As an aside, it should probably be reiterated that when we speak about the “Minoans” we refer to what is essentially an archaeological culture, rather than a genuine “people” as such. We have little idea of what the Cretans in the Bronze Age called themselves, whether the inhabitants of Crete formed a single ethnic group or even that they identified themselves in a particular way. Cretans appear to be referred to as the Keftiu by the Egyptians and as Caphtor in the Bible (if the identification is correct), but perhaps this label only applies to a smaller group of the island’s inhabitants: we cannot tell based on present evidence. Similarly, we have no idea whether the “Minoans” conceived of themselves as ethnically distinct from the inhabitants of the Greek mainland.
At the tour’s second station, there’s not so much an error as there is a missed opportunity: there is no explanation that the Kephala Hill on which the court complex is located is actually a tell, a hill that has been formed as the result of thousands of years of continuous occupation. It’s also the reason why you have to go up to get to the site – in the game, you rather mysteriously have to walk down to reach the palace’s central court.
The game also claims that the site covers an area of around 13,000 square metres. This is not correct: the site measures approximately 150 by 150 metres which means it covers a total surface area of around 20,000 metres square. The central court, which the game suggests was “probably used for ceremonial activities”, was also an important way to link the different parts of the court complex, and it should be noted that all of the major “palaces” on the island featured a central court that was twice as long as it was wide.
At the second station, it is also noted that “The Minoan palace centers collapsed when Krete was overrun and conquered by a Mycenaean invasion from mainland Greece.” This is a little outdated, though I admit I’ve also made this error in earlier writings. At the end of the Neopalatial period, there’s widespread destruction across the entire island – too widespread and too thorough to be attributable to an invading force, but rather, as some scholars have suggested, indicative of some kind of societal upheaval, a rebellion of some sort against the dominant social order. Afterwards, we do encounter Linear B, the script used by the mainland “Mycenaeans”, so that it seems clear that the elite, at least, had been replaced. Whether these Greek-speakers had come to the island or were already there is unclear, but they seem to have been “Minoanized” as much as, if not more so than they “Mycenaeanized” Crete (cf. Dickinson 2019, pp. 37-39).
There’s a minor mistake at the third station, where they suggest that the ground floor of the complex was completely “dedicated to economic activities”, which isn’t true. There’s also a funny mistake where they write that the “Horns of Consecration” were “hung prominently in the West Court.” Crucially, these “Horns” didn’t “hang” – they were made from stucco or (lime)stone, so they were usually quite big and heavy. They also weren’t limited to the West Court. The game also states flatly that the inhabitants worshipped a “Mother Goddess”, which is not uncontested; it’s almost certain that a large variety of different deities were worshipped, of which a goddess associated with nature – Artemis? Rhea? – was one.
At the fourth station, the game writes that, “During the Middle and Late Minoan period, Minoans buried their dead in a terracotta coffin known as a larnax.” Again, I don’t think the average reader would know what the Middle and Late Minoan periods are (again, see my article here), so this needed an editor to check the text.
The game goes on to claim that larnakes “had domestic uses as well, functioning as either bathtubs or storage chests.” I think the writer got confused here: larnakes come in two shapes: chest-shaped and tub-shaped. Larnakes were normally used as coffins but, rarely, also appear to have been used as general containers. They were not actually used as bath tubs, as far as we know.
The remaining four stations – half of the total! – deal entirely with the myth surrounding Theseus and the Minotaur. The text here is all over the place and some weird claims are made in places, such as the fifth station, where the game claims that “bull-leaping scenes are believed to have decorated the walls above ceremonial bull-rings.” As far as I know, no archaeologist has ever identified any specific area or place positively as a “ceremonial bull-ring”. In fact, one of the problems concerning the Minoan bull-leaping rituals is where exactly they took place. Some have proposed the bull-leaping happened in the Central Court, but this seems unlikely because the ground was paved.
As an example of how disjointed the text here is, the game doesn’t actually mention Theseus until the final station, and even then it’s not explained who he was (a prince, son of Aegeus, king of Athens) and why he went to Knossos (to kill the Minotaur and thereby end Athenian servitude to Knossos). At least they mention Ariadne, King Minos’ daughter, and her thread. Weirdly, however, the game suggests that Theseus was able to kill the Minotaur because of it: “Armed with this thread, Theseus entered the Labyrinth, killed the Minotaur, escaped the maze, and set sail for Athens with Ariadne by his side.” Not exactly how I would have phrased it!
As regards the game’s representation of Knossos itself, I point out in the video that it looks only vaguely like the remains that are currently visible on the site. There’s no Throne Room, but a Grand Staircase of sorts has been included (the beginning of which features the Procession Fresco that’s from a different part of the site; it doesn’t help that that same fresco is copy-pasted onto other parts of the site, too). Of course, in the game, their version of the Grand Staircase leads down to the “Labyrinth of Lost Souls” (why that name?) where the player will run into the Minotaur. There are also giant stone statues here, the likes of which are unknown from the Aegean Bronze Age.
The site’s North Pillar Hall is present in the game, sort of. The proportions are completely off and the square pillars of the original site (partially restored) are interpreted as the bases on which round columns (made of stone!) stood. It looks weird when compared to what’s presently visible on the site, and the game obviously gets it very wrong. Similarly, some of the “balconies” feature balustrades with square blocks that form the base for round columns. No such square blocks have been found, to the best of my knowledge, that could be interpreted in this way.
Moreover, during the Classical period, Knossos wasn’t abandoned, but was a flourishing city-state that minted its own coins. On the top of the Kephala Hill was a temple dedicated to Rhea, an earth goddess and mother of none other than Zeus (who had himself been born on Crete). When Evans started his excavations at Knossos, he had to remove this temple to unearth the remains of the Minoan court complex. So if the developers of the game had wanted to stay true to history, they would have had to include a classical town and have the hill topped by a classical temple.
In any event, in the game, you enter the site from the south. At the archaeological site today, you enter it from the west, arc around the southwest corner, and then enter the central court. The game suggests large parts of the site that have been preserved are simply not there for some reason, and add other stuff, like the massive stairs along the court’s northern edge. The West Court is also absent or at least not in the game in any recognizable form. Note that the large ashlar blocks in the West Court that are there today are made of concrete: whatever happened to the original blocks that Evans claims were there – if they were ever there! – is a mystery.
Aside from archaeological mistakes, there are also some errors with regards to the game’s flora and fauna. Some of this is excusable. For example, the game’s environment features lots of prickly pears, a type of cactus. While cacti are indeed a common sight in the Mediterranean today, they are not native – like most true cactus species, they originally come from the Americas.
Similarly, there are large deer with dark fur that roam the game’s version of ancient Greece, but they strike me as distinctly non-European. Greece has three species of deer that are native to it: fallow deer, roe deer, and red deer. None of these are quite as massive as the ones in the game. The deer in the game look perhaps most like the red deer, but the massive necks and shaggy fur are more than a bit weird: they’re far closer in appearance to the American elk, complete with the darker colour of the fur. I assume that the developers borrowed the model from another game – maybe Far Cry Primal? – and stuck them in here, thinking most people wouldn’t notice.
The landscape also looks off. The actual site is located in what is essentially a bowl, surrounded by eroded hills typical for the Mediterranean. In the game, the area of Knossos features sort of craggy mountains and dusty slopes, not at all like the pleasantly green landscape of the actual site. Since distances in the game are all made much shorter than they are in real life, the sea also appears to be much closer than it really ought to be.
So lots of comments! I could, in all honesty, keep going for another few thousand words, but you no doubt have other things to do. So I will leave it at this and hope that you find it useful. As I stated before Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey isn’t perfect, especially not when it comes to how it treats the Bronze Age, but if just 1% of all players become interested enough to check out some of the real history and archaeology behind the game, to engage with the ancient world in a meaningful way, I’d say that it has served its purpose.
One final thing that’s worth highlighting is the fact that when it comes to ancient Greece, one cannot, apparently, deal with the subject without reference to the Greek myths. The story of Theseus and the Minotaur has nothing to do with the Peloponnesian War. Crete, in fact, played no role in the Peloponnesian War. It’s therefore kind of strange that the developers decided to include Crete anyway, except of course that they clearly wanted to include mythological elements.
By contrast, the game completely ignores Asia Minor. It’s not included on the map at all. This is rather mystifying when you realize that Asia Minor had a more important role to fill in the Peloponnesian War, especially because of the Persian presence there. Perhaps a technical or artistic issue prevented the developers from including it: they would have needed to add a lot of extra land and would almost certainly have been forced to add invisible walls or probably cliffs to prevent players from going too far west.
Suggestions for further reading are listed below:
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