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Archeological Museum of Herakleion

The  Archeological Museum of Herakleion contains a unique collection of ancient objects from excavations carried out in all parts of Crete including the archeological sites of Knossos, Phaistos, Gortyn and many others.  The exhibits come mainly from the prehistoric Minoan era which takes its name from the legendary Cretan king, Minos. The museum is divided into 20 galleries containing finds from palaces, houses, tombs, and caves, arranged in groups according to period and provenance. The exhibits cover a period of 5,000 years, from the Neolithic era to the Greco-Roman period and include examples of pottery, stone carving, seal engraving (one of the miniature arts at which the Minoans excelled), gold work remarkable for the excellence of its technique and the variety of its subjects, metal work (household utensils, tools, weapons, and sacred axes, carefully and ingeniously made), and frescos.

Click on the thumbnails below in order to see pictures of the exhibits in the Archeological Museum of Herakleion.  Use your browser's back button to return to this page.

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Krater with flowersKrater with flowers in relief from the Palace of Phaistos, evidentially the most flourishing of the palaces at this time. The krater is one of the most important examples of Kamares ware, objects of exceptional workmanship, truly "royal" utensils, which no doubt adorned the banquet halls of the Palace of Phaistos. Kamares is a new style of pottery regarded as one of the most decorative pottery styles of the ancient world with its chief characteristic being polychrome decoration. The krater is dated to the First Palace Period (1900 - 1700 BCE). The Phaistos DiskThe Phaistos Disk, one of the most valuable exhibits in the museum. The clay disk was found at the Palace of Phaistos. Both sides of the disc carry hieroglyphic signs which were impressed with seal stones onto the clay while it was still wet. The inscriptions run in a spiral form starting from the edge towards the center. This is therefore the earliest known example of printing - a written text reproduced with the aid of letter stamps. The words, formed by groups of symbols, are separated by incised vertical lines. There are 45 different symbols occurring 241 times. The symbols portray recognizable objects like human figures and body parts, animals, weapons, and plants. Each symbol perhaps represents a syllable or ideogram. The script has not yet been deciphered despite the numerous attempts over the years. The exact date of the disk is also questionable, but it probably dates to the end of the First Palace period (17th century BCE). Bull head rhytonRhyton (libation vessel), for use in sacred rituals, carved from a block of black steatite in the shape of a bull's head. The bull was the most important animal in Minoan religion and was such a familiar part of Minoan life that it survived in myths told about Crete in later ages. The rhyton was filled with the appropriate liquid through a hole in the neck and emptied during the ritual through another hole in the nostrils. The details of the head are incised, the eyes are inlaid with rock-crystal and jasper, the muzzle is inlaid with white shell (mother-of-pearl) and the horns, now restored, were made of gilded wood. It is an outstanding example of the skill of the Minoan lapidaries.  It was found in the little palace at Knossos and is dated to the 17th-15th centuries BCE.

The "Snake Goddess"Faience statuette of the so-called chthonian "Snake-Goddess", from the Temple Repositories of the Palace of Knossos. Typical features of these religious figurines are the upraised or stretched arms wielding the crawling snakes, the thin-waisted bodice which left the breasts bare, and the characteristic, flounced skirt with an apron made of material with embroidered or woven decoration. There is a small animal perched on her head. They are outstanding specimens of Minoan miniature sculpture dated to the Second Palace period (17th-16th centuries BCE).

Five pithoiFive pithoi (storage jars) in the marine and floral style. One of the pithoi, decorated with additional bands imitating ropes (real ropes where used on these jars in Minoan times) carries an engraved inscription in Linear A which begins with the ideogram for wine. This pithos was found along with several others in the storeroom of a villa at Epano Zakros, close to the wine press. Undoubtedly, it contained wine. They date to the Second Palace period (1700 - 1450 BCE).

Pithos in the marine stylePithos in the marine style with octopus decoration from the last phase of the New Palace period (1700 - 1450 BCE), the phase immediately preceding the destruction of the palaces, when the best marine and floral style pottery was being produced.
Bronze double axesBronze double axes from the megaron at Nirou. The double axe in Crete, once the instrument of sacrifice of the sacred bull, became the main religious symbol of the Cretans (it is most often depicted together with the head of a bull). The Minoan name for the double axe is "labrys", thus the word labyrinth may originally have meant the "house of the double axe". They date to the Second Palace and Post-Palace periods (1700 - 1300 BCE). Gold axesGold and silver votive double axes dated to the Second Palace and Post-Palace Periods (1700 - 1300 BCE). Stone vessel Stone vessel from central Crete dated to the Second Palace and Post-Palace Periods (1700 - 1300 BCE).
Bee pendantA collection of extremely important gold jewelry from various parts of eastern and central Crete represents the art of the Minoan goldsmith at its zenith. The most important piece in the case, and one of the most famous exhibits in the museum, is the pendant from the Old Palace cemetery at Chrysolakkos near Malia which is in the shape of two bees or wasps storing away a drop of honey in a comb. Also from Malia is a fine pin with a flower head. The jewelry is dated to the Second Palace and Post-Palace Periods (1700 - 1300 BCE). The Aghia Triada sarcophagusThe Aghia Triada sarcophagus, the only stone sarcophagus ever to have been found in Crete. It is wholly covered in plaster and painted in fresco. It was found in a relatively unimportant tomb in Aghia Triada, but no doubt it was originally used for the burial of a prince during the period of Mycenaean occupation of Crete. The painted frieze around the sarcophagus shows all of the stages of the sacred ceremony which was performed at the burial of important personages. In the center of this side, is a scene of a bull sacrifice. The bull lies trussed up on a table, already dead, and the blood which is pouring from its neck is being collected in a vase. Two wild goats, tied up below the table, await a similar fate. A woman at the head of the procession extends her arms in a ritual gesture towards the slaughtered animal. On the right another woman, dressed in an animal skin, offers a basket of fruit and a vessel as a bloodless sacrifice at an altar. The altar is placed near the fence around the sacred tree, which is crowned with sacred horns, and in front of a tall column supporting a double axe. The black bird perched on top of the axe symbolizes the epiphany of the goddess. Close by is the enclosure of a sacred tree, topped by horns of consecration. The sarcophagus dates to 1600 - 1400 BCE. Necklaces of gold and glass paste A collection of necklaces of pure gold with beads of glass paste in a variety of shapes: spherical, amygdaloidal, or imitating papyrus flowers, lilies or double Argonauts. The gold beads in the form of rosettes are not from necklaces, but were used to decorate the edges of dresses. They are dated to the Second Palace and Post-Palace Periods (1450 - 1300 BCE).
Boar's tusk helmetA helmet made of rows of boars tusks sewn into a leather base, a type which was extremely common in Mycenaean Greece. They were very familiar to Homer who gives a vivid description of the boars' tusk helmet worn by the Cretan hero, Meriones. It is dated to the Second Palace and Post-Palace Periods (1450 - 1300 BCE). Figurines of dancersA model of terracotta figurines from Palaikastro represents a circular dance being performed by women holding one another's shoulders. In the middle of the circle is a woman playing the lyre. The model reminds one immediately of modern Cretan dances. It is dated to the Post-Palace period (1400 - 1100 BCE).

 
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