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Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork


Phaistos is a palace and Bronze Age settlement in southern Crete. Situated on a ridgetop with expansive views, the site has yielded significant finds of Minoan architecture and pottery as well as the undeciphered ancient symbol language of the Phaistos Disk. There are actually two palaces on site from different eras, with architectural elements of royal apartments, theatre, grand staircases, raised processional walkway, stormwater runoff systems, paved courtyards, magazines and offering basins for animal sacrifice. The fieldnotes herein are the result of my on site work of June, 2005 along with review of extant literature.

HISTORY. Phaistos has origins in the Neolithic era as in the case of Knossos, Kamarais Magasa and other locations; moreover, civilizations at Phaistos advanced steadily in the era between 3000 to 2000 BC and reached its zenith of art, language and architectural achievement in the middle of the second millennium BC. Iron Age re-occupation of the site eventually occurred after destruction of the Palace by earthquake, (Van Dyke, 2003) and eventually the rise of the center at Gortyn over-shadowed Phaistos by the late first millennium BC.

ARCHITECTURE AND ART The Old Palace is surprisingly well preserved, since the New Palace was set back eight meters leaving significant old palace elements in tact. The paved West Court of the Old Palace was covered with rubble a meter deep which became the ground level of the New Palace. A unique feature of the Central Court is its formal north facade, a symmetrical front with half columns and flanking niches for sentries. Phaistos exhibits numerous round subsurface pits known as 'koulouras'', probably used for storing grain.

Like Knossos and Zakro, Phaistos also boasts a labyrinth, although not nearly so elaborate as Knossos. (Castleden, 1990) A large private suite with bath at the north edge is similar to one at Mallia, especially with regard to designing to take advantage of views.

The quintessential artwork of Phaistos is the famed disk, with its 242 undeciphered symbols incised in spirals on both sides.(Mollin, 2005) On one side of the clay disk is an eight petaled rosette, and on the obverse is a helmet. Illustrating an advanced state of language development, the disk is also cited as the first version of movable type, since its design meets all requisite criteria.

Sophisticated pottery is found at Phaistos particulary in the Middle and Late Minoan periods. Examples of techniques include polychrome specimens and embossing in imitation of metal work. Bronze Age works from Phaistos include bridge spouted bowls, eggshell cups, tall jars and immense pithoi. Designs include complex geometric as well as zoomorphic shapes. Jewelry has also been recovered at Phaistos such as a gold necklace of beads with a double argonaut design. Iron Age Phaistos is known for production of terracotta figurines which emphasize facial detail.

CULTURE. Phaistos was the second most important Bronze Age settlement of the Minoan culture, and has many developmental and artistic similarities to its rival Knossos. Bronze Age Phaistos exhibited a strict caste system with an elite ruling class and small upper class enjoying most of the societal wealth. The larger number of peasants and slaves carried out the preponderance of labor, but subsisted in a simple manner. As in other Minoan cultures this arrangement appears to have been very stable over millennia, in that the populace revered the king and enjoyed the perceived protection from him. (Pomeroy, 1999)

ENVIRONMENT Phaistos is situated on a prominent coastal ridge, with expansive views of the Lasithi Mountains and the Asterousi Range, in addition to the broad fertile Messara Plain below. At the western end of the ridge sits the archaeological site of Hagia Triadha. The palace itself is aligned toward a prominent mountain saddle in the Psiloriti Range. Viewed from Phaistos, to the right of the saddle is the sacred cave of Kamares, which has yielded some of the finest Middle Minoan pottery. (Cadogan, 1991) The ancient water supply derived from the Ieropotamos River supplemented by deep wells on the ridge.

There is evidence that Phaistos expanded beyond its resource base during Middle Minoan I and II, especially in regard to over-exploitation of its surrounding agricultural resources. (Branigan, 2001) This attainment of the prehistoric population to local carrying capacity occurred at a similar time to that observed at Knossos through evidence of deforestation. (Hogan, 2007) In the middle to later Bronze Age, Phaistos expanded into the Amari area by founding the satellite center Monastiriki.

* Ruth Van Dyke and Susan E. Alcock (2003) ''Archaeologies of Memory'', Blackwell Publishing.
240 pages ISBN 063123585X
* Rodney Castleden (1990) ''The Knossos Labyrinth: A New View of the 'Palace of Minos' at Knosos'', Routledge ISBN 0415033152
* Richard A. Mollin (2005) ''Codes: The Guide To Secrecy From Ancient To Modern Times'',
CRC Press, 679 pages ISBN 1584884703
* Sarah B. Pomeroy (1999) ''Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History'', Oxford University Press, 544 pages ISBN 0195097424
* Gerald Cadogan (1991) '' Palaces of Minoan Crete'', Routledge, 164 pages ISBN 041506585
* Keith Branigan (2001) ''Urbanism in the Aegean Bronze Age'', Continuum International
Publishing Group ISBN 1841273414
* C. Michael Hogan (2007) ''Knossos'', The Modern Antiquarian
C Michael Hogan Posted by C Michael Hogan
29th December 2007ce

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