According to tradition, it was the seat of King Minos and the capital of his state. The palace of Knossos is associated with the exciting myths “the Labyrinth and the Minotaur” and “Daedalus and Icarus”.
References to Knossos, its palace and Minos are made by Homer (the list of ships in Ilias mentions that Crete sent 80 ship under the command of the King of Knossos, Idomeneus, the Odyssey, T 178-9), Thucydides (reference to Minos), Isiodus and Herodotus, Bacchylides and Pindarus, Plutarchus and Diodorus the Sicilian. The city flourished in the Minoan Times (2000 – 1350 B.C.), when it was the most important and populated centre of Crete. It also played an important role and was particularly prosperous in later periods, like the Hellenistic Times.
The city of Knossos was constantly populated from the end of the 7th millennium to the Roman Times. In the Neolithic Times there was a stage of technologically developed agricultural life (stone tools and weaving weights). The residents turned from food-collectors into producers (farmers and shepherds) and a there was a trend towards more systematic and permanent settlement. The settlement periods in Knossos succeeded each other and the population of the settlement at the end of the Late Neolithic Period is estimated at 1.000 – 2.000 residents.
In the Bronze Age, which involved the processing of copper, the settlement possibly continued to develop. However, during the construction of the palace many older buildings were destroyed. The settlement is now referred to as Ko-no-so in Linear B texts of the 14th century B.C. Habitation was particularly intense, including the first palace (19th-17th century B.C.), the second palace (16th-14th century B.C.) and the luxurious villas, the guests’ rooms and the Minoan infrastructure works. The palaces were built on sites overlooking plains and having access to the sea, while important settlements were developed around them. The cities and the settlements were not walled, which confirms the so-called Pax Minoica. In around 1700 B.C. a major earthquake probably destroys Knossos and leads to large-scale works in the city and the palace. The city of Knossos was developed in a large area and its population was estimated by Evans at around 80.000 people.
In 1450 B.C., after a partial destruction of Knossos, the Mycenaeans settled in the city, without, however, rebuilding the palace. From the next periods few remnants are preserved, mostly tombs and a small classical temple in the area of the palace. The city experienced great prosperity during the Hellenistic Times (temple of Glaukus, temple of Demetra, chiselled tombs, the use of a northern cemetery, fortifying towers). In 67 B.C. Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus conquered Knossos and established a Roman colony with the name Colonia Julia Nobilis. The Villa of Dionysus, with wonderful mosaics, dates back to this period.
In the Byzantine Times Knossos was the seat of the Bishop, while the remains of the 6th century A.D. basilica are still preserved. After the Arab conquest of Crete, the harbour of Heraklion gradually became more important, while Knossos was slowly forgotten. A small settlement was built on the Roman ruins and is referred to as “Makritihos” (=long wall), named after a long wall, which was a remnant of the Roman Knossos. Knossos was spotted in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos. A. Evans started systematic excavations in 1900, which continued until 1931 (discovery of the palace, a large part of the Minoan city and the cemeteries). Since then excavations are being continued in the wider area of Knossos by the British School of Archaeology and the 23rd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities.
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