Monday, September 15, 2014


W.-D. Niemeier, O. Pilz, I. Kaiser (ed.), Kreta in der geometrischen und archaischen Zeit: Akten des Internationalen Kolloquiums am Deutschen Archäologischen Institut, Abteilung Athen, 27.-29. Januar 2006. Athenaia, Bd 2. München: Hirmer Verlag, 2013. Pp. ix, 487. ISBN 9783777442419. €85.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Vyron Antoniadis, Academy of Athens (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

In a recent lecture at the Archaeological Society at Athens, Vasileios Petrakos, the general secretary of the Society, introduced a lecture on first millennium BC Crete by Antonis Kotsonas by emphasizing that the archaeological discoveries of that period are no less important than those of the Minoan period. This claim might have seemed bold or exaggerated few decades ago, when scholars argued that Crete of the historical period was a backwater in comparison to the rest of Greece and that its people lived in the ghostly ruins of Minoan civilization.1 But Early Iron Age Crete has come out of the darkness through the efforts of archaeologists.

The publication by Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier, Oliver Pilz and Ivonne Kaiser, basically the proceedings of a conference held in Athens in 2006, echoes the archaeological efforts, especially of the last couple of decades. In this book one can see not only the diversity of the culture of Geometric and Archaic Crete but also of the investigation itself. Thirty-five experts, most of whom have been engaged in various projects in Crete, contributed to this volume with thirty-two articles written in English, French, German, Greek and Italian. There are a variety of papers ranging from preliminary archaeological reports to historical accounts. Due to the great number of contributions, I have paid particular attention to a selection of the papers. The book, like the conference, is separated into ten sections/subjects as follows.

Introduction: the first paper of the book is principally a very interesting account by Chaniotis of celebrated personalities of Archaic Crete with the legendary Knossian seer and poet Epimenides being both the most famous and the most mysterious. The author sees in those individuals who crossed cultural and social boundaries but at the same time were constrained by norms and rules a strong symbolism of early Cretan legislation.

In section 2, Federico and Cucuzza write about the relationship between Archaic Crete and its Minoan past and identity. Federico's article is an analysis of the different Archaic genealogies of Phaistos and Knossos and the ways in which Cretans of the Archaic period perceived their ethnicity and manipulated their past. Cucuzza examines the Minoan ruins that were standing in the Archaic period, but he also mentions some earlier developments occurred immediately after the end of the Bronze Age. In sites such as Agia Triada and Phaistos the author notes the integration of these ruins into Archaic structures or their reuse for cultic activities. The subject of the revival, if not continuity, of certain elements of the Minoan in the Archaic period is discussed extensively.

Section 3 is about new excavations and topographic investigations. La Rosa's very detailed study concerns the excavation of a Protogeometric road at Phaistos. Mook and Haggis, in the second paper, present the excavation of an Archaic urban centre at Azoria. They show how the seventh century architecture at Azoria changed the socio-political structure of the settlement. Wallace's article is a synthesis of various pottery surveys in 'citadel sites', as she terms them, as well as in other sites in central Crete. She argues that only after the abandonment of the citadel sites in the late eighth century, was a state entity firmly established in Crete. One feels though that the concept of the 'citadel site' requires more discussion in relation to the rest of the sites analysed in the paper that the author characterises them as not very defensible.

Section 4 is mainly dedicated to the excavation of cemeteries. The interim report from the cemetery at Eltyna (fully published in 20102), reveals the special relationship of this area with Knossos. The ninety obeloi (spits) found inside the tombs are impressive even by the standards of the more extensive Knossos North Cemetery, where only about sixty obeloi were found.3 Tzanakaki's article is focused on the typology of the sixth century Archaic pithoi used as funerary urns at Agia Roumeli (Tarra). Tsipopoulou's paper is a contextual analysis of the pottery from a cave burial at Kephala, Siteia in eastern Crete. All articles pay close attention to the funerary offerings and other finds, but there is basically no discussion of the skeletal material. Only Tsipopoulou makes a very brief comment on the age and sex of the deceased. The dead are the main reason that funerals, burials and the subsequent excavations take place but they have yet to become the main focus of investigation. The last article in this section, by Stampolidis and Koutsogiannis, is about the restoration of two seventh-century burial monuments at Eleutherna which has permitted a better understanding of Daedalic sculpture.

Section 5 is mainly about pottery. Kotsonas, has carried out a meticulous study of the various kinds of orientalising ceramic wares and styles of decoration in relation to Near Eastern metal and ivory artefacts. His analysis, particularly of the Cypriot black slip juglets that reached Crete in the Late Bronze Age and the locally made copies, is very important since he identifies the main production centre of the Cretan copies at Lyktos (much nearer to Knossos, the site with the highest concentration of these copies) rather than in eastern Crete. Santaniello analyses imported (Attic, Cycladic) and local pottery of the tenth to the sixth century BC from the acropolis of Gortyn. She marks the development of a local style during the second half of the seventh century BC. The contextual study by Tsatsaki of the potter's quarter at Eleutherna identifies a potter's workshop of the Late Geometric period (Geometric phase of House Γ). She opens a very interesting discussion not only on the predetermined capacity of the vessels produced but also on the potential output of such a workshop in the Geometric period.

Section 6, features the title "Genesis of the Polis". Lefèvre-Novaro's article covers the territorial organisation of the western Messara. This actually is one of the very few papers in this volume that ranges beyond the Geometric and Archaic period and back to Late Minoan. Guizzi creates a typology of the various types of synoecism in Archaic Crete that led to the creation of poleis in Gortyn and Polyrrhenia. As the author observes, with the notable exception of these two poleis, synoecism must have been something very rare in Archaic Crete. Coldstream approaches the same subject from an archaeological point of view. The main concern of the author is whether (and how) Aristotle's model of synoecism and essentially the creation of a polis can be applied to Archaic Crete. He views the cities with strong Minoan heritage such as Knossos and Phaistos as developing from a different model since there was a pre-existing urban nucleus before the formation of the Archaic cities. In contrast, as the author notes, sites such as Lato in East Crete that had no relationship with the Minoan urban past, probably conformed to the Aristotelian model.

Section 7 is about cult and religion and section 8 contains two articles on images of Greek myth. Melfi in her paper revisits the literary and archaeological evidence from Temple B at Kommos and suggests that Apollo, associated with the Phoenician god Reshep (A)Mukal was the principal divinity worshipped there. Bournia analyses the different depictions of the Minotaur as the typical bull-headed man or (much rarer) as a man-headed bull. The second representation was also depicted on Tenian relief vases of the first half of the seventh century BC. Some more photographs and drawings would have made it easier to follow the various iconographic differentiations.

Sections 9 and 10 are about the interactions between Crete and the rest of the Greek world and the Near East respectively. Whitley sets the agenda for the study of Cretan Orientalising by creating a theoretical framework with various examples, especially Knossos vis-a-vis Lefkandi and Corinth. Probably the greatest contribution of this paper is the section on the terminology and the warning that what modern scholarship perceives as the Orient and Oriental is not the same as that which the ancient Greeks understood as such. Johnston gives a coherent account of writing in seventh century Crete and especially of what he terms casual inscriptions (i.e. excluding inscriptions on stone and legal texts). He also suggests that the dating of letter forms can be an additional tool in the effort to understand changes which occurred in certain regions of Crete in the sixth century (the 'Archaic gap'). Pappalardo offers a good survey of the imports which came to Crete from Egypt, Syria and Phoenicia during the Early Iron Age, but does not elaborate on the contexts or their discovery. She argues that wood, iron ores and skilled craftsmen/slaves must have been the main reasons that attracted the Near Eastern traders. D'Acunto focuses on the iconography of two objects, a bronze girdle and a quiver that accompanied two different burials (pithoi 71 and 72) in the chamber tomb P at Fortetsa, Knossos, one of the most important tombs in Crete in the entire Early Iron Age. He claims that both burials belonged to warriors mainly because of the presence of weapons next to the cinerary urns4 and he makes some very valuable remarks on the fighting scenes depicted on these two objects.

This book will be a helpful tool for advanced university students and scholars interested in the archaeology, history, art history and even epigraphy of Geometric and Archaic Crete. The different papers represent a range of approaches from traditional to theoretical. Archaeologists will probably find the archaeological reports the most interesting.

The quality and the size of the photographs and most of the figures is exceptional. The discussions that follow most of the papers are very stimulating and contain much additional information and many interesting suggestions. Chaniotis for example makes a very good point on the meaning of the word συνοικισμός in Guizzi's paper (338). The discussion between Pappalardo, Bouzek, Caskey, Johnston and Whitley offers some interesting ideas regarding the Cretan goods that attracted the Near Eastern traders (468-469).

The only problem with this book is unrelated to the papers themselves but to its structure: the separation into sections/subjects confuses the reader since most of the papers cover more than one subject. Sections 3 and 5 are both related to the excavation of settlements and to topography whilst Tsipopoulou's analysis is placed in section 4 even if it is mainly about pottery typology rather than the excavation of a tomb. The sections of the book should perhaps have been restructured in order to reflect better the content of each paper, not the structure of the conference. For example, both Whitley and Kotsonas approach (from different perspectives) the subject of the Cretan Orientalising phenomenon, but their papers are located in different sections.

In conclusion I fully recommend this book to all those who are interested in Early Iron Age Crete and the Aegean. Additionally, experts specialising in the study of Mediterranean island culture will find plenty of material for comparative studies.


1.   G. Cadogan, Palaces of Minoan Crete (1976), p. 48.
2.   G. Rethemiotakis, M. Englezou, Το Γεωμετρικό Νεκροταφείο της Έλτυνας (2010).
3.   V. Antoniadis, Early Iron Age Cemeteries at Knossos: The Appreciation of Oriental Imports and their Imitations by Knossian Society , Unpublished Thesis (2012), p. 149-150.
4.   Not all the different theoretical approaches of what constitutes a warrior grave are considered in this case.

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