Greek-Swedish excavations in Crete

There is a land called Crete, in the midst of the wine-dark sea, a fair, rich land, begirt with water, and therein are many men, past counting, and ninety cities. They have not all the same speech, but their tongues are mixed. There dwell Achaeans, there great-hearted native Cretans, there Cydonians, and Dorians of waving plumes, and goodly Pelasgians.
On his arrival in Ithaka, Odysseus tells his wife Penelope about Crete. From the Odyssey, 19, 175 (Loeb Classical Library Vol.II, 1960).

A century ago, Arthur Evans and his team started their famous excavations at Knossos. Other palaces were later discovered by the Italians at Phaistos, by the French further east at Mallia and at Kato Zakros by the Greeks. In western Crete, however, no Minoan sites had been excavated, except for a few Late Minoan tombs found at the beginning of the century.

When the Nazis occupied Crete during World War II, new Minoan finds were made at the German excavations. But it wasn´t until the beginning of the 1960’s, that more extensive traces of Minoan civilization were exposed. In 1941, a bomb hit the area of Kastelli, where the remains of the Venetian Cathedral of Santa Maria from the end of the 13th century were still standing. During the bombardment, most of the building was destroyed as well as the gazosa factory located beside it. The bomb crater revealed ancient house walls and Late Minoan sherds. This incident was to be of the utmost importance for the future archaeology of Crete.

From 1964 Dr Yannis Tzedakis, then Epimelete of western Crete and Director of the Chaniá Museum, started excavations at Kastelli in the Old Town of Chaniá, at the site of the old Venetian citadel. Systematic excavations were carried out during 1966-69 in adjacent plots, where abundant traces of Minoan civilization were found, and finds from the earlier periods were also made.  
The joint Greek-Swedish Excavations were carried out 1970-1987 in the Kastelli area, close to the old Venetian harbour. The finds show that the site was inhabited from Neolithic times down to the Geometric period (before 3000 - c 700 BC), with a chronological gap of c. 400 years between the end of the Late Minoan period until the Late Geometric period. The main purpose was to investigate the Minoan settlement from the Bronze Age period in Crete.



The initiators of the joint Greek-Swedish Excavations were Dr.Yannis Tzedakis, former Director General of Antiquities in Greece, and Dr. Carl-Gustaf Styrenius, former Director of the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities in Stockholm. The field director for the Swedish part during these years from 1973 has been Dr Erik Hallager from Århus University in Denmark. Birgitta P. Hallager,  from Lund University, is responsible for the publication of the pottery from the important Late Minoan period is (approximately one miljon sherds from all periods were found, of which about about 25 000 were inventoried). In 1989 and 1990 the excavation team also undertook large rescue excavations in the same area.
The modern habitation at the site, which cut into the earlier remains, caused the archaeologists many problems. The stratification was much disturbed by Venetian wall foundations, and finds of an earlier date were often found in later deposits. Levels from Late Minoan IIIB/C were sometimes found directly under Venetian buildings. Moreover, many of the Middle Minoan walls had been removed before the construction of the Late Minoan I houses.

Greek-Swedish excavations in 1980

The finds indicate that Chaniá once was an important Minoan town, perhaps even the capital and administrative centre for the western part of the island. Most plausibly there is also a yet to be discovered palace in the vicinity of the excavated area. This town probably corresponds to ancient Kydonia, which is mentioned on clay tablets from Knossos with signs in Linear B. Kydonia is also named  in other ancient texts, i. e. in the Odyssey and by the Greek historian Strabo (63-24 A D). Kydonia has, however, never been identified with certainty. But the position of Chaniá/Kydonia close to the harbour with a fertile hinterland, is very significant for a town like Kydonia. The Minoan town is most probably located under the mondern town of Chaniá.

The most important remains with the best preserved architecture date from the Late Minoan I - III periods (c.1550 - 1100 BC). The walls of four houses, dated to the 16th century B C, were uncovered together with pottery and documents, showing that Kydonia was quite a significant place, indeed a major cultural centre in Late Minoan Crete. The four houses were probably part of a town neighborhood, with blocks of houses separated by streets and squares. House I was almost completely excavated (see plan) and was an elegant two-storey building, perhaps inhabited by a high official from the Knossos palace administration. In this house, the possible living quarters and the store rooms are grouped together around the so-called Minoan Hall (Rooms A and C) in the centre. The house extended over an area of 225 m, so with its 14 rooms there was plenty of space for this official and his family and assistants.

From the south street, the visitor enters House I over a large threshold. He climbs the three steps, and continuing through the entrance hall he will reach the main room, the so called Minoan Hall used for receptions. At the end of the Minoan Hall, there is a light well, built of well-cut ashlar blocks and a window opening into Room G. Room A was probably an anteroom of the Hall, opening through a supposed pier-and-door partition wall into the Hall. The pier-and-door partition wall was a regular feature of Neopalatial architecture in palaces and villas and made it possible to subdivide rooms. The light well illuminated interior rooms.
Southwest of Room C is Room B with a cupboard in the wall where the Minoans had stored some pottery. From Room O, a staircase, constructed partly of wood, led up to the first floor. The space below the staircase was used as a store room where more than 60 complete vases were found, all destroyed by  falling debris in the big conflagration.
Most important were the three rooms in the NE part of the excavation - Rooms E, D and M. In one of the storerooms (Room E) four large pithoi (storage jars) and 40 complete vases were found. There were amphoras (vases which once contained wine and water) and stirrup jars (for storing perfumed oil). One other storage jar contained three kg of burned peas. The most exciting finds, however, were two clay tablets with signs of the Minoan writing Linear A. During the excavations in the Kastelli area several fragments of documents came to light. They probably belonged to an archive, which indicates a palatial administration and settlement in the vicinity. Other finds of Linear A tablets in Crete were made only  in connection with large and small palaces and villas. Their abundance at the site indicate that Kydonia was a significant Minoan central palace from the Middle Minoan period onwards. Finds from other palaces reveal that Linear A may have developed already by the Middle Minoan I-II. It was in use by the end of the Old Palace period and continued to be used until 1450 BC. The majority of the Linear A tablets from all sites, however, were found in  the Late Minoan I B destruction level.

Room E adjoined Room D, where many remarkable objects were found:  stone vases, stone seals, seal impressions, amulets and fine pottery ware uncovered in situ. Outside Room D there was a corridor leading from the bathroom, Room F, whence a drain started and lead below the staircase out into the street. The visitor can follow the corridor to enter Room M, which probably was used as a kitchen with a  fixed rectangular hearth in the centre of the room, where storage jars, plates and cups were found.
The visitor walks along the south street and soon comes to House IV which has an impressive entrance hall with a large threshold and very large flagstones on the floor. One bench ran along the southwest wall, and another was built just outside the house, close to the entrance. The findings in this house were of great interest  - fine pottery, a small offering table and a terracotta foot in half natural size with a suspension hole.  
The four houses from the 16th century B C were all destroyed in a great conflagration around 1450 BC (Late Minoan IB). All over the site the archaeologists came across well preserved carbonized wood, fallen wall and roof constructions and traces of fire.
In this period most Minoan sites in Crete - palaces, villas, towns - were destroyed by fire. At many sites the burning was followed by abandonment and there was no resettlement until one or two generations later. The destruction meant disruption and decline of Minoan culture and art.   These conflagrations also appeared to have been planned to destroy as many administrative centers as possible.
In the Neopalatial period, there was Knossian control of large parts of Crete and a Knossian cultural hegemony in architecture and pottery. Perhaps the catastrophe was caused by  an uprising, started by the other palaces, which were perhaps tired of the Knossian oppression and bureaucracy. The revolt failed and was put down by the king of Knossos in his efforts to centralize Crete. All major sites were destroyed - except for the main palace at Knossos. Or perhaps the Knossian takeover was carried through with the help of Mycenaeans from mainland Greece, who caused this massive destruction. Mycenae in the Peloponnese, had now become an important commercial centre with colonies all over the Mediterranean area. The Mycenaeans probably arrived and established themselves in Crete around 1400 BC or perhaps even earlier.  In the beginning they probably came as merchants and not as rulers.

The findings from the Greek-Swedish Excavations revealed that at least five successive layers at Kastelli, with architecture from the Late Minoan III period (c. 400 - 1100 BC), overlay the destruction level from 1450 BC. The remains of architecture and pottery showed that the town was continuously inhabited from c.1450 B C. The Bronze Age settlement of Kydonia is one of the few sites in Crete to provide evidence of continued habitation in the following Late Minoan II period, when some of the ruined Late Minoan I rooms were resettled in Late Minoan II.

Mainland influence was much stronger in the west than on the rest of the island from the 14th century B C onwards. Pottery and small finds, found on the floors belonging to each building, and even details in the architecture, indicate Mycenaean influence. The most important evidence, however, for Mycenaean presence at Kydonia, was the use of the Mycenaean writing Linear B during the 13th century B C. During the reoccupation of Kydonia, new buildings were erected on the site in the late 14th and early 13th century B C (Late Minoan IIIA:2 - III B:1) and resulted in two building complexes.

The architecture was now quite different. The houses were single-storey buildings without stairs and constructed of stone. Only in some cases were the old walls reused as foundations for later buildings. Most important is one building complex with nine rooms (House I). One of the main rooms (E) had a fixed circular hearth of Mycenaean type, which was a new element. This room was built on top of Rooms H and C in House I from the 16th century B C. In this area, three successive floors were found, with a round hearth belonging to each one of the floors. They were built like the Mycenaean hearths on the mainland with a circle of stones filled in with earth and covered with stucco. Similar hearths are found only in the megarons (main rooms) of the Mycenaean palaces on the mainland. This kind of hearth has not previously been found in Crete. Close to the hearth in Room E, someone had placed two small terracotta figurines which is also a Mycenaean trait. Many terracotta figurines were found during the excavations of Kydonia, but only these two were found on the spot - in situ. One of them turned out to be imported from Argolis on the mainland. There were also local figurines, and many were made in a mainland tradition and of types known in the Argolid.

Repeated destruction and abandonment of sites in Crete occurred during the 13th century B C, and  Kydonia also suffered a catastrophe at an early III B stage but recovered and continued. Late Minoan III A/B walls were reused, and in some cases rooms were cleared and reoccupied.
During the 14th/13th centuries B C there were five pottery schools in Crete, one of which made the Kydonian local ware, which was the most important. This local workshop began its production in the 14th century and continued until the 12th century B C. The Kydonian ware is unique in Crete for including vases of very high quality material, and a variety of design and forms. The most usual shapes are deep bowls, cups, kylikes, stirrup jars and jugs. The material of this pottery is very fine, yellowish-white clay with an orange-yellow slip and a decoration in bright reddish-brown paint. This beautiful pottery succeded in retaining its traditional Minoan character in an area of strong Mycenaean influence. Pottery of the Kydonian workshop is found not only in the whole of western Crete, but at various sites on the rest of the island. It was also exported to Cyprus, Sardinia, the Greek mainland and probably  to Italy. A number of complete or restorable vases have been found during the excavations.

The many stirrup jars with signs of the Mycenaean script Linear B provide further evidence for Mycenaean presence at Kydonia. These jars, and most of those with Linear B signs found on the mainland, are made of local clay. Chemical analyses of the clay from the vessels characterize it as west Cretan. The Linear B signs give the names and addresses of manufacturers and suppliers and indicate the origin of the content (oil and wine). Some of the place names can be identified on the Knossos tablets. The many stirrup jars attributed  to the Chania workshop, indicate that surplus oil and wine were produced in the Kydonia region. The production and export of inscribed stirrup jars culminated in the 13th century B C.

Another important find was a fragment of a stirrup jar, incised with a Linear B sign which could be read as wa. This sign was interpreted as the abbreviation for the Mycenaean word wa-na-ka-te-ro, which means ’royal’.  Sometimes the name of the manufacturer was replaced by the word wa-na-ka-te-ro. There also exist several stirrup jars found on the mainland with this inscription meaning ’royal’. They are all made of Cretan clay and connected with Cretan place names identifiable by other signs on each particular vase.

In 1989 and 1990 rescue excavations were carried out, when the old Turkish waste-water drains were changed under the modern streets at Aghia Aikaterini Square. Three Linear B tablets were found on the floor of House II, Room E, destroyed by fire early in Late Minoan III B (c.1300-1250 B C), while another comes from a pit. There is mention of a shrine of Zeus as well as the god Dionysos for the first time. So far, these tablets have provided the only ceramically dated contexts for Linear B documents. Moreover, they are the first Linear B tablets excavated in Crete outside Knossos, since Evans found the extensive Linear B archives in the palace.

Kydonia was most certainly a palatial centre during the Neopalatial era, and probably even earlier. The hearths and the large amounts of imported Mycenaean pottery, indicate that Mycenaeans had settled in Kydonia and perhaps dominated the town around 1300 BC. There was possibly a local ruler who presided over the settlement, even if Knossos may still have had some centralized control. A Mycenaean elite perhaps ruled over parts of the island in Late Minoan  III. The Mycenaeans, however, were fewer than the Minoans and were successively assimilated into the local culture, at least during the later part of the 13th century B C. The evidence suggests that west Crete was populated by Minoans, perhaps with a fair mixture of Mycenaeans.

Kydonia had substantial Late Minoan III B houses which probably belonged to rich merchants. The mainland Greeks most plausibly stayed on the island till the end of the Bronze Age, using the wealth of Crete for their own purposes. In Mycenaean times Kydonia was a thriving commercial center with strong ties to the mainland and an important harbour, from where oils, textiles and  other goods were shipped to the mainland.  
In the Late Minoan III period there most likely were contacts between Crete and Italy, since Kydonian ware pottery was found in Italy and Sardinia. The evidence for Italians at Kydonia is the locally made Italian wares, found in late levels at Kastelli. In a floor deposit of late Late Minoan  IIIB (late 13th century BC) were two complete vessels, a jar and a bowl, of handmade black-burnished ware. On the same floor was found pottery of the local Kydonian workshop. Most of the Italian pottery, however, came from trash pits rather than floor deposits.
Life seems to have continued in the town till the end of the twelfth century BC, when most other Minoan sites in Crete had been deserted for a couple of centuries. Life proceeded peacefully for some time, and it is uncertain when in the LM IIIC period the Kydonians left the settlement. At the end of the Bronze Age the settlement was abandoned  for 300 - 400 years, with people returning to Kastelli in Late Geometric I, ca 750 BC.

AJA    American Journal of Archaeology
SIMA    Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology
SMEA    Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici

Alexiou,S., Minoan Civilization, Heraklion 1973.
Andreadaki-Blasaki,M., The County of Khania and its Monuments from the Prehistoric Period to Roman times, Athens 1997. (Finns på Arkeologiska Museet i Chaniá/Available in the Archaeological Museum of Chaniá)

Davaras,C., Guide to Cretan Antiquities, 1976.
Gesell,G.C., Town, Palace and House Cult in Minoan Crete. SIMA Vol.67, Göteborg 1985.

Gesell, C.G., ”The Place of the Goddess in Minoan Society”, Minoan Society. Proceedings of the Cambridge Colloquium 1981, Krzyszkowska O.H. and Nixon L. (eds.), Bristol 1983.

Hallager,B., ”Crete and Italy in the Late Bronze Age III Period,” AJA 89, 1985.

Hallager Pålsson B., Aegeisk forhistorie. Klassisk Arkaeologisk Studiesamling, Århus 1985.

Hallager,B.P. & Mc George,P.J.P., Late Minoan III Burials at Khania, SIMA 93, Göteborg 1992.

Hallager,E. & Hallager,B.P (eds), The Greek-Swedish Excavations at the Ag. Aikaterini Square, Kastelli, Khania 1970-1987. Vol.I. From the Geometric to the Modern Greek Period, Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Institutet i Athen, 47:1,1-2), Stockholm 1997.

Hallager,E. & Hallager,B.P., ”5000 år på 2,5 meter. De graesk-svenske utgravningar i Khania på Vestkreta”,  Hvad fandt vi? , (P.G.Bilde, V.Norskov & P.Pedersen eds.), Århus 1999.

Hallager,E. & Hallager,B.P (eds), The Greek-Swedish Excavations at the Ag. Aikaterini Square, Kastelli, Khania 1970-1987. Vol. II. The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement, Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Institutet i Athen,47:2, Stockholm 2000.

Hallager,E., The Mycenaean Palace at Knossos, MedMusM 1,Stockholm 1977.

Hallager,E.,”The Palace at Knossos”, SMEA 19, 1978.

Hallager,E., The Master Impression. A Clay Sealing from the Greek-Swedish Excavations at Kastelli, Khania, SIMA 69, Göteborg 1985.

Hallager,E., ”The Inscribed Stirrup Jars: Implications for Late Minoan III B Crete”,  AJA 91:2, 1987.

Hallager,E., artiklar i Sfinx 2 (1979), 8 (1985), 10 (1987), 11 (1988), 13 (1990), 16 (1993)

Haskell,H.W., ”LM III Knossos: Evidence beyond the Palace”, SMEA 27, Roma 1989.

Marinatos,N. - Hägg,R., ”Anthropomorphic Cult Images in Minoan Crete?”, Minoan Society. Proceedings of the Cambridge Colloquium 1981 (Krzyszkowska, O.H. and Nixon, L. eds) Bristol 1983.

Moody,J.A., The environmental and cultural prehistory of the Khania region of West Crete: Neolithic through Late Minoan III. Diss., Ann Arbor, Michigan 1987.

Platon N., Zakros: The Discovery of a Lost Palace of Ancient Crete,  New York 1971.

Rehak,P. - Younger,J., ”Review of Aegean Prehistory VII: Neopalatial, Final Palatial, and Postpalatial Crete”, AJA 102:1, 1998.

Renfrew,C., ”Questions of Minoan and Mycenean cult”, Sanctuaries and Cults in the Aegean Bronze Age. Proceedings of the First International Symposium at the Swedish Institute in Athens, 12-13 May, 1980,  (Hägg,R. and Marinatos,N. eds.), Stockholm 1981.

Riley,F.R., The Role of the Traditional Mediterranean Diet in the Development of Minoan Crete, BAR International Series 810, 1999.

Rutkowski,B., The Cult Places of the Aegean, New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press 1986.

Soles,J.S., ”The Gournia Palace”, AJA 95:1, 1991.

Tzedakis,Y. and Martlew,H. (eds), Minoans and Mycenaeans. Flavours of their time. Catalogue, National Archaeological Museum. Greek Ministry of Culture, Athens 1999.

Warren,P., The Aegean Civilizations, 1975.

Watrous,L.V., ”Review of Aegean Prehistory III: Crete from the Earliest Prehistory through the Protopalatial Period”,  AJA 98:4, 1994.

Åström,P. (ed.), Journal of Prehistoric Religion, Vol.1 och/and 14, Göteborg 1987 och/and Jonsered 2000.