Minos was the great king of Ancient Crete, which was the center of the Greek world before Athens. He reigned during the time now known as the Minoan Civilization, and Greek mythology describes him as a son of Zeus, reckless and angry. He had created The Great Labyrinth to imprison his son, The Minotaur, and became one of the three judges of Hades.
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Who Was King Minos?
King Minos was a historical figure from ancient Crete, although much of his life and reign have been intertwined with mythology and legends over time. According to historical records and archaeological evidence, King Minos was a ruler of the Minoan civilization, which flourished on the island of Crete during the Bronze Age.
The Minoan civilization was one of the earliest advanced civilizations in Europe and had a significant impact on the Aegean region. The capital city of Crete during King Minos’ reign was Knossos, an important cultural and economic center.
While King Minos was a historical figure, the stories surrounding his life have been embellished and transformed into mythology over time. He is best know today for the myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth.
Who Were King Minos’ Parents?
According to Greek mythology, Minos was one of the sons of the Greek god Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods, and the Phoenician princess, Europa. When Zeus became enamored with the beautiful woman, much to the chagrin of his lawful wife, Hera, he turned himself into a beautiful bull. When she hopped onto the bull’s back, he drove himself into the sea and took her to the island of Crete.
Once there he gave her many presents made by the gods, and she became his consort. Zeus recreated the bull in the stars, forming the constellation Taurus.
Europa became the first queen of Crete. Her son, Minos, would become King soon after.
What is the Etymology of the Name Minos?
According to many sources, the name Minos may simply mean “King” in the ancient Cretan language. The name Minos appears on pottery and murals that were created before the rise of ancient Greece, without any attempt to make clear that it refers to royalty.
Some modern authors claim that Minos may be a name that grew out of astronomical myth, as his wife and lineage are often connected to sun gods or gods of the stars.
Where Did Minos Rule?
While likely not the son of a Greek god, it appears that there really was a Minos in ancient history. This leader of Crete appeared to rule an empire that existed before Greece, and his life only became a myth after the fall of his city.
Minos, King of Crete, ruled from a great palace at Knossos, the remains of which still exist today. The palace at Knossos was said to be built sometime before 2000 BCE, and the surrounding city has been estimated to have a population of up to one hundred thousand citizens.
Knossos was a large city on the northern coast of Crete with two large ports, hundreds of temples, and an opulent throne room. While no excavation has uncovered the famous “Labyrinth of The Minotaur,” archeologists are making new discoveries today.
Tools found near the site of Knossos have shown that humans have been on the island of Crete for over 130 thousand years. The large, mountainous island at the mouth of the Aegean Sea has been the site of important ports for millennia and even played a major role in World War Two.
What Was the Minoan Civilization?
The Minoan Civilization was a period of time during the Bronze Age, in which Crete became one of the most important centers of the world in both trade and politics. It ran from 3500 to 1100 BC before being taken over by the Greek Empire. The Minoan Empire is considered the first advanced civilization in Europe.
The term “Minoan” was given to the civilization by archeologist Arthur Evans. In the year 1900, Evans began excavations of a hill in Northern Crete, quickly uncovering the lost palace of Knossos. For the next thirty years, his work formed the cornerstone of all research into ancient history at the time.
Minoan Civilization was highly advanced. Four-story buildings were common in Knossos and the city had a well-developed aqueduct and plumbing systems. Pottery and art recovered from Knossos contain intricate details not seen in older works, while the city’s role in politics and education is reflected in the discovery of tablets and devices such as the Phaistos Disc.
During the 15th century BC, a giant volcanic explosion ripped apart the island of Thera. The resulting destruction was said to cause the destruction of Knossos, marking the beginning of the end of the Minoan period. While Crete rebuilt itself, Knossos was no longer the center of the ancient world.
Is the Minotaur the Son of Minos?
The Minotaur’s creation was a direct consequence of the arrogance of King Minos and how he offended the sea god Poseidon. While technically not the child of Minos, the king felt responsible for him the same as any son.
Poseidon was an important god to the people of Crete, and to be recognized as their king, Minos knew he had to make a great sacrifice. Poseidon created a great white bull from the sea and sent it to be sacrificed by the king. However, Minos wanted to keep the beautiful bull for himself. Switching it out for a normal animal, he made the false sacrifice.
How Pasiphae, Queen of Crete, Fell in Love With a Bull
Pasiphae was the daughter of the sun god Helios and sister of Circe. A witch, and daughter of a Titan, she was powerful in her own right. However, she was still only mortal and susceptible to the anger of the gods.
According to Diodorus Siculus, Poseidon caused the queen, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the white bull. Obsessed with it, the queen called upon the great inventor Daedalus, to build a wooden bull she could hide in so that she might have sex with Poseidon’s animal.
Pasiphae fell pregnant from her dalliance and eventually gave birth to the great monster Asterius. Half man, half-bull, he was the Minotaur.
Scared of this new monster, Minos charged Daedalus to create a complex maze, or labyrinth, with which to trap Asterius. To keep the secret of the Minotaur, and to further punish the inventor for his part in the creation, King Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus alongside the monster.
Why Did Minos Have People Sacrificed in the Labyrinth?
One of Minos’ most famous children was his son, Androgeus. Androgeus was a great warrior and sportsman and would often attend the games in Athens. As revenge for his death, Minos insisted on the sacrifice of young Athenians every seven years.
Androngeus may well have been as powerful and skilled as Heracles or Theseus, despite being purely mortal. Each year he would travel to Athens to compete in the games held to worship the gods. At one such game, Androngeus was said to have won every single sport he entered.
According to Pseudo-Apollodorus, King Aegeus asked the great warrior to kill the mythological “Marathon Bull” and Minos’ son died in the attempt. But in the myths of Plutarch and other sources, it is said that Aegeus simply had the child killed.
However his son died, and Minos believed it was at the hands of the people of Athens. He planned to wage war on the city, but the great Oracle of Delphi suggested an offering made instead.
Every seven years, Athens was to send “seven boys and seven girls, unarmed, to be served as food to the Minotaur.”
How Did Theseus Kill the Minotaur?
Many Greek and Roman historians record the story of Theseus and his travels, including Ovid, Virgil, and Plutarch. All agree that Theseus was able to avoid getting lost in the Great Labyrinth thanks to a gift from Minos’ daughter; a thread he had been given by Ariadne, the daughter of Minos.
Theseus, the great hero of many Greek myths, was resting in Athens after one of his many great adventures when he heard of the tributes ordered by King Minos. It was the seventh year, and the youths were being chosen by lottery. Theseus, thinking this was terribly unfair, volunteered to be one of the people sent over to Minos, announcing that he intended to end the sacrifices once and for all.
Upon arriving in Crete, Theseus met Minos and his daughter Ariadne. It was a tradition that the youths were treated well until they were forced into the Labyrinth to face the Minotaur. During this time, Ariadne fell in love with the great hero and decided to rebel against her father to keep Theseus alive. She did not know that the hideous monster was actually her half-brother, as Minos had kept this a secret from all but Daedalus.
In the “Heroides” of Ovid, the story goes that Ariadne gave Theseus a long spool of thread. He tied one end to the entrance of the Labyrinth and by following it back whenever he reached a dead end, he was able to make his way deep inside. There he killed the Minotaur with a “knotted club” before following the thread back out once more.
Upon escaping the labyrinth, Theseus gathered up the remaining youths as well as Ariadne, and escaped the island of Crete. Sadly, however, he soon betrayed the young woman, abandoning her on the island of Naxos.
In the poem, Ovid records the lamentations of Ariadne:
“O, that Androgeos were still alive, and that thou, O Cecropian land [Athens], hadst not been made to atone for thy impious deeds with the doom of thy children! And would that thy upraised right hand, O Theseus, had not slain with knotty club him that was man in part, and in part bull; and I had not given thee the thread to show the way of thy return–thread oft caught up again and passed through the hands led on by it. I marvel not–ah, no!–if victory was thine, and the monster smote with his length the Cretan earth. His horn could not have pierced that iron heart of thine.”
How Did Minos Die?
Minos did not blame Theseus for the death of his monstrous son but instead became enraged at the discovery that, during this time, Daedalus had also escaped. During his journeys to find the clever inventor, he was betrayed and killed.
After the famous events in which Icarus died from flying too close to the sun, Daedalus knew he had to hide if he was to escape the wrath of Minos. He decided to travel to Sicily, where he was protected by King Cocalus. In return for his protection, he worked hard. While protected, Daedalus built the Acropolis of Camicus, an artificial lake, and hot baths that were said to have healing properties.
Minos knew Daedalus would need the protection of a king to survive and was determined to hunt down and punish the inventor. So he developed a clever plan.
Traveling across the world, Minos approached each new king with a riddle. He had a small nautilus shell and a piece of string. Whichever king could thread the string through the shell without breaking it would have great riches offered up by the great and wealthy Minos. Many kings tried, and they all failed.
King Cocalus, when hearing of the riddle, knew his clever little inventor would be able to solve it. Neglecting to tell the source of the puzzle, he asked Daedalus for a solution, which he immediately offered.
“Tie an ant to one end of the string, and put some food on the other side of the shell,” the inventor said. “It will follow through easily.”
And it did! Just as Theseus was able to follow the Labyrinth, the ant was able to thread the shell without breaking it.
For Minos, that was all he needed to know. Not only was Daedalus hiding in Sicily, but he knew of the flaw in the design of the labyrinth — the flaw that caused the death of his son and his daughter to run away. Minos told Cocalus to give up the inventor or prepare for war.
Now, thanks to the work of Daedalus, Sicily had flourished. Cocalus was not willing to give him up. So instead, he conspired to kill Minos.
He told the king of Crete that he would deliver the inventor, but first, he should relax and bathe. While Minos was bathing, Cocalus’ daughters poured boiling water (or tar) onto the king, killing him.
According to Diodorus Siculus, Cocalus then announced that Minos had died by slipping in the bath and that he should be given a great funeral. By spending a large fortune on the festivities, the Sicilian was able to convince the rest of the world that it was truly an accident.
What Happened to King Minos After His Death?
After his death, Minos was given a special role as one of the three judges in the Underworld of Hades. He was joined in this role by his brother Rhadamanthus and half-brother Aeacus.
According to Plato, in his text, Gorgias, “to Minos I will give the privilege of the final decision if the other two be in any doubt; that the judgment upon this journey of mankind may be supremely just.”
This story was repeated in Virgil’s famous poem, “The Aeneid,”
Minos also appears in Dante’s “Inferno.” In this more modern Italian text, Minos sits at the gate to the second circle of Hell and decides which circle a sinner belongs to. He has a tail that wraps around himself, and this image is how he comes to be represented in much of the art of the time.