Knossos Before and After the Neo-Palatial Period


Knossos from Ailias, spring 1985.
Lucia Nixon

The site of Knossos lies some 5km from the north coast of Crete, south-east of Herakleion. The first inhabitants arrived in the Neolithic period. Settlement continued in the Early Minoan period, at the end of which there was a substantial structure on the same alignment as that of the later palaces.

Knossos: aerial of area around palace and Kairatos valley (1992).
(Click to enlarge) Thames and Hudson

The First Palace was built in Middle Minoan IB, soon after 1900 BC, and destroyed by an earthquake at the end of Middle Minoan II, ca. 1700 BC. The First Palace period is also called the Proto-palatial, or Old Palace, period. The first palace at Knossos was a large monumental complex with many of the features repeated in the second palace.

The Neo-palatial (New Palace) period is the time of the second palace at Knossos which is the focus of the next section. The Second Palace was built in 1700 and destroyed ca. 1450 BC (Middle Minoan III – Late Minoan I).

Knossos: general area plan (1992).
(Click to enlarge)

In the Third Palace period (approximately 1450 – 1200 BC) the palace was managed by Mycenaean Greeks from the mainland. It was destroyed in a disastrous fire, and the palace site was eventually abandoned before the end of the Bronze Age.

Settlement continued in the area, and parts of the palace site were reused, possibly as a sanctuary area. There was a sanctuary of the Greek goddess Demeter south of the palace. In the Graeco-Roman period Knossos was a city-state (polis), and the Romans established a colony there in the first century BC (for further information on Knossos as a Roman colony, see Unit 3 Session 2 Lesson 2). There was also a Roman villa, the Villa Dionysos, south-west of the Roman basilica and forum. In the early Christian (Late Roman) period, Knossos had its own bishop, but after the Arab invasion of 824, the settlement here was once more deserted. Herakleion became the island’s capital, and the village of Makryteikhos (‘Long Wall’) grew up to the north of the site. The name Knossos, as we have already seen in Unit 2, Session 1 Lesson 3, was never lost, and remained firmly attached to the mound where the palace had once stood.