Ah, the ancient City of Knossos in Greece…
…discovered on the island of Crete in the nineteenth century.
Although uncovered earlier than 1894 A.D., Arthur Evans is given credit for discovering the city of Knossos in that year & began excavation soon afterward in 1900 A.D. Evans spent the rest of his life restoring the ancient ruins to the degree we see today.
It is Evans who gave the name ‘Minoans’ to the people who inhabited Crete over 5000 years ago, naming his discovery after the King-Priest Minos, supposedly the son of Zeus, and referenced in Thucydides writings of 424-23 B.C. Knossos is the source of many legends and myths to explore.
So who was King Minos? Let’s go back in time & imagine a visit to Knossos, King Minos & the people of Crete…
Minos wanted to be King. He wanted it bad.
He needed to find a way to show superiority over his two brothers, Rhadamanthys and Aeacus.
The people of Knossos were in awe of the mighty bull and revered it as symbolic of the god, Zeus. A monument discovered at the palace parapet looking toward the harbor reflected the honor bestowed on this animal in the culture. Minos decided in order to prove his power to the people he would use the bull somehow. He boasted that he could produce a bull from the sea, then prayed to Poseidon to make it so. Poseidon obliged Minos with the understanding that the bull would then be sacrificed to honor Poseidon. Minos agreed.
But it was a fine white bull, too beautiful to kill, and Minos added it to his herd, sacrificing another instead.
This angered Poseidon, so he caused Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the white bull, literally.
Ordering the Master Architect, Daedalus to work, Pasiphae told him to construct a replica of a cow covered in cow hide and he created a fine replica for her. They pushed it into the pasture and Pasiphae climbed inside the structure and hid. The new cow was attractive and the great white bull did what bulls do…he made love to her. Pasiphae produced a half-man, half-beast monster child from the union.
Pasiphae nursed the child-beast, but as he grew he became violent and uncontrollable. The monstrous child became an embarrassment to Minos and Minos knew he must act.
Minos, in his anger, directed Daedalus to build an enormous Labyrinth beneath the city of Knossos.
Then King Minos ripped the child-beast from his wife’s arms and banished the uncontrollable monster to the depths of the labyrinth forever.
Meanwhile Minos other children are also growing up into fine, athletic and competitive youth…
…and Olympic games being held far across the sea in Athens challenge Minos to send a representative.
Minos sends his son, Androgeos, to represent Knossos & participate in the competitions.
Androgeos wins most of the athletic games, but there is discord among the athletes.
King Aegeus is told that Androgeos is a spy and the King allows the other young athletes to conspire against Androgeos. When they kill Androgeos the King turns a blind eye…until Minos hears of his son’s demise.
King Minos attacks Athens and conquers King Aegeus. Minos demands restitution from King Aegeus to avenge Androgeos death. King Minos has a plan…..
The tribute King Minos demands is that seven young Athenian men and seven young Athenian women be sent to Knossos every year (nine years in some versions of the myth) to participate in Knossos traditional ‘Leaping the Bull’ games. They are expected to win, or at least survive, and return to Athens…but they never do. After the Bull Leaping games are over King Minos sends them as sacrifices into the Labyrinth to face the dreaded Minotaur for his sport and feast.
Minotaur, you ask? Remember Pasiphae’s monster offspring banished by Minos, with a human body & head of a bull? Yes, this is where the Legend of the Minotaur was born. Mino (Minos) and Taur (from the Greek word ‘bull’) is a story of both triumph and shame. Oh, there’s more to tell; much, much more…
In Athens, King Aegeus’ son, Theseus, is a hero already having newly arrived from being raised elsewhere by his mother. Coming of age and traveling to meet his father, his many adventures have established his reputation as courageous and strong. Ultimately he volunteers to go to the Bull Leaping games in Knossos in place of one young athlete, and vows to put a stop to King Minos’ outrageous destruction of Athenian youth. He sails to Knossos along with thirteen others, developing a plan of his own to thwart King Minos.
When Theseus sets foot in Knossos Minos daughter, Ariadne, falls passionately in love with Theseus. She helps him conquer the Minotaur with a ball of string and they escape the island with the other athletes on Theseus’ ship, to live happily ever after; or so Adriadne thinks. But Theseus has a dream which tells him that Ariadne is bad luck and he must leave her. So Theseus dumps Ariadne on the island of Naxos and returns to Athens alone.
You just can’t trust some men, even if they are Heroes.
Back in Athens, King Aegeus anxiously awaits his son’s return. The ship carrying the fourteen fated Athenian youth to Knossos left port waving a black flag. If Theseus successfully conquered the Minotaur he must signal his father by raising the white flag upon his return sail into the harbor; but in the excitement, he forgets.
His father, King Aegeus, seeing the black flag thinks his son has perished at the hands of the Minotaur and throws himself over the embankment into the sea to his death in despair over the loss of his beloved and newly found son.
The Aegean Sea is named in honor of King Aegeus to this day.
The grandeur of Knossos went on without the Minotaur plaguing their lives until about 1450 B.C. when the volcano on Santorini (Thira) erupted, sending tsunami waves, earthquakes and devastation to destroy the once great city that dominated Crete. Archaeologist and scholars surmise that this natural disaster set off the chain of events leading to the demise of Knossos and the whole of Crete until the Mycenaean took up residence to start civilization anew.
There is so much more to be discovered, but for now we will have to use our imaginations to see the beauty and splendor of the people we know as The Minoans, and what their lives might have been like…
Grand staircase and reception portico, reconstructed by Arther Evans, circa 1900’s A.D.
Crops of olives, oil, figs, dates, nuts, honey, grains, fruits and vegetables were stored in large magazine pits.
The Royal Treasury was also stored in the same manner, bronze, gold, silver and copper were all valuable commodities.
The Queen had separate rooms from the King, more private and comfortable. She had her own bath room, of course.
In fact, there were many sections to the Palace at Knossos. The Royal Chambers were but a small part of the palace.
Women were an important part of society in Knossos, being deified in ways such as the Snake Goddess.
The Hall of the Double Axes was possibly a council room for discussing naval strategies to defend the city or plan attack.
Knossos did not have defense walls, since their Navy defended the city from the Harbor and they were sea-faring culture.
Symbols of the Double Axe can be found in decor and on walls in lower chambers as representation of Knossos power.
Roads in and out of the city led to a smaller palace in the countryside, homes, farms and orchards.
Notice the raised stones, meant to keep the wheels from getting stuck in ruts, and lending to a smoother ride for Royalty.
And so our tour of the ancient City of Knossos comes to an end, but not the story.