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CHERSONESOS (Limani Khersonesou) Pediada District, N Crete.

On the W side of the Bay of Mallia 26 km E of Herakleion. The ancient site derives its name from the prominent peninsula, Kastri, which shelters the harbor from the N. It served as out-port of the city of Lyttos, 15 km inland (Strab. 10.4.14); but in the 4th-3d c. issued its own coinage, an indication of autonomy. Its harbor was the best on the N coast of Crete between Herakleion and Olous, and in the Roman and first Byzantine periods it became much more important than Lyttos.

Plutarch (De mul. vir. 247D) narrates its foundation legend; the colonists arrived with a statue of Artemis. Strabo (10.4.14) mentions the temple of Britomartis, one of the chief Cretan deities, and the site of the temple is indicated by the find of an inscription to her of the late 2d c. B.C. on a small headland ca. 1 km E of Chersonesos, where a church of Hag. Nikolnos stands on the ruins of a Roman building with a mosaic; remains of another building lie nearby, submerged in shallow water. Britomartis is depicted on many coins of Chersonesos.

In a 3d c. inscription Chersonesos appears as a subordinate ally of Knossos; in 183 B.C. it was one of the Cretan cities which made an alliance with Eumenes II of Pergamum. In the 2d and 1st c. B.C. it seems again to have been more closely linked with Lyttos, being described in inscriptions as “Lyttos on the sea”; but this may indicate not subordination to Lyttos but the transfer of real power to the coastal city. Bishops of Chersonesos are mentioned in the 5th to 8th c.

The peninsula N of the harbor has traces of Minoan settlement: sherds appear in the NE cliff face at the bottom of a deep occupation deposit. The peninsula was probably the city's acropolis in the Classical period; it was surrounded with defense walls in Late Roman or Byzantine times, and a fine Christian basilica was built on top in the 5th or 6th c. On the NE side of the peninsula a row of three fish-tanks, now totally submerged, was cut into the E end of a rock shelf in the Roman period.

The remains of the Roman city cover an extensive area S and W of the peninsula. The theater, of the Roman period, is now almost completely destroyed, but was still well preserved in 1583 (as was an amphitheater), and was visible until 1897.

The most significant ancient remains are those of the Roman harbor works, showing the city's importance and prosperity as a seaport. The harbor was protected on the E and S by massive breakwaters of large boulders, along the inner side of which run concrete moles which served as quays. These alone provided 330 m of berthing space, and there was a shoreline quay at least in the SW corner of the harbor. The stumps of stone bollards survive in the surface of the E mole and SW quay. On the W shore of the harbor remains are visible of house walls of the Roman period. Just inland is a fountain-house with mosaics.

Inland near Potamies have been found stretches of the aqueduct which brought water to the site from Lasithi.


T.A.B. Spratt, Travels and Researches in Crete I (1865) 104-7; L. Mariani, MonAnt 6 (1895) 238-43; Bürchner, “Chersonesos (4),” RE 3 (1899) 2251; S. Xanthoudides, Deltion 4 (1918) Parartima I, 30-32; S. Marinatos, Deltion 9 (1924-25) 79-84; M. Guarducci, ICr I (1935) 33-34; E. Kirsten, “Chersonesos,” RE Suppl. 7 (1940) 84-90MP; A. Orlandos, Ergon (1956) 118-23; J. Leatham & S. Hood, BSA 53-54 (1958-59) 266-73IP; Hag. Nikolnos mosaic: Marinatos ICr I, 35 no. 4.


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