The End Of Knossos

The disappearance, from historical record, of the island of Crete, poses a problem for historians.

After the era encompassed by the reign of Amenhophis III, in Egypt, we hear no more of the once mighty kingdom of Minos.. The last years of the co-regency of Amenhophis III and his son, Akhenaton seem to coincide with the fall of the Minoan Empire.

Soon after, a legend comes into existence, concerning the disappearance of an island rich in culture and worldly advancement. We know of this island lost below the sea as Atlantis, for it is so called in the legends...was it not a real land whose people had disappeared and whose name had been forgotten?

Earthquakes on the Island of Crete and the Destruction of Minoan Cities.

Crete had been, and still is, subjected to destructive earthquake waves throughout her history. Records of seismic activity in the Candia district, site of ancient Knossos, show that it has been stricken by approximately three serious quakes every hundred years, of which at least one has been castrophic or of serious proportions. This activity has been accentuated by two distinct causes, first the destructive aftereffects of volcanic disturbances on the island complex of Santorini (ancient ient Thera) which is situated 100 kilometers to the north of Crete, and in the second instance to a very marked weakness in the earth's crust in the central region of Crete - running from North to South.

In 1926 a wave of earthquake activity hit Crete and proved to be the prelude to a new eruption of the Thera crater. Shocks were again felt after the eruption and caused damage throughout the Aegean, most notably at Karpathos, Kostellarijo and Rhodes island. These tremors were felt on the mainland of Analtolia and throughout Egypt as far to the south as Aswan. Alexandria and Cairo experienced the collapse of at least 600 houses.

Reports from Athens and other observatory stations in the Aegean pointed to an epicenter, in the sea, 26.5 East, 35.8 North, the distance from Athens being 200 kilometers, about half way between santorini and the Island of Crete. The depth of the disturbance was estimated as being about 2,000 meters.

On this occasion, as in a previous serious occurrence of volcanic activity in 1856, some of the shocks and tremors reached across the entire island of Crete affecting a wider area than that taken in by the weak region around candia. In general, however, the area south of the watershed and beyond Mount Ida, where Phaestos and Gortyna are situated, received only light socks. The North coast, encompassing the region west of Mount Ida, at Rethymnos and Canea, also appears to have experienced only light tremors.

The areas other than that around Candia seem to be less adapted for transmission of tremors.


At the end of MM11, where the changes to the later Place period occurs in Knossos, a series of shocks seem to have hit both the palaces of Phaestos and Knossos, the area most seriously hit being Knossos. The life of the old palaces had not lasted long. Although it is almost impossible to say that they were all destroyed at the same time, or even by the same type of destructive force, it does seem that an earthquake was responsible for their collapse.

There seems to have been an interval between the fall of the old palaces and their rebuilding in the new style of the Late Palace Period. Remains of both the old and new palaces show signs of having been more or less extensively rebuilt after minor collapses, perhaps caused by minor tremors. We can say with more or less certainty that the late Palace Period started between 1700-1600 BC.

At Knossos the rebuilding was almost complete, one of its features being the more economical use of wood. At Phaestos the palace keeps the continuity of its architecture well into the late palace period, where the two styles become intermingled, proving that even at this date the quakes must have been of a lesser intensity in this area than on the Northern coast.

The earthquake that so drastically changed the Minoan architectural line was far from being the last to hit the island during ancient times, nor was it the most drastic or the only one to cause changes on Crete. According to Medieval and modern records, nine especially destructive quakes have occurred on Crete during the last 700 years. This period is almost equal in time to the complete duration of the Minoan Palace periods and we have reason to believe the Minoans were subjected to an equal number of shocks during the Palace periods. Indeed these major earthquakes corresponded to the completion of the various successive phases of Minoan occupation and rebuilding.

It was after the major earthquake of the 1500-1400 BC period that Knossos fell, never again to rise to the same heights of power nor to be rebuilt in a style equal to her past glory.

When Knossos also perished the great villas founded at the start of the New Palace period to house her governors at the seat of local administration and the towns that sheltered at the feet of the Palaces, together with the smaller settlements - Gortnia, Pseira, Palaikastro, Zakro and the harbours of Amnisos and Nirou Chani - the old family and royal tombs and even a section of the roof of the Cave of Arkatoahori collapsed.

The people of Crete were well acquainted with the effects of earthquake activity even if they were unaware of the origins of the shaking ground and the terrible roar that accompanied the tremors. Generations of Minoans living at the time of the great quake that destroyed the Minoan Empire had passed down through legend, if not actually recorded history, tales of the effects and the warning signs that accompanied the oscillations of the earth's crust.

How great in magnitude were the particular series of shocks that hit the island during the Late Palace period or how they compared to the tremors previously felt on the island we do not know. We do have evidence as to the forms of destruction that accompanied them as byproducts of the actual quake. That there were two series of shocks connected with the eruption of Thera and that the first was probably accompanied by a tidal wave, there can be little doubt. Cracks in the walls at Knossos, belonging tot he last period of construction are proof to substantiate destruction by earth movements are further born out by their placement as they run from north to south - in the path of documented earthquake activity in this area even today. The fact that these quakes were responsible for the setting up of fires and the secondary destruction is indisputable. The waves of tremors would have upset lamps and oil jars, overturned the braziers that were used for heating and caused blazes to spring up in the stricken area. There are signs of fire still apparent at knossos where the gypsum orthostats of the Western facade of the official Wing bear, on the northern section of the wall, traces of smoke. These smoke stains are visible along the wall for a space of several meters. They start at a lighter rectangle that Evans interpreted as representing the point that a large rafter had fallen, blazing, from the upper floor. Here the smoke stains show that a strong wind must have been blowing at the time of the fire, as, for a distance of more than 5 meters they rose little more than 50 centimeters at any point. From the direction that the smoke stains run this could only have been the south-westerly Notios Wind as it struck the wall across the open space of the West Court.

The Notios reaches its height in March when it can blow continuously for three days at a time. It has been accompanied by blinding dust clouds. At Knossos one can still see the destruction wrought by fire in the magazines that housed the giant oil jars. Gypsum floor slabs still bear dark greasy stains - the result of blazing oil from the overturned jars that soaked into them.

Signs of fire are also apparent at Hagia Triada to the south, Makhalos, Mallia, Zakro and Gournia - where wooden steps and posts had completely disappeared, only traces of charcoal being left in their place. Smoke stains are in great evidence here, but perhaps the most substantial of all evidence are the bricks in the stricken sections of the Palace. Here and in the houses that must have been destroyed by fire, the bricks have been baked a vivid red. In the palace were the remains of pillars that had supported the inner roof - these were charred completely through but still retained their original shape as they choked the rooms of the palace. Minerals used in the construction were changed in their composition - limestone had been calcinated by the intense heat, stealite reduced to fragments that crumbled at the touch, and even bronze had been melted to a shapeless mass of metal.Plaster had changed to unslacked lime that again formed plaster, in the form of a casing around objects that had escaped destruction, after the first soaking by rain (this formed a completely sealed, airtight,light tight casing that preserved many objects perfectly).

As for the evidence that tidal waves hit the shore areas, at the villa at Amnisos gigantic stone blocks seem to have been shifted out of place and volcanic pumice was found to cover the entire site. This could only have occurred if a tidal wave had swept inland bearing the pumice with it from the district of the volcanic eruption. This wave overwhelmed the site, tearing blocks from the walls and clearing the area of any loose objects. This is evident in areas further inland - mallia and Gournia.

Analysis of cores taken from the bed of the eastern Mediterranean have established that there were two major eruptions of Thera during this era that heralded the fall of Knossos, and that one occurred sometime between 1500 BC and 1400 BC, the second following some 50 years later. It has been estimated that the first eruption was so violent that its ashes and poisonous fumes were carried hundreds of miles to the south by prevailing winds. These may have also accompanied the second eruption.

It was the first eruption that destroyed, completely, the outlying community on Thera.