The wind's force
brought him (Odysseus) to Crete, as he was sailing on,
bound for Troy—it drove him off his course
past Malea. He'd moored at Amnisus,
where one finds the cave of Eilithyia,
in a difficult harbour, fleeing the storm,
but only just. He went immediately
up to the city and asked for Idomeneus,
saying he was his loved and honoured friend ..Homer Odyssey XIX, 186...
Wall-painting from the villa (Source)
Amnisos, also Amnissos and Amnisus, is the name of a Bronze Age settlement on the north shore of Crete used as a port to the palace city of Knossos. It appears in Greek literature and mythology from the earliest times, but its origin is far earlier, in prehistory. The historic settlement belonged to a civilization now called Minoan. Excavation at Amnisos in 1932 uncovered a villa with a house known as the "House of the Lilies" after a lilies theme depicted in a wall fresco.
Amnisos is 7 km east of Heraklion (Iraklio) on a beach used for recreation by the citizens of the modern city, which is the main port on the north coast. The current sea level is 3 m higher than the Bronze Age one. Drowned houses are visible.
The ancient settlement bears the same name as the river exiting there. Currently called the Karteros, from the Iron Age name of Caeratus, the river was the Amnisos in the Bronze Age. Across from its mouth is a very small island called Amnisos. It is a seasonal river, reducing out of season to a stream running through Karteros Ravine from a source on Mount Ida of central Crete. The divinities, Amnisiades, were associated with the river.
There was no navigable stream to Knossos, today part of the port city. The road was lined with very ancient cult sites. One is the cave of the goddess Eileithyia. It contained objects dating as far back as the Neolithic.
Amnisos was first excavated by Spyridon Marinatos in 1932, who discovered a villa that came to be termed "The House of Lilies" from the one fresco that could be restored. The two-story villa had ten rooms. There was a paved court, a hall with a polythyra, a kitchen area, a shrine and a bathroom.
The restored 1.8 m high frieze from the second floor (first storey) depicts red and white lilies, mint, iris and papyrus growing in pots. Concerning the date, Matz has this to say:
"The blossoms ... are inlaid with coloured paste on a ruby ground, by a method similar to that used for inlaying intarsia. This is a rare technical process. Dating is made possible by concurrence with vases originating from a Late MM IIIa level."
If it is on the border between the Middle Bronze Age (Middle Minoan, MM) and the Late Bronze Age (Late Minoan, LM) the fresco is an early, if not the earliest, instance of a style familiar to the early Late Bronze Age, LMIA, or "Palace Period." Often termed the "naturalistic style", it flourished ca. 1570-1470 BC. In it are stylized motifs from nature, especially floral, and courtly scenes. The original colors of red, blue, yellow and black were bright.
The house was destroyed by fire during LMIA.
Bronze Age history
Amnisos receives mention in a few Linear B tablets mainly of Knossos as a-mi-ni-so, reconstructed to *Amnisos. An example is Tablet Gg705 quoted by Ventris and Chadwick:
"Amnisos: One jar of honey to Eleuthia,
One jar of honey to all the gods,
which records a votive offering from or at Amnisos to the goddess of childbirth, probably the one worshipped at the cave mentioned above. The date of the Knossos tablets is still uncertain but a net of Late Bronze Age certainly captures them. Amnisos is mentioned on the itinerary published on the statue base of Amenophis III at Kom el-Heitan, as an ambassadorial stop to Keftiu (Crete), dated ca. 1380 BC.
By that date the residents of Knossos and almost certainly of its port, Amnisos, were speaking Greek. In the thumbnail historical sketch given by John Chadwick in The Mycenaean World, Chapter 1, Chadwick says
"Crete was occupied down to the fifteenth century by people who did not speak Greek..."
Instead, they spoke the language written in the yet undeciphered script called Linear A. These people, called Minoans by Arthur Evans, were extremely influential at sea.
"Around the sixteenth century the Minoan influence on the mainland becomes very marked."
During this floruit the House of Lilies was occupied. Minoan civilization is not believed to have been warlike; there are few traces of arms and armor. They probably represented a mercantile hegemony.
Around 1500 Cretan civilization suffered a setback when the volcanic explosion of Thera generated a tsunami that destroyed its fleets in their harbors. Amnisos evidences some pumice from Thera; however, the full extent of the damage must remain as yet invisible under the sea.
Around 1450 the villa was burned along with all the other major sites in Crete except for Knossos. These events are generally interpreted as an interest in ruling the island by Mycenaean Greeks. As the name Amnisos evidences the pre-Greek -ssos suffix, they probably took the name as it was.
- ^ Work cited, Chapter 3, The Age of Maturity.
- ^ Matz cites a vase with lily design from Knossos dated to approximately 1600 BC.
- ^ Work cited, Page 310.
- ^ The original issue was called the Palmer-Boardman Dispute and concerned Arthur Evans' dating of the layer in which the tablets were found to ca. 1400 BC rather than to the 1200 BC of the Pylos tablets.
- Matz, Friedrich, The Art of Crete and Early Greece, 1st published in 1962.
- Chadwick, John, Documents in Mycenaean Greek, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, 1973, ISBN 0 521 08558 6
- Chadwick, John, The Mycenaean World, Cambridge University Press, 1976, ISBN 0 521 21077 1 hard, 0 521 29037 6 paper
- Swindale, Ian, Amnissos
- Shaw, J.W., Bronze Age Aegean Harboursides
- The Tsunami Caused by the Prehistoric Eruption of Thera, Thera Foundation
- The Amnisos Gardens, Foundation of the Hellenic World
- Walberg, Gisela, Space and Perspective in Minoan Art
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire
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