Illustrations to Dante's "Divine Comedy" - "Minos" by William Blake.

In Search of the Mythical King Minos, Did the Legendary Ruler Really Exist?

(Read the article on one page)

When we think of Minos, two images immediately come to mind: (1) the legendary and cruel tyrant of Crete who demanded the tribute of Athenian youths to feed to the Minotaur in the Labyrinth and (2) a judge of the Underworld as depicted in both Virgil’s Aeneid and also in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy story, the Inferno. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the former rather than the latter.

Who was King Minos?

According to both Greek myth and legend, Minos was an ancient king of the Greek island of Crete, situated in the Mediterranean Sea just South of the Greek mainland.

‘There Minos stands’ – Canto V, line 4. (Public Domain) Gustave Doré's illustration of King Minos for Dante Alighieri's ‘Inferno.’

‘There Minos stands’ – Canto V, line 4. ( Public Domain ) Gustave Doré's illustration of King Minos for Dante Alighieri's ‘Inferno.’

The earliest literary reference to the monarch dates back to at least the 9th Century BC in both Homeric epics, the Iliad and Odyssey. And it is just that, a reference with very little context:

For Zeus at the first begat Minos to be a watcher over Crete, and Minos again got him a son, even the peerless Deucalion, and Deucalion begat me, a lord over many men in wide Crete; and now have the ships brought me hither a bane to thee and thy father and the other Trojans.

Iliad (Book 13.450)

“And Phaedra and Procris I saw, and fair Ariadne, the daughter of Minos of baneful mind, whom once Theseus was fain to bear from Crete to the hill of sacred Athens…”

Odyssey (Book 11.321)

Minos ruled from his throne at Knossos, located to the central Northern coast of the island. He commanded a large and powerful navy which oversaw all trade throughout the Aegean and even held influence further East in both Canaan and Egypt. Named by archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans after the legendary king, the Minoans would continue to occupy the Aegean throughout the Bronze Age and until approximately 1400 BC, that is, when the mainland Mycenaean Greeks overtook the island and in turn, their entire sea-based dominion.

Artist’s representation of the Palace at Knossos.

Artist’s representation of the Palace at Knossos. ( Mmoyaq/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

King Minos Requests Plague and Hunger

After a series of events in the story surrounding Minos, the Cretan monarch subjected the city of Athens on the mainland to his rule and asked the gods to bring plague and hunger to its citizens. An oracle would later reveal that the only way to lift this punishment from the people of Athens was to give into Minos’ demands: “ send seven boys and seven girls to Crete every nine years to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. ” The Minotaur, a half-bull and half-human hybrid, lived on the island of Crete in a labyrinth built by the mythical architect, Daedalus. The creature would one day meet its end at the hands of Theseus.

Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth (1861) by Edward Burne-Jones.

Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth (1861) by Edward Burne-Jones. ( Public Domain )

We know the story and we know of its mythical foundations but was there ever a historical Minos? Prior to Mycenaean takeover, the Minoans ruled the region, a direct parallel to Minos’ conquering of Athens. But is there more?

What’s in a Name?

The Minoans wrote in a script referred to as Linear A and while we have been able to decipher the syllabic renderings of each glyph, the language as a whole continues to elude experts. inscriptions unearthed on the island written in Linear A may attest to Minos, but without proper knowledge of the Minoan tongue, it is unclear if these inscriptions reference anyone named Minos, let alone a ruler.

Minoan Linear A tablet from the palace of Zakros, Archeological Museum of Sitia.

Minoan Linear A tablet from the palace of Zakros, Archeological Museum of Sitia. ( CC BY 3.0 )

It has been theorized that the name Minos was used as a title, similar to that of Pharaoh or Caesar. There may have been an original monarch bearing the name, but later kings would assume the title, to emulate the first. But whatever its use-case, it no doubt was a well-known epithet utilized by both the Greeks and even Egyptians in later literature. Obviously, as highlighted above, the Greeks would create an archetype or model of a single individual who would occasionally make a cameo appearance in their mythological stories. The Egyptians on the other hand, may prove this theory correct.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Human Origins

Photo of Zecharia Sitchin (left)(CC0)Akkadian cylinder seal dating to circa 2300 BC depicting the deities Inanna, Utu, and Enki, three members of the Anunnaki.(right)
In a previous 2-part article (1), the authors wrote about the faulty associations of the Sumerian deities known as the Anunnaki as they are portrayed in the books, television series, and other media, which promotes Ancient Astronaut Theory (hereafter “A.A.T.”).

Ancient Technology

Roman glass (not the legendary flexible glass). Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart.
Imagine a glass you can bend and then watch it return to its original form. A glass that you drop but it doesn’t break. Stories say that an ancient Roman glassmaker had the technology to create a flexible glass, ‘vitrium flexile’, but a certain emperor decided the invention should not be.

Ancient Places

Face of the coffin where the mummy of Ramesses II was found. (Credit: Petra Lether, designed by Anand Balaji)
Usermaatre Setepenre Ramesses II, the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty, was one of ancient Egypt’s longest-reigning monarchs. In an astonishing sixty-seven regnal years – the glory days of empire that witnessed unprecedented peace and prosperity – the monarch built grand edifices and etched his name on innumerable monuments of his forbears.


Hopewell mounds from the Mound City Group in Ohio. Representative image
During the Early Woodland Period (1000—200 BC), the Adena people constructed extensive burial mounds and earthworks throughout the Ohio Valley in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Many of the skeletal remains found in these mounds by early antiquarians and 20th-Century archaeologists were of powerfully-built individuals reaching between 6.5 and eight feet in height (198 cm – 244 cm).

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article