Geometric & Archaic Period of Crete

Geometric & Archaic Period (900-500 BC)

This was a period that followed the Dark Ages and saw a rise of huge cities throughout Greece and the founding of new colonies. It was also, during this era, that the embryonic classical philosophy, literature, poetry and theatre (especially the Greek tragedies) began to develop. It is often defined as Greece"s "structural and intellectual revolution". In Crete the population increased significantly, with Crete becoming assimilated into greater Greece and an infiltration of the Dorians. This latter group were especially evident in the West of Crete. The mainland Greeks brought with them their culture and their religion and many new towns were established, for example, Axos, Falasama, Polyrinnia and Yrtakina whilst in Elefthema and Kydonia (Chania) the population increased.

In all, there were over 100 city-states including: Gortys, Paestos, Knossos, Tylissos, Littos, Rizenia, Hersonissos, Lapa, Lissos, Tara, Milatos, Terapytne, and Cryonic. Although, over time through this period, many of the old cities were deserted with a large proportion of the population moving away to inaccessible mountain regions and consequently limiting communication with the outside world. Despite the influences of new groups, very little of this period remain to be seen today.

The Cretan political society at that time was governed by the monarch, below this people were divided into three distinct social strata: "periiki" were owners of land and involved in trade but had very few political rights; beneath these were the "minoites" who worked as slaves in the construction of public works and, at the bottom, were the social group known a "afamiotes" or "klarotes" who were the personal slaves of the Dorians and carried out all the heavy, agricultural work. Life was based on the strict models of Sparta (one of the most powerful cities at the time). Evidence of this can be seen from the excavated "Law Code of Gortys" which is carved on the great inscription in twelve columns at the excavation site of Gortys. It fully covers laws concerning family relationships and inheritance and partially with laws concerning property (outside of kinship networks) tools, and contracts. There is no reference to any criminal law or procedure but, of course, the findings form only a small fraction of what was ancient Greek law.

Artefacts discovered from this period on Crete show that both art and science were heavily influenced by both Dorian and Asia Minor. For some time, during the 7th century BC, Crete seems to have been the cultural and artistic centre of Greece. Currently, a major, ongoing excavation project at Azoria on the north east coast of Crete by the University of North Carolina (The Azoria Project) has managed to piece together some of the social and political history of Crete during this period. From their findings it is believed that, around 600 BC, there was a major change in the settlement of Azoria as a result of the growth of a new urban centre and accompanying socio-political and economic institutions. It seems the settlement was destroyed and then rebuilt with a new city plan incorporating new types of houses, civic buildings and temples. .