Crete's Roman Past

By Bingham, Annette | History Today, November 1995 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Crete's Roman Past


Bingham, Annette, History Today


Roman Crete is almost `modern' compared to the timescales studied by archaeologists steeped in the island's 4,000 year old Minoan prehistory. Yet current work is rekindling interest in the long era which began in the second century BC when Rome tried to impose the Pax Romana on Crete's warring city states.

Dr Colin Macdonald, leader of the British School team working at Knossos, told History Today: `The late Hellenistic period was certainly a very colourful time on Crete. Piracy flourished and the city states were entangled in feuds and intrigues. Rome's involvement was possibly an attempt to suppress piracy and to impose peace.'

Knossos, site of the central Minoan palace, was the greatest Cretan Hellenistic city, but its supremacy was challenged by Gortyn, Kydonia (Chania) and Lyttos. Regional powers joined the intrigue and a series of convoluted coalitions involved Sparta in western Crete, Egypt (ruled by Macedonian Ptolemics) and Itanos in the extreme east, as well as Macedonia, and Macedonia's enemy, Rhodes. In 1937 a French archaeologist found part of an inscription from around 200 BC showing that Rhodes, which was attempting to counter piracy and gain influence in eastern Crete, was aligned with Olous, a flourishing port city on the northern coast of Crete.

As Rome gathered in the eastern Mediterranean it annexed the whole Greek mainland and then Pergamon in Asia Minor. In 88 BC mithradies of Pontus, whose territory was on the Black Sea, went to war to halt the Roman advance. On the pretext that Knossos was backing Mithradiets, Marcus Antonious attack Crete in 71 BC. The attack was repelled but Rome redoubled its efforts and sent Quintos Matellus and three legions to the island. After a ferocious three-year campaign he finally took control of crete in 67 BC.

`It would be interesting to know how the Romans imposed their authority on Knossos', Macdonald says. `We have not found the destruction level and are not even sure that Rome did destroy the city. Roman buildings have foundations two metres deep and they ruin much of the evidence of earlier occupation. We know one important home was razed, but may speculate on whether this was because the owner resisted Rome'.

`To date we know very little about the transition between Cretan Hellenism and Roman domination. We hope to have a better picture within the next four to six years as Professor Ken Wardle and a team from Birmingham University have started to excavate'.

The Roman city lies to the north of the Bronze-Age palace on a triangle of land purchased by Sir Arthur Evans almost a century ago. The first official excavation in 1935 found a statue of Hadrian and the trail then led to the Villa Dionysius which has fine Roman colonial mosaics.

At Gortyn, on the fertile Mesara plain, the Roman buildings are scattered across an area which has yielded rich finds. The city was pro-Roman and became the capital of a large Roman province which included Crete and Cryrenica (Libya).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Crete's Roman Past
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?