Anthropology: An Overview of the Archaeological Town of Knossos

Knossos, an ancient Greek city-state, is Europe’s oldest city and is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete. The name Knossos persists from ancient Greek references to the principal metropolis of Crete, which was settled as early as the Neolithic period. The palace of Knossos eventually became the Minoan civilization’s and culture’s ceremonial but rather political centre. However, the palace was abandoned at an unknown date near the end of the Late Bronze Age, c. 1380–1100 BC; the reason is unknown, but one of the many disasters that befell the palace is commonly suggested.

The city achieved a population of 18,000 inhabitants during the First Palace Period (about 2000 BC). Then, shortly around 1700 BC, the palace and surrounding city swelled to a population of 100,000 people.  

Neolithic Period

Temple Columns Knossos
Credit: Pixabay

Beginning with the founding of the earliest Neolithic town, the location of Knossos has had a long history of human occupation (c. 7000 BCE). As a result, Crete has a lot of Neolithic ruins. Caves, rock shelters, buildings, and towns are all places where they can be found. A substantial Neolithic layer at Knossos indicates that the site was a series of communities before the Palace Period. The first was built on bedrock.

In modern times, Arthur Evans, who discovered the palace of Knossos, estimated that a Neolithic people arrived on the hill around 8000 BCE, most likely by boat from overseas, and built the initial of a series of the wattle and daub villages. Local cloth-making is attested by many carved spools and whorls made of clay and stone. Greenstone, serpentine, diorite, and jadeite ground axe and mace heads, obsidian knives and arrowheads, and the cores from which they were flaked. Many animal and human figures, particularly nude sitting or standing females, stood out amid the other little things. Evans linked them to Neolithic mother goddess worship and figurines to religion.

Excavations at Knossos

Further excavations around the pits and trenches, focussing on the Neolithic, were carried out by John Davies Evans. At the time of the Aceramic Neolithic, between 7000 and 6000 BCE, a hamlet of 25–50 people lived near the Central Court. They lived in wattle and daub homes, raised animals, cultivated crops, and buried their children under the floor in the event of a tragedy. In such a time as prevalent today, a hamlet consists of several families.

All members were interrelated, practised some form of exogamy, lived in close quarters, had little or no privacy, and had a high degree of intimacy. They spend most of their time outdoors, sheltering only for the night or in inclement weather, and are, to a large extent, nomadic or semi-nomadic.

A settlement of 200–600 people occupied a substantial area of the palace and the slopes to the north and west in the Early Neolithic (6000–5000 BCE). They lived in one- or two-room square dwellings with mud-brick walls and fieldstone or recycled stone objects as socles. Mud-plaster was used to line the interior walls. The roofs were made of mud over branches and were flat. The occupants excavated hearths in the main room’s centre at various points.

One house under the West Court had eight rooms and covered 50 m2 in this settlement, which was unique (540 sq ft). The walls were perpendicular to each other. The door was perfectly in the middle, and large stones were employed to support areas with more stress. The absence of individual sleeping cubicles suggests the presence of storage units of some type.

Demographic Analysis

The Middle Neolithic village (5000–4000 BCE) accommodated 500–1000 individuals in larger, presumably more family-private dwellings. The only differences were that the windows and doors were timbered, that the main room had a fixed, raised fireplace in the centre, and that the perimeter had pilasters and other raised features (cabinets, beds).

The Great Dwelling, a 100 m2 (1,100 sq ft) stone house divided into five rooms with meter-thick walls indicating a second storey, was located beneath the palace. The existing house suggests communal or public use; in other words, it could have been the forerunner of a palace. The population grew substantially during the Late or Final Neolithic (two different but overlapping classification systems, circa 4000–3000 BCE).

Period of the Minoans

Minoan Palace
Credit: Blog

The first Cretan palaces are said to have been built around 2000 BC, in the early Middle Minoan period, at Knossos and other sites such as Mallia, Phaestos, and Zakro. These palaces, which would determine the pattern of organization in Crete and Greece for the next millennium, marked a significant departure from the Neolithic village system that had previously existed. Instead, the construction of palaces signifies increased affluence and a concentration of political and religious power. They may have been inspired by eastern models like those found at Ugarit on the Syrian coast and Mari on the upper Euphrates.

The early palaces were probably certainly destroyed by earthquakes, which Crete is prone to, during Middle Minoan II, perhaps before c. 1700. They had been rebuilt on a bigger scale by c. 1650, and the second palace period (c. 1650–c. 1450) represents the pinnacle of Minoan opulence. The palaces had vast central courtyards that might have been used for public shows and celebrations. Around the court were living quarters, storage rooms, administrative centres, and working quarters for skilled artisans.

Construction at Knossos

The palace of Knossos was by far the largest, with the main tower alone encompassing three acres and other out-buildings covering five acres. It included a grand staircase that led to staterooms on the second floor. On the ground floor, there was a ceremonial cult centre. The python, a gigantic storage jar up to five feet tall, was the principal feature of the palace stores, which occupied sixteen rooms.

Oil, wool, wine, and grain were the most common items. Lead-lined cists were used to keep smaller and more expensive items. There were bathrooms, toilets, and a drainage system in the palace. At Knossos, there was a discovery of a theatre with a capacity of 400 people. Unlike later Athenian models, the orchestral space was rectangular and most likely used for religious dances.

The methods of construction used in Knossos were standard. The lowest course and foundations were stonework, while the entire structure was supported by a timber framework of beams and pillars. Large, unbaked bricks were used to construct the main building. The roof had a thick coating of clay over brushwood and was flat. Light wells brightened internal chambers, and wood columns, many fluted, provided both strength and dignity.

Additionally, frescoes depicting scenes from ordinary life and processions hung in the chambers and passageways. Warfare is glaringly absent from the scene. In portrayals of ladies in various stances, the styles of the day can be seen. They wore long costumes with flounced skirts, puffed sleeves, and meticulously styled hair. Their breasts were exposed, and their bodices were tightly gathered around their waists.

Resources at Knossos

Excavations at Knossos
Credit: Odyssey

Knossos prospered primarily due to the development of native Cretan resources, including oil, wine, and wool. The expansion of trade was another element. Minos, the mythological monarch of Knossos, built a thalassocracy, according to Herodotus (sea empire). Thucydides agreed with the legend, adding that Minos rid the sea of pirates, promoted trade, and colonized several Aegean islands. Because there was discovery of Minoan pottery in Egypt, Syria, Anatolia, Rhodes, the Cyclades, Sicily, and mainland Greece, archaeologists back up the legend.

The Minoans have had significant ties to Rhodes, Miletus, and Samos. The earliest texts discovered in Cyprus show Cretan influence. The Cyclades were the principal market for Cretan products, with a strong demand for pottery, particularly stone vases. It’s unclear if the islands were under the control of Crete or were trading partners, but there was a strong Cretan influence.

It is also true on the mainland, as tradition and archaeology show that Crete and Athens have significant ties. The major legend is the Minotaur myth, in which there was enslavement of Athens by Knossos and had to pay homage. The mythology tells of a half-man, half-bull creature who lived in a labyrinth. Bulls frequently appear on pottery and frescoes uncovered in Knossos, where the palace’s complex structure resembles a labyrinth. The double-headed axe known as the labrys, a Carian name for that type of tool or weapon, is one of the most popular cult emblems, typically visible on palace walls.

Subsequent Demolition and Existence of Knossos

Ruins at Knossos
Credit: Pixabay

There was demolition of palaces at Mallia, Phaestus, and Zakro and lesser villages elsewhere at the height of Cretan dominance around 1450 BC. Only Knossos remained, and stood ground until around 1370. Greeks occupied it at the time of its destruction, as evidenced by a new emphasis on weaponry and combat in both art and burial. There was adoption of chamber tombs in the Mycenaean style, and the mainland influenced pottery types.

Confirmation came in a written document after Michael Ventris decoded the Linear B tablets and discovered that the language was an early version of Greek distinct from Linear A. Sir Arthur Evans discovered the Linear B tablets at Knossos. Although the writing was distinct from the Linear A tablets existing at Phaestus and elsewhere, he had a belief they developed the first and gave name as Linear B.

Despite conjecture that destruction of Knossos happened from Santorini’s volcanic explosion, there is a widely popular opinion that the cause was human violence following an invasion of Crete by Greeks from the Argolid, most likely Mycenaean. Knossos was still Fprosperous during its destruction in c. 1370, with trade and art flourishing. The reasons for its destruction are unknown, although one possibility is that the Mycenaeans, who had prospered on the mainland, chose to eliminate a competitor power.

Hellenistic and Roman Periods

There was repopulation of Knossos after the defeat of Minoans around 1000 BC. The town stood as one of Crete’s most important cities. Amnisos and Heraklion were the city’s two ports. The Russians colonized Brundisium in Italy, and Knossos allied with Philip II of Macedon in 343 BC. Against the city of Lyttus, the city employed a Phocian mercenary named Phalaikos. The Lyttians enlisted the help of the Spartans, who dispatched Archidamus III to battle the Knossians.

Throughout the Hellenistic period, Egypt greatly influenced Knossos, although the Ptolemies were unable to unite the warring city-states during the Chremonidean War (267–261 BC) despite significant military operations. In the third century BC, Knossos extended its dominance to control the entire island practically. Still, there were interruptions by a coalition led by the Polyrrhenians and Macedonian king Philip V during the Lyttian War in 220 BC. Twenty years later, the Knossians were once again Philip’s adversaries, and this time, with Roman and Rhodian assistance, they were able to free Crete from Macedonian control.


There was re-establishment of Knossos as the first city of Crete with Roman assistance, but Gortys became the capital of the new Creta province et Cyrene by the Roman Senate in 67 BC. Knossos became a Roman colony called Colonia Iulia Nobilis around 36 BC. The settlement, built in the manner of Roman architecture, exiata near the palace. However, there was unearth of only a tiny portion of it. 

The Roman coins dispersed over the fields around the pre-excavation site, then a massive mound dubbed Kephala Hill, the elevation of 85 m (279 ft) from present sea level, confirms the association Knossos with the Bronze Age site. On the obverse, they were inscriptions with Knosion or Knos. Also, there was an image of a Minotaur or Labyrinth on the reverse. There was mint of coins in the Roman colony of Colonia Julia Nobilis Cnossus, located just north of Kephala. There were claims that the Romans were the first to settle on Knossos. During the ninth century AD, the local inhabitants moved to Chandax, a new settlement (modern Heraklion). Makruteikhos ‘Long Wall’ was its name by the thirteenth century.

 History of the Church

Knossos became a diocese in 325, a suffragan of Gortyna’s metropolitan see. Knossos was located 14 kilometres southwest of Agios Myron in Ottoman Crete. Until the eighteenth century, the bishops of Gortyn continued to refer to themselves as bishops of Knossos. In 1831, there was abolishment of the diocese.

Discoveries in Knossos  

Credit: Pixabay

Minos Kalokairinos found the location of Knossos in 1878. Sir Arthur Evans (1851–1941), an English archaeologist, and his crew began excavations in Knossos in 1900 and lasted 35 years. Its size and the finding of two ancient scripts he named Linear A and Linear B to distinguish their writing from the pictographs still present significantly exceeded his expectations. Following the pre-existing practice of labelling all artefacts from the location of Minoan, Evans constructed an archaeological notion of the culture that used it, which he dubbed Minoan.

Since their discovery, the remains have had their history, ranging from excavation by renowned archaeologists, education, and tourism, to use as a headquarters by governments fighting for control of the eastern Mediterranean in two world wars. However, this site’s history is distinct from that of the past.


The titles “Knossos” and “palace” are somewhat unclear from an archaeological standpoint. Although there were apartments for a royal family, the palace was never solely a monarch’s dwelling. The majority of the structures, on the other hand, functioned as civic, religious, and economic hubs. It’s more accurate to call it a palace complex.

Knossos was once a town that surrounded and included the Kephala. In the Greek sense, this hill was never an acropolis. It didn’t have any steep heights, was unfortified, and wasn’t very high from the ground. Other Minoan palaces may or may not have experienced similar circumstances. Phaistos, built about the same time as Knossos, was fortified and situated on a steep slope, restricting access to the Messara Plain from the sea. The extent to which Minoan culture was warlike is a point of contention. On the other hand, Knossos had no resemblance to a Mycenaean castle, whether before or after the Greek conquest.

Leave a Reply