American Journal of Philology 132 (4):667-670 (2011)

Crete in the Early Iron Age and Archaic periods presents a number of very particular problems for the ancient historian. Most educated lay people associate Crete with its Bronze Age civilization, the so-called Minoans, and most historians of ancient Greece tend to be more familiar with Athens and the Peloponnese. That is, after all, where the great events that Herodotus and Thucydides describe took place. Most of our literary sources for ancient Crete take the form of philosophical reflections or antiquarian tidbits, and focus not on events but institutions. These facts make a conventional narrative history, an histoire éventielle, of ancient Crete more or less an impossibility. It is nonetheless precisely in the institutions of ancient Crete—the law codes, the andreion, the agele, and the persistence of oligarchy throughout the historical period—that the historical interest lies. This literary perspective emphasizes Cretan difference: Cretan exceptionalism within the Greek-speaking Mediterranean. And the study of Crete begs the question: why did democracy not emerge more often? And, more specifically, if widespread literacy and the publication of law are the keys to democracy, why did it not emerge first in Crete and not in Athens?
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DOI 10.1353/ajp.2011.0043
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