The Cretan Dagger
Cretan Dagger by Nikos Vasilatos
This entire article regarding "The Cretan Dagger" was
based on the wonderful book by Nikos Vasilatos of the same title.
It is published by Classical Publishers, ISBN 960-220-470-2.
The first 52 pages of the book present a detailed history of the
Cretan Dagger, and give valuable evidence about the history of
the Cretan people and its fight for freedom and independence from
its numerous conquerors.
Then the author moves on with a detailed description of the dagger
itself: its characteristics, manner of manufacturing and detailed
decorations. Also listed are mostly forgotten traditions and beliefs
about The Cretan Dagger. The last chapter refers to the folk songs
and poetry surrounding the dagger.
Those pages have been published separately in the English language
and may be requested from the author.
The book also contains 65 full-page photos and lithographs starting
from the end of the 19 th century. For each photograph there is
important analytical comments in Greek and English, offering additional
historic, artistic and folklore data - proving this book to be
an invaluable document for this particular fold in the history
of the Cretan people.
We warmly thank Mr. Vasilatos for sending us a copy of his book,
which inspired the creation of this dedication.
The Cretan Dagger, the knife of Crete
This work was realized in an effort to honour and preserve in
the memory of modern generations an art that flourished in the
island of Crete throughout the 19th and in the early 20th century
and which is slowly and imperceptibly disappearing today, undermined
by the pressure of modern technology and the shrinkage of the demand
in handy products used by people in their everyday lives in earlier
It is the art of manufacturing the hand - made Cretan dagger,
which has been so much loved by the Cretans, but in a few years
will cease to be manufactured in the traditional manner, since
faceless technology is gradually replacing the art, skill, mastery
and creative enthusiasm of the last Cretan dagger - manufacturers.
The Cretan dagger, inseparable companion of every Cretan in the
old times, accompanied the Cretans wherever they went, either as
travelers or as immigrants, when in hard times some of them where
forced to abandon their beautiful island. Thus, the Cretan dagger
can be found not only in Crete and in the other regions of Greece,
but also at the ends of the earth ; from Egypt to Russia and from
the U.S.A. and Canada to Australia, either in the houses of Cretans
as a valuable heirloom, or in second - hand and antique shops,
dusted and without identity, among a heap of disparate objects,
waiting for the person that will recognize and obtain it, paying
a certain amount in consideration. Each of them hides its own story,
humble or glorious, connected with the island of Crete and Cretan
Since, then, tradition and historical documents are of cultural
value and credibility, the hand - made Cretan dagger deserves to
be studied and honoured, before its traditional manufacturing technique
perishes in the boundless course of time. For, above all, whenever
a traditional art perishes, human culture is impoverished.
The Cretan Dagger, History
of the first tools manufactured by man, which helped him survive
in the long and difficult era of the dawn of civilization, is the
dagger, the first edged weapon. In manufacturing it, man imitated
the shape of the nails of wild animals, with which they catch and
kill their prey.
One of the most ancient specimens of daggers in the form we know
them today was found in Gebel El Arak , Egypt . It is made of processed
obsidian stone and it has an ivory hilt, decorated with embossed
portrayals of scenes inspired by war. This dagger was manufactured
circa 3.400 BC and is kept today in the Louvre Museum . However,
daggers approaching the age of 5.000 years have also been found
in China , Mesopotamia and Iran 's Luristan.
Exquisite double - edged bronze and copper daggers were manufactured
in Mycenaean Greece from 1.500 BC onwards, which were brought by
merchants motivated by profit to many
other distant regions in Europe , since the export trade of weapons
thrived during the Mycenaean age.
However, in classical Greece too, there was a flourish in the
fabrication of numerous edged weapons, mainly daggers, which were
used in the innumerable wars that ravaged Greece during the classical
At the heyday of Mycenaean civilization, daggers of notable quality
were manufactured in Minoan Crete, which bequeathed to us many
brilliant works of an advanced and, at the same time, singular
civilization. However, few specimens have survived to our days.
Among the exhibits of the Heraklion Museum there is a Minoan age
statuette of a warrior from Sitia, armed with a dagger presenting
certain similarities to modern Cretan daggers. It should be mentioned
that, according to ancient Greek mythology, edged weapons and war
helmets were first fabricated in Crete , since it was the Couretes,
Zeus's retinue, who were considered to be their inventors.
The defence needs of the biggest Greek island resulted in the
development of metallurgy and, by extension, the manufacturing
of weapons in Crete during the classical age, when the island's
archers enjoyed high renown throughout Greece and Asia Minor for
their skill in using their weapons. During the Roman era, the Romans
had a bitter experience of the Cretan's battle skills and the accuracy
of their archers during their efforts to occupy the island.
In the Middle Ages, and specifically in the 9th century, Crete
was occupied by the Saracenes, who came from Spain . Using the
island as base of their operations, they plagued the entire eastern
Mediterranean with their raids. The Saracenes of Crete manufactured
various types of weapons on the island and used them to arm their
ships and crews during their naval raids.
After the victorious campaign of Nicephorus Phocas and the vanquishment
of the Saracenes of Crete, the island was restored to Byzantine
rule, under which it remained until the early 13th century, when
it was vested in the Venetians as
their valuable booty from the share - out of the Byzantine Empire
's lands, after the latter had been dismantled by the Crusaders
of the Fourth Crusade.
The Venetians kept Crete under their domination for more than
450 years. This was made possible by the excellent organization
of their administrative machine and by the defense system they
had deployed on the island, whereby, in addition to the powerful
regular military forces, defense was reinforced by a local militia
of Cretan archers, renowned throughout the East, and by the forces
of the Greek and Italian landowners of the island. The latter forces
were certainly armed with weapons manufactured on the island by
Written sources referring to the revolution of the Psaromilingos,
which was a noble Cretan family, against the Venetians in the mid-
14th century testify to the use of daggers for military purposes
in the Middle Ages. During that revolution, the Cretan rebels were
armed with arches, spears, bludgeons, large knives and axes'.
According to the oral tradition, during the Venetian occupation
there were dagger manufacturing workshops in Heraklion of Crete,
established at exactly the same site as they are today.
After the conquest of the island by the Turks, the island's metallurgists
continued to fabricate exquisite metallurgical products, including
daggers, which acquired special value during the 19th century repeated
revolutions of the Cretans, who thirsted for freedom.
The sentimental and, at the same time, practical value of the
Cretan dagger in battle did not perish in our century, since the
Cretan dagger was the necessary complement of every gallant Cretan
youth's armament in the struggle over Macedonia, the Balkan Wars,
the Asia Minor Campaign and even during the Second World War, when
the weapons of Cretan partisans included the traditional Cretan
dagger, symbol of Cretan gallantry and the spirit of Crete's resistance
against any conqueror.
- the yataghan of Daskaloyannis, the leader
of the Cretan revolt against the Turks in 1770 -
-The Cretan Dagger, Part 2:
Description & manufacturing of the Cretan Dagger
-The Cretan Dagger, Part 3: The Cretan Dagger in manners, habits,
popular beliefs and magical ceremonies
"The Cretan Dagger "
tel. +30-210 3639418
email: N. Vasilatos