In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ancient Crete

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Series
  • Congresses

Classics Ancient Crete
Angelos Chaniotis, Antonis Kotsonas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0071


The island of Crete holds a special position in classical studies, primarily as the birthplace of the earliest “high culture” in Europe: the Minoan civilization of the Bronze Age. But in addition to the artistic and cultural achievements of the “Minoans,” Crete is the only Greek region whose history can be studied on the basis of written sources (Egyptian hieroglyphic documents, Linear B texts, Greek literary sources and inscriptions), almost continually from c. 1400 BCE to Late Antiquity. It is the first Greek area where script was used (Cretan hieroglyphics, Linear A, and Linear B); and being an island with a diverse landscape, in relative proximity to mainland Greece but strategically located in the center of the eastern Mediterranean, it offers interesting paradigms for the study of ancient political organization, society, and culture in changing historical contexts. Understandably, Minoan Crete has been studied more intensely than later periods of Cretan history. This is not a bibliography of Minoan archaeology and art history. Although it attempts to cover Cretan history from the processes that led to the appearance of the palaces (c. 2000 BCE) to Late Antiquity (c. 5th century CE), it places more emphasis on the periods of Cretan history for which written sources exist. This bibliography does not always follow the traditional periodization of Greek history and art history because it corresponds to the periods of Cretan history. The “Cretan Renaissance” (c. 900–630), roughly the Geometric, Orientalizing, and Early Archaic periods of art history, is taken here as a single period, in which Crete was a pioneer in art and culture. A major change occurred around 630 BCE: trade and the arts did not disappear but lost their innovative power, and Cretan institutions seem to petrify; the Late Archaic and Classical periods are therefore taken as a single unit (c. 630–c. 336 BCE). In the remaining centuries Crete kept pace with the rest of the Greek world, first integrated in the Hellenistic world (c. 336–67 BCE) and then in the Roman Empire (67 BCE–284 CE); finally, Late Antiquity (c. 284–mid-7th century CE) is clearly defined through Diocletian’s reforms and the advance of Christianity, and the beginning of the Arab raids.

General Overviews

Because of the great length and complexity of Cretan history and archaeology in Antiquity, hardly any general overviews cover the entire timespan from the Minoan period to Late Antiquity. Pendlebury 1939 covers the entire period, with an emphasis on Bronze Age Crete, but the archaeological discoveries of the past seventy years have dramatically changed our knowledge. For a comprehensive update, see Andreadaki-Vlazaki and Platon 2006 and Brogan and Vogeikoff 2006. Chaniotis 2014 gives a very short outline of historical developments in the entire period for a general audience. Studying the history of the Cretan landscape, Rackham and Moody 1996 also illuminates the interdependence of landscape and history from prehistoric times to the 20th century. Myers, et al. 1992 is enormously useful as a reference work for the most important sites and, indirectly, for Cretan archaeology. Willetts 1965 also covers the entire period, but it is out of date because of recent discoveries. Davaras 1989 can be consulted on most questions of Cretan history and archaeology.

  • Andreadaki-Vlazaki, Maria, and Lefteris Platon. 2006. Crete: Prehistoric times. In Archaeology: Aegean islands. Edited by Andreas Vlachopoulos, 384–408. Athens, Greece: Melissa.

    Comprehensive overview of the archaeology of Crete in the prehistoric period.

  • Boardman, John. 1961. The Cretan collection in Oxford: The Dictaean Cave and Iron Age Crete. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Publication of the Cretan collection in the Ashmolean Museum, with finds from the cave at Psychro and the Idaean Cave (Minoan-Geometric periods); at the same time, a good introduction to the history of Cretan art, from the Minoan to the Late Archaic periods (see especially pp. 129–159).

  • Brogan, Thomas, and Natalia Vogeikoff. 2006. Crete: Historical times. In Archaeology: Aegean islands. Edited by Andreas Vlachopoulos, 410–432. Athens, Greece: Melissa.

    Comprehensive overview of the archaeology of Crete from the end of the Bronze Age to the Roman period.

  • Chaniotis, Angelos. 2014. Das antike Kreta. 3d ed. Munich: Beck.

    Covers in 128 pages the historical development of Crete from the Early Bronze Age to Late Antiquity; written for a general audience.

  • Davaras, Costis. 1989. Guide to Cretan antiquities. 2d ed. Athens, Greece: Eptalofos.

    Concise encyclopedia of Cretan history and archaeology; useful for a general audience. German updated translation by Wolfgang Schürmann, Führer zu den Altertümern Kretas (Athens, Greece: Eptalofos, 2003).

  • Myers, J. Wilson, Eleanor Emlen Myers, and Gerald Cadogan, eds. 1992. The aerial atlas of ancient Crete. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    This volume presents aerial photographs of a good selection of important archaeological sites of all periods, with information on their history and basic bibliography; extremely useful as a reference.

  • Pendlebury, J. D. S. 1939. The archaeology of Crete: An introduction. London: Methuen.

    Although reflecting the state of research in prewar Crete, this remains an unsurpassed introduction to the study of Cretan history and archaeology; a well-written, methodologically inspiring volume and based on intimate knowledge of the Cretan landscape and the history of Crete from prehistory to modern times. Reprinted London: Methuen, 1979.

  • Rackham, Oliver, and Jennifer A. Moody. 1996. The making of the Cretan landscape. Manchester, UK: Manchester Univ. Press.

    The best introduction to the Cretan landscape, its diversity, its history, and its various uses from prehistoric times to today; written for a general audience; obligatory reading for anyone interested in Cretan history.

  • Willetts, R. F. 1965. Ancient Crete: A social history from early times until the Roman occupation. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    An attempt to reconstruct the structure and history of Cretan society from Minoan times onward; readable, but more reliable for the Classical and Hellenistic periods than for the earlier periods. Reprinted 2007.

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