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11 Life in the Little Towns







Life in the Little Towns

Local Cultures--Power of Rulers limited--The Town of Gournia: its West-end Palace and Villas and East-end Workmen's Houses--Glimpses of Industrial and Domestic Life--The Public Shrine for Goddess Worship--Vasiliki Remains--A Strategic Key--Pottery Links with Turkestan and Spain --The Country of the Eteocretans--Port Sitia and Petras--The Seaport Town of Palaikastro--The "Fair Havens" of Paul--An Important Sanctuary--Fire Offerings--Costumes of Human Figurines--Ladies' Fashions--Their Big Hats and Elaborate Gowns--Theories regarding Fire Ceremonials--Fire Customs in Britain--Zakro's Port of Safety--Citadel and Merchants' Houses--Præsos and the "True Cretans"--Mingling of Races in Crete.

ALL portions of Crete were not affected similarly during the Early Minoan Period by the progress achieved by its pioneers of civilization and the cultural influences that swept to and from the island shores northward and southward like the seasonal air currents. Indeed, the rural communities of the high plateaux and deep mountain gorges, especially in the west, were hardly touched at all, and followed as primitive ways of life as do their descendants at the present day. "It is still possible on the mountain sides, where the crop is scanty, to see", write Mr. and Mrs. Hawes, "men and women plucking the corn." 1 This simple method of harvesting obtains also on the isolated Hebridean island of St. Kilda.

Nor did the shoreland seats of Cretan progress advance on precisely the same lines. Each had its local culture, its, groups of artisans and traders, and, perhaps, its independent chief or king. Like early Egypt and Babylonia, the island appears to have been divided into a number of petty states. These may have occasionally waged war one against another before an early Minos established a central government at Knossos and codified the laws, as did Hammurabi the Great. Indeed, it is generally believed among archæologists that some of the disasters, like the burning of towns and palaces, which are still traceable on the island, were due to local wars.

It is of interest to find in this connection that in Plato's story of the "Lost Atlantis" references are made to island chiefs. These dignitaries owed allegiance to the king, whose powers, however, were limited by the constitution. When the people celebrated their annual festival, at which a bull was captured and sacrificed, "they poured libations down on the fire, and swore to do justice according to the laws on the column, to punish anyone who had previously transgressed them, and, besides that, never afterwards willingly to transgress the inscribed laws, nor ever to rule, or obey any ruler governing otherwise than according to his father's laws". There were ten chiefs at this ceremonial. "They did not allow the king authority to put to death any of his kinsmen, unless approved of by more than half of the ten." 2 Here we have, in contrast to Oriental autocracies, a system of government which is of distinctly European character. The king, like his subjects, had to act in accordance with the laws of the state. Apparently the stone benches in the "throne room" of the palace of Knossos were occupied by men whose status was defined in the constitution. We should perhaps, therefore, recognize this interesting apartment as the meeting-place of Europe's first Parliament.

One or two industrial and trading towns sprang up in Crete which appear to have been, if not entirely independent of Knossos, at anyrate sufficiently so to ensure their development. A group of these were situated on the "tail" of Crete formed by the Gulf of Mirabello, and embraced by the modern provinces of Hierapetra and Sitia. This part of the island is approached from Knossos and Phæstos through twisting valleys among the Lasithi mountains, where there are many passes which could be held by small forces against large armies. The isthmus narrows to only 8 miles between the Gulf of Mirabello and the modern town of Hierapetra, and several small river valleys penetrate to the central uplands from either shore. The mountain spine of Crete is divided by the longest of these valleys, which is followed by the modern road between Hierapetra and Kavasi. To the east a rugged mountain range protects the frontier of Sitia, dominated by the peak of Aphendis Kavusi, which rises to a height of 4829 feet above the sea-level. Sitia is the ancient country of Eteocretans, who were believed by the Greeks to be the earliest settlers on the island.

In a little valley called Gournia, because of its troughlike shape, which opens on the Gulf of Mirabello, discovery was made by Mrs. Hawes, then Miss Harriet Boyd, the distinguished American archæologist, of the ruins of a compact little town. It is picturesquely situated on a limestone ridge, about a quarter of a mile from the sea beach. A little river flows past through cultivatable land, and wild carob trees surround it. The shoreland is rugged and rocky, with many murmurous creeks, and across the gulf, which narrows here like a Highland loch, are long rolling hills with here a hollowing curve and there an aspiring peak.

Gournia, like other Cretan towns, was unfortified. It had very narrow streets which were paved, and some were "cursed streets of stairs", as Byron sang of Malta. The two longest central thoroughfares ran north and south, and these were approached from west and cast by ascending streets, those on the east side being the steepest. A spacious oblong public court--the public "park"--opened from the south, and above it on the western slope was the little palace with doors opening on the streets, and elbowed by private houses like a noble cathedral in a modern town. The "west end" was evidently the fashionable part of ancient Gournia. A little beyond the palace, a narrow street leading eastward from the western main thoroughfare, slopes upward towards the public shrine of the mother-goddess. The large eastern wing of the town was the most populous and thickly built.

An excellent idea of what the houses were like is obtained from a series of enamelled plaques discovered by Sir Arthur Evans in a basement chamber of the palace of Knossos. These apparently were once part of an elaborate mosaic. The artists took pride in depicting a variety of houses, and happily paid sufficient attention to minute details, so as to convey to us across a gap over thirty centuries an excellent idea of the methods of construction, and to a certain degree the habits of life of the occupants. All the roofs were flat, but some were surmounted by small attics erected in the centre, which gave the square buildings an ink-bottle shape. The houses vary from two to four stories in height. Their aspect is somewhat modern. Single windows had four panes, and double windows from two to six. "The red pigment in the windows of the mosaic", writes Sir Arthur Evans, 3 "suggests that some substitute for window glass was in use--perhaps oiled and scarlet-tinted parchment." But all windows were not thus covered. Some were quite open, and in certain instances the windows of a second story had scarlet filling, while those of the third had none. "The upper door-like windows," Sir Arthur says, "recall a feature repeated in some of the miniature wall paintings. In these, groups of ladies are seen standing in similar openings, as upon a balcony. In other cases the women seem to be seated at open windows of a more usual type, and in one instance there is visible a part of a curtain, apparently of light material, perhaps drawn at night as a protection against mosquitoes."

One type of house has a single door; another has two doors like a modern semi-detached villa. In cases where no doors are shown, the gables or backs of houses may be represented. Tenements are suggested by plain erections, with what appear to be outside stairs ascending from basement to roof. Towers, perhaps watch-towers, are also represented. Some buildings appear to have been constructed of stone in the rectangular method, others with rubble strengthened by horizontal beams; in many cases, too, the ends are shown on a villa front of round beams, which supported the roof and the floors.

In Gournia the earlier and poorer houses had loose walls of small stones set thinly in clay. Improved methods of construction can be traced stage by stage until the masonry resembles the "Cyclopean" style, which apparently was of northern origin. Lime, plaster, and clay were used for facing walls. Upper stories, as a rule, were of brick, supported by timber.

This interesting town was entirely destroyed by fire about 1500 B.C. "The conflagration", writes Mrs. Hawes, "left proof of its strength in many parts of the excavations. Wooden steps and posts were entirely burned away, leaving deposits of charcoal and marks of smoke grime; bricks were baked bright red. In a ground-floor room of the palace lay a large tree-trunk, which had supported an upper floor or roof, completely charred through, but retaining its original shape; the central hall of the palace was choked with such timbers. Limestone was calcined, steatite was reduced to crumbling fragments; in a doorway of the palace lay a shapeless lump of bronze, once the trimmings for the door. Strangest of all was the effect on plaster. . . . The intense heat reconverted it into unslaked lime, and this, under the first rain, again formed plaster, encasing vases, or anything else on which it fell, in an air-tight, almost petrified mass. Sometimes at the core such a mass was still moist. In time, we looked to rooms where the destruction had been most complete, and where the pick struck such solid opposition, to yield us the best returns; for in them the possessions of the ancient burghers remained undisturbed, awaiting the patience of our workmen to knife them out." 4 Articles of pottery which were thus hermetically sealed for over 3000 years have retained much of their ancient beauty of colour as well as of form.

Small portions of the town at the north-western and south-western ends were reoccupied after the conflagration took place. But if an attempt was made to revive the prosperity of Gournia, it did not meet with success. The site was completely abandoned before, or during, the Homeric Age, and has since offered no attractions to settlers.

Built as it was on a limestone foundation, where every inch of space was valuable and no levelling was possible, Gournia retains few traces of its original structures. A refuse heap in its vicinity has yielded pottery fragments of the Early Minoan III Period (c. 2600-2400 B.C.), and burials on the neighbouring slopes are of even remoter date. Apparently the valley was inhabited from the beginning of the Bronze Age (c. 2800 B.C.), first by agriculturists, then by traders and artisans, for whose wares the mariners found a ready market. Finds of obsidian suggest that the site was first chosen by a community of the "crofter- fishermen" class, which produced daring seamen and enterprising traders.

The oldest buildings in the town belong to the Middle Minoan III Period (c. 1900-1700 B.C.). These are situated at the extreme north-eastern and south-western ends, and it seems possible that other dwellings intervened. The town as a whole dates from the Late Minoan I Period (c. 1700- 1500 B.C.). Possibly many of the houses of which traces survive occupy the sites of others of greater antiquity and slighter construction. A town of growing prosperity was likely to be entirely rebuilt in the process of time. Besides, political changes may have occurred and caused disasters, like those which overtook the earliest palaces of Knossos and Phæstos in the Middle Minoan II Period, although no traces of these survive among the Gournia ruins, and the town as we find it may date from a first reoccupation period. Thus there may have been a Gournia I which was succeeded by Gournia II, the town with which we are dealing, and there might have been a Gournia III had the social revival, which is indicated by the few later buildings of the reoccupation period, been allowed to develop.

For some 200 years, that is, from about the late period of the Hyksos occupation of Egypt till about the beginning of the reign of Thothmes III, the great conquering Pharaoh, Gournia was a flourishing and important industrial and trading Centre. The stones which pave its little streets were worn down by the booted feet of its busy citizens. In an age when traders had to barter wares which were worthy to compete with the products of Egypt, art was stimulated by commerce.


The best pottery was of as exquisitely graceful design as the finest ceramic products of any country in any age, and the decorative designs were often as elaborate as the soft colour effects were worthy of the high degree of technical skill attained. The artists sometimes developed the spiral and geometric motives, and sometimes used with fine effect familiar seashore subjects, like the octopods, sea-urchins, sea-snails, sea-anemones, corals and shells, as well as riverside reeds and flowers waving in soft winds. Mottled designs with shading effects were also in favour, and the resulting colour effects were no doubt as pleasing to contemporary purchasers as they are to us at the present day. Some of the vessels were evidently copies of the products of metal workers, for the decorators painted on imitation rivets. One of the models was the silver cup found in the house tomb, and already referred to. It is of graceful shape, with two handles and a finely fluted rim.

The special charm of Gournia is the light it throws on the everyday life of its citizens. Bronze hooks of modern shape and a pierced leaden sinker indicate that they fished from the rocks, and visited in boats those feeding-places in the little bay where shoals were to be found at certain states of the tide. It may be because they used shell-fish for bait that they decorated their shrines and pictures with shells, thus associating them with the mother-goddess who provided the food supply. That there was a fishing community in the small towns is suggested by a fresco at Phylakopi, Melos, which depicts fishermen carrying fish, which they grasp by the tails, from the sea beach. No doubt they were sold in the market-place as, we gather from tomb pictures, was the case in Egypt.

One of the most interesting finds was a carpenter's kit which had escaped the attention of the plunderers and the ravages of fire. It lay under a floor, where it may have been concealed by a workman who, poor fellow, probably hoped to find it again. It contained, among other things, several bronze chisels, a saw, a double axe, and a pair of tweezers. In a room of the same house were storage jars, clay weights which had probably hung from a weaving-frame, a three-legged cooking-pot, cups and bowls, a jug, a whetstone, and so on. Another room yielded a bronze sword, as well as a variety of household vessels. In the storeroom stood an oil vat made by a potter. But a more complete specimen was discovered in another and older house. It rested on a stone slab, its spout projecting outward on a level with the base. "There can be little doubt as to its use", writes Mr. Bosanquet, describing a similar vat found in another Cretan town. "In the modern process the olive kernels before being pressed are drenched with hot water, and the product after pressing contains more water than oil. The oil in due course separates itself and rises to the surface, and it is necessary either to bail it out from the top or to drain away the water from the bottom. . . . The latter method is in general use, large and complicated tanks being constructed on this principle; the Præsos jar illustrates the simplest form of it, in which, after the contents have been allowed to stand some time, the tap is set running and the water escapes, a watcher being ready to stop the flow and change the recipient as soon as the oil appears." 5 Spouts which were utilized to run off water and oil from the vats have also been found. Various household articles discovered in different parts of Gournia include "Ali Baba" storage jars, a. shallow dairy basin in which milk was set for cream, fillers, ewer-like jugs, clay bottles, cooking-pots, hand-lamps resembling little flower vases, cream jugs, and small saucepans. A "flaring-bowl" on three legs no doubt provided sufficient light for a well-sized room. Of special interest was the discovery in the basement of the palace ruins of seven stone and earthenware lamps, three of which were broken. Probably they were used to illuminate a large room on an upper floor, as Mrs. Hawes suggests. They are of more elaborate design than those found in the houses of burghers, being shallow shapely bowls with socketed pedestals for fixing on a stone or metal standard. Three round projections like billiard-table pockets held the floating wicks, and were connected with gutters. Apparently this lamp was made in a variety of forms.

There were no fireplaces in the Cretan houses, but on chilly evenings apartments could be warmed with portable fire-boxes, the lids and sides of which were perforated. House drain-pipes found here and there indicate that sanitary appliances were not confined to palaces.

The little town shrine, situated high on the limestone ridge, is one of the most fascinating attractions of ruined Gournia. It was approached by a narrow and ascending paved road, "a much-worn way", says Mrs. Hawes. Much worn also are the three stone steps leading into the little enclosure with low protecting walls. It was but 10 feet square, and could not therefore have accommodated more than three or four persons at a time. Here grew a sacred tree, and below it stood a round clay table, or altar, which was found entire with a fragment of a cultus vase standing upon it. There appears to have been three figures of the mother-goddess. One of crude and formal shape is almost entire. A snake curls round the waist and round one of the shoulders, and the arms are upraised in the Egyptian attitude of adoration, forming the "Ka" sign. The eyes are hollow, and the mouth is not shown. Other two heads are similarly mouthless, and one resembles the face vase designs of Troy. Two clay doves were probably associated with one of the idols. Portions of arms entwined by snakes may have belonged to the third. A double axe with a disk in relief on a fragment of clay had evidently a symbolic significance. Three tube-shaped cultus vases have the horn symbols surmounting the handles, as well as six to eight loop handles formed by conventionalized snakes. These are usually referred to as "trumpets".

In the palace and elsewhere other sacred objects were found. One is a bronze figure of a man or god standing on a pedestal with a nail-like projection, like the Babylonian votive figures. His hair is pleated in three long tails, one of which wriggles like a snake down his back, while two fall in front and, following the shoulder lines, meet across his breasts. A loin-cloth is attached to the usual waist girdle. The figure stoops forward slightly, with head tilted sideways; the left arm hangs by his side, and the right is raised and doubled in, so that the hand points towards the heart across the body. Probably this was a religious pose. Small figurines of a seated goddess, a miniature 8-form shield, a bronze cockle-shell, and an earthenware imitation of a triton shell were probably charms.

The little palace of Gournia was being gradually remodelled when the destroyers swept through it, robbing its treasures and slaying the occupants. Like the greater palace at Knossos it was erected in labyrinthine style, with narrow corridors and groups of apartments leading one from the other. There was also a central court, and an outer court which may have been a market-place. It appears to have been in some parts two, and in others three stories high, the roof of the central court being flat to form a terrace, to which access could be obtained from the windows of the second story. On the basement were storerooms, bathrooms, public rooms, and probably bedrooms. So thoroughly was the palace rifled before being set on fire, that few finds of any value have been discovered in its rubbish-heaped apartments.

A goodly number of seal stones were found in Gournia, of Middle and Late Minoan design. These were used to impress the trade-marks of merchants and others, and were attached to a belt worn round the wrist. Some of the signs look like hieroglyphs: others have a religious character. One of the most interesting of the latter class is a female figure wearing a bell-mouth skirt, standing on the back of a deer. This may be a form of the early Artemis. Hittite deities usually stand on animals' backs. Another seal shows two females, who appear to be dancing like the women in one of the Palæolithic cave pictures. A third has a prancing bull, a fourth three goats dancing round in a circle with legs opposed, suggesting the Babylonian dancing he-goats, which have a stellar significance; a fifth the double axe, a sixth the familiar octopus, while a seventh is a lion crouching below a palm-tree, perhaps an Egyptian design. One of the most beautiful seals is of green onyx, on which two dragon-flies with heads opposed and wings outspread are exquisitely carved. It is worthy of the best Cretan gem-engraving artisans.

If there was a Gournia I, it must have been of much less account than Gournia II. The strongest settlement on the isthmus during Early Minoan times was at Vasiliki, which lies about 2 miles inland on the road to Hierapetra. Its oldest ceramic remains (Early Minoan II) make it contemporary with the Mochlos settlement, and antedate the pottery fragments (Early Minoan III) of the Gournia refuse-heap.

The Vasiliki remains are situated on a limestone knoll in a narrow valley, which was anciently the strategic "key" of the isthmus. The highway runs past it, and it commands a wide prospect north and south. Rough limestone ridges rise on either side. Brigands from the hills would have found it difficult to capture, and merchants could not carry their wares along the trade route if its chief were hostile.

The knoll is protected on the northern and western sides by a bare cliff about 15 feet high: its southern and eastern sides slope down to the banks of a mountain torrent. Buildings were erected on the summit, which is comparatively level.

The little citadel, or fortress town, was first built about 2500 B.C., or earlier. It was not a place of any importance during Middle and Late Minoan times, when Gournia was flourishing.

Mr. Seager, the American archæologist, who undertook the excavations at this important site, has divided the history of Vasiliki into four periods. 6

Of the buildings of Period I no traces survive. Obsidian artifacts found in this early strata are of superior type to those from Gournia. They indicate a commercial connection with Melos, perhaps through Mochlos, then a promontory. The pottery, with the exception of a few fragments, is hand-made, and had been developed from Neolithic varieties. "The goblets", says Mr. Seager, "show an advance upon a Knossian form of the First Early Minoan Period, which in turn has been compared with pottery found by Dr. Petrie in First Dynasty deposits at Abydos."

The Period II buildings can be traced. Trading relations with the Cyclades had evidently become more intimate. One of the popular wares was a buff clay handmade variety, painted in Cycladic style. It resembles fragments found at Phylakopi in Melos, and other fragments from sites in eastern Crete. Here we have a departure from the Bronze Age ceramic sequence at Knossos, indicating local development on independent lines. Obsidian was still used, bronze being evidently scarce.

Period III was the most flourishing period at Vasiliki. The houses of Period II were levelled, and the whole settlement was rebuilt. It is uncertain whether or not this change was due to a fresh ethnic infusion into the district or to intertribal strife which affected the "balance of power". Vasiliki had now apparently trading connections with Egypt, Cyprus, and Troy. A distinctive pottery, the mottled variety, displaced all others in popularity. It was wheel-made, and the Egyptian potter's wheel had therefore come into use. The wheel-made fragments of Periods I and II may have been imported, but this, of course, is uncertain. The possibility remains that there were early trading relations, direct or indirect, with the Delta region or Libya. "Some of the Vasiliki shapes", writes Mr. Seager, "occur in Cyprus, and the hard red surface of certain pieces resembles both the early incised ware of Cyprus and the black-topped pottery of Dr. Petrie's Dynastic Egyptians." The "black top" was probably the result of baking pots upside down over an open fire. Certain Vasiliki forms--the "spout vase", the "bulged bowl", the "egg-cup" and "tea-cup"--have been found in the second city of Troy, but the Trojan variety is less finely wrought than the Cretan. This mottled pottery has been discovered also on the Cycladic island of Amorgos and in Spain. Reference has already been made to its resemblance to Turkestan specimens which Mrs. Hawes has examined. It may, as has been suggested, have been distributed along the tin trade and copper trade routes which were "tapped" by Cretan mariners. At the close of Period III Vasiliki was destroyed by fire. So thoroughly was the settlement plundered that, as Mr. Seager writes, "only three pieces of bronze were found on the site: two half axe-heads . . . and a dagger of the Early Minoan triangular shape". The pottery was preserved as at Gournia among the heaps of fallen plaster from the upper stories. Lower stories were constructed of stone.

In Period IV, which was disturbed and decadent, hutlike houses were erected. The mottled pottery went out of use and was substituted by a coarse variety, with white geometric designs painted on a dark surface, similar to the Early Minoan fragments found in the Gournia refuse-heap. After a period of uncertain duration, represented by a deposit of 1½ metres, the knoll was abandoned. The builders of Gournia II may have established their sway over the isthmus. It seems probable that a political upheaval took place. The Gournia crania of the Early and Middle Minoan Periods indicate that the population was mainly long-headed. Broad-headed skulls were represented by only 8.5 per cent among those found. The proportion of broad-heads increased greatly in Late Minoan times. 7

Stepping eastward from Gournia we pass the little island of Mochlos and the larger one of Psyra. Mochlos, as indicated, has yielded important relics of the Early Minoan Period. On Psyra there have been excavated the ruins of houses of Late Minoan date, which were contemporary with those of Gournia.


On which was discovered the hoard of jewellery.

In one a portion of painted relief has survived. Characteristic pottery and finely executed stone vases have also been brought to light.

Our faces are turned towards the land of the Eteocretans, the "true Cretans" of classic tradition, whose archæological records go back to the Neolithic Period. At the village of Kavasi, our road, which is little better than a mule-track, begins to ascend, and we cross the high frontier of Sitia through a steep, rocky pass. Then we descend into a stretch of country lying between the central mountain spine of Crete and its northern shore, from which many torrent-shaped gorges and narrow valleys run inland. Several villages are passed ere we reach Sitia Bay. At Mouliana, Dr. Xanthoudides has excavated beehive tombs which contained, among other things, long bronze swords. These belong to the much-disturbed Late Minoan Period. Farther on is the village of Khamezi, where the same archæologist has assigned a house ruin to Middle Minoan times. We pass through the valley of Skopi, which leads us towards Sitia Bay. The valley of Sitia, which is embraced by the looping River Stomio, is exceedingly fertile. The olive and the vine flourish exceedingly, as do also the grain crops. Villagers elect to dwell on elevated sites on account of the malarious conditions of the low grounds.

About a mile distant from Port Sitia, along the sandy shore, is a low headland jutting out from the hills that fringe the eastern side of the valley. Round it the rough highway twists sharply, and on the summit is the little hamlet of Petras. Here the deep bay is sheltered from northerly gales, and affords a safe anchorage close to the shore. We recognize at once that Petras must have been an important place in ancient days. Like Vasiliki, it was a strategic "key" of a trade route; the highway which it dominates is the easiest approach to the Eteocretan Highlands; the natural harbour was the "nursery" of a sea trade, and the valley provided a surplus of food to promote it.

Mr. Bosanquet conducted excavations on this site in 1901. 8 The results, although not too encouraging, were not without importance. The hillock had been reclaimed fifteen years previously by a couple of Moslem brothers, who employed "a large force of labourers to demolish the ancient masonry, and to form the hill-side into cultivation terraces". The destruction wrought was "systematic and complete". Large blocks of limestone and ashlar had been built into the field walls. Traces were obtained on the west side of the village of a building nearly 19 yards long, but it was impossible to determine its breadth. In one apartment was found a Kamares jar which is probably of Middle Minoan date. A round tower once stood on a plateau above the headland, which was approached by a road cut for a few yards through the rock, and another was situated below the highway. A rubbish heap on the north-east slope of the settlement yielded "masses of Kamares pottery in all degrees of coarseness and delicacy". Mixed with the heap were stone chippings, suggesting the process of rebuilding, probably in Late Minoan times. Obsidian flakes taken from trial pits indicate that Petras was inhabited from the Early Minoan Period, if not from Neolithic days.

From Petras we follow the serpentine track along the rugged shore for a few miles, and then turn southward round the hill range surmounted by Mount Modi towards Grandes Bay. It is a lonely journey. There is an abundance of game on foot and wing, but the chief stalkers are the ground vermin. The hills are intersected by a maze of tortuous valleys, with patches of faded grass and clumps of murmuring trees, broken by bald brown ridges and bluff grey crags. Seaward we have glimpses through winding glens and over basin-shaped valleys of beetling cliffs and streaks of sandy beach fretted by foaming waves, and of blue islands girdled by the dazzling waters in bright sunshine.

At length we descend towards Palaikastro, which lies about 3 miles across a beautiful valley. Olive groves stretch from the foot-hills towards fields of waving grain that form a belt along the shoreland of gravelly ridges and yellow sand.

The bay is flanked on either side by promontories that jut seaward like the great toes of a crab. Towards the south-east its graceful inland curve is broken by a little headland with steep sides, resembling an overturned boat, but with a flat summit. Between this bluff acropolis and the southern range of hills stood the ancient town of Palaikastro. Its site is known as Roussolakkos, which signifies "the red hollow", the redness being due mainly to the crumbling bricks of ancient buildings embedded in the accumulated debris of long centuries. Part of the plain is marshy on the north side of the acropolis.

Perhaps this sheltered bay is the natural harbour referred to in the Biblical narrative of Paul's voyage in "a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy. . . . We sailed under Crete over against Salmone; and, hardly passing it, came into a place which is called The Fair Havens, nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea." 9

Although larger and more important as a trading-centre than Gournia, Palaikastro was less compactly built. Excavations have revealed a long straggling town resembling an overgrown village. It was traversed from one end to another by a paved thoroughfare, appropriately named "Main Street" by the representatives of the British School at Athens. Towards the western end another street crossed at right angles, and a second, branching to the right in the south-east quarter, ran round a block and joined another side street. Plunderers, ancient and modern, have wrought much havoc among the buildings; some of its hewn boulders appear in the field walls of the little farms in the vicinity.

The house ruins which have been unearthed are of a Late Minoan town contemporary with Gournia. Traces have been also obtained of an earlier town of the Middle Minoan II Period, which was probably destroyed.

Outlying sites indicate that the valley was inhabited from the earliest times. One of these has been located at Magassa, the mountain village already referred to, where the coarse archaic pottery, stone houses, and obsidian flakes belong to a period long anterior to the introduction of metal. Rock shelters indicate even more primitive conditions of life.

The houses were larger than those at Gournia, and were more massively built. No doubt they resembled the villas of the Knossian mosaic with two or three stories, elaborate windows, and attics, resembling "deck houses", on the flat roofs. One or two bad spacious apartments, and it is possible that they were occupied by several families closely related.

The pottery ranged from Middle Minoan times to the Late Minoan Period of decline. In a single room of a house in Main Street were found seventeen shapely "fillers". Some are of the type carried by the "cup-bearer" of the Knossian fresco, while others are of pear form with narrow necks, jutting lips, and small handles.


The central vase show an interesting treatment of an octopus motif.

In addition to these and other highly-decorated vases, special interest attaches to the many domestic utensils, including cooking-vessels, pans for baking bread, candlesticks, lamps, and portable fire-boxes.

An important sanctuary site has been excavated by Professor Myres near Palaikastro. It is situated on the ridge of hills that fringe the southern side of the valley, and rises abruptly behind the town, and on the slope of its highest eminence, called Petsofa. Here were unearthed a large number of clay votive figurines of human beings, animals, in strata enclosed by walls. Evidently there had been a sacred building here, but it cannot be described as a temple, for its ruins resemble those of the ordinary dwelling-houses at Palaikastro. Three distinct layers were cut through. The lowest is of clay, red on the surface, but containing no relics. "It doubtless represents", writes Professor Myres, 10 "the original packing of earth to level the enclosure; and in that case its red colour is due to prolonged baking by the bonfire on its surface." The next layer, which is of dark earth. was full of ashes and charcoal fragments, and "crowded with figurines". Broken. pottery and figurines were also found in the surface layer.

The male figurines have either painted or modelled upon them the characteristic Cretan loin-cloths and kilts, with waist-girdles and boots or slippers. In one instance there is a body "wrapper" in relief, which is drawn over either shoulder, and crosses at the back and over the breast. This garment presents "very close analogies", says Professor Myres, "with the Scottish plaid, which is first wound round the waist and then has the ends crossed in front, brought over the shoulders, crossed again on the back, and secured by being tucked through the waist folds, so that the ends hang down like a tail".

Most of the female figurines have the usual pinched waists, tight bodices, and bell-shaped gowns. The headdress varies, and in some cases looks startlingly modern. In one case we have a Dolly Varden hat with crimped brim and a trimming of rosettes; in another a low crown with the brim curving in front like an inverted horseshoe, and one of the expanding sides set off with a frill or plume; a third is high and conical, looking somewhat like a lamp. Sometimes the head-dress is an elaborate hair-dressing, probably on a frame, resembling a high peaked nightcap bending forward, and crossed by a couple of broad white bands. The bodice has always a low neck, the breasts being covered by a thin under-garment, or, as the frescoes suggest, a stiff model of the bust. Usually a wide standing collar rises to a point behind the back, jutting outward.

Traces of paint indicate that the costumes of the Cretan ladies were not awanting in tasteful colour-effects. Some of the hats appear to have been white, while brown, green, and black gowns were decorated with triple horizontal bands between which triple bands crossed at a slope. Like the bodices, these might also be elaborately embroidered in various colours with striking designs.

These male and female votive figurines appear to have been representations of worshippers who deposited them perhaps as charms to protect themselves against the influences of evil. Most of them are standing, but a proportion are seated on four-legged chairs or low stools with or without backs.

That cures were also supposed to be effected by placing models in the purging bonfire, is suggested by the large number of votive arms, legs, heads, and bodies. The single limbs vary in length: in one case a protruding thumb suggests that it is the affected part. There are several forearms with or without hands, and in one case the whole arm is attached to part of a female body. Detached feet and heads. the upper part of a female showing protruding breasts, and a male body with leg stumps may indicate the locations of disease. On the other hand, it is possible that those who deposited these models may have desired to increase the skill of the hand, the strength of arms and legs, the supply of human milk, and so on. A man setting out on a journey might have cast into the sacred fire the model of his legs, so as to ensure his safe return.

The Petsofa fire ceremonies may have been of similar significance to those which were anciently held in our own country. Our ancestors believed that all the forces of evil were let loose at times of seasonal change, and human beings and their domesticated animals required to be specially protected against them. At the beginning of each quarter they lit great bonfires to thwart the demons and fairies, and also to secure luck and increase. The quarter-day was the "settling-day" between mankind and the supernatural beings: those which were the source of good things were propitiated, and those which were the source of evil were baffled by the performance of ceremonies of riddance. In parts of the Scottish Highlands boys still light Beltane (May Day) fires and drive cattle over the ashes to charm them against the influence of the evil eye, the spells of witches, and the attacks of fairies. The New Year's Day bonfire is even more common. It is uncertain whether it has been called a bonfire because bones used to be burned in it or because it was the source of "boons". In England the Midsummer fires were called "Blessing Fires". 11 As in Scotland and Ireland, the folks danced round them and leapt through the flames when they burned low. Brand quotes an interesting old translation, which runs:

Then doth the joyful feast of John the Baptist take his turne,
When bonfires great, with lofty flame, in everie towne doe burne;
And yong men round about with maides doe daunce in everie streete,
With garlands wrought of motherwort, or else with vervain sweete,
And many other flowres faire, with violets in their handes,
Whereas they all do fondly thinke, that whosoever standes,
And thorow the flowres beholdes the flame, his eyes shall feel no paine.
When thus till night they dauncéd have, they through the fire amaine
With striving mindes doe runne, and all their hearbes they cast therein.
And then with wordes devout and prayers they solemnly begin,
Desiring God that all their illes may there consumed be;
Whereby they thinke through all that yeare from agues to be free.

Others made a wheel of fire, which they cast down at night from a mountain-top.

They suppose their mischiefes are all likewise throwne to hell,
And that from harmes and daungers now in safetie here they dwell.

Sometimes the folks are also represented at these festivals,

Supping mylk with cakes
And casting mylk to the bonefire. 12

The beliefs enshrined in these old customs, which have survived after so many centuries of Christian influence, afford us a clue to the motives of the Cretans who cast images into their fires. In addition to the male and female figurines found at Petsofa there is also a large number of models of tame and wild animals. The commonest of them is the ox, which suggests that the charming of cattle was of great antiquity. Calves, dogs, goats, and rams were probably represented for a similar purpose. It cannot be held, however, that the models of unclean animals and ground vermin were cast in the fire because men desired that they should be increased in number or protected against attack. These included the fox and weasel. the hedgehog, which was supposed to steal the milk of cows, and the pig, which was abhorred as in Egypt, Palestine, Wales, and Scotland. Apparently the offerings were made for a variety of reasons, like those made at "wishing wells" and "wishing trees" in our own country at the present day by the folks who perpetuate old customs in a playful spirit. The Cretans probably pronounced blessings over the models of domesticated animals, and curses over the bestial enemies of mankind, believing that spells were confirmed by the magical action of fire. In ancient Egypt images of the Apep devil-serpent were cursed and spat upon before being committed to the flames, so that its power of working evil might suffer decline.

Other clay models found at Petsofa include miniature cups, vases, bowls, and jugs, as well as little plaques with lumps of clay representing bread. In such cases the desire was apparently to ensure the food-supply. Tree-like objects suggest a belief that fruit-crops could be increased by the influence of the fire spell. Several symbolic objects were, no doubt, protective offerings. These included articles with four C spiral terminations and balls of clay, which may have been charms against the "evil eye" like the "luck balls" which were manufactured and sold in these islands in comparatively recent times.

Another Eteocretan seaport which drove a busy trade in the Late Minoan I Period was Zakro. It is situated about 8 miles from Palaikastro. Rather than follow the rough mule-path over the plateau and through twisting vales and narrow gorges, we prefer to sail round the rugged coast with its beetling cliffs and shingly slopes. On our way we pass the boats of the sponge divers. The famous sponges which grow along the eastern shores of Crete are still in as great demand as in the days when Hellenic warriors utilized them as comfortable pads--which also absorbed perspiration--in their helmets and boots. We wonder at the power of endurance displayed by the divers. One has been submerged for ninety seconds; here another has waited on the floor of the ocean thirty seconds longer, but we are informed that he is not a record-breaker.

We tack round a rugged headland and enter the little natural harbour of Zakro, which affords excellent anchorage near the shore. It is sheltered from every wind except the east, which, however, is of rare occurrence. The gusty north winds are deflected by the mountains, and when they rage on the open sea and toss high billows round Cape Plaka, Zakro Bay is comparatively peaceful. Many a Minoan ship must have run in here to escape a sudden meltem which was strewing the Mediterranean with ribbons of snowy foam.

The little saucer-shaped plain, fronted by a beach of sand and shingle, is marshy in part, and consequently malarious. It has, however, its vineyards, patches of cornfield, and clumps of olive-trees, and a small population. High and frowning ridges of bluish limestone enclose it on every side, and the River Zakro, which flows southward from a gorge on the western side, and turns abruptly eastward towards the sea, has a resemblance here to the letter L. The valley behind the plain stretches for about 6 miles, and varies from 1 mile to 2 miles in breadth. It is approached through narrow rocky passes, one of which leads to Upper Zakro.

On two mountain spurs on the northern side of the plain, which are separated by a dell, are ruins of houses. Their builders selected these elevated sites to escape malaria. The acropolis was on the highest part of the western spur, and could be approached from the southern side only. Here, within the area enclosed by massive walls, are the Zakro pits of archæology. The largest was visited by Italian archæologists in the early days of Cretan research, but was not thoroughly explored until Mr. Hogarth conducted his systematic excavations in 1901. 13 The deposit was about 8 feet in depth. It yielded three obsidian flakes and fragments of implements of bone and of bronze pins and blades. There were also bits of stone vessels. "The mass of the find", Mr. Hogarth writes, "was in earthenware, and included about eighty unbroken vases among thousands of fragments." Four-fifths of the pottery was Late Minoan I, and the remainder of the Kamares variety (Middle Minoan), with Eteocretan characteristics. The Vasiliki mottled ware was represented, but there was no trace of Neolithic ceramic products. Some pottery was obtained in a second pit and among the foundations of houses.

On the opposite spur are the ruins of well-built houses of a prosperous community. The foundations of these were of stone, and the upper stories of brick supported by timber. Brick was also used for the inner walls, which were faced with plaster. Floors were covered by concrete. Evidence was forthcoming that the little town had been destroyed by fire. The buildings varied in size and design. One had fifteen apartments on the ground floor, and was probably a small palace; another had six, and a third eight.

These houses yielded some bronze relics and a good deal of pottery, including a characteristic Cretan shell-shaped crucible for smelting copper, perforated by a number of holes at one end. But the most remarkable relics were the clay seal impressions. Of these Mr. Hogarth found about five hundred, a sure evidence that Zakro was the home of rich and prosperous merchants. Trade was conducted with Anatolia, and perhaps also with Mesopotamia, along the routes terminating on its coast, as well as with Egypt. Zakro's position suggests that its trade with Egypt was direct, and not by way of Cyprus. At the present day it is the last port of call for Ægean craft bound for the Libyan coast, where sponges are also obtained.

The pottery from the pits indicates that there was an earlier Zakro in the Middle Minoan II Period, when Palaikastro I was founded. Apparently Zakro II was destroyed, like Gournia II and Palaikastro II, in Late Minoan II times (c. 1500-1450 B.C.).

Zakro's dead were buried in caves in the adjoining gorge. In the vicinity of Upper Zakro the scanty surviving remains of buildings, and the tombs which have been located, suggest that the valley had settlers from the Early Minoan Period until early Hellenic times. There are still a few poor villages.

In our survey of Eastern Crete we come last of all to Præsos, the ancient capital of the "true Cretans". It does not lie many miles from Upper Zakro as the crow flies, but is separated from it by a ridge of rugged hills that runs north and south. The most convenient way of approach is from Sitia. This inland site is perched on a small plateau enclosed by two streams. These unite below in front of it, and form the River Sitia, which runs through a 7-miles-long valley towards Sitia Bay. Southward the road shrinks to a narrow pass, which could easily be closed against an enemy. It makes a long detour by way of Klandra and Zyro towards Zakro valley.

The Præsians informed Herodotus that Crete was twice stripped of its inhabitants, only a remnant being left on each occasion. The first disaster resulted from the expedition which Minos led against Sicily, and the second after the Trojan war, when the greater part of the population was stricken by famine and pestilence. Men of various nations flocked to Crete, "but none came in such numbers as the Grecians". 14

Evidently classical writers believed that the "true Cretans" were representative of the aboriginal inhabitants--the ancient seafarers who suppressed the island pirates and colonized the mainland of Greece, the Cycladic islands, and Lycia and Caria in western Anatolia. But excavations at Præsos have failed to support this hypothesis. Before the Early Hellenic Period the little town was not a place of any importance. It was certainly not a centre of Minoan civilization. The people who erected the inland stronghold were evidently invaders who came before the Greeks--perhaps they were the destroyers of Zakro and Palaikastro. It may be that, like the Hellenes, they were of Indo-European speech, and represented an early wave of mingled Achæan and Pelasgian stock from the continent. 15 As there are traces that they perpetuated Minoan religion in early classical times, it may well be that they fused with the people they conquered, and were influenced by their modes of thought, and that in consequence the Greeks did not realize that they were intruders like themselves. The conquered people may have beer early settlers from Anatolia, and not of the same racial stock as the settlers of North African origin.

The Præsian invasion probably occurred in the Late Minoan III Period. All the buildings which can be credited to the so-called "true Cretans" are of a later age. The earlier inhabitants, the real "true Cretans", are represented by the relics found in the cave of Skalais above the river gorge at the north side of the plateau. Here, in what may have been either a dwelling or burial-place, were found fragments of pottery of the Neolithic and Early Minoan Periods, and also some sherds of the Kamares (Middle Minoan) variety. Prior to the coming of the founders of Præsos, who erected beehive tombs and worshipped a mother-goddess closely resembling the Trojan deity, the plateau was probably a grazing-place for the inhabitants of the fertile valley stretching towards Sitia Bay. In Homeric times the island had many ethnic elements. The following reference in the Odyssey is significant:--

There is a land amid the sable flood
Call'd Crete; fair, fruitful, circled by the sea.
Num'rous are her inhabitants, a race
Not to be summ'd, and ninety towns she boasts.
Diverse their language is; Achaians some,
And some indigenous are; Cydonians there,
Crest-shaking Dorians, and Pelasgians dwell.

In the next chapter we will visit the important sites of Southern Crete.


1 Crete the Forerunner of Greece, p. 37.

2 The Critias, Section XV.

3 Annual of the British School at Athens, Vol. VIII, p. 14 et seq.

4 Gournia, p. 21.

5 Annual of the British School at Athens. Vol. VIII, p. 268.

6 Gournia, pp. 49. 50.

7 Gournia, p. 59.

8 Annual of the British School as Athens, Vol. VIII, pp. 282-5.

9 Acts, xxvii, 6-8.

10 Annual of the British School at Athens, Vol. IX, pp. 356 et seq.

11 Brand's Popular Antiquities, Vol. I, p. 306.

12 Brand's Popular Antiquities, Vol. I, pp. 300 et seq.

13 Annual of the British School at Athens, Vol. VI I, pp. 122 et seq.

14 Herodotus, VII, 170, 171.

15 In classical times the Eteo Cretans did not speak Greek. They used Greek characters, however, in their inscriptions which have not yet been read. The oldest inscription belongs to the sixth century B.C. It may be that this language was not Indo-European. Professor Conway, however, thinks it was.

16 Odyssey, XIX.

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Main Index

Intro Plates Preface 1 Primitive Europeans 2 Palæolithic Magic, Religion 3 People of the Goddess Cult 4 Schliemann's Discoveries 5 Crete as the Lost Atlantis 6 The Palace of Knossos 7 Myths of Neolithic Crete 8 Earth and Corn Mothers 9 Cretan Culture, Commerce 10 Relations with Troy 11 Life in the Little Towns 12 The Palace of Phæstos 13 Cave Deities and Symbols 14 Decline of Crete

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