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Creta

Κρήτη; in Italian, Candia; in Turkish, Kirit). One of the largest islands of the Mediterranean Sea, at the south of all the Cyclades. Its name is derived by some from the Curetes, who are said to have been its first inhabitants; by others, from the nymph Creté, daughter of Hesperus; and by others, from Cres, a son of Zeus and the nymph Idaea. It is also designated among the poets and mythological writers by the several appellations of Aeria, Doliché, Idaea, and Telchinia. According to Herodotus (bk. i.), this great island remained in the possession of various barbarous nations till the time of Minos (q.v.), son of Europa, who, having expelled his brother Sarpedon, became the sole sovereign of the country. These early inhabitants are generally supposed to be the Eteocretes of Homer ( Od. xix. 172), who clearly distinguishes them from the Grecian colonists subsequently settled there.

Minos, according to the concurrent testimony of antiquity, first gave laws to the Cretans, and, having conquered the pirates who infested the Aegean Sea, established a powerful navy. In the Trojan War, Idomeneus , sovereign of Crete, led its forces to the war in eighty vessels, a number little inferior to that commanded by Agamemnon himself. According to the traditions which Vergil has followed, Idomeneus was afterwards driven from his throne by faction, and compelled to sail to Iapygia, where he founded the town of Salernum. At this period the island appears to have been inhabited by a mixed population of Greeks and barbarians. Homer enumerates the former under the names of Achaei, Dorians, surnamed Trichaïces, and Pelasgi. The latter, who were the most ancient, are said to have come from Thessaly, under the conduct of Teutamus, posterior to the great Pelasgic emigration into Italy. The Dorians are reported to have established themselves in Crete, under the command of Althemenes of Argos, after the death of Codrus and the foundation of Megara. In Crete was the famous labyrinth whose construction was ascribed to Daedalus, and about which so many legends cluster. See Ariadné; Daedalus; Icarus; Labyrinthus; Minos; Minotaurus; Pasiphaé; Theseus.

After the Trojan War and the expulsion of Idomeneus , the principal cities of Crete formed themselves into several republics, for the most part independent, while others were connected by federal ties. These, though not exempted from the dissensions which so universally distracted the Grecian States, maintained for a long time a considerable degree of prosperity, owing to the good system of laws and education which had been so early instituted throughout the island by the decrees of Minos. The Cretan code was supposed by many of the best-informed writers of antiquity to have furnished Lycurgus with the model of his most salutary regulations. It was founded, according to Ephorus, cited by Strabo, on the just basis of liberty and an equality of rights; and its great aim was to promote social harmony and peace by enforcing temperance and frugality. On this principle, the Cretan youths were divided into classes called Agelae, and all met at the Andreia, or public meals. Like the Spartans, they were early trained to the use of arms, and inured to sustain the extremes of heat and cold, and undergo the severest exercise; they were also compelled to learn their letters and certain pieces of music. The chief magistrates, called Cosmi (κόσμοι), were ten in number and elected annually. The Gerontes constituted the council of the nation, and were selected from those who were thought worthy of holding the office of Cosmus. There was also an equestrian order, who were bound to keep horses at their own expense. But though the Cretan laws resembled the Spartan institutions in so many important points, there were some striking features which distinguished the legislative enactments of the two countries. One of these was that the Lacedaemonians were subject to a strict agrarian law, whereas the Cretans were under no restraint as to the accumulation of moneyed or landed property; another, that the Cretan republics were for the most part democratic, whereas the Spartan was decidedly aristocratic. Herodotus informs us that the Cretans were deterred by the unfavourable response of the Pythian oracle from contributing forces to the Grecian armament assembled to resist the Persians (vii. 169). In the Peloponnesian War incidental mention is made of some Cretan cities as allied with Athens or Sparta, but the island does not appear to have espoused collectively the cause of either of the belligerent parties. The Cretan soldiers were held in great estimation as light troops and archers, and readily offered their services for hire to such States, whether Greek or barbarian, as needed them. In the time of Polybius the Cretans had much degenerated from their ancient character, for he charges them repeatedly with the grossest immorality and the most hateful vices. We know also with what severity they are reproved by St. Paul, in the words of one of their own poets, Epimenides (Tit.i. 12), Κρῆτες ἀεὶ ψεῦσται, κακὰ θηρία, γαστέρες ἀργαί.

The chief cities of Crete were Cnossus, Cydonia, Gortyna, and Lyctus, all of which see.

The Romans did not interfere with the affairs of Crete before the war with Antiochus, when Q. Fabius Labeo crossed over into the island from Asia Minor, under pretence of claiming certain Roman captives who were detained there. Several years after, the island was invaded by a Roman army commanded by M. Antonius, under the pretence that the Cretans had secretly favoured the cause of Mithridates; but Florus more candidly avows that the desire of conquest was the real motive which led to this attack. The enterprise, however, having failed, the subjugation of the island was not effected till some years later by Metellus, who, from his success, obtained the agnomen of Creticus. It was then (B.C. 67) annexed to the Roman Empire, and formed, together with Cyrenaïca, one of its numerous provinces, being governed by the same proconsul.

Crete forms an irregular parallelogram, of which the western side faces Sicily, while the eastern looks towards Cyprus; on the north it is washed by the Mare Creticum, and on the south by the Libyan Sea, which intervenes between the island and the opposite coast of Cyrené. Mount Ida, which surpasses all the other summits in elevation, rises in the centre of the island; its base occupies a circumference of nearly 600 stadia. To the west it is connected with another chain, called the White Mountains (Λευκὰ ὄρη), and to the east its prolongation forms the ridge anciently known by the name of Dicté. See Höck, Kreta (Göttingen, 1829); Pashley, Travels in Crete (London, 1837); Spratt, Researches in Crete, 2 vols. (London, 1865); Edwardes, Letters from Crete (London, 1887); and the article Gortyn.

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