Homer and the Archaeology of Crete


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Brenda Jackson


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The relationship between the Homeric epics and archaeology has been approached through the lens of Homeric archaeology, which involved matching the epics with the archaeological record and identifying realia of Homer’s heroes. However, a range of new approaches have recently revolutionized the field.

Drawing from these approaches, Professor Antonis Kotsonas offers a regional and diachronic analysis of Homeric stories about Crete, an assessment of the reception of these stories by the island’s inhabitants throughout antiquity, and an account of their impact on Medieval to modern literature and art. He finds that Cretan interest in Homer peaks in the Hellenistic period, but also argues for the much earlier familiarity of some Cretans with stories that underlie the Homeric epics. This argument relies on an analysis of the archaeological assemblage of a Knossian tomb of the 11th century BCE, which included a range of arms that is exceptional for both Aegean archaeology and the Homeric epics.

In the epics, this equipment is carried only by the Knossian hero Meriones, whose poetic persona can be traced back to the Late Bronze Age on philological and linguistic grounds. Based on this, and on current understandings of performance at death, Kotsonas argues that the Knossian burial assemblage was staged to reference the persona of Meriones, therefore suggesting the familiarity of some Cretans with early poetry that eventually filtered into the Homeric epics.

Image: Crete-Egypt, three thousand years of cultural links (2001), Hellenic Ministry of Culture, copyright Heraklion Archaeological Museum


Professor Antonis Kotsonas, Classical Archaeologist
University of Cincinnati Classics Department

Antonis Kotsonas is a Classical Archaeologist specialising in the material culture, sociocultural and economic history of the Early Iron Age and the Archaic period in Greece and the Mediterranean. His research interests extend, however, from the Late Bronze Age to the Roman period. He has conducted fieldwork and finds research on Crete, and in the Cyclades, Euboea and Macedonia; and comparative studies across the Aegean, and from Italy to Cyprus, engaging problems in state formation, trade and interaction, identity and commensality, memory, and the history of archaeology. He is currently finishing coediting with I.S. Lemos A Companion to the Archaeology of early Greece and the Mediterranean (Wiley Blackwell). Before coming to Cincinnati, Kotsonas worked at King's College London, the University of Crete, the University of Amsterdam and the University of Edinburgh. He has also served as a Curator of Greek Archaeology at the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam.