, "The Cretan does not know the sea," is applied to those who pretend not to know what they do know, although now the Cretans have lost their fleet; and, in the second place, it does not follow that, because some of the cities in Crete were Spartan colonies, they were under compulsion to keep to the Spartan institutions; at any rate, many colonial cities do not observe their ancestral customs, and many, also, of those in Crete that are not colonial have the same customs as the colonists.
  Lycurgus the Spartan law-giver, Ephorus continues, was five generations later than the Althaemenes who conducted the colony to Crete; for historians say that Althaemenes was son of the Cissus who founded Argos about the same time when Procles was establishing Sparta as metropolis; and Lycurgus, as is agreed by all, was sixth in descent from Procles; and copies are not earlier than their models, nor more recent things earlier than older things; not only the dancing which is customary among the Lacedaemonians, but also the rhythms and paeans that are sung according to law, and many other Spartan institutions, are called "Cretan" among the Lacedaemonians, as though they originated in Crete; and some of the public offices are not only administered in the same way as in Crete, but also have the same names, as, for instance, the office of the "Gerontes," and that of the "Hippeis" (except that the "Hippeis" in Crete actually possessed horses, and from this fact it is inferred that the office of the "Hippeis" in Crete is older, for they preserve the true meaning of the appellation, whereas the Lacedaemonian "Hippeis" do not keep horses); but though the Ephors have the same functions as the Cretan Cosmi, they have been named differently; and the public messes are, even today, still called "Andreia" among the Cretans, but among the Spartans they ceased to be called by the same name as in earlier times; at any rate, the following is found in Alcman: In feasts and festive gatherings, amongst the guests who partake of the Andreia, 'tis meet to begin the paean.
  It is said by the Cretans, Ephorus continues, that Lycurgus came to them for the following reason: Polydectes was the elder brother of Lycurgus; when he died he left his wife pregnant; now for a time Lycurgus reigned in his brother's place, but when a child was born he became the child's guardian, since the office of king descended to the child, but some man, railing at Lycurgus, said that he knew for sure that Lycurgus would be king; and Lycurgus, suspecting that in consequence of such talk he himself might be falsely accused of plotting against the child, and fearing that, if by any chance the child should die, he himself might be blamed for it by his enemies, sailed away to Crete; this, then, is said to be the cause of his sojourn in Crete; and when he arrived he associated with Thales, a melic poet and an expert in lawgiving; and after learning from him the manner in which both Rhadamanthys in earlier times and Minos in later times published their laws to men as from Zeus, and after sojourning in Egypt also and learning among other things their institutions, and, according to some writers, after meeting Homer, who was living in Chios, he sailed back to his homeland, and found his brother's son, Charilaus the son of Polydectes, reigning as king; and then he set out to frame the laws, making visits to the god at Delphi, and bringing thence the god's decrees, just as Minos and his house had brought their ordinances from the cave of Zeus, most of his being similar to theirs.
  The following are the most important provisions in the Cretan institutions as stated by Ephorus. In Crete all those who are selected out of the "Troop" of boys at the same time are forced to marry at the same time, although they do not take the girls whom they have married to their own homes immediately, but as soon as the girls are qualified to manage the affairs of the house. A girl's dower, if she has brothers, is half of the brother's portion. The children must learn, not only their letters, but also the songs prescribed in the laws and certain forms of music. Now those who are still younger are taken to the public messes, the "Andreia"; and they sit together on the ground as they eat their food, clad in shabby garments, the same both winter and summer, and they also wait on the men as well as on themselves. And those who eat together at the same mess join battle both with one another and with those from different messes. A boy director presides over each mess. But the older boys are taken to the "Troops"; and the most conspicuous and influential of the boys assemble the "Troops," each collecting as many boys as he possibly can; the leader of each "Troop" is generally the father of the assembler, and he has authority to lead them forth to hunt and to run races, and to punish anyone who is disobedient; and they are fed at public expense; and on certain appointed days "Troop" contends with "Troop," marching rhythmically into battle, to the tune of flute and lyre, as is their custom in actual war; and they actually bear marks of58 the blows received, some inflicted by the hand, others by iron weapons.
  They have a peculiar custom in regard to love affairs, for they win the objects of their love, not by persuasion, but by abduction; the lover tells the friends of the boy three or four days beforehand that he is going to make the abduction; but for the friends to conceal the boy, or not to let him go forth by the appointed road, is indeed a most disgraceful thing, a confession, as it were, that the boy is unworthy to obtain such a lover; and when they meet, if the abductor is the boy's equal or superior in rank or other respects, the friends pursue him and lay hold of him, though only in a very gentle way, thus satisfying the custom; and after that they cheerfully turn the boy over to him to lead away; if, however, the abductor is unworthy, they take the boy away from him. And the pursuit does not end until the boy is taken to the "Andreium" of his abductor. They regard as a worthy object of love, not the boy who is exceptionally handsome, but the boy who is exceptionally manly and decorous. After giving the boy presents, the abductor takes him away to any place in the country he wishes; and those who were present at the abduction follow after them, and after feasting and hunting with them for two months (for it is not permitted to detain the boy for a longer time), they return to the city. The boy is released after receiving as presents a military habit, an ox, and a drinking-cup (these are the gifts required by law), and other things so numerous and costly that the friends, on account of the number of the expenses, make contributions thereto. Now the boy sacrifices the ox to Zeus and feasts those who returned with him; and then he makes known the facts about his intimacy with his lover, whether, perchance, it has pleased him or not, the law allowing him this privilege in order that, if any force was applied to him at the time of the abduction, he might be able at this feast to avenge himself and be rid of the lover. It is disgraceful for those who are handsome in appearance or descendants of illustrious ancestors to fail to obtain lovers, the presumption being that their character is responsible for such a fate. But the parastathentes (for thus they call those who have been abducted) receive honors; for in both the dances and the races they have the positions of highest honor, and are allowed to dress in better clothes than the rest, that is, in the habit given them by their lovers; and not then only, but even after they have grown to manhood, they wear a distinctive dress, which is intended to make known the fact that each wearer has become "kleinos," for they call the loved one "kleinos" and the lover "philetor." So much for their customs in regard to love affairs.
  The Cretans choose ten Archons. Concerning the matters of greatest importance they use as counsellors the "Gerontes," as they are called. Those who have been thought worthy to hold the office of the "Cosmi" and are otherwise adjudged men of approved worth are appointed members of this Council. I have assumed that the constitution of the Cretans is worthy of description both on account of its peculiar character and on account of its fame. Not many, however, of these institutions endure, but the administration of affairs is carried on mostly by means of the decrees of the Romans, as is also the case in the other provinces.

This extract is from: The Geography of Strabo (ed. H. L. Jones, 1924), Cambridge. Harvard University Press. Cited Nov 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains comments & interesting hyperlinks.


Troubles in Crete


Cosmoi (Kosmoi+Gerusia)

Gerusia. (gerousia; a council of old men, gerontes)... They had a similar position in the Cretan constitution, according to which only the members of the highest magistracy, called the kosmoi, or regulators, could enter the council, and that only after a blameless term of administration.

You are able to search for more information in greater and/or surrounding areas by choosing one of the titles below and clicking on "more".

GTP Headlines

Receive our daily Newsletter with all the latest updates on the Greek Travel industry.

Subscribe now!
Greek Travel Pages: A bible for Tourism professionals. Buy online

Ferry Departures