Historical discussion

Prepalatial period (Early Minoan II – Middle Minoan IA, c. 2700-1900 BC)

As far as is currently known, the site of Malia began to be occupied in the Early Minoan II period (c. 2700-2200).
There was then urban development in the place where the palace and Crypt were later built: more specifically, an area encompassing the majority of the palace, the western courtyard, the Crypt, and the agora was occupied.
These layers can be reached today only by deep surveying. Nevertheless, the foundations of a house are visible to the west of the western courtyard. Two rooms have been identified but the whole is very badly preserved.
Within the palace, the I1 group preserves levelled walls and a small vaulted room, incorporated within the later building-work, which date back to this first occupation of the site.
Our knowledge of the final phase of the Prepalatial period (Early Minoan III – Middle Minoan IA, c. 2200-1900) is poor.
From this period date the houses of which the walls are visible south of the palace. The construction of the palace took place during this time.
This dating is corroborated by the foundation deposit discovered under the floor of room IV 7 and which included a ‘teapot’ datable to this period.

Period of the first palaces or Protopalatial period (Middle Minoan IB – II, c. 1900-1700 BC).

The construction of the first palace marked the beginning of the ‘Protopalatial’ period (Middle Minoan IB – II, c. 1900-1700 BC). A large number of the remains that are currently visible date from these phases, and this reflects the extent and wealth of the Protopalatial site. A genuine town grew up around the palace.
In its general layout, the first palace must have foreshadowed the Neopalatial building. In the northwest sector a series of walls can be seen that were levelled when the second palace was built and, amongst other rooms, storerooms (extended rooms) can be discerned. Under the second palace's ceremonial area (III and IV) stuccoed rooms have been excavated that probably played an analogous role. Two bronze swords, among the oldest in the Aegean world, were found on the floor of one, one being the famous ‘acrobat’s sword’. The oldest floors of the central courtyard also date to the Protopalatial era, just like the first paving of the west courtyard. The east storerooms belong to the first palace and remained in use in the second. Therefore the area, floorplan and functions of the first palace were comparable in all respects to those of the second palace.
The best preserved enclosure is the Mu Quarter, around 300m to the west of the palace, excavated from 1965. The remains’ excellent state of preservation suggests violent destruction by fire: the brick walls melted and formed a layer of hard clay that sealed the ruins. Built at the beginning of the Middle Minoan II period, so after the palace, it was destroyed at the end of this period. It consisted of two large buildings, known as A and B, and seven smaller edifices, of which at least five were craftsmen’s houses. The two main buildings are almost certainly the best example of Protopalatial architecture; from a technical point of view, the stucco cladding, paving of the open spaces, and wooden ties in the brick walls are noteworthy. The rooms, of which the functions are distinct, foreshadow the designs of the following period, with courtyards with paved porticoes, columns and pillars, rooms with wide bays, light wells, an underground lustral basin, and series of storerooms. The smaller and more modest workshop-homes surround the two main buildings. To the north, there are the workshops of a metallurgist, a potter and a seal engraver. Moulds for smelting bronze tools, a potter’s wheel, and unfinished seals and manufacturing cast-offs have been found there. The two buildings to the south are less well preserved but traces of metalworking, stoneworking (making stone vases) and boneworking have been identified. These craftsmen must have been attached to buildings A and B, which show all the characteristics of wealthy homes and administrative centres; they are the only Protopalatial buildings on Crete that have yielded written documents, apart from the palaces.
Other Protopalatial buildings have been excavated at various different points on the site. The Hypostyle Crypt to the northwest of the palace includes in particular two rooms with benches entirely below ground level, and several storerooms. The square to the north of this Crypt, known as the ‘agora’, was laid out in the time of the first palaces. It measures c. 40m by 30m, and was bordered by large stone blocks that could have supported terraces. To the south of the excavation house is the Sanctuary of the Horns, which owes its name to the stuccoed horns of consecration that can be seen near the eastern entrance. The MM II sanctuary excavated when the pharmacy was built, then filled in, was also close to the town; this was not the case with the one located at the top of the hill of St Elijah, where there is a small chapel today. This second sanctuary is one of the hilltop sanctuaries well known throughout Crete, especially in the eastern part of the island.
Our knowledge of the necropolises at Malia from the Protopalatial period is also fairly good. The monumental enclosure at Chrysolakkos – if it is indeed a funerary enclosure – was perhaps the tomb of the palace’s occupants. It is from there that the famous bee pendant came, and perhaps the so-called Aegina treasure, today in the British Museum. The area of the necropolises extends to the west of Chrysolakkos. Faults and crevices in the rock served as an ossuary by the sea; these are the ‘mass graves’, of which two were in use in MM IB and II. A small cremation necropolis was situated in the coastal depression known as the ‘Millstone Rocks’ (Stas Aletrivopetres). Finally, a jar burial necropolis has been located on the islet of Christ, 2km west, but this may have relied on a separate inhabited area on the plain.
So the Protopalatial era was certainly a key moment in the history of Malia. It was the first phase of what is generally known as the palatial system. A hierarchical inhabited area surrounded the palace, while the area of the necropolises was clearly separated from the zones occupied by the living. Craft production was the business of specialised workers who were attached to the palace or another administrative centre. The administration made use of documents on clay written in a hand that is known as ‘hieroglyphic’, the first Cretan writing (which, despite its name, has nothing to do with Egyptian writing). The territory of Malia certainly included the coastal plain, and perhaps the Lasithi Plateau or even a part of the south coast. Although the site has yielded few imported items, this does not mean that it was isolated: the metal, for example, came from Cyprus and Anatolia.

Period of the second palaces or Neopalatial period (Middle Minoan III  – Late Minoan I, c. 1700-1450 BC)

After the destruction and abandonment of some Protopalatial inhabited areas (the Mu Quarter, the Hypostyle Crypt, the Gamma Quarter, the ‘House of the Beach’ or Theta House, the Sanctuary of the Horns and the MM II sanctuary), it seems that the urban structure of the less extensive Neopalatial town was less organised than in the previous period. The image of a town in decline prevails, despite the construction of numerous buildings, including a new and majestic palace.
The palatial building that can be seen today dates from this period, during which it went through two major construction phases, above the first palace. Its area and groundplan, centred on the courtyard, are generally similar to those of the first. The central courtyard of the Malia palace is arranged in a specific way that is associated with religious ceremonies: in the centre a ditch is dug (perhaps for sacrifices), to the northwest a limestone ball with a single cupule is planted in the ground, and a carefully polished stone with cupules is set in the paving at the south of the courtyard. Two main entrances have been found, at the south and north of the building. They open to the west of the palace onto a large cobbled promenade, into which lead several urban streets. This promenade is bordered by the palace’s west wing, the most imposing. It is the only one with an exterior facade in cut stone with projections. This wing includes the ‘ceremonial quarter’, of which the centre is formed by a polythyron (a conventional architectural group consisting of a light well, a porch, a room with several bays and a portico), combined with a ‘lustral basin’. Some rooms were also used for administrative purposes, as is attested by the deposit of records consisting of bars and medallions inscribed in hieroglyphic writing and Linear A discovered under a floor. The several staircases that have been preserved point to the existence of at least one upper storey. Several living rooms have been restored and, in the north wing, a banqueting hall above the hypostyle room. The east wing of the palace is formed of storerooms in a remarkable state of preservation, which were built in the Protopalatial period. In addition to the aforementioned remains in the central courtyard that are thought to have played a role in worship, a small sanctuary has been discovered in the southwest wing. Finally, outside the palace is the ‘Building of the Silos’, composed of eight circular silos with a very large storage capacity.

The general aspect of the floorplan of the Malia palace conforms to a ‘model’ common to all the Minoan palaces, but most of the materials used to build it came from its immediate vicinity. The outside walls are generally constructed from hewn blocks of dune sandstone (ammouda), for which quarries can be seen on the Maliot coast. The internal walls are characterised by the use, on a larger scale than in the other palaces, of mud bricks and rubble mixed with an earth mortar. These walls as a whole were covered with a coating of which the thickness varied.
During the excavations no objects of great value comparable to those known for the preceding period have been linked with this phase. Conversely, right next to the northeast corner of the palace a remarkable stone (chlorite) triton has been discovered, decorated with a representation in sculpture of two Genii in a shell carrying a pitcher, in a richly decorated setting. The triton, with a hole pierced in the side of its tip, is an example of a stone rhyton (libation vase) of which the manufacture is attributed to LM IA.
Outside the palace, buildings that were isolated (near the bay of Haghia Varvara) or, more often, part of the urban fabric were built or refurbished at the beginning of the Neopalatial period. The best preserved are the large Epsilon building to the south of the town, and to the west of the palace the houses of the Delta Quarter that line a long paved road that comes from the palace. Some buildings (Epsilon and Delta Alpha) closely echo the palatial architecture and take from it certain types of rooms, like the light well linked with a portico and the ‘lustral basin’. The palace, as well as some districts, were probably destroyed at or after the end of LM IA. The majority of the town was deserted at the end of LM IB, like many other Cretan sites.
Finally, given that the littoral area where the necropolises are was abandoned at the end of the Protopalatial period, the tombs of MM III – LM I at Malia remain unknown.

Postpalatial period (Late Minoan II – IIIB, c. 1450-1200 BC)

It is to around 1450, at the beginning of LM II, that the arrival of the Mycenaeans on the island is generally dated. It was long thought that a Mycenaean invasion was the cause of a profound division, but today more attention is paid to internal developments. As a result, the term ‘Late Minoan III’ rather than ‘Mycenaean era’ is used.
At Malia, there is very little evidence from the beginning of this period (LM II – III A1, c. 1450-1375). The palace and some residential districts were abandoned. The slanted building in the palace’s north courtyard was probably built in this period, and traces of occupation have been found in several different places (Epsilon, Lambda, and Nu).
It was during LM III A2 – B (c. 1375-1200) in particular that more people occupied the site again. It is no longer thought today that ‘squatters’ lived in the ruins of the Neopalatial buildings. The excavations of the Nu Quarter have revealed a large building constructed at the beginning of this period. It is organised around a courtyard and has about thirty rooms. A room with a hearth in the centre (X, 22-23) prefigures later architectural designs. The materials found include large quantities of fine and everyday ceramics and a range of different bronze, bone and stone objects. Seals and stamps, as well as several vases inscribed with Linear B, have also been found. Other districts were occupied in this period (Epsilon, Lambda, and Gamma). The necropolises were still by the sea, but further west than before. Several chamber tombs containing sarcophagi (larnakes) have been excavated.

After 1200: end of the Bronze Age (Late Minoan III C, c. 1200-1050 BC) and the historical periods

After 1200, there was a general withdrawal to live on high ground on Crete. During this troubled time, sites such as Anavlochos (above Vrachasi) and Karphi (at the entrance to the Lasithi Peninsula) probably welcomed the inhabitants of Malia. In the following periods, no concentrated and continuous occupation is visible at the site: this allowed the preservation of the Minoan remains.

Around the site, the Geometric necropolis of the islet of Christ is noteworthy, which must have been linked with a small inhabited area in the vicinity. It was only in the imperial era that people came to live there in greater numbers, and this lasted until the end of antiquity. The marsh located to the west of the site harbours the ruins of an early Christian basilica, where an Attic sarcophagus with garlands from the imperial era has been discovered.

© EfA / Maia Pomadère and Julien Zurbach

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