crete in history


Extremely Rare Stater From Crete, 4th Century BC

From the city of Polyrhenion, the obverse with the laureate head of Zeus, the reverse with the facing head of a sacrificial bull with pendant fillets hanging from its horns; ΧΑΡΙΣΘΕ above, ΠΟΛΥΡΗΝΙΟΝ around - Extremely Fine. Extremely Rare, and among the finest known examples.

Polyrhenion was one of the oldest Dorian settlements in Crete. According to Strabo, it was settled in archaic times by Achaean and Laconian immigrants. Excavations from 1938 exposed a temple which was probably dedicated to Zeus, as well as other unidentifiable structures.

The sacrifice of bulls was a universal element of Greek religion, especially in Crete, which was full of mythological traditions relating to the bull, either by it being directed by a god or as a theriomorphic god in the form of a bull. The importance of the bull in Cretan culture was present even before the Mycenaean Greeks arrived there in the 14th century BC. The origin of the idea of bull (or ox) sacrifice was believed to be from the story of Prometheus in Hesiod’s Theogeny (521-616). During a sacrificial meal at Mecone which celebrated the “settling of accounts” between mortals and immortals, Prometheus deceived Zeus by giving him a delicious looking portion of the ox that was nothing but its bones “wrapped in glistening fat.” This ensured that humans would be able to keep the meaty part of the animal for themselves and burn bones wrapped in fat as offerings to the gods.

Sir Arthur Evans

Archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, best known for his excavations at Knossos in Crete, was born #onthisday in 1851. These are some materials from the Sir Arthur Evans Archive.

Evans was Keeper of the Ashmolean from 1884-1908, and his ambition to make the museum a centre for archaeology resulted in thousands of new acquisitions and a new department for antiquities. 

Drawing of a polychrome pot from a tomb at Isopata near Knossos, from the Sir Arthur Evans Archive.

The Minoan and Mycenaean collections on display in our Aegean World gallery. The Ashmolean’s Aegean collection, containing many items holds around 10,000 objects and is the largest and most comprehensive outside Greece. Many finds from Evans’ own excavations are in the museum’s collection.


Fallschirmjäger were perceived as the elite infantry units of the German military, they came to be known as the “green devils” by the Allied forces they fought against, as well as for their uniquely distinct morale. As elite troops they were frequently deployed at the vanguard of attacks and as the bulwark of a defence. They would see action in the Norway and Denmark campaign and in Belgium, the Netherlands and France in 1940, the defence of Carentan, Battle of Monte Cassino, Battle of Crete, and on both the Eastern Front and later the Western Front would follow.

Fallschirmjäger were awarded a total of 134 Knight’s Crosses between 1940 and 1945.  


Minotaur and Labyrinth Coin from Gortyn, Crete

Silver stater struck in Gortyn circa 425-360 BC
Obverse: Minotaur in a kneeling-running stance to right, its head facing
Reverse: Labyrinth, in the form of a swastika, five pellets in a floral pattern at the center, four sunken squares in the corners

This fascinating coin depicts an image of one of the most famous of all mythological creatures, the Minotaur, which had the head of a bull and the body of a man. The myth surrounding this beast dates from the period of the Minoan civilization on Crete, long before the Greeks inhabited the island. The reasons for the destruction of the Minoan culture are not clear, but might have been the result of an earthquake or an invasion. When the Greeks discovered the complex remains of the palace of Knossos centuries later, the legend of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth were born. The Minotaur was said to have been imprisoned in the Labyrinth, designed by Daedalus for King Minos to hold it captive, and was fed with condemned criminals, maidens and young boys sent from Athens as tribute to the Cretan King. In the well-known mythical tale, the Minotaur was killed by Theseus, who had tied a ball of string, given to him by Ariadne, to the entrance to the Labyrinth upon entering so that he would be able to find his way back. When he discovered the Minotaur deep within the Labyrinth, a fierce struggle ensued before Theseus killed the monster with his sword. Although this coin appears from its style to be archaic in origin, with the Minotaur positioned in the familiar kneeling-running stance, it does in fact date from the classical period. This is usually attributed to the fact that Crete was more isolated than the city-states on the mainland and therefore developed more slowly. Crete also relied upon imported coins for the silver used to strike its coinage; the traces of the overstruck coin can be seen on the obverse of the above example.


The Dolphin mural at The Palace of Knossos~ Crete

The restoration of the frescoes in the Knossos Palace by E. Gillieron and Piet de Jong at the beginning of the last century received many critics for the excessively bright colours employed, but the truth is that the final result is probably not very far from the original aspect of the paintings, created at the heart of the Minoan splendour.

This fresco is a fabulous example of early Minoan Painting, very interesting for its precise representation of the natural world without any human presence. Located in the Bath Hall -where such aquatic motifs were very suitable-, the “Fresco of the Dolphins” is an authentic masterpiece, either for its undeniable decorative value and for its remarkable effect of movement.

Bernardo Strozzi (1581-1644)
“The Abduction of Europa” (1640-1644)
Oil on canvas

In Greek mythology Europa was the mother of King Minos of Crete, and for whom the continent Europe was named after. The story goes that Zeus was enamored of Europa and decided to taker her for his own. He transformed himself into a tame white bull and mixed in with her father’s herds. While Europa and her helpers were gathering flowers, she saw the bull, caressed his flanks, and eventually got onto his back. Zeus took that opportunity and ran to the sea and swam, with her on his back, to the island of Crete. He then revealed his true identity, and Europa became the first queen of Crete.

Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919)
“Ariadne in Naxos” (1877)

Ariadne in Greek mythology, was the daughter of Minos, King of Crete, and his queen Pasiphaë, daughter of Helios.


Grave of ‘Griffin Warrior’ at Pylos Could Be a Gateway to Civilizations

Source: New York Times

Archaeologists digging at Pylos, an ancient city on the southwest coast of Greece, have discovered the rich grave of a warrior who was buried at the dawn of European civilization.

He lies with a yardlong bronze sword and a remarkable collection of gold rings, precious jewels and beautifully carved seals. Archaeologists expressed astonishment at the richness of the find and its potential for shedding light on the emergence of the Mycenaean civilization, the lost world of Agamemnon, Nestor, Odysseus and other heroes described in the epics of Homer.

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