According to the historian Polybius, Lyttos or Lyktos (GR:Λύκτος / Λύττος), is one of the oldest cities in Crete
, famous in ancient times for the excellency of its men.
The site is to the NE of present day Lyttos, also known as Xidas. At 656 m above sea level, among the ancient ruins, two churches have been built, that of Timios Stavros and that of Aghios Giorgos.
According to Stefanos Byzantios, Lyttos owes its name to its location on the western foothills of the Lassithi mountains.
Hesiod mentions Lyttos in his Theogonia as a rich city in Crete, and Homer qualifies her as ‘well-built’.
Skylax and Strabo make references to Lyttos, and Hierocles mentions the city in his Political Geography.
According to Hesiod, Rea was sent there by her parents to give birth to Zeus.
Lyktos was one of the first colonies of the Lacedaemonians. The other more recent name, Karnisopolis
, indicates a Doric origin. According to Psilakis
, the city adopted this name because of its dedication to Karneios Apollon
, in whose name many games and feasts were held.
The Athenians were also involved in colonizing Lyktos.
According to a myth in Plutarch, the Thyrinians invaded the islands of Limnos and Imvros, and then raped some Athenian women. The children born from this attack, were driven out of Athens and found refuge in Sparta, where they helped the Lacedaemonians to quench the revolt of the Helots in 465 BC. In return, the ancient Spartans gave them political asylum.
The city of Lyktos also participated in the Trojan War
However, after a while, the Lacedaemonians became suspicious of them and locked them up in prison. They were able to escape dressing up in their wives clothes and leaving their wives behind them and behind the bars to pay for the consequences of their flight.
Having taken refuge on the heights of the Taygetos mountain, they offered to help the Helots in their revolt.
The Spartans decided it was time to reach an agreement and offered them money and boats to allow them to leave with their wives.
And so it came about that with three leaders, Pollin, Delfon and Krotaidon they reached the coast of Crete and disembarked at Hersonissos, which was later to become the port of Lyktos.
, and, as is well-known, their leader, Koiranos, threw himself in front of Idomeneas, the Cretan king, to save him from Hector’s mortal arrow.
Lyktos was undoubtedly one of the strongest and largest cities in all of Crete
It was the capital of all Eastern Crete, in particular of Merambello, Monofatsi and Viannos. Lyktos was often fighting the supremacy of Knossos, and reigned over a large area of the island that spread from the north to the south coast.
In 343 BC Knossos conquered Lyktos, but with the help of Archidamus, King of Sparta, the Lyktians were able to rebuild their city.
In 220, during a war between Lyktos and Ierapytna, the Knossians found the city unprotected and were thus able to take it. Taking the women and children into slavery, they devastated the city, destroying it to its very foundations. The Lyktians felt totally defeated and took refuge in Lappa.
With the help of Sparta, the city was once again rebuilt and once more became a leading power in Crete.
In the course of its remaining history, it formed an alliance with Ierapytna, Olous and Driros, and later on was one of the 30 allied cities
of Crete under the banner of King Eumenios II, king of Pergamo in the second century BC.
Lyktos fought Metellus and his army during Roman times, but was finally conquered.
The Romans, as archaeological finds lead us to believe, had a soft spot for Lyktos, built on hilly ground with hardly any even ground for cultivation, and the statues of Marco Aurelius
that were found here are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.
The common meals «sisitia» in Lyktos, under Dosiadas the Cretan, are of particular interest.
The city had its water brought from the Kournia source, located between Kera and Krassi. Part of the aqueduct was hewn out of the rock and part of the enormous bridge made of stone that carried the water to the city, is still visible near Kastamonitsa. It is well worth a visit to Kastamonitsa to see this impressive work
|Gold ring with a gemstone of lapis lazuli on which the image of a laurel - crowned head is carved, perhaps Dionysus.|
Lyttos, Roman period (3rd century A.D).
Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.
At different times, during its hegemony, Lyktos minted coins with its emblem: an eagle with wide spread wings, and the head of a wild boar with the inscription ΛΥΤΤΙΩΝ
The treaty between Lyktos and Ierapytna in 113 BC was the occasion for the erection of a temple to Athena Pallas: a great many archaeological finds
provide us with plentiful information based on reliefs, inscriptions and even mosaics of the city of Lyttion.
In 1951, a square votive pedestal was found, with a relief representing a hero standing in front of a horse, and hunting dogs after a deer and a roe. The relief bears an inscription ΑΧΙΛΕΥΣ ΑΧΙΛΕΩΣ.
On the site of Lyktos, there stand today two lovely churches: Agios Giorgos with an inscription of a date ζωκθ’=1321, as well as some wall paintings, and the church of Timios Stavros, built on the site of a large Paleochristian basilica.
There are also traces of an ancient agora.