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May 18, 2015




Dr. R.M. de Jonge ©, [email protected]

  • 1. CHAPTER 1INTRODUCTIONDr. R.M. de Jonge , [email protected] Phaistos Disc was found in the ruins of the Palace of Phaistos in the south of Crete, aGreek island in the eastern Mediterranean. It contains a unique, unknown script from theend of the Palace Culture, which lasted from c.2000 to 1450 BC. Phaistos was the largestpalace of Crete but one. Twice the complex was destroyed in civil wars, at c.1700 BCand c.1450 BC, respectively.1.1 CRETEThe Phaistos Disc is an old, round, ceramic disc with at both sides many symbolsresembling hieroglyphs (Refs.1,2). It was found in the ruins of the Palace of Phaistos insouthern Crete, during a local excavation directed by the Italian archaeologist LuigiPernier in 1908 (Ref.3). The disc, having a diameter of 16cm (6 inches), possesses aunique Minoan script, and turns out to date from the end of the so-called New PalaceCulture, c.1458 BC (Ch.2). It is on display in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.Crete is a Greek island in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea (Fig.1). It has a lengthof 260km (160 miles), and an average width of only 32km (20 miles). It is situated in aneast-west position at the bottom of the island-arch between Turkey in the east, and thepeninsula of the Peloponnesus in the west. From both sides the area can be easilyreached, via islets by boat, but it is situated more closely to mainland Greece, with whichit always had the strongest ties. The shortest distance to the Peloponnesus is only 100km,to Turkey in the north-east c.200km, to Libya in the south-west 300km, and to the NileDelta in the south-east 550km. This last distance is important, because the greatest civili-zation was along the River Nile (Refs.12-14). During the whole year there is a pleasantclimate on the island, but a relatively small portion of the ground is suitable for agricultu-re. However, the large prosperous lowland area in the south of central Crete, the Mesara,is an exception. For that reason in antiquity it was densily populated. The Palace ofPhaistos (Figs.2&3) was located at the western edge of this plain, in the south of Crete,c.5km from the coast (Refs.15,16,20).

2. Fig.1.1 Map of the island of Crete, located in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea (CourtesyR.F. Willetts, Ref.19). Phaistos (or Festos) is situated in the south of central Crete.1.2 THE MINOAN CULTUREIn prehistoric times Crete developed a completely own identity, often called the MinoanCulture (c.2500-1100 BC), after the legendary King Minos (Refs.1,10,11,19). Around2000 BC the first palaces were built in Knossos, Phaistos and Malia, which were com-pletely destroyed c.1700 BC, probably as a result of civil war (Ch.6). For that reason onespeaks about the so-called Old Palace Culture (c.2000-1700 BC). Next, these and otherpalaces were rebuilt again, followed by a new period of prosperity. However, c.1450 BCa general and similar destruction took place, which marked the end of the New PalaceCulture (c.1700-1450 BC). After this event the palaces were not rebuilt again. Instead,many Mycenaean influences are apparent from mainland Greece. A new cultural perioddeveloped, in which Crete played a less important role. During less than a century, theMycenaean elite ruled the island from Knossos, which still existed at that time, until thePalace was finally destroyed, c.1370 BC (Ref.10).During the Minoan Culture, besides the symbols on the Phaistos Disc, three kinds ofscript developed: the local hieroglyphics, Linear A, and Linear B (Refs.1,5,10). Predomi-nantly, one encounters them on clay tablets from the ruins of the royal palaces. The rarehieroglyphic script, a.o. on seals, is the oldest one. It already developed around Knossosc.2000 BC, but also elsewhere on the island. The oldest Linear A texts of c.1750 BC areall descended from the first Palace of Phaistos. A bit later, after 1700 BC, they alsoappear in Malia (Refs.4,6). The script has not been deciphered yet. Probably, it contains acombination of signs for syllables, figures, and symbols (Refs.18,19). These were clearlydesigned to fix down quantities of merchandise and financial transactions. The Linear Btexts from the Palace of King Minos in Knossos served the same goal, but date from alater time period, after 1400 BC. Up to the present day, only this last script appears to bedeciphered, an accomplishment by Michael Ventris, in 1952 (Refs.17,18). It turns out torelate to a predecessor of the Greek language. 3. Fig.1.2 General view of the ruins of the Palace of Phaistos towards SE (Crete, c.1458BC, Courtesy L. Godart, Ref.1).1.3 THE PALACE OF PHAISTOSThe first Palace of Phaistos was built at the west side of the southern Mesara plain, one ofthe most fertil plains of the eastern Mediterranean, c.2000 BC (Ch.3, Refs.1,2,10,11).Crete is quite mountainous and hard for agriculture, although due to continueddefores-tation it was probably more hospitable in early times, like most of theMediterranean coasts. Without doubt the unprecedented prosperity of this plain played amajor role. Ar-chaeological research shows the hill of Phaistos and the Mesara plain havealready been inhabited during the Neolithicum and the Early Bronze Age (end 4th and3rd millennium BC). The royal Palace of Phaistos had a threefold function: economical,political, and religious. In big quantities goods were delivered to the palace, which resoldthese goods via her administration. In exchange the authorities took care for goodgovernment and a religious identity. It is clear that this situation could supply prosperityand stability for a long time, even for centuries. In these very benificial circumstanceslocal hieroglyphics and Linear A could develop. As a result the first Palace of Phaistosbecame in size and importance one of the biggest of the whole of Crete.In the neighborhood of Phaistos smaller complexes developed, like those of Apodoulouand Monastiraki, at distances of 25 and 45km, respectively (Refs.1,5,6). Hundreds of clayseals and thousands of stamps are found at Monastiraki, which are similar and sometimeseven equal to those of the first Palace of Phaistos. Many other important finds affirm theclose bonds that existed between these complexes. Around 1700 BC almost all palaces inCrete were destroyed. It is very likely, that the reasons for these massive destructionswere serious political mistakes by the authorities, as a result of which civil war could notbe prevented any longer (Ch.6).After 1700 BC almost all palaces were completely rebuilt at the same locations, but oftenin a different way. It is the start of the New Palace Culture (Refs.1,2,10,11). The complexof Phaistos is extended with tens of chambers, having a total diameter of about 160meters (525 feet), and an estimated volume of 6,500 m3 (Fig.3). It is smaller than the 4. Palace of Knossos in the north with a volume twice as big, about the same size as that ofMalia in the north-east, but larger than the palace of Zakros in the extreme east of Crete.The old road with neat kennels at both sides, which leads from Phaistos to Knossos in thenorth, dates from this time period. Again, smaller complexes in the neighborhood ofPhaistos develop, such as Hagia Triada at a few kilometers distance, where beautifulpieces of art have been excavated.Between 1600 and 1458 BC the fleet of Crete was important (Ch.4), and Kommos, 5kmsouthwest of Phaistos, develops into a major port. Phaistos is even mentioned in the Iliadand the Odyssey, and also by the ancient writers Diodorus and Strabo (Refs.1,7-9,21,22).For a long time there is peace on Crete, but c.1458 BC all palaces, with the exception ofKnossos, are destroyed again. It is very plausible that, again, political errors were thecause of these massive destructions (Chs.5,6). Even if it is true that the Mycenaeans frommainland Greece have conquered Crete, one is forced to conclude that the easilydefensible island was seriously weakened. None of the ruined palaces, including Phaistos,would be rebuilt after this desaster. 5. Fig.1.3 Groundplan of the Palace of Phaistos (Crete, c.1458 BC, Courtesy L. Godart,Ref.1). The arrow shows the area, where the Disc was found.LITERATURE (Ch.1)1. Godart, L., The Phaistos Disc, The Enigma of an Aegean Script, Editions Itanos, 1995 (ISBN960-7549-02-3).2. Duhoux, Y., Le disque de Phaistos, Louvain-le-Neuve, 1978. (French)3. Pernier, L., Il disco di Phaestos con caratteri pittografici, Ausonia III (1908), 255-302. (Italian)4. Poutsat, J.-C., Figurines et reliefs dapplique, Fouilles executees a Mallia. Le Quartier MU II, EtudesCretoises XXVI, Paris 1980, 118-119. (French)5. Kober, A.E., The Minoan Scripts: Fact and Theory, American Journal of Archaeology 52, 82-103(1948).6. Yule, P., Early Cretan Seals: A Study of Chronology, Marburger Studien zur vor- und fruhgeschichte,Vol 4, Mainz am Rhein, 1981. (German)7. Homer, The Iliad, translated by W. Schmidt, Standford House, London, 1960. (Book II, p.648).8. Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Dennis Lindzwerg, Regnerey, Chicago, 1963. (Book III, p.296).9. Strabo, Complete Works, Loeb Classical Library, Heinemann, London, 1923-32. (Book X, p.579).10. Old World Civilizations, The Rise of Cities and States, The Illustrated History of Humankind, WeldonOwen Pty Limited, McMahons Point, Australia (1995).11. Zwart, A.H. e.a., De Oude Grieken, 7000 Jaar Wereldgeschiedenis, Lekturama, Rotterdam, 1977.(Dutch)12. Siliotti, A., Egypt, Temples, People and Gods, Bergamo, Italy, 1997.13. Kemp, B.J., Ancient Egypt, Anatomy of a Civilization, London, Routledge, 1991.14. Ancient Egypt, National Geographic Maps, Supplement to the National Geographic Magazine, April,2001.15. Bayley, H., The Lost Language of Symbolism, Citadel Press, 1990, reprint (ISBN 0-8065-1100-1).16. Miller, J., The Phaistos Disk, Ancient American, March/April 1994, p.37.17. Chadwick, J., The Decipherment of Lineair B, Canto (1957).18. Ventris, M. and Chadwick, J., Documents in Mycenaean Greek, Cambridge (1973).19. Willett