Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Crete's Minoan, Mycenaen, and Roman treasures

I noticed this morning that Carole Raddato retweeted a link to her excellent article, "Exploring Western Crete's Archaeological Treasures" that she originally wrote back in May 2019. I must have missed the original post so read it for the first time today and found it fascinating and beautifully illustrated.  So I am featuring an abstract of it as today's "Antiquity Alive" presentation:

"The Minoan civilization emerged on the island of Crete in the Early Bronze Age at the end of the third and beginning of the second millennium BCE. It flourished from c. 2000 BCE until c. 1500 BCE with the establishment of centres, called "palaces" by modern archaeologists, that concentrated political and economic powers, as well as artistic activities. Of particular significance was the religious role played by the palaces in the cult of the Mother Goddess."

"The British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans discovered the first of these palaces in Knossos in 1900 CE and named the people who built them after the legendary King Minos. It was King Monos who, according to tradition, ordered the construction of a labyrinth in Knossos to hold the Minotaur, the mythical half-man, half-bull creature. The Minoan culture spread throughout the entire eastern Mediterranean world and its stunning art and architecture deeply influenced the Mycenaean Civilization (1600 - 1100 BCE)  that would succeed it. After the downfall of the Mycenaeans, Crete was ruled by various ancient Greek city-states until the Romans conquered the island in 69 BCE and made Gortyn their capital."

"According to tradition, Gortyn is where Zeus, in the guise of a bull, brought the princess Europa from her home in Phoenicia." (Following this affair three children were born, Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon, who became the kings of the three Minoan Palaces in Crete.)

 "Homer mentions Gortyn in the Iliad as “having walls” and in the Odyssey as the place where Menelaus and his fleet of ships, returning home from the Trojan War, were blown off course to the Cretan coastline." 

"Under Roman rule, Crete re-emerged as a major cultural centre and became the joint province of Crete and Cyrenaica and a centre of early Christianity. When the Roman Empire split into two, Crete was made part of the Eastern empire. It continued to prosper during the Byzantine era until it faced repeated Arab raids and, ultimately, full conquest in the 820s CE." - Carole Raddato

In 1884, the Gortyn Law Code was discovered on the site of a structure built by the Roman emperor Trajan, the Odeon, which for the second time, reused stones from an inscription-bearing wall that also had been incorporated into the foundation of an earlier Hellenistic structure.  It is both the oldest and most complete known example of a code of ancient Greek law.  Although portions of the inscriptions have been placed in museums such as the Louvre in Paris, a modern structure at the site of the mostly ruined Odeon now houses many of the stones bearing the famous law code.


Statue group of Persephone (as Isis) and Pluto (as Serapis) with the three-headed dog Cerberus. From the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods at Gortyn on the island of Crete. Mid-2nd century CE. Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Pluto-Serapis has the modus on his head, a utensil used for the measurement of grain. Persephone-Isis with covered head bears her symbols at the forehead (the crescent moon, the solar disk and the snake (uraeus). She is depicted holding in her right hand the sistrum, an Egyptian musical instrument. The inclusion of Cerberus, guard of the underworld, in the group defines the two deities, despite their Egyptian symbols, as Pluto and Persephone, gods of the underworld.


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