History of Crete – Late 14th Century BC to Roman Period

For the next 2 or 3 hundred years, following the disastrous event that signalled the end of the Minoan Age, Mycenaean influence and control in Crete grew whilst Crete’s influence beyond her own shores waned dramatically.

There are some indications that areas where communities had been destroyed were re-settled but very little real evidence has been uncovered. One interesting fact is that, according to Homer, Crete took part in the Trojan Wars (which happened, supposedly, around the late 12thC, BC) A whole list of villages and towns on Crete are named as having sent warriors and ships to the war. Included amongst them are Knossos, Gortyn, Phaestos and others. Apparently it was a time of great unrest and influence from the mainland.

Around a hundred years later there was a significant influx of Dorians, from mainland Greece, bringing with them essential skills in making weapons and tools from iron. Over the next 2 or 3 centuries this group of people became dominant on an island in which the original Cretans disappeared into the remote and inaccessible interior. There they stayed, retaining many of their old customs and, importantly, their own language. A new society evolved in which the Dorian warriors were pre-eminent and the ‘serving class’ appeared to come from non-Dorians. Fortification, strength and training for military service became the order of the day. Hundreds of tiny city-states established themselves and then fought for their own survival or another’s destruction. Despite this seeming proccupation with the art of war, pictorial art and ceramics were not ignored and there was a gradual re-emergence of new ideas and creativity on the island. Regardless of this, Crete’s position of influence in the wider world was never recovered and she became just another island province.

Although so little is know with any certainty, Crete could still lead the way in some fields. In 1884 a man named Federico Halbherr discovered a group of 12 stone columns inscribed with a code of law in a Dorian dialect. It became known as the Gortyn Code and dated from around 470BC. It details all manner of crimes and civil mattters, along with the punishmnents if convicted, as they related to free men, women and slaves.

It became the turn of the Romans to hold the reins of power next. Roman domination was virtually absolute in the Mediterranean by the 1stC BC as she turned her acquisitive gaze towards the island of Crete. In 69BC Quintus Metellus, with his troops, landed near Hania. It took a few years to stamp out local resistance but Crete was soon to become an island province of yet another conqueror ……… this time of Rome, and it would remain so for almost 400 years. Archaeological discoveries, of the remains of theatres, temples and villas, particularly at Gortyn and the garrison town of Knossos, reflect the Roman way of life as lived on the island. Christianity had reached the island in 59AD, when St Paul stopped off there on his way to Rome.