crete in history

Extremely Rare Coin from Phaistos, Crete, Mid-Late 4th Century BC

Silver stater. Obverse: Herakles standing in fighting attitude to right, wearing Nemean lion skin, seizing with his left hand one of the heads of the Lernean Hydra, and with his right hand preparing to strike with club; by right foot, crab on exergual line. Reverse: ΦΑΙΣΤΙΩ, Bull butting to right on wavy exergual line. Sold at auction for $62,000.

The obverse of this coin depicts the second of Herakles’ Twelve Labors set by Eurystheos, the agent of Hera. He was tasked with slaying the ancient serpent-like monster that resided in the lake of Lerna in the Argolid, which guarded an underwater entrance to the underworld. Upon cutting off each of the Hydra’s heads however, Herakles found that two more would grow back in its place, an expression of the hopelessness of such a struggle for any but the hero. Realizing that he could not defeat the Hydra in this way, Herakles called on his nephew Iolaos for help. Iolaos then came upon the idea (possibly inspired by Athena) of using a firebrand to cauterize the stumps after each decapitation. When Hera saw that Herakles was gaining the upper hand she sent a large crab to distract the hero, but Herakles crushed it underfoot. He cut off the last and strongest of the Hydra’s heads with a golden sword given to him by Athena, and so completed his task. Hera, upset that Herakles had slain the beast she raised to kill him, placed it in the vault of the heavens as the constellation Hydra, and she turned the crab into the constellation Cancer. The encounter with the Lernean Hydra is not only well attested in epic, but is also the subject of some of the earliest securely identifiable Herakles scenes in Greek art.


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.

Wasp Pendant from the Chrysolakkos tomb at the Palace of Mallia, Minoan, MM IIB (c. 1900-1800 B.C.) This is probably one of the finest pieces of gold work to come out of ancient Crete.  Although it was found on Crete and has often been attributed to being Minoan, archaeologists and art historians debate its place of creation.  Using attribution techniques, some Minoan scholars have said it actually comes from some Canaanite culture in the Levant region (modern day Israel, Eastern Mediterran


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.


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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106 years ago in Crete, IL by John Eagan
Via Flickr:
A C&EI Suburban engine running tender first arrives Crete, IL around 1910. The depot is reported to still exist as part of an antiques store just west of the present day UP/CSX line. Collection of John Eagan

Snake Goddess

The younger snake goddess, from the palace of Knossos. Heraklion Archaeological Museum.

Snake Goddess indicates figurines of a woman with an owl pearched atop her head and holding a snake in each hand found during excavation of Minoan archaeological sites in Crete dating from approximately 1600 BCE. These figurines were found only in house sanctuaries, where the figurine appears as “the goddess of the household”, and they are probably related with the Paleolithic tradition regarding women and domesticity. Read More

World Record $479,000 Stater from Gortyna, Crete Circa 330-270 BC

The obverse depicts the mythological scene of the Rape of Europa, where Zeus appeared in the guise of a bull and an eagle to ravish her. Europa is semi-nude and seated in a tree trunk in the form of a bull’s head. She’s raising her veil with her right hand and holding an eagle with spread wings in the left hand. The reverse shows a bull standing left with its head turned back to ward off a fly from his left rear hoof.

This is the finest of only three known examples of this variety. It is unusual that Zeus is shown in his guise as both a bull and an eagle.