Archaeological Museum in Heraklion (Crete)

Minoan Culture

  General Stuff
Sometimes one is lucky. The Museum was actually open and had most of its stuff on display. That seems to be rather the exception than the rule in many of the countries around the Mediterranean. The Heraklion museum actually was mostly closed in the last 6 years or so. It reopened just about when we hit it in May 2014. It has moved to a new building and when it opened the necessary work of redistributing the goodies in new case and rooms had almost been done. What was missing was the labelling of the artifacts and a good museum shop with some books concerning the exhibitions. Only general descriptions of the contents of show cases are given but no details whatsoever. Much of what I state in the following is thus based on educated guessing.
Since there is neither an Internet site nor any book about what you can find in the museum, this is a bit annoying - in particular because highly interesting swords are displayed but forbidden to photograph because the material hasn't been published yet (many years after finding it!). The best "book", covering some of what you see below, is the Internet contribution from Stefanie Gröner and Andrea Salimbeti, which I have copied for you.
When I revisited the museum in Nov. 2018, most artifacts have now been labelled. There is still no book, however.
However, there are many positive points and you should definitely go and visit this museum:
  • It contains all the interesting stuff from the Minoan culture. The "palace of Knossos" is nearby but there is nothing original there except old walls and a few columns - and most of those are modern restorations.
  • The museum contains a very large collection of bronze swords, daggers, and other items.
  • The artifacts are illuminated rather well. Taking pictures - to the extent that this is allowed - is much easier than in many other places.
Before I go into the metal stuff, I show you a few of the highlights:
     
Snake godess; Minoan culture
Minoan Snake Goddess
Large size (including the other one)
     
  This is one of the two Snake Goddesses (or possibly just priestesses) "performing a ritual". In other words: we don't know. The figure dates from around 1600 BC.
The 'Snake Goddess' figurines were found in 1903 by Arthur Evans, the guy who excavated Knossos. The figurines are made from glazed earthenware. The peculiar dress attracted a lot of (male) attention and speculation. Maybe all Minoan women dressed this way? Knowing that fashion sooner or later repeats itself, there is hope!
The museum has most of the famous Minoan frescoes that adorned the walls of the royal palace around 1600 BC. Here are two examples:
 
Minoan wall painting; lady
Minoan Lady
Large size
Bull leaping
Large size
     
    Live must have been graceful. The ladies dolled up and young men enjoyed leaping over bulls. The red-skinned figure is a man and the two light-skinned figures are women. There is no sense in risking your life this way without drooling groupies, after all.
There are many sculptures. What takes your breath away is a full-size bronze grave statue of a young man from the late Hellenistic period around the 1st century BC, and a full size marble statue of Aphrodite (or just a well nymph) from the Roman period; late 1st century AD. I give you just the heads.
   
Large size
   
Large size
     
Since ceramic weathers least, there are plenty of pots like in any archaeological museum. The ones here tend to be prettier than most. Here is one of the many very pretty pots:
   
Large size
     
  Bronze Swords and Other Objects
The Museum displays not only a very large collection of bronze things, it shows objects I have never seen before. Here are first examples from the Minoan time. Since the Minoan civilization flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC, this implies that these tools are from around 1600 BC or earlier.
  The fine "hand saws" are remarkable. The cylindric object appears to be the famous hollow drill that is often mentioned in the literature, in particular in the context of Egyptian stone working. This is the first one I have seen in a museum.
   
Bronze tools, saws, heraklion, Crete
Various bronze tools including large saws.
Large size
Small bronze tools, Heraklion; Crete
Small hand saws (about the size of your hand)
and what appears to be a hollow drill
     
As far as bronze swords are concerned, the museum not only shows a very large number of these items but many special ones. In particular two daggers that look like made from silver but are probably arsenic bronze.
That's at least my impression. But remember, I'm not an expert on swords in general and bronze swords in particular.
Here are examples found in the Arkalochori Cave (1700 BC - 1450 BC)
     
Bronze swords Minoan culture, Heraklion, Crete
Large picture
Bronze swords; Minoan culture, Heraklion; Crete
Bronze swrods; Minoan culture; Heaklion; Crete
Large picture
     
Note that there are no holes for rivets and that there is no damage to the edges. The museum mentions that these are "model swords" but it appears to me that they were just as-cast blanks, designed for trade. Also note that these swords are almost exclusively of the "Vollgriffschwerter" (Naue I type) variety, i.e. the hilt is a separate piece that has to be riveted onto the blade.
Of course there are also swords of the later Naue II type. The examples below are from the "post palatial period", 1300 BC - 1100 BC.
     
Bronze swords from Crete; Heraklion
Bronze swords from Crete; Heraklion
     
While swords like these can be seen in many places, the Heraklion museum has another speciality: it shows bronze swords with well preserved hilts:
     
Show casw bronge swords, pottery, Heraklion Crete
Part of a show case with bronze swords and pottery
Large picture
     
These objects are from the "Warrior Cave" and date to 1450 BC - 1300 BC. Here are details:
     
Bronge swords Crete, Heraklion; hilits
Details of hilts
Large picture of other hilt
   
There is much more. A particular speciality are extremely long bronze swords (my guess is 90 cm - 100 cm) with an extremely fine tip and a prominent central ridge:
 
Bronze swords Heraklion; Crete
Very long and very pointy bronze swords
     
However, some objects must no be photographed and I can't give you more then the incomplete picture above.
What about iron objects? Well, the glorious days of the Minoan empire were over well before iron became prominent, so one shouldn't expect too much. They do have two obili, however. Indeed, the objects on display are not particularly remarkable, except perhaps, for the saw:
     
Iron objects in the Heraklion museum; Crete
Iron objects in the Heraklion museum; Crete.
The saw is on a different length scale
Large picture
 
  Don't miss it! And encourage the people in charge to publish something about their unique bronze swords and objects!
     

With frame With frame as PDF

go to Critical Museum Guide

go to Museums in Athens and Olympia

go to The Ages

go to Sword Parts

go to Confusing the Issue

go to Swords and Symbols

go to Early Pyrotechnolgy - Pottery

go to 10.3 Iron and Steel in Early Europe; 10.3.1 Technology Transfer and Trading

go to 11.5.3 Forging a Wootz Sword

go to Sword Names

go to 10.5.4 Making Steel Things

go to Vikings

go to Old Iron Things

go to The Dirty Mind of Materials Scientists

go to 10.1.5 Copper Final

go to Large Pictures

go to Smelting Science - 3. Smelter Technology

go to Large Pictures I

go to Some Additional Pictures; chapter 10.1

go to Large Pictures II

go to Large Pictures III

go to Master of Animals

go to Justitiae

go to Large Pictures III

go to Uluburun Shipwreck

© H. Föll (Iron, Steel and Swords script)