Ancient Axos in Crete
Ancient Axos in Crete

The archaeological site of Axos:

  • Construction Period: Axos was inhabited from the Neolithic period (7000-3000 BC) through the Roman period.
  • Location: Axos is located on the island of Crete, in the Mylopotamos region, on the northern slopes of Mount Idi (Psiloritis).
  • Dimensions: The ancient city had a considerable perimeter, it’s noted that Ptolemy Philopator built a wall around the city that extended for 80 stadia*
    *Stadia: A “stadion” (plural “stadia”) was a Greek unit of length, roughly equivalent to 185 meters (or about 607 feet). It was based on the length of a typical athletic stadium in ancient Greece. So 80 Stadia Wall: When Ptolemy Philopator built a wall around Axos that extended for 80 stadia, this means the wall had a total length of approximately 14.8 kilometers (or about 9.2 miles).
  • Historical Significance: Axos was one of the most important cities in ancient Crete. It had its own currency and was a member of the Cretan “Koinon” (a kind of confederation of Cretan cities). The city was known for its strong walls and acropolis. It was also the birthplace of the philosopher Myson, one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Axos had its own laws and political system, and it was an active participant in the Cretan “Koinon.” The city was also known for its sanctuary of the Diktaean Zeus.
  • Current Status: Today, only a few ruins of the ancient city remain. Some of the most important artifacts found at the site, such as statues of Marcus Aurelius and Trajan, are housed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.

The Venetian traveler Franciscas Barotti was the first to visit Axos in 1557 AD and published one of the approximately 60 inscriptions that survive today. In more recent times, Pashley (1834), Spratt (1851-53), and Thenon (1857) were the first to discover its ancient ruins, providing information about it and sparking the interest of all the others who later studied it, such as Hassoulier (1879), Halbett, Desaqetis (1899, 1900), Tarammelli, and others.

From Herodotus’ time to the present day, the name of the village is found in written texts, inscriptions, and coins in various forms, all of which, however, are based on “Axos,” the name that the village retains today.

The form “Oaxos” is first provided by Herodotus from the 5th century BC: “There is Oaxos of Crete, where Etearchos became king” and below: “for Themiston, the Theran merchant, was in Oaxos.” The same form is preserved later, in chronological order, by Xenion, Herodianos, and the lexicographer Stephanos Byzantios. The latter, who also preserves the form Axos, notes: “Oaxos, a city of Crete, not far from Eleutherna, according to Xenion, from Oaxos, son of Akakalida, daughter of Minos.” The same form is also found in various inscriptions, such as in Athens, Delphi, Delos, Miletos, and Tegea.

The form “Oaxis” is given by Apollonius of Rhodes and the Latin authors Servius, in a commentary on Virgil’s Bucolica where he refers to Varro and notes “Oaxes, (retae, a quo civitas Oaxia)” (Oaxes, a river of Crete, from which the city of Oaxia), and Vilius Sequester.

The form “Oaxios” is found in Hierocles, while the forms Favyos and Fayion are found from the beginning of the 3rd century BC a) in inscriptions, such as in Delphi (along with the form Oaxos) in Axos’ response to a letter from the Aetolians, in early 3rd century BC Gortyn (Crete) of the same period and of Axos itself and b) in coins of the city.

Finally, the form “Axos” appears epigraphically in Delphi, Miletos, and Karthaia, a city of Kea (Tzia), in the 3rd century BC in Orchomenos, early 1st century BC, in Gortyn of Crete, in a treaty with Eumenes, in the 1st century BC, and in coins of Axos itself, of the 1st century BC, for the first time.

Prehistoric period
Minoan period
Dark ages
Classical period
Hellenistic period
Roman period
Paved Road

The site is next to the modern settlement of Axos.

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