The island of Crete is the largest Greek island. Unlike the others, it contains dozens of cities, all of which have had to share the island to survive. The mountains occupy more than half of the island, while the fertile plains are very limited, mostly situated on the coasts (with the exception of the Messara plain, the biggest of the island). As a result, the landscape of Crete is highly divided, which has an important impact on the development, the survival, and the expansion of each city.
Since Homer – who called the island ἑκατόμπολις (Iliad II, 649) – Crete is said to have had a hundred cities. In reality, even if the settlements were numerous, there weren’t more than 50-60 contemporary proper cities. Though most of their names have been saved through texts (either inscriptions or literature), not all have yet been located exactly. In fact, there has been an evolution of the political map of Crete. From around 55 cities in Classical times, the number of cities dropped to 27 in the Roman period and then to 22 in the Byzantine period.
The paper will focus on Eastern Crete and study the establishment of the city-states and the evolution of their territory from the Archaic to the Roman period (which includes the study of the frontier, when it is possible). We will see that geography is a key element for understanding this evolution along with the archaeological and historical evidence that we have.