Thomas Spratt – antiquarian traveller to Crete

LAST WEEK I introduced you to Robert Pashley who had been sent to investigate antiquities in Crete by Francis Beaufort in 1834. On Pashley’s return to England, Beaufort was worried how to replace him. On the 1st October 1834, he wrote to Richard Copeland, who commanded the ship, HMS Beacon, on which Pashley had travelled to Crete, saying:

“My endeavours to get a proper person to succeed Mr Pashley have not yet succeeded – but I trust that before Spring you will be joined with some one with equal zeal and learning – I do not believe it would be easy to find anyone who could exceed Mr P in these qualities.”

Well, he had to wait awhile (17 years in fact) but that replacement came in the guise of Thomas Able Brimage Spratt who was a Royal Naval hydrographer. In the introduction of his book, Travels and Researches in Crete (1865), he commented that he was there to survey but also to collect reliable information regarding ancient cities, many of which were yet undiscovered and this would be of importance to the island’s geography and topography. As with Pashley, I’m just going to reveal interesting correspondence and ancillary facts around his travels; if you want more, read my book Dawn of Discovery (or check one of my blogs in June which featured Spratt in Crete, ‘The island that tipped’).


 Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt RN (1811-1888)

Last week I made mention of one Lt Thomas Graves surveying in the Mediterranean (Beaufort had written to him about Pashley). Well, Graves’ midshipman on that trip was none other than Thomas Spratt. In fact, in 1836, Spratt was appointed to HMS Beacon, under Graves, the very same ship that Pashley had sailed to Crete on under Richard Copeland two years before (small world, eh?).

Spratt’s relationship with Francis Beaufort did not run smoothly at first as Spratt, when back in England, obviously failed to attend Beaufort with a report of Graves’ activities in the Mediterranean. Beaufort wrote to Graves (19th January 1848):

“Sir, I hoped that ‘ere this Spratt would have made an appearance in this room, and have furnished me with matter about which I should have to write to you – that not being the case I have only to express a hope that he will bring me a large harvest of your usually excellent work.”

However, he must have impressed Beaufort somewhere along the line as, in May 1851, he was sent to Malta and given command of his own ship, the paddle steamer HMS Spitfire, with instructions to continue Graves’ survey of Crete. Beaufort wrote to him confirming his daily (diem) pay (12th May 1851):

“With reference to the future survey pay of yourself and assistant surveyors, I hereby authorise you to draw on the Accountant General the undermentioned sums, to commence from the date of your arrival at Malta

Cmmdr TAB Spratt – 20s per diem   [£365 a year]

Lieut AL Mansell –  8/   – do –   [£146 a year]

Mr John Stokes – Master –  5/   – do –   [£91.25 a year]

GB Wilkinson – Mids –  5/    – do –   [£91.25 a year]”


HMS Spitfire in foreground in Crimea War 1854 (my thanks to Steve Thorp for this)

From Malta, on the 30th May 1851, Graves reported (without punctuation) Spratt’s arrival to Beaufort adding his disapproval of the Spitfire and general conditions (in a later letter Graves referred to the ship as HMS Spiteful):

“Spratt has arrived with his staff but as he has I know reported progress I will say nothing more about his establishment to whom I will give every assistance and information in my power than that his “Spitfire” is the worst miserable time out I ever beheld and that with all my love for hydrographical pursuits I am only too glad to be clear of and unconnected with the petty economy and annoyances surveyors are now subject to.”


‘Minoan’ seal-stones found by Spratt in Crete between 1851-3 – some 40 years before Arthur Evans found similar Cretan seal-stones in Athens which led him on his quest and discovery of ancient Minoan Crete

On 7th July 1851, Beaufort instructed to Spratt to proceed to Crete to search out antiquities, he reminded him to read Pashley’s book:

“I have no doubt you will rapidly go on – but not too rapidly to do full justice to your work. I am a great admirer of zealous & eager workman, but still more [admiration] of those who leave nothing for subsequent workman to glean … Do not forget all I said to you about variations on shore & on board – Pick up inscriptions and antiquities – Read Mr Pashley as you go along the coast …”

On the 4th December 1851, Beaufort wrote to Pashley sending him a copy of a letter from Spratt reporting on Crete and asked what Spratt should look out for on the island. Beaufort then wrote to Spratt on the 19th December, not really giving Pashley much time to respond, saying, “I sent your letter of Oct 15 to Mr Pashley who is I suppose out of town as he has not replied nor returned it [Spratt’s letter].” In the end Pashley did not reply until 20th May the following year which clearly upset Beaufort as he wrote to Spratt on the 8th June 1852, “I have just retrieved from Mr Pashley’s hand your letter of Oct but without any remarks wh[ich] could be of use to you or wh[ich] cd[could] alone to me for the wanton rudeness of not answering my note for 6 months …”. What Beaufort failed to mention to Spratt was that Pashley did say in his reply (to Beaufort, 20th May), albeit somewhat late, that his papers had been destroyed by fire in Inner Temple (Pashley was a barrister – remember?).

spratt map

Ancient sites visited by Spratt in Crete

Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to refer to what Spratt saw in Crete, but just one exception – mainly because I’ve mentioned it before (another blog in June ‘The Labyrinth of Crete’). Spratt visited the labyrinth near Gortyns in 1843, during his first trip to the island. We know this because in true schoolboy fashion he ‘graffitied’ his name on the cave wall.

graffitiSpratt’s graffiti in the labyrinth: T Spratt, HMS Beacon, 1843

On his second visit(1851) he went in search of what he actually believed might have been the ‘mythical’ labyrinth of King Minos. He looked to the ridge on the east side of the Makryteichos (Makriteikron/Makroteikho) village, over the rivulet of the Kairatos river just east of Knossos, and reported:

“… that [Makryteichos hills] is said by the natives to be the entrance to extensive catacombs, which, however, have become choked up by falling in of its sides, and cannot be explored … This entrance to the supposed Labyrinth or Catacombs of Gnossos has the same character as that of the entrance to the Labyrinth of Gortyna, excepting that the Gnossian excavations have been used as sepulchres, but whether originally or subsequently to Minos cannot be determined so as to identify it as the true Labyrinth, of which the tradition only existed for twenty-five centuries.”

It is not entirely clear what he was looking at but it is most likely the ‘labyrinthian’ tomb in the Mavro Spilio (black cave) cemetery, Tomb IX.


Tomb IX, Mavro Spilio cemetry

Spratt remained in Crete on the second visit from 1851 to summer of 1853 when he was recalled to take part in the Crimean War. He returned to Crete on HMS Medina to complete his investigations in July 1859.


Spratt’s drawing of the Hellenistic (4th century BC) bridge at Eleutherna, Crete


The bridge today (well, 2007) – the circular arch drawn by Spratt has been filled in (to the left) – the tree is still there and growing! (I put these pictures in as a matter of triumph because I set out to find this bridge in summer 2006 but didn’t succeed until summer 2007 – now, through much woodland, it’s a long way from anywhere and in the middle of nowhere)

Oh, just one more exception of what Spratt saw in Crete – the ‘bema’ at Phalasarna, on the west coast. Not quite sure what it is but it’s just outside the harbour area, so perhaps a guard post. Immediately below is a photo of what it looks like now; below that is Pashley’s drawing of it; and below that is Spratt’s drawing of it. I include these because Spratt’s comment of Pashley’s effort amuses me. He said, “‘Pashley’s drawing was not a true representation of what it was like”. Well, I’m no art critique but what do you think?


The bema (scale: about 1.5m high)


Pashley’s drawing of it

thrne 3

Spratt’s drawing of it ….. more of a true representation?!!

Finally, Sir Roderick Murchison, in an address to the Royal Geographical Society, said of Spratt’s book on his travels in Crete:

The Travels and Researches in the Island of Crete by Captain T.A.B. Spratt, RN., is a work which will rivet the attention and enrich the minds of various readers, whether they be antiquaries and scholars, or geographers and men of the sciences … for here we see produced by one of them [Royal Naval surveyors] a masterly illustration of the physical geography, geology, archaeology, natural history, and scenery of the diversified Island of Crete.”


Sir Roderick Murchison (1792-1871)


Postscript 1: I came across an article written in Lippincott’s Magazine in 1878 by E.S., an otherwise unnamed English naval officer, regarding his journey from Crete to Smyrna and Ephesus. It is not known whether Spratt had read this but he was certainly alive when it was written so it is possible. If he had it would have been interesting to have witnessed his reaction to the officer’s comment albeit of Roman Ephesus:

“It is rather a difficult thing to acknowledge, in face of the great ruins then about us, with all their associations, that the thought of our dinner was by this time uppermost in the minds of nearly all our company. I have generally found, however, in much journeying about this wicked world, the condescension and interest with which one looks upon ancient remains depends very much upon the company in which one finds one’s self, the state of the weather and the state of one’s stomach.”


Postscript 2: I received an email from a chap who had found my work on Spratt via the internet. He was over from Australia for a year and studying at Oxford University. I got in touch with him and we meet up in Oxford in November 2010. His name was Michael Spratt, great great grandson of Thomas. More recently Steve Thorp contacted me (also from Aus) and referred me to the above pic of the Spitfire and informed me that his ‘many greats grandfather’ was Spratt’s 1st Lieutenant in the Crimea (great stuff the internet!).


 Me and Michael Spratt (right)


Next week: Wolf Hall, Anne Bolelyn and all that

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I always remember my first day at my new office at the University. I sat there with absolutely nothing to occupy my time. There was a knock at my door. “Enter” I said, and I grabbed the telephone and began speaking into it to pretend to my visitor I was a busy and important man. As I spoke into the phone I beckoned the visitor to sit and he did so. I continued my conversational charade over the phone for a couple of minutes ‘discussing’ a fictitious oncoming project. When I had decided I had suitably impressed my visitor with this fake conversation, I put the telephone down, greeted him, and enquired as to the purpose of his visit.   He replied in a casual manner, “I’ve come to connect your phone.”


Robert Pashley – antiquarian traveller to Crete

ROBERT PASHLEY (1805-1859) was a barrister of Lincoln’s Inn and Inner Temple but became an intrepid traveller of Crete in 1834. This is not a ‘blow by blow’ account of his travels around the island (you can find that in my book Dawn of Discovery), but more of a look at how Pashley came to be there and the supporting correspondence.

In saying that, I would just mention that one of the most interesting places he encountered was the Melidoni (Melidhoni) cave wherein a room which he discovered was named after him (see pics further below). During the 1824 Revolution against the Turks, following a three month siege of the cave, some 250 unarmed villagers, including women and children, were suffocated when the entrance was sealed and fires, lit by the Turks, thrown in to the cave. It was not until Pashley visited the cave in 1834, did Manolis Kirmizakis, the only survivor of the events, inspect it and discover the bones of the martyrs. They were put in a large sarcophagus which is in the cave today and defines the independent Cretan character. Later finds in the cave gave evidence to its usage for worship by the ‘Minoans’ of Bronze Age Crete (2100-1600 BC – see my very last paragraph below).

I’ve not been able to find an image of Pashley but below could be a sketch of him from his own book, Travels in Crete (1837), most likely by his companion and illustrator, Antonio Schranz, but not acknowledged.

pashPossibly Pashley (on the right)

Despite the work of Richard Pococke (see last blog), prior to Pashley, Crete had no known ancient historical ancestry and the historian, Sir Moses Finley, said of Pashley:

“The first important breakthrough [in Crete] was made in 1834 by a young man from Trinity College, Cambridge, named Robert Pashley … he joined that remarkable constellation of nineteenth-century British explorers and archaeologists who were opening up vast new and exotic fields of inquiry … a modern expert could say of his seven-odd months work [in Crete] that Pashley identified most of the important sites with accuracy which had never before been attained and has in few cases since been challenged.”


Sir Moses Finley (1912-1986)

The Royal Naval hydrographer, Captain (later Rear Admiral) Francis Beaufort (of the ‘Beaufort Scale’) was keen to investigate the ancient antiquities of the Aegean and was fully supportive of any persons wishing to join a ship for the purpose of antiquarian research. It was Beaufort who proposed Pashley for such a venture in Crete.


Sir Francis Beaufort (1774-1857)

On the 18th July 1832, Beaufort wrote to Captain Richard Copeland of HMS Beacon, prior to the latter’s departure for a hydrographic survey of the eastern Mediterranean, enquiring:

“Would you like to have a classical traveller in the Beacon to hunt for antiquities while engaged on the coast of Asia Minor? I have no one in my eye nor do I know whether their Lordships [at the Admiralty] would permit it but before I ask them or enquire at the universities I wished to ascertain your candid opinion of the utility of the scheme, and still more your personal feeling about it.”

Copeland obviously agreed as Beaufort wrote to him again (26th July 1832), “I am much pleased that you approve of the idea of having a savant to accompany to you.” In fact Pashley was not Beaufort’s first choice as he added in his letter to Copeland, “… and I will take care that none but a 1st rate man, and gentleman, [be] sent out. There is somewhere in Italy the son of the Master of Trinity College Camb[ridge] who I understand would likely to jump at such an offer.”  The man he had in mind was the son of Christopher Wordsworth brother of the poet). It is not clear which son, John, Charles or Christopher Jr., he was thinking of but none of them did ‘jump at such an offer’. (As the letter was written in July 1832, Beaufort was most likely referring to Christopher Jr as he was in Greece between 1832-33, whereas John and Charles did not travel to Europe until 1833).


Christopher Wordsworth Jr (1807-1885)

Sir John Barrow, Second Secretary of the Admiralty, wrote to Pashley in December 1832 informing him that their Lordships of the Admiralty had approved him to investigate “the antiquities, the geology and the botany at the parts of the Coast of Asia Minor and Greece on which he [Copeland] may be employed surveying.” The Admiralty obviously got the idea that Pashley was a geologist or naturalist from Beaufort who was covering his options. Beaufort informed Copeland of Pashley’s appointment (17th December 1832):

“I have at last the great pleasure of introducing Mr Pashley to you – he is a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge – not only a distinguished scholar, but imbued with a proper zeal for antiquity hunting. That zeal will I am quite sure meet with every possible encouragement and assistance at your hands … and the important aid you will derive from the company of such a person on the interesting service in which you are engaged” (my italics – see next paragraph).

The ‘antiquity hunting’ is a clear reference to the intention of seeking antiquities. The ‘important aid’, as Beaufort told Pashley (17th December 1832), would be the “determining of the ancient names and places as may be included in his Survey.”  This was Beaufort’s excuse for the usefulness of Pashley’s attendance. The ‘interesting service’ is possibly a reference to Beaufort’s own frustration at failing to secure antiquities on his own visit to the Mediterranean as he commented to Pashley (17th December 1832), “… as I well recollect the provoking opportunities I lost on the coast of Asia Minor, and the feebleness of  my last efforts to rescue a few vestiges of ancient geography from oblivion.”

mel 1

Entrance to Melidoni cave when I was there in 2006 (pigeon on step gives an idea of scale….)

According to Beaufort, in a letter to Lt Thomas Graves (surveying in the Mediterranean) (also 17th December 1832), Copeland “welcomed a classical scholar Robert Pashley of Cambridge to help him identify ancient sites [in the Aegean].”


Plan of Melidoni cave (room discovered by Pashley on right [9] – now closed off)

Pashley set out on his extensive exploration of antiquities on the island of Crete with the aid of Captain Manias (a guide from Sfakia in the southwest of Crete), Antonio Schranz (an illustrator) and a mule. He was very enthusiastic about the early undiscovered history of Crete and shortly after his arrival on the island he wrote to Beaufort (15th February 1834):

“I believe we know but little indeed in England of the value and capabilities of this island. I must say a word of its history, which is so very interesting from the earliest dawn of Grecian civilization down to the present hour. You know how it is connected with many of the ancient theogonies & myths with the origin of laws, of the fine & useful arts, in fact with everything of any importance in the progress of society before the wars of Troy.”

However, his search for ancient cities was not an easy task and he remarked in his book (above), “Crete has been so little explored that it was necessary to enquire everywhere for ancient ruins.” He reported back to Beaufort on his findings of ancient sites with mixed feelings as he did not always find sites where he had anticipated them to be from references to his maps but was pleased with what he had seen (3rd April 1834):

“I have visited the sites of nearly twenty ancient cities, most of which I am sorry to say are either not placed at all or are placed entirely out of their proper places in all the maps I have seen. Many of the remains are extensive, most of them interesting, & some are very singular… I consider the two months I have spent here as more profitability employed as worth more in every point of view than all the rest of my eastern travels.”

mel 4

Drawing of Melidoni cave by Schranz from Pashley’s book

When he had completed his travels he was convinced that he had seen nearly all the cities of ancient Crete and informed Beaufort accordingly (9th October 1834), “… as for Crete, you will find … that I have visited most of the ancient sites.” That was quite correct as there were many more awaiting discovery.

mel 3

Melidoni cave (with the sarcophagus containing the bones of the 250 who died in 1824) 

Of Pashley’s venture, the historian Llewellyn Smith rather short-sightedly wrote in 1973, “A large part of his book is wasted in speculation about topography of the ancient Cretan cities: a fashionable game at the time, but exceedingly boring for the reader today.” No pleasing some people. Although he did add, “Skip the topography, for the rest is pure gold.”

pash map

Ancient sites visited by Pashley in Crete

As a final word on Pashley, in his work on Edward Lear in 1995, Peter Levi commented, “Crete was more or less unexcavated until Sir Arthur Evans’ dig at Knossos in 1900, though its innumerable ancient sites were charted by Pashley.” So Pashley had discovered Minoan Crete before Evans who happily received the credit for it – okay he did good work at Knossos.


Next week: I’m on a roll now – Thomas Spratt RN, another antiquarian traveller to Crete (if you have been paying attention you will have met Spratt before – a June blog, ‘Crete: the island that tipped’)

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My good friend and mentor, Idley Blanchwater, had farmed all his life and was a great amateur archaeologist. Now, at the age of 98, he was sadly departing from us. His son and I were at his bedside shortly before his demise. To make his last journey more comfortable his son tried giving him warm milk to drink. “It’s from one of your own cows, father,” his son said. But Idley refused it. With a wink, the son gave the glass to his father’s nurse and she took it to the kitchen and poured a generous amount of whisky into the warm milk and returned with it insisting Idley try a little. So persuaded, he took a sip – then drank the whole glass – and his eyes brightened.

His son took this as a good opportunity to ask him for some final words of wisdom before he passed away. Idley raised himself up in bed on one elbow, looked at his son and said,

“Don’t sell that cow.”


Richard Pococke – antiquarian traveller to Crete

IF YOU HAVE been reading my past bogs you will realize that one of my passions is Crete. I’m also interested in the early travellers to the island and what they found there before archaeological became ‘fashionable’ following Sir Arthur Evans’ excavations at Knossos in the early 1900s. Most of these early pioneers were either members of the clergy, the legal profession or the military,  maybe because they had nothing better to do (but let’s not go there). Anyway, I like to bring some of these fellows to the fore as I fear their names have been lost in the passages of time (see my books, In Search of Agamemnon and Dawn of Discovery on MY PUBLICATIONS on this blog – go on, buy one, you know you want to …..).

book 1                  book2

Click here                                                             Click here

One such traveller was Richard Pococke. He was a member of the clergy and he visited Crete in 1739. Archaeology was not ‘something’ one did in the 18th century but Pococke was in search of ancient cities. He was, perhaps, the first British/Irish travel to the island to consider the existence of an ancient civilization. I was looking to see if he had found anything of the Bronze Age – then not a term used – before Arthur Evans’ great discoveries.

 pococke 2Richard Pococke (1704-1765)

There have been certain interesting views of Pococke. He was believed to be a man of “mild manners and primitive simplicity … In his carriage and deportment he seemed to have contracted something of the Arab character [see pic below], yet there was no austerity in his silence, and though his air was solemn, his temper was serene” (Cumberland, from Kemp, 1887, Tours in Scotland, 1747, 1750, 1760, Edinburgh University Press).

In 1761, a Mrs Delaney described Pococke as “the dullest man that ever travelled …” (Quane, 1950, ‘Pococke School, Kilkenny’ Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland). This may have been because he had no time for small talk or tittle-tattle at her tea parties (‘woman scorned’ …..). Whatever her view, Pococke was certainly not dull with regard to his travels. Kemp, the 19th century biographer of Pococke’s tour of Scotland (above), reported that “His [Pococke’s] contemporary, Bishop Forbes, has preserved a pen-picture of Dr Pococke … and represents him rather as a pleasant, genial, jocular man, able to adapt himself to every circumstance and society – qualities essential to travel.”

pococke 1

Pococke in his ‘Arab’ attire

On arriving in Khania (Canea) on the northwest coast of Crete he called upon the “only English house on the island” – that of the English Consul General. With the Consul and the Bishop of Kisamos, he set off to see the sites on the western part of the island. His first encounter with the ancients was on Cape Spada at Dictynnaeon but the first ancient remains seen by him at Magnia were small and of marble, possibly of the Dictynnaeon Temple mentioned by Strabo (Geography, 10.12).

 pococke 8Ancient sites visited by Pococke in Crete

Pococke found a ruined city at Aptera (Palicastro), some five miles from the port of Kisamos. He wrote to his mother on 29th September 1739 about Palicastro:

“Came near to the sea west of Cape Spada … and went south west about 4 miles to Palaio Castro, the old ruined city of Aptera on a high hill, at the foot of which, the muses and the sirens had a trial of musick & the sirens being vanquished lost their wings. We viewed the Antiquities.”

This reference to the ‘trial by musick’ relates to the mythological tale of the victory of the Muses over the Sirens following a musical contest which took place at the city and after which the Sirens plucked off their feathers in sorrow and threw themselves into the sea – Aptera is Greek for ‘Featherless’. The antiquities he viewed included a very antique bas relief (a sepulchral monument) which he purchased.


Bas relief procured by Pococke (1 ft, 9 ins in length, 13 ins wide)

At Artacina, or Rocca, he saw the remains of some rooms which, he said, “the people say belong to the ancient Greeks, and they have some fables relating to it of a giant whom they call Ienes.” Unfortunately his lack of description does not help identify these rooms in any manner.

Pococke left Khania and headed eastward to Retimo (Rethyminon) in order to “make a tour round the island” although he was not to achieve this intention. He then headed south east to Matala where he came across some ruins of Castro Matala and cut into the rocks semicircular niches “hollowed in like graves, and a stone laid over them” but gave no indication of date of the site. He then observed, “In searching for Lebena further to the west, I found a place which I thought to be of greater consequence … that is the fair havens, near unto the city of Lasea; for there is a small bay about two leagues east of Matala, which is now called … Fair Havens.” This is confusing as Lasea (Lisia) is about 6 miles south east of where Matala is today and Lebena is the same distance east of Lasea. He was misplacing these sites – putting Lasea (‘Fair Havens’) where Lebena is today and Matala where Lasea is and Lebena where Matala is now situated (get it? ……. never mind).

 Fair Havens

Fair Havens

At Gortyns (not on the above map but just north of Lasea – 6 on map), Pococke was aware of its early origins, referring to Homer’s mention of it as a walled city (Iliad 2.646) and that “the walls were afterwards destroyed”. Indeed, there are no Bronze Age walls remaining at the city, although it does date back to this period (having been inhabited without interruption since 4000 BC). He described several ruins which would have been most likely Roman, including a theatre.  He did mention the ‘labyrinth’ (see blog in June) but believed it to be “nothing more than a quarry, out of which Gortynia was built … and they might choose to hollow out such a large grotto, rather than work this quarry in the common way, that their families might retire to it on any invasion, and secure their riches.”

 labrnth gortyns

Gortyns labyrinth/quarry

At Knossos, Pococke came upon what he thought was the ancient city and observed that it was the place of the labyrinth of King Minos and “In the time of Minos, Amniso was used as its (Knossos) harbour.” Certainly this reference to Amniso(s) as port of Minos perhaps supports the idea that he believed in – and recognized – an early civilization. He did then go on to describe some ruins that he saw, including several large arches which he described as platforms for seats of a theatre.

Not far from Knossos, to the south, is Mount Iouktas (Joukta), the supposed burial place of Zeus. It is not clear whether Pococke actually visited the top of the mountain – probably not as he talked of what the modern Greeks said was up there (a temple and tomb) rather than what he saw for himself, “They relate (my italics) that there was a temple dedicated to him [Zeus] on this hill …”. Turning north he headed for Candia (Herakleion), but other than assuming it may have also been a port to Knossos, he made no ancient discoveries around the town.


Cyclopean remains on Mount Iouktas – what Pococke missed!

He did ascend the Idaian Mountains (Mount Ida), the site where Zeus was said to have grown up, hiding from his father, Cronos, but Pococke was not impressed.  He made a mere reference to a small rough grotto on the north side of the mountain but the cave that was later to reveal many Bronze Age Minoan artifacts was not a ‘small grotto’ (see pic below).


The cave of Mount Ida

On his return to Khania he announced, “Having seen everything that was curious, I returned to Canea [Khania].” This was to be proven not the case by the likes of Robert Pashley (1830s), Thomas Spratt (1850s) and Sir Arthur Evans (1900s) – much more was to be discovered.

pck map

Pococke’s map of Crete, 1745


Next week: Whilst on the subject of antiquarian travellers to Crete, let me introduce you to Robert Pashley, barrister.

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

A crazy place America. I spent some time living and excavating on a farm in Arizona. One day a DEA (Drugs Enforcement Administration) officer called in on me and said, “I need to inspect your farm for illegally grown drugs.” I said, “Okay, but do not go in that field over there,” and pointed out the location.

The DEA verbally exploded and said, “Mister, that’s exactly where I’m gonna start. Reaching into his rear trouser pocket, he removed his badge and proudly displayed it to me.  “See this badge?  This badge means I’m with the Federal Government and I am allowed to go wherever I wish . . . . on any land.  No questions asked or answers given.  Have I made myself clear?  Do you understand?”

I nodded politely, apologized, and went about my business.

A short time later, I heard loud screams and saw the DEA officer running for his life chased by my big Santa Gertrudis bull.  With every step the bull was gaining ground on the officer, and it seemed likely that he would be gored before he reached safety. I threw down my tools, ran to the fence and yelled at the top of my lungs . . . . .

 “Your badge, show him your badge!”


Linear B decipherment: credit where credit is due

LINEAR B is an ancient Greek language used by the Mycenaeans from mainland ‘Greece’ in the 2nd millennium BC. Although it was found at Knossos in Crete it is not a Minoan language (‘Minoan’ is Sir Arthur Evans’ name for ancient Cretans). Linear A is most likely Minoan but we do not know what that language is. The reason so much Linear B has been found at Knossos is because the Mycenaeans took over there around 1450BC. The clay tablets inscribed with Linear B have survived because, although originally sun dried, they were hardened, and so preserved, by the fire that destroyed Knossos (and also Pylos on mainland Greece).

Linear B

Linear B is a combination of pictogram and linear signs. The former were relatively easy to identify (well, some of them). Alice Kober (see below) was able to interpret male from female animals.




 Pictograms – using the bottom one (sheep, etc) and the numbers’ code below, see if you can decipher some of the Co 903 Linear B tablet below (answer at the end)


Linear B tablet Co 903 from Knossos (1450 BC)


Sir Arthur Evans excavated at Knossos from 1900 and discovered three different types of ‘writing’. He called them hieroglyphics (engraved pictures on sealstones), Linear A and Linear B. Linear A was limited in number so undecipherable but Evans had some 2000 Linear B tablets from Knossos and he was determined to decipher them himself but to no avail. Unfortunately, in his determination to be the first to discover the language he refused to allowed anyone else to see the tablets (other than a small number – see below) during his life-time.

Painting of Arthur Evans (from the Ashmolean Museum)

On the 1st July 1952, Michael Ventris (an architect), after years of study, announced on the radio that he had deciphered Linear B as ancient Greek. There is no doubt that Ventris was a genius but he would not have made his discovery so soon had it not been for the America classicist, Alice Kober. She had been privately working on Linear B since the beginning of the 1930s and was also a bit of genius herself. As with Ventris, she was good at learning languages and, whilst holding down a full-time job as a teacher at Brooklyn College, she learnt ancient Hittite, Old Irish, Akkadian, Tocharian, Sumerian, Old Persian, Basque, Chinese and Sanskrit. She felt she needed these languages to prepare herself for the study of Linear B. She also taught herself braille so she could teach classics to the blind.


Michael Ventris

Her main problem was the lack of tablets she had available to her to study. She only had about 200 – around 150 of which Evans had published and another 38 which Johannes Sundwall had published, without permission, having seen them at a museum in Crete – much to Evans’ annoyance. On Evans death in 1941, Kober had a breakthrough – Evans’s executor, Sir John Myers, allowed her to see Evans’s drawings of all his Linear B finds. She visited the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford where they were kept and had 6 weeks to copy as many as she could.


Alice Kober 

Not long afterwards, the American archaeologist, Carl Blegen, unearthed many more Linear B tablets at Pylos on the west of mainland Greece. Kober wrote to him to ask if she could see them but he declined. At this time she was working with Emmett L. Bennett Jnr. It was Bennett who worked out that there were 89 syllabic signs to Linear B – this repertoire of signs was crucial to both Kober’s and Ventris’ work.


Emmett L. Bennett Jnr.

Kober worked on a card system database and end up with some 180,000 cards plus around 40 notebooks. Perhaps her main contribution was the vastly important discovery that Linear B made use of inflection. This means it has a different ending to the word depending on gender and/or declension – like Greek and Latin (remember amo, amas, amat … at school?). She discovered this by finding a group of three different endings to the same beginning of a word – Ventris called it her ‘triplets’. She then drew up a grid showing the relationships among the characteristics in the abstract – a phonetic pattern of consonants and vowels (which signs shared a consonant and which signs shared a vowel). Syllabic patterns were beginning to emerge. Sadly she died, probably of cancer (she was a heavy smoker), in May 1950 at the age of 43, before she was able to conclude her work. This was left to Ventris.


Kober’s ‘triplets’ – first two characters are the same  but with different underlined endings: inflection

It was this grid and knowledge that Linear B was inflected that Ventris worked from and realised that the endings were not grammatical but derivational (extending the size of words – e.g. just add ing on to an English word). He decided that Kober’s triplets might be place names and this led him to identify words such as the town of Amnisos (a-mi-ni-so) and from here the derivation fitted in: a-mi-ni-si-jo  meaning  ‘men of Amnissos’. The same then applied to Knossos (ko-no-so) and so forth. Simples! Linear B was Greek. He had cracked it!


However, in finally deciphering the language he gave Kober little credit for it on his first radio broadcast and only occasionally mentioned her involvement thereafter.

Even after his announcement Ventris was still in doubt, as were some academics. It wasn’t until Blegen came across 400 more tablets at Pylos in the Summer of 1952 that Ventris’ theory was confirmed and the sceptics faded. After studying the tablets in Spring 1953, Blegen obligingly sent his report to Ventris and one tablet in particular, the ‘tripod’ tablet, ta 641, stood out (see picture below). This tablet, using Ventris’ decipherment, contained the words ti-ri-po-de and ti-ri-po (dark and light blue rectangles on picture below) meaning, in Greek, two tripods and tripod respectively, with a picture of a tripod associated with each ‘sentence’ further along the tablet (red squares on picture below) [1].   On the line below, using Ventris’ decipherment, were the words di-pa  me-zo-e  qe-to-ro-we (green rectangle) meaning, in Greek, large four-handle goblet  and next to that a picture of a large four-handle goblet (yellow square); then the words  di-pa  me-zo-e  ti-ri-we-e (brown rectangle) meaning large three-handle goblet with a picture of a large three-handle goblet next to it (purple square). It all fitted!


Linear B ‘tripod’ tablet Ta 641: top line, in dark blue rectangle, ti-ri-po-de (two tripods), light blue rectangle ti-ri-po (tripod), in red squares a tripod with the number of them next (vertical dash);  middle line, in green rectangle, di-pa  me-zo-e  qe-to-ro-we (large four-handle goblet), in yellow square a large four-handle goblet; in brown rectangle,  di-pa  me-zo-e  ti-ri-we-e (large three-handle goblet), and in purple square a large three-handle goblet

Ventiris first set eyes on Linear B when he was aged 14. Some of the tablets were on display at Burlington House in London and he was visiting with his school group from Stowe. Evans was there and told Ventris and his chums that it had not yet been deciphered. From that day Ventris was determined to have a go at it. It had been his ‘life-time’ ambition, but now, in 1952, having done it, he was at a loss as to what to do next. He wasn’t interested in the language itself, just cracking its ‘codes’. He returned to architecture but soon lost interest and suffered depression. Then, in September 1956, aged 34, he crashed his car and was killed. Some speculate it was suicide (his mother had depression and committed suicide), others put it down to a tragic accident. We’ll never know.

So, when we talk about Linear B decipherment, Michael Ventris’ name always comes to the fore. Although credit must go to him for finally breaking the ‘code’, some credit must go to Emmett L. Bennett Jnr and a great deal of credit must also go to Alice Kober. So there you go.



[1] The full reading of the left-hand tripod in the picture is: ti-ri-po-de  a(i)-ke-u  ke-re-si-jo  we-ke  II (2)  meaning ‘two tripods cauldrons of “Cretan” workmanship’ The full reading of the right-hand tripos is: ti-ri-po  e-me  po-de  o-wo-we I (1)  meaning ‘one tripod cauldron of “Cretan” workmanship’.


Further info:

On Ventris, see YouTube video A Very English Genius – 7 parts; Click here for Part 1  (see Part 4 for Bennett and Kober)

Reading: A good book on Evans’, Kober’s and Ventris’ contributions to Linear B is Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth, Profile Books, 2014; on Linear B see John Chadwick’s Reading Linear B and related scripts, The British Museum Press, 2001 (Chadwick was a great help to Ventris after his announcement that he had deciphered the script).


Next week: Back to Hollywood and fact or fiction – Spartacus


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

Dr Quentin St John Balacava appeared late for our meeting. He said:

“My dear Artemus, profound apologies old boy, but I just could not find a parking space. Got one eventually. I Looked up to heaven and said, ‘Lord take pity on me.  If you find me a parking place I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of my life and give up Whisky.’ Miraculously, a parking place appeared. So I looked up again and said, ‘Never mind Lord, I found one.”’

Art Smth

Ill Met by Moonlight: Hollywood fact or fiction?

IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN IT, Ill met by moonlight was a film about the kidnapping of a German General from Crete in 1944. And, yes, yes, we established last week that this film wasn’t made by Hollywood – but it’s all part of the ‘series’!


Film fact

The idea was to kidnap the German General, Freidrich-Wilhelm Müller, who was a particularly nasty commander of the German forces in Crete. He was responsible for hundreds of Cretan civilian reprisal executions and the razing of villages to the ground. He was known as the ‘Butcher of Crete’. The leader of the kidnappers was a British major, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and his side-kick was Capt. William (Billy) Stanley Moss (who wrote the book of the film of the same name – and probably has the T-shirt [1]). However, by the time the plan had been organised, Muller had been replaced by General Heinrich Kreipe. It’s probably just as well because, due to Muller’s nastiness, he would most likely have been killed by the Cretans long before Fermor & Co got anywhere near to getting him off the island.


Müller, he was tried for war crimes after the war and executed by firing squad in Athens on 20th May 1947 – the anniversary of the German invasion of Crete – nice touch

It all began on the 26th April 1944. Kreipe was being driven from his headquarters in Archanes to Villa Ariadne (previously Sir Arthur Evans’ villa) at Knossos where he stayed. It was 9.30 at night. Fermor and Moss were dressed in German corporals’ uniforms and waved the car down. The driver was hauled out and hit on the head by Moss, whilst Femor pulled Kreipe from the front seat. By now the remainder of the kidnapping force of Cretans had appeared. Three of them jumped into the back seat with Kreipe wedged between and one of them had a knife to his throat to keep him quiet.


Kreipe – not so nasty general

In the film, whilst planning the kidnapping, one of the Cretan look-outs was adamant that the car carrying Kreipe was a Mercedes; in fact in 1944, it was an Opel, but I suppose the public hadn’t heard much of that make of car at that time – but everyone knew Mercedes!


Moss (left) and Fermor dressed as German corporals (film fiction: Leigh Fermor did not kill two Germans in the dentist’s surgery and take their uniforms)

Four of the Cretans set off on foot with the dazed driver, Alfred Fenske, and they were to meet up with the others at Anoyeia. The fate of the driver was not mentioned in the film but he never made it to the meeting place. He was killed because he was too much trouble – not the ‘done thing’ for a British film in the 1950s.


 Map of the kidnapping on the road from Archanes to Knossos

Fermor & Co, with Moss driving (Billy not Stirling …… sorry), set off in the car to Heraklion, passing some twenty-two check points. Each time Fermor just shouted out the window, “General’s car” (but in German of course, otherwise it would have been a bit of a give-away) and pointed to the General’s pennant on the wing of the car. On the coast road to Anoyeai, at Yeni Gave (now Drosia), they piled out of the car and headed into the hills on foot. All except Fermor and one Cretan, George. They took the car past Heliana and left it prominently in the middle of the road with a note in it saying that this kidnapping was carried out by a British commando unit and had nothing to do with the Cretans. The idea was to prevent reprisals, but it didn’t work [2]


Major Patrick Leigh Fermor

The party then went up to Mount Ida, mid-Crete. It was during this trip that Kreipe awoke one morning and looked at the sun shining on the mountain and muttered to himself in Latin, “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte …” [3]. Fermor recognised it as one of the few Odes of Horace that he knew and continued the quotation in Latin [4].  The two of them had a bonding.


Capt. William Stanley Moss

The plan was to come due south from Mount Ida and pick up the boat on the beach but it transpired that the beach in question was swarming with Germans. Fermor had asked the BBC to announce that the kidnappers had got Kreipe off the island and were on their way to Cairo. That way the Germans would think they had left Crete so no point in searching for them. Unfortunately, as in most plans, incompetence creeps in/communications fail and  the radio message announced that General Kreipe had been captured and “is being taken off the island”. This told the Germans that he was still there so searches continued in earnest!

The rendezvous was then changed to Peristeres beach near Rhodakino. In the film, at the end, Kreipe tries to bribe a young Cretan boy, Niko, to go to the Germans who are guarding the Peristeres beach: in the first place there were no Germans on that beach; in the second place, Kreipe only spoke German and French which none of the Cretans could understand. So that didn’t happen. What was true was that the signal to the boat was to be SB in morse code and neither Fermor nor Moss knew morse code (well both knew S for SOS but neither knew B!). How could you make such a blunder after all the plans!! The man who came to their rescue, in the film Sandy (Rendel), was, in real life, Dennis Ciclitiras (credit where credit is due). Kreipe was taken off the island on 14th May, 18 days after his capture, and sailed to Cairo.


Leigh Fermor saying goodbye to Kreipe in Cairo

Kreipe was rather overwhelmed by the help and support, with guides, food, blankets and anything else needed, given everywhere they went by the Cretan islanders. In his book, The Cretan Runner, George Psychoundakis says that Kreipe remarked, “I am beginning to wonder who is occupying the island – us or the English.”

Kreipe was sent as a POW to Canada (near Calgary) and later transferred to Wales (Island Farm near Bridgend), then finally, Shugborough Park in Staffordshire. He was repatriated to Germany in October 1947 and died in Hanover in 1976, aged 81. In 1972, he attended a televised reunion with Fermor and some of his Cretan kidnappers (sadly Moss had died in 1965) [5]. When asked if he had any hard feelings he said no, otherwise he wouldn’t be on the show. Good loser! Click here for the TV show.

kreipe-fermor-later 1976 reunion – Fermor centre right, Kreipe right of him


[1] See also Patrick Leigh Fermor’s own recent book on the action, Abducting a General, John Murray, 2014.

[2] At first there were no reprisals as the new Commander, General Brauer, disliked Kreipe and seemed to consider the kidnapping somewhat amusing. However, when Müller returned to take Brauer’s place, it was a different story. The German reprisals included the burning of Cretan villages in the Amari valley, killing over 450 people. This was half (if not wholly) expected (despite Fermor’s note left in the car) and some considered the venture not worth the deaths that resulted. Others have suggested that there were other reasons for these reprisals which is why the Germans took so long to carry them out (the kidnapping took place in May, reprisals were in August). It has to be said that it had neither tactical nor strategic value, just good propaganda. Hmmmm …. I still have my doubts that it was ever a good idea bearing in mind the reprisals that would obviously follow.  I was recently told by a colleague of mine that a friend of his who knew Fermor was told by Fermor (who was living in Greece) that he (Fermor) could never go back to Crete because the German reprisals for capturing the general there had sparked a traditional blood feud against him as the indirect author of villagers’ deaths.


[3]  Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte
Do you not see how [Mount] Soracte is shining …

[4]  nec jam sustineant onus
Silvae laborantes, geluque
Flumina constiterint acuto

beneath a heavy covering of snow, and how
The laboring trees can no longer hold up their burden,
And how the rivers are frozen by the sharp cold?

[5] Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor OBE, DSO, was knighted in 2004 and died in 2011 aged 96.


Next week:  Let’s go back to the previous war ….. ‘K’ for Klot class submarines – a look at the disastrous K class WWI subs.


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I recently discovered the unrobbed tomb of the 3rd century BC Macedonian ruler, Philipidus Windsoros (sometimes known as Phil the Greek). He had around him the usual treasures to show off his power and wealth in life.  There was one interesting gold casket inscribed ‘due debtos’ (due debts) and containing four clay pots.  Clearly, dignitaries who had owed Philipidus money were happy to honour these debts on his death. In the first pot there were 30 gold coins and a note on papyrus I translated as stating that this was the sum owed to Philipidus and unpaid at his death – now settled, signed Leodinos of Sparta.  The second pot had 50 gold coins and a similar note signed Xernes of Persia.  The third pot, 70 gold coins and a similar note signed Konon of Thebes.  The fourth pot contained a similar note signed by Joseph of Israel, but no coins.  Instead another piece of papyrus was sown to it with the words ‘150 gold talents’ written on it, and signed by Joseph of Israel ……… It was a cheque.

Art Smth

John Pendlebury (in Crete)

SO, WHO WAS John Devitt Stringfellow Pendlebury? He  was a bit of a character. He was born in 1904 and started off life – well, from the age of two – with only one eye, having lost the other in an accident, the cause of which was never established for sure. He was quite an athlete, gaining an athletic blue at Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1926/7. He completed for selection in the 1924 Olympics, the setting for the film, Chariots of Fire. He was also an academic, gaining a  Second and a First for Parts I and II respectively of the Classics Tripos at Pembroke.

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John Devitt Stringfellow Pendlebury

He went to school at Winchester College and, whilst on a school trip to Mycenae (in Greece – you remember) in 1923, he became interested in archaeology. After leaving university in 1923, he worked at the British School at Athens studying Egyptian artefacts found in Greece ( he couldn’t make up his mind whether to study Egyptian or Greek archaeology so he combined them both!). At the school, he met Hilda White, his wife-to-be (she was 13 years his senior).

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Pendlebury in 1928

He first visited Knossos (Crete – keep up) in 1928 and his initial reaction was that Arthur Evans’ restorations had spoiled the place (you’ll have to back several blogs for that). After that he went, with Hilda, on his first excavation at an ancient Macedonian site at Salonica under Walter Heurtley (Alexander the Great was Macedonian, but you knew that). Pendlebury married Hilda shortly afterwards.

Evans had been impressed with what he had heard of Pendlebury and, in 1929, offered him the curatorship of Knossos on the retirement (forced due to illness) of the then present curator, Duncan MacKenzie. The job began in Spring 1930 but the place was in a bit of a mess when he took over – buildings in disrepair, animals grazing amongst the ruins and the site littered with rubbish from visiting dignitaries (it wasn’t open to the public yet). Pendlebury put in a great deal of work reorganising the place as well as refurbishing the Taverna (accommodation building not a bar) where Hilda and he resided. The Taverna is next to Villa Ariadne where Evans lived. The curator still lives at the Taverna today but it’s also now used for students.


The Taverna – student quarters (Sarah studying hard, I think she’s reading ‘How to make raki’!)

Later in 1930, Pendlebury was offered directorship of the Tel el-Armana excavations in Egypt. This he could not turn down and was able to carry out this task along with the curatorship at Knossos (climate differences meant excavating in Egypt in winter and Knossos in spring). He continued at Armana until 1936 (click here for great video of him at Armana).

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Pendlebury in Armana wearing ancient Egyptian necklace

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‘Discussions’ at Armana (Pendlebury 2nd from left)

Back in Knossos (1932) he had the arduous task of recording some 2000 sherds with the help of Hilda and two other ‘up-and-coming’ female archaeologists, Edith Eccles and Mercy Money-Coutts. In 1933, he produced his Knossos guide book, A Handbook to the Palace of Minos at Knossos, and was now seeing Evans’ reasons for the restorations – he put in the preface of his guide book, “Without restoration the Palace would be a meaningless heap of ruins, the more so because the gypsum stone, of which most of the paving slabs as well as the column-bases and door-jambs are made, melts like sugar under the action of rain, and would eventually disappear completely.”  So that’s the answer to the critics who are still anti-Evans-restorations. But we won’t go there. Anyway, he continued as curator at Knossos until 1934 but spent some time travelling the island as a freelance archaeologist researching for his very comprehensive book on the whole (then known) archaeology of Crete published in 1939. Then came the war. 

pendlebury          pen 5

with finds from Armana                                                Pendlebury pretending to be a local worker at Armana  

Pendlebury returned to England to convince the authorities that Crete was a strategic position and had to be defended. He offered his services to return to the island to prepare for a German invasion. In May 1940, he was sent back supposedly as British vice-consul at Heraklion (then still known as Candia) but the title was just a cover and – as with Lawrence of Arabia – he was a spy! He began planning and liaising with the local Cretan clan chiefs ready for the anticipated invasion which duly came on 20th May 1941.

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Pendlebury in Cretan costume                          In Crete in 1939    

Patrick Leigh Fermor, was also ‘stationed’ in Crete (he was the leader of the kidnapping of the German general, Heinrich Kreipe, from the island – see ‘next week’) and he said of Pendlebury, “I was enormously impressed by that splendid figure, with a rifle slung like a Cretan mountaineer’s, a cartridge belt round his middle, and armed with a leather-covered swordstick.” Pendlebury was based in Heraklion and if ever he left his office for a short time, he would leave his false eye on his desk to let people know he wouldn’t be long!

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In the streets of Stavrochori, Crete

The Germans parachutists took a bit of a hammering on the first day of the invasion. They were somewhat surprised at the Cretan and British (and New Zealand and Australian) defence. On the second day, 21st May, Stukas were bombing the island and parachutists still coming in. Pendlebury had left Heraklion, then got out of his car and approached an area where German parachutists were coming in. He was then wounded in the chest, whether by a parachutist or Stuka machine gun fire is not known. He was taken by German parachutists to the house of his friend, George Droussoulaki (who was fighting elsewhere and was killed later that day). George’s wife, Aristea, reported that Pendlebury had his wounds attended to by a German doctor and, in the evening, was attended again by a German doctor and given an injection. He was told by the doctor he would be collected the next day and taken to a hospital. The next day a different group of German soldiers appeared and dragged him out of the house, propped him up  against the wall and shot him.

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German parachutists in Crete

Why he was shot is not clear. It may have been that the Germans knew who he was and decided this the best cause of action. Or they thought he was spy being British but dressed as a local Cretan (well, I suppose he was). Or they were just especially evil. He was initially buried where he had been killed but because it became a shrine to the Cretan Resistance it was moved by the Germans to the Rethymnon road where they could keep an eye on it. He was later  reburied in the British war cemetery at Souda Bay (on the west of the island). One wonders what he may have achieved had he survived and (a) continued as a Resistance leader during the war and (b) as an archaeologist after the conflict. A great loss of a great man.

Pendlebury first Burial Site                    Souda Bay War Cemetary_0048

Memorial, 1947, Hilda left of cross                        Final rest: British war cemetery, Souda Bay

The only book I know that has been written about JP is Imogen Grundon’s A Rash Adventurer: A Life of John Pendlebury, Libri, 2007.  It’s a good read.


The Germans lost around 3700 elite parachutists (plus some 1600 wounded) in the first four days of the invasion of Crete. That was more German soldiers killed than in the whole war up to that date. They never attempted another parachute invasion of anywhere again.

Next week: Let’s stay in Crete but back to films – Ill Met by Moonlight: ‘Hollywood’ fact or fiction? – okay, a British, not a Hollywood, film, but let’s not nitpick – the tale of the kidnapping of General Kreipe from Crete in 1944.

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My dear friend Randolph Bollinger-Smythe died last week of a heart attack whilst excavating in the Himalayas. He was 89.

He lived by the dictum that moderate drinkers live longer – and it damn well served them right!

In fact, many thought the demon drink would get him first. Whisky and water became his all-day daily diet. I gave him a bit of a hard time about it and he agreed to cut his drink by half –“I’ll leave out the water, old boy”

Art Smth


Crete: the island that tipped



Thomas Spratt

CAPTAIN THOMAS ABLE BRIMAGE SPRATT RN (you’ll know of him by now if you have been paying attention), in 1851, visited Crete for surveying purposes which involved an archaeological exploration of the island. One of his interesting discoveries was the way in which relative levels of land and sea had changed over the island in historic times.  Following a meeting with the geologist, Sir Charles Lyell, he wrote to him to clarify a point about the island’s movement:

“Dear Sir Charles, Fearing you may be impressed with the idea that the eastern end of Crete had gone down as much as the west. I am induced to write a line to rectify it, if so; and to state that movements in the eastern half of the island have neither been as great nor apparently as uniform as the western movement. Both are subsequent to the historic period and the evidences are in both instances indicated by the elevation or partial submergences of some ancient Greek building or city.”

The letter was written on the on the 28th of February 1856, which was a Thursday. The two must have met the previous evening because the following day Spratt wrote again to Lyell confirming the situation, perhaps as an afterthought:

“My dear Sir Charles, You understood me quite right on Wednesday evening in respect to the fact that the western half of Crete having been elevated, and the eastern half depressed or gone down a few feet.”

The submergence of the east coast can be seen today at the Minoan palace site of Kato Zakros – part of it is underwater even in mid-summer (pic below).


Kato Zakros (eastern Crete) flooded store rooms in July

However, the movements were not restricted just to the east and west tips of the island. Spratt observed that there was a maximum elevation of nearly 26 feet occurring on the south coast at the base of the White Mountains to the west of Sphakia, 17 feet to the extreme west of the island and declining to 6 or 7 feet along the north coast to Suda Bay.  He added that “all the ancient cities included in this line of coast have been affected by the elevation by the conversion of their ancient ports into dry land.”

At first, for some reason, he found this puzzling, not thinking until a little later, that the elevation must have “occurred subsequent to the existence of these cites” (all in the letter, Spratt to Lyell, letter, 29th February 1856)

map crete


Spratt had discovered this movement when searching for evidence of the ancient port of Kutri at Phalasarna on the western end of Crete.  He noticed possible ancient activity, some distance from the sea and wrote to his friend (a seasoned traveller of the Greek mainland), William Leake:

“On going to Phalasarna I looked for its ancient port, mentioned by Scylax … but I could find no artificial work in the sea. There is however, a long ledge of rocks, or rather an islet which lies off it, helping to form a natural but not an artificial harbour. This satisfied me in part, till, on examining the ruins, I saw in the plain a square place enclosed by walls and towers, more massive and solid than those of the city … I was instantly impressed, for several, reasons, that here was the ancient port or artificial port, although full 200 yards from the sea and nearly 20 feet above it. My first idea was, that the ancients had a means of hauling their vessels into it as a dry dock; but at last the coast elevation was uncumbered(sic?) and on measuring the sea mark at its upper level here I found that the bed of this anc[ient] port is now 3 or 4 ft below that level.” (letter Spratt to Leake, letter, 18th September 1853).

Then Spratt recalled a visit to the island of Cerigotto (Antikythera) where he had noticed an elevation of coastland and it occurred to him that the same may have taken place on Crete. He then measured the sea-marks at Phalasarna which convinced him that it had – the new sea marks were three feet below the old marks (plan below). This justified his theory that the inland “quadrangular space enclosed by the unusually massive Hellenic [Hellenistic] walls upon the plain in front of the chapel of Aghios Giorgis” was, indeed, the port.


Spratt’s plan of the Phalasarna harbour with pre-5th century AD and 19th century AD sea levels

In his above letter to Leake, he originally dated this movement of the island to a date prior to history (that will be prior to Greek writing of 776 BC). but was unsure, suspecting a more recent date due to a possible change in the markings on the landscape – concluding with a period “subsequent therefore to the decline of the Roman Empire [5th century AD]”.  In his journal he dated it to the late Roman period. Indeed, the tectonic displacement has been dated to the 5th century AD.


View to coast from the now ‘inland’ harbour at Phalasarna today

Crete being in an earthquake zone it is hardly surprising that it has moved about somewhat over the centuries, much to the initial confusion of earlier ‘investigators’ such as Spratt. But he was made of sterner stuff and was admirably able to resolve the inconsistencies before him.


Next week: Lets’s go to Mycenae

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

Whilst travelling in Greece, I was invited to play cricket for the British School [of Archaeology] at Athens. My very good friend, Sir Mortimer Double-Dealer (a rival sportsman) needed to contact me and he telephoned the clubhouse where I was playing. He was told that I had just gone in to bat. “That’s all right,” he replied, ”I’ll hang on.”



The Labyrinth of Crete

IN THE LAST BLOG I looked at the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur and the Labyrinth of Crete. If there was such a Labyrinth, where could it have been?  Its mythical position was Knossos and the finding of many basement rooms at the site by Sir Arthur Evans appeared to have been its origin. However, there is a collection of ‘underground’ passages or caves similar to a labyrinth cut into a hill near Gortyns in the Messara, south of Mount Ida, mid-Crete. This has been a ‘tourist spot’ for several centuries but up until relatively recently (pre-20th century). The labyrinth and its association with a maze held fast during the ancient Greek world and the earliest pictorial example of a maze appears on the reverse of a Linear B tablet (remember linear B? see a prev. blog) from 15th century BC Pylos, presumably a doodle by an idle scribe since the drawing has nothing to do with the list on the reverse (see pic below).


Linear B tablet with labyrinth ‘doodle’

Several non-British individuals have visited the ‘caves’, including Buondelmonti (1415), Belon (1585), Tournefort (1700), Bonneval and Dumas (1783), Sieber (1817). They have all pondered on its use, the favourite being a quarry, although Tournefort considered there was no evidence for a quarry. Some have made plans of its intricate passages but all were different.

 British visitors

In 1596, Fynes Moryson visited the labyrinth and shortly afterwards, in 1611, George Sandys was there. He believed it was a quarry supplying stone for both Knossos and Gortyns.


The entrance to the Gortyn’s labyrinth – in the ground by the tree – not that you will ever find it (the hillside that is)

At the beginning of the 17th century, the Scot William Lithgow (1582-c.1654) saw the entrance into ‘the labyrinth of Daedalus’ in the foothills of Mount Ida but did not venture into the cavern: “… I would gladly have better viewed, but because we had no candle-light we durst not enter, for there are many hollow places within it. So that if a man stumble or fall he can hardly be rescued.”


Thomas Waldman going into the SE ‘entrance’ of the labyrinth at Gortyns – he has a smile on his face because he knows I am to follow …

So what was this mass of passages at Gortyns actually built for? The most likely purpose was a quarry. But there have been other suggestions. Thomas Spratt (1843/51) speculated that it was more likely use was that of a prison for the youths of Athens as tributes for the death of Minos’ son. They would be detained and cultivated as teachers of Minos’ law to the inhabitants of Crete rather than food for the Minotaur (but he didn’t say when). He concluded that the myth had developed from that aspect of fact.


inside the Gortyns’ labyrinth – rather unstable roof!

At the end of the 19th century both Charles Edwardes and R.A.H. Bickford-Smith believed the labyrinth to be both a quarry and prison. Around the same time, Charles Cockerell dismissed it as a mine due to its insufficient mineral in the walls, but concluded that “this wonderful excavation was as a secure storehouse for corn and valuables from attack of robbers in the day of Minos.” In true Thesian style he said he “brought a quantity of string for a clue, which we rolled on two long sticks, then lit torches and went in.” He was quite descriptive of the interior:

“At first one enters a vestibule out of which lead several openings. Two of the three, perhaps four, dark entrances are blocked up, but one remains open. This we followed, and for three mortal hours and more we groped about among intricate passages and in spacious halls. The windings bewildered us at once, and my compass being broken I was quite ignorant as to where I was. The clearly intentional intricacy and apparently endless number of galleries impressed me with a sense of horror and fascination I cannot decide. Every few steps one rested, and had to turn to right or left, sometimes to choose one of three or four roads. What if one should lose the clue [the string]!”

Its date is uncertain although most likely to be of Roman origin which would put pay to any ideas that it was the labyrinth of King Minos (who, if he did exist, would have been in the Bronze Age c3000-1250 BC). For dating and use purposes it may be interesting to compare the structure with the Beer Quarry Caves in East Devon which date back to the Roman period in Britain (click here)

lab map

Thomas Waldman’s plan of the labyrinth (see link below)

The cave structure is some 2.5 km in length and certainly of ‘labyrinthian’ style (see plan above). The southwest entrance was used by the previously mentioned travellers. However, during the last war, the Germans abandoned this and made the southeast entrance but it is now rather more of a pot-hole (3rd pic above). This entrance area was used for ammunition storage and, on their departure, the Germans blew it up, destabilizing the whole of the underground structure (my guide, Thomas, did not tell me this until we were inside the cave structure!). Shortly afterwards the Greek army built a tunnel into this entrance and removed some of remaining ammunition. Some shells were left and are still there today (see pic below), as are the labyrithian tunnels themselves (2nd pic above).


 ammunition shells scattered in the labyrinth – not very safe!

Recent activity

The cave was explored by the Speleological Exploring Group in 1982, and then the Hellenic Speleological Society, led by Anna Petrohilou, in 1984.  In 1999 the Cretan department of the Hellenic Speleological Society recorded all the signatures on the walls of the cave. In 2004, following a major investigation of the underground structure at Gortyns, Yiorgios Patroudakis prudently commented:

“From ancient times until now, many guessed and argued the position of the labyrinth, but none ever proved his/her theory. The labyrinth of Gortyne became the biggest tourist scene for 600 years, exactly because it was assumed that it was the ‘true’ labyrinth. Furthermore, from our knowledge, a clue to prove that this was the labyrinth never appeared. However, a clue to prove the opposite never arose either.”



SW entrance isn’t much better

Certainly the most comprehensive and more recent investigations of the site have been by Thomas M. Waldmann – to whom I owe eternal thanks for showing me around the site in 2010. It has now been closed to the public due to its dangers (but you won’t find it anyway!). However, if you are interested in more information on it, see Thomas’ very extensive findings and photos click here.


Next week: Crete: the island that tipped

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

Today I gave a talk at my club, the ‘Wig & Trowel’, regarding my truly remarkable discovery in respect of the actual existence of Adam and possibly Eve.  I came across an inscription on clay tablet of a conversation between Adam and God, which I have translated as follows:

 ‘And the Lord did approach Adam and sayeth: “I’ll give you woman, and she will attend to your every need.”

“That sounds fantastic, God, what’s the catch?” sayeth Adam in response.

“Well, she will be expensive,” replieth God unto Adam, “she will cost you an arm and a leg,”

“Hmmm,” Adam did think and replieth unto God, “What have you got for a rib?”





Myth and the Minoans

King Minos and the Minotaur

THOMAS ABEL BRIMAGE SPRATT RN (see first blog on Crete) said of Crete, “A charming land without legend, some may feel, is like a bird of bright plumes without song.” Legend or myth would be used to explain the unexplainable but it might be said that anthropologists would now consider that myth holds some information relating to fact. To some extent such recognition owes its credence to the likes of Heinrich Schliemann with his discovery/publication of Troy and Mycenae (more on these later) giving a ‘ring of truth’ to the Homeric poems (on the Trojan War), and Sir Arthur Evans for the discovery/publication of the ‘Minoan civilization of King Minos’.

So was it King Minos who colonized Crete and built up a supreme navy (Minoan thalassocracy), clearing the Aegean of pirates? Well, we have no evidence to say he did, but we have no evidence to say that he didn’t. As the tale goes, he built a labyrinth (although labrys, in Greek, means double-axe, and labyinthos is house of the double-axe) and deposited in it the Minotaur. This creature had the head of a bull and the body of a man and was the off-spring of Minos’ wife’s dalliance with a bull (don’t ask). Minos’ wife was Pasiphae and a bit of a ….. well, lets leave it there. Each year seven girls and seven boys, on reaching maturity, were sent from Athens to Minos as ‘blood tributes’ (for the death of King Minos’ son, Androgeos, killed in Athens during the games) and they were thrown into the labyrinth to be savaged by the Minotaur. Seems a bit severe if you ask me. You get the impression that Minos was not the sort of bloke you argued with. Minoan Mafia.

labrnth gortyns

The ‘labyrinth’ at Gortyns in Crete (more on this next week)

Theseus, son of Aegeus (the King of Athens) volunteered to be one such sacrificial offering. But when he arrived, Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with him (as girls do in myths), gave him a sword and some string to tie to the entrance to find his way out of the labyrinth. He duly slayed the Minotaur and escaped with Ariadne. And everyone lived happily ever after. Well, not quite.


Theseus killing the Minotaur (6th century BC pottery)

Daedalus, the architect who built the labyrinth and had given Ariadne the idea of the string, was in trouble with Minos. So he (Daedalus), and his son, Icarus (or Ikarus if you want to be Greek about it), escaped by making wings of feathers stuck together with wax. Unfortunately, contrary to his father advice, Icarus flew to close to the sun; his wax melted and he fell to his death. No surprises there. Daedalus did get away but Minos pursued him. He found him by setting a task for whoever he visited, believing only Daedalus would resolve it. He produced a shell and challenged anyone to work out how to get a spider through the middle of it. On arriving at Kamikos in Sicily, where Daedalus was hiding, the shell was given to the architect, who threaded a piece of cotton through a hole in the centre of the shell and covered it in honey – off went the spider through the hole. Oops, Daedalus had given himself away and must be doooooomed. But no. The daughters of the King Kokalos favoured Daedalus and his tricks and so killed Minos by pouring boiling water over him whilst he was in his bath. Nasty (‘don’t mess with the female of the species’ comes to mind). Then everyone lived happily ever after. Well, not quite.


no need to translate – you get the idea

Theseus sailed home to Athens but unceremoniously dumped Ariadne off at Naxos, an island just north of Crete. There’s gratitude for you. She overcame her grief and took up with the god, Dionysus (some tales say she was already married to him before meeting Theseus but that would be naughty). On approaching Athens Theseus forgot to change his sail from black to white – the sign to his father, King Aegeus, that he had lived. His father, seeing the black sail, assumed his son had died and threw himself off a cliff into the Aegean Sea (hence its name, clever, huh?). There is a moral here somewhere (probably ‘don’t mess with the female of the species’). Then everyone lived happily ever after. Well, if by ‘everyone’ we mean Theseus as he was the only one left, the answer is no, he was later thrown off a cliff in Skyros by Lycomedes. Ho hum.

So there you have it. Or not.


Next week: The real ‘labyrinth’ of Crete

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I recall as a student I had again failed to complete my tutorial topic for discussion. I thought that maybe if I acted strangely my tutor would send me home. So I hung upside down on the ceiling. On this occasion, there were two of us in the tutorial and my colleague, Edward, asked me what I was doing? I told him that I was pretending to be a light bulb so that the tutor would think I was losing my mind due to working too hard and suggest I go home for a rest.

A few minutes later the tutor came into the room and asked, “What are you doing Smith?”

I told him I was a light bulb.

He said, “You’re working too hard – go home and rest.”

I jumped down and walked out of the room suitably relieved.

When Edward followed me, I heard our tutor ask him, “And where are you going?”

He replied, “I can’t stay here in the dark.”




Bronze Age Crete: the Minoans

Chronology of Bronze Age Crete (3000-1450 BC)

UNLIKE the Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Hittites, the Cretans of the second millennium BC left little written history. What they did leave were inscriptions on clay which have become known as Linear A and Linear B. Linear A is as yet undeciphered, but probably developed from Cretan hieroglyphics (c.1900-1600 BC) and is possibly a form of the Cretan/Minoan language, from which Linear B most likely evolved. Linear B was deciphered by Michael Ventris in 1952 as an early form of ancient Greek and of Mycenaean origin (Mycenae is on the mainland of Greece) rather than Minoan. It does not help a great deal with the historical background of Crete as it is administrative by nature but it does give an insight into the island’s commercial activities. Sort of annual accounts. Okay, better than nothing. But it can lead to some ambiguous (well, unproven) conclusions on Minoan life. But it’s fun to guess.

image001                              linear-B

Minoan Linear A                                                                           Mycenaean (Greek) Linear B

We’re not sure what the ancient Cretans were called in the Bronze Age, although it appears they may have been known as the ‘Kleftiu’ by the Egyptians. ‘Minoan’ Crete was a name given to the ancient islanders by Sir Arthur Evans simply based on the myth of their ancestor and founder, King Minos (more on him next week). Evans said, “To this early civilization of Crete as a whole I have proposed – and the suggestion has been generally adopted by the archaeologists of this and other countries – to apply the name ‘Minoan’.” In fact, he wasn’t the first to come up with the name but we won’t go there.


Arthur Evans at Knossos (painting from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford – the museum is well worth a visit for a ‘taste’ of the Minoan world)

It was Evans who first used the pottery styles found at Knossos to divide the Minoan civilization into three phases: Early, Middle and Late Minoan (EM, MM, LM respectively). The phases run nearly parallel to the tripartite division of Egyptian history into Old, Middle and New Kingdoms from 3000-1100BC. This does make it simpler ….. honest.

The basic tripartite scheme was further subdivided, based on pottery styles and stratigraphy, such that each of the three periods contained three or more divisions (EM I, II, III). These were then further subdivided into units indicated by letters of the alphabet (for example, LM IB). As additional excavations and studies have been undertaken this system has come under criticism for being too inflexible and partly inaccurate. But we won’t dwell on this.


Sir Arthur Evans immortalized at Knossos (and rightly so)

Chronology identity was not all Arthur Evans did. He made some groundbreaking discoveries on the Minoan civilization as a result of his excavations at the ‘palace’ site of Knossos, funded by his own wealth. However, he proceeded to reconstruct the palace using his own imagination of how it may have looked. This was partly for his own interest and partly for conservation purposes. This has proven somewhat controversial as, of course, it may be inaccurate. Also it has restricted further excavations at the site. But there are those who like it as it gives the site some perspective. You can make your own mind on that if you have been there or ever go there. Compare it with the non-reconstructed sites of Malia and Phaistos. Anyway, I digress.

Emergence of ‘palaces’

The Middle Minoan (MM) civilization has become known as a highly developed hierarchical society culminating in ‘palace’ buildings. But how did this come about? What must first be considered is what is meant by the word ‘palace’ in relation to the Middle and Late Minoan periods of Crete. A modern-day understanding of the word is a large and impressive residential building for a wealthy royal family. Minoan ‘palaces’ were certainly large and for the wealthy, but not necessarily for royalty, as it is not known who lived in them other than that they must have had some authority. They may have been Priests – or Priestesses – or Priest Kings if the ‘palaces’ were of a religious nature (they appear to have been involved in cult practices).  However, for convenience sake these Minoan buildings will be referred to as ‘palaces’ as their architectural design warrants the word. So there. The main palace sites (in descending order of size) were Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Kato Zakros. Also, recent discoveries at Galatas, and possible Petras, indicate smaller palatial residences. Of course, there are possibly more, as yet, undiscovered.


Minoan ‘palace’ sites on Crete

The old palaces of the proto-palatial period (c.1900-1700/1650BC) may have incorporated nearly all the basic features and infra-structures of the new palaces of the neo-palatial period (1700/1650-1450BC). These ‘features’ being a central court, west court, storage magazines, residential quarters, banquet hall, public/administrative apartments, cult rooms, theatral area and workshops. It is difficult to be certain due to the destruction of most the old palaces to make way for the new. Little of the old sites remain in evidence other than the foundation to the west façade of Phaistos, as here the new palace was not built immediately above it. After the destruction of the old palaces the neo-palatial sites, particularly at Knossos, Phaistos and Malia, were all enlarged with grander and more imposing styles.

The building of palaces required large surpluses of wealth, and it is this emergence of wealth that must account for the emergence of palaces. ‘Wealth’ may be defined as possession of goods for their desirability and not for their usefulness. For example, gold is desirable but not always of great use compared with practical or domestic items of bronze or ceramics. Okay, it’s otherwise known as ‘greed’.


North entrance to the ‘palace’ of Knossos … er, well, not exactly 3000 years old, but about 100 years old as this was the reconstruction by Sir Arthur Evans – so it may not have look anything like this (useful, huh?)

But how was this wealth obtained? When land no longer becomes readily available to all due to an increase in population, inequalities develop and those with no land become labourers. This leads to the possibility of the beginning of a hierarchy. As time goes on, specific individuals who are able to best exploit the ‘inequalities’ become the elite. These elite ‘families’ then compete within themselves for power and one way to exercise power is to display wealth by way of hospitality through dinner parties or gift-giving (xenia). So the elite needed investment and this leads to a revolution in agricultural products, centralization, movement of surplus, redistribution, rapid population growth and a more organized/controlled settlement. Otherwise known as ‘power’. You know the feeling …..


Here’s the throne room at Knossos, created …… er, 100 years ago by Arthur Evans

throne rm

Here’s the 3000 year old throne room at Knossos as Evans found it 100 years ago (1900 actually) – the throne and benches were there but that’s about it

Initially farmers only needed to grow only enough to keep the immediate family alive from year to year which may assume some surplus to ensure survival. Also the family produced domestic goods such as pots and utensils for their own use and essential to their own needs. This would extend to less domesticated luxury goods. As farms increased in size, both in acreage and population, so too did the community, and distribution of excess produce and luxury goods led to wealth. Yummy.


The possible ‘throne room’ (or area as ‘el fresco’) at Malia from the central court – this is something like Knossos may have looked like if Evans hadn’t reconstructed some of it (ignore the object centre/right foreground – it’s a cannon ball but Venetian, not Minoan!)

Due to its position in the Mediterranean, Crete would have had some contact with overseas travellers from the surrounding continents, Asia, Africa and Europe, and there is evidence of trade connections with these regions. There must be a close link between social and commercial progress: trade in various products with other countries brought in new ideas which led to more trade, both within Crete and outside, which led to an increase in wealth for the traders. The finding of sealstones (mostly by Evans) on some sites indicated movement and identification of goods, which required development of administration in a land becoming more organized (Linear A – pay attention: see above). Such development would require employment of labourers and craftsmen to keep up with the volume of demand. Larger houses would have been built to accommodate the wealthy. Get it?


The palace site of Phaistos (central court in far background) – also without Arthur Evans reconstructions

Destruction and coming of the Mycenaeans

It is not known for certain what caused the demise of the Minoan civilization. One suggestion was a tsunami from the Theran volcanic eruption but the dating doesn’t match; another is earthquake but the island has survived those before. All that is known is that around 1450BC a disaster struck the island of Crete and its civilization came to an end and the Mycenaeans from the Argolid of the eastern Peloponnese on mainland ‘Greece’ appeared to have taken control of Knossos (possibly taking advantage of earthquake-weakened Minoan defences). Whether the Mycenaeans were a part of this destruction is not clear but they may well have been covetous of the Minoan wealth and trade links. Makes sense.


Earthquake damage at the small palace site of Galatas

The Mycenaeans remained in Knossos for around 200 years before another unknown disaster brought an end to the island’s civilized world. But more on the Mycenaeans another day.

For more info on various Minoan sites in Crete click here


Next week: The Minoans and mythology


I see that the Plantagenet Alliance has had the same result as Richard III did at Bosworth – failure. At the Judicial Review hearing the High Court decided that it was not necessary for consultation with ‘other parties’ about the reburial of Dick’s bones. One of the judges, Lord Justice Ouseley, remarked: “Richard III would have raised an eyebrow if he’d been told there would be public consultation on his reburial 500 years on. Kings of that era weren’t democrats.”  Humour from a judge? … or cynicism for the whole lengthy process … or just stating a fact?. So Leicester Cathedral it is. A 15th century-style gold-plated crown has even been commissioned by the historian, Dr John Ashdown-Hill, for the funeral ceremony. Nice touch but merely ‘gold-plated’? – it is hardly befitting a monarch! Anyway, it is/was being displayed in York just to show its connection has not been forgotten before going ‘on tour’ around the UK.


Richard III’s gold-plated funeral Crown

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I met my good friend Jasper Rochweiller yesterday and he said to me:

“I say Artemus, old boy, close shave the other day. My good lady sent me out to purchase a bag of fresh snails from our local delicatessen. She was determined to expand our culinary delights. Well, I bought the bag of snails but on the way back I meet some of my students who insisted I went for drink with them. Rude to say no and one, of course, lead to another, and so it went on for over two hours. Got back home a little worse for wear. As I put my key in the door the bottom fell out of the bag containing the snails – it had been sitting on a beer covered table and got rather wet – and all the snails fell to the ground. At the very same time the good lady opened a window and asked me in no uncertain manner where the devil I had been all this time.

Ignoring her, I looked down at the snails on the ground and said in very loud voice, “Nearly home boys.””