|Lato was a powerful Dorian city that in eastern Crete founded in the Bronze Age. Built on a rugged hill overlooking the Gulf of Mirabello, Lato's solid drystone ruins reveal temple, shrines, agora, winding walled streets, deep central cistern and acropolis. As the Bronze Age ended, a greater security emerged that allowed the population to expand into a Greek city-state and sprawl down the hillsides and into the nearby harbor. The analysis herein is based upon my on site research of June, 2005 augmented with literature review.
HISTORY The mainland Dorians colonized eastern Crete in the early first millennium BC, typically seeking inaccessible hilltop sites of refuge and defense. (Pendlebury, 1963) Lato, along with a number of other late Bronze Age sites on eastern Crete, was one of the first non-Minoan cities of the island, and likely evolved closely with the nearby city of Kastellos. (Hayden, 2005) Other Archaic Period development in eastern crete occurred on hilltops for communal safety including Dreros, Prinias, Polyrrhenia, Eleutherna and Hyrtakina. Although Lato may have been founded as early as the 8th century BC, it reached its zenith in the early Iron Age circa 600 BC, when it attained a substantial population and impressive art and architectural achievement. As the Iron Age proceeded, security evolved allowing the spread of its population to lower less protected elevations including the proximate companion harbor settlement of Lato pros Kamara. (Willetts, 2004) Lato minted its own coinage during its flourishing. (Greek, 2007)
By the early third century BC, Lato came into a turbulent period in which Philip V of Macedon became a patron of Crete, but instituted a war with Rome. Shifting regional alliances typically found Lato siding with nearby Istron, since both coastal locations were harried by pirates based in Rhodes, who at times was an ally. During some of this era Knossos was variously ally and enemy, with some Linear B writings found at Knossos bearing the name of Lato. Although Knossos had been a dominant force on Crete at its apex, (Hogan, 2007) it is not clear whether such ruling influence extended into Late Bronze Age with respect to eastern Crete, since the context of those inscriptions is not deciphered. Olous to the east was a sometimes ally, but had continuing boundary disputes with Lato settled in the early third century BC. Eventually Lato was abandoned in favor of its coastal harbor city, Lato pros Kamara, which Rome conquered at about 67 BC, a date inferred by the conquest of Cydonia, Knossos and Hieraptyna.
ARCHITECTURE AND ART The main gate and walled ascending tortuous entrance street is reminiscent of the defensive entrance to Dunnottar Castle in Scotland. Attackers who managed to reach this access to the hilltop fort would surely regret their entrapment in such a narrow space. Above one finds ruins of a stepped theatre, acropolis, agora, temple, deep central cistern and shrines. The agora is tightly set in the saddle area, allowing less expansive movement than customary for this land use. The temple at Lato consists of a pronaos, projecting at one side, and a cella. The double sided acropolis rises steeply on all sides, since it is perched on a knoll-type formation. Examination of the stonework reveals a construction most likely to have been originally drystone, with later use of mortar to repair and strengthen the structures. .
One of the important finds at Lato dating to 630/600 BC is a series of terracotta plaques with Syrian/Phoenician influence. (Richardson, 1991) One of the most striking of these artworks is a well preserved sphinx, similar to designs found on pithoi fragments retrieved at Gouves Pediada. The Lato sphinx evinces Daedalic (Orientalizing Period) features with characteristic inverted triangular faces. Many granodiorite wares have been recovered from Lato, which is hardly surprising since the site is a major source of that igneous rock.
ENVIRONMENT Lato sits in the saddle of an arid twin peaked boulder strewn hilltop. An expansive view of the Gulf of Mirabello across to the island of Pseiros greets the visitor who ascends to the top of the saddle. This outlook aided in the defense of the city, since the Lato people could watch the port of Lato pros Kamara, as well as the entire Gulf of Mirabello for invaders. The rocky slopes of Lato supplied abundant building materials for this ancient stone city. The ecosystem is a sparse Mediterranean scrub with little immediate arable land, underscoring the value early settlers placed on community security above agriculture and water supply. At Lato like most of the other Dorian Archaic Period hillforts, there are deep ravines that would have provided some water supply in periods of heavy rain.
* John Devitt Stringfellow Pendlebury (1963) ''The Archaeology of Crete'', Biblo & Tannen Publishers ISBN 0819601217
* Barbara J. Hayden, Archaiologikon Mouseion He-rakleiou (2005) ''Reports on the Vrokastro Area, Eastern Crete'', University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology ISBN 1931707596
* R. F. Willetts (2004) ''The Civilization of Ancient Crete'', Sterling Publishing Company, Inc,
280 pages ISBN 1842127462
* Greek Ministry of Culture (2007) ''Lato''
* C.Michael Hogan (2007)
''Knossos fieldnotes'', The Modern Antiquarian
* C. E. Vaphopoulou-Richardson (1991) ''Ancient Greek Terracottas'', Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England ISBN 1854440098
Posted by C Michael Hogan
10th January 2008ce