“Out in the wine dark sea there lies a land called Crete, a rich and lovely land, washed by waves on every side, densely populated and boasting ninety cities”. Homer The Odyssey. Book 19 172-174.
While Homer may have taken poet’s license in his description, Crete was, by all accounts, in ancient times, a rich and lovely land. It was a land blessed with great natural wealth – wood, stone, fertile pastures and sheep. But more important by far than the riches of the Cretan soil or the loveliness of the land, was its position. Situated in the very in the centre of the Eastern Mediterranean, it had access by sea to every corner of the known world.
Somewhere around 3400 BC, King Minos came to power. Son of the god Zeus and Europa, Minos brought great wisdom and vision to his reign and Minoan Crete was peaceful and prosperous. Mighty palace complexes were constructed, at Knossos and Phaestos, for Minos and his brother Radamanthys, respectively. The Minoan Navy reigned supreme in the Aegean and its merchant vessels roamed unchallenged, trading pottery and cloth along the Mediterranean shores.
For over 2000 years Crete was the cradle of Western of Western civilisation. Later, historians and archaeologists would describe the era of the Minoans as a “golden age”.
It soon became clear, though, that the power that held Crete, held sway over the known world. The tiny island became a much-coveted prize.
In 1375 BC, the Myceneans of mainland Greece invaded Crete and the rich Minoan culture was destroyed. In 1100, the Dorians seized it from the Myceneans and Crete became one of the Greek states. Then Greece, with the jewel of the Mediterranean in its crown, entered its golden age.