in association with the


KNOSSOS 2000

 

 

COLONIA JULIA NOBILIS

 

THE ROMAN CITY OF KNOSSOS

 

The vast 'Palace of Minos' at Knossos was revealed by Sir Arthur Evans, nearly one hundred years ago. Since then, archaeological research has focused on the immediate area of the Bronze Age palace. The surrounding city, which continued to flourish after the destruction of the Minoan palace for nearly two thousand years until the end of the Roman period, had never been the subject of systematic investigation until the start of the Knossos 2000 project in 1993.

Knossos was the second city of Roman Crete with a thriving economy and links all over the eastern Mediterranean. Its legendary past attracted settlers and traders determined to take advantage of the cachet of its ancient name. For the same reasons, it attracted the patronage of the Emperor Hadrian, who did so much to embellish the historic cities of Greece.

The site of the Bronze Age palace seems to have been shunned by the later inhabitants because of its association with the dread Minotaur and the Labyrinth. The main area of later occupation was further to the north. Roman masonry is visible above the surface in many areas and fragments of carved marble and mosaics litter the surface of the ground throughout the city.

The quality of the public architecture is best illustrated by a small Corinthian style temple whose decoration is equal in skill and delicacy to any produced in the Roman Empire in the mid 2nd century AD. Made of Pentelic marble from quarries near Athens, it was imported with customary Roman efficiency in kit form. The blocks have precise instructions about their position cut on their lower face. Some were lettered for the benefit of the local workmen in the Greek alphabet, while others have more detailed inscriptions such as 'fifth from the right'.

The site of the current excavation - the triangular field in the middle distance

The suburbs of modern Heraklion, once the port of Knossos, are growing to the very edge of the ancient city and the pressures of modern life seriously threaten the remains below ground.

The sumptuous Villa Dionysos, with internal peristyle courtyard, which was built in the reign of Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius, has first rate mosaics representing the god Dionysos and the maenads and satyrs who accompanied him in his legendary revels.

A glimpse of the wealth and tastes of the individual inhabitants of this flourishing community is given by the offerings of clay lamps, jewellery and delicate glass vessels placed in the typical rock cut tombs. Strange life-size clay masks provide more reminders of the importance at Knossos of Dionysos, patron of the ancient theatre. The Roman habit of locating tombs at the edge of their cities, gives us some idea of the area of Knossos - at least a kilometre across - of a size comparable to many other major cities in the Roman world.

As late as the 16th century AD, Knossos was renowned by the Venetians for its ancient statues. Their quality is shown by the chance discovery of a statue of the Emperor Hadrian which was found during Sir Arthur's last visit to Knossos in 1935 while workmen were tending his vineyard.

 

 

CURRENT EXCAVATION REPORT

INDEX TO KNOSSOS WEB PAGES

For further information on the Knossos 2000 project please contact

 

Dr. K A Wardle
Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity
University of Birmingham 
Birmingham
United Kingdom
B15 2TT
 
Email: K.A.Wardle@bham.ac.uk

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