(pronounced Kuh-nuh-SOS) is the ancient Minoan palace and surrounding city
on the island of Crete
, sung of by Homer
in his Odyssey: “Among their cities
is the great city of Cnosus, where Minos reigned when nine years old, he that held converse with great Zeus
.” King Minos, famous for his wisdom and, later, one of the three judges of the dead in the underworld, would give his name to the people of Knossos and, by extension, the ancient civilization
of Crete: Minoan.
The settlement was established well before 2000 BCE and was destroyed, most likely by fire (though some claim a tsunami) c. 1700 BCE. Knossos has been identified with Plato’s mythical Atlantis from his dialogues of the Timaeus and Critias
and is also known in myth most famously through the story of Theseus and the Minotaur
(although it should be noted that King Minos’ character in the story, as the king who demands human sacrifice from Athens
, is at odds with other accounts of him as a king of wisdom and justice who, further, built the first navy and rid the Aegean
sea of pirates). Under Minos’ rule, Knossos flourished through maritime trade
as well as overland commerce with the other great cities of Crete, Kato Sakro (Phaestos) and Mallia.
Knossos was destroyed and re-built at least twice. The first palace identified in modern times was built c. 1900 BCE on the ruins of a much older settlement. This palace was destroyed c. 1700 BCE, re-built, and was again destroyed by a combination of earthquake and the invading Mycenaeans
c. 1400 BCE (the eruption of the volcano on nearby Thera
, also known as Santorini, has long been held a major factor in the destruction of the city. This event is also thought to have inspired Plato’s description of the sinking of Atlantis). Again re-built, Knossos became an important base of operations and capital of the Mycenaeans until it was finally abandoned c. 1375 BCE, the date which traditionally marks the final end of the Minoan civilization
(though some scholars cite the date as 1400 with the Mycenaean invasion) and, following this, the great metropolis was left to decay.
For centuries, Knossos was considered only a city of myth and legend until, in 1900, it was uncovered by the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans and excavations were begun. Through frescoes on the walls
, the excavated site revealed more about the Minoan sport of bull jumping and the ancient story of Theseus and the Minotaur (half-man-half-bull) seemed more probable than fanciful. The possibility that there existed a Minotaur became more acceptable once it was understood that, in the Minoan sport of bull-jumping, the male athlete became one with the bull as he vaulted over the bull’s horns. This sport, then, it is now supposed, gave rise in ancient consciousness to the 'myth’ of the Minotaur through the impression that these athletes were half men and half bulls. It was Evans who first called the ancient inhabitants of Crete 'Minoan’ after the King of Knossos, and his efforts, however controversial some have depicted them, paved the way for all future work in both physical and cultural anthropology concerning the Minoan civilization.