The 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 times.

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 gallantry.

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

Old Photo of man from Crete with his dagger and other weapons

One 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 age.

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 Cretan craftsmen.

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.


Cretan warriors


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 sabre of Daskaloyannis

  • 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


7 Principles of Fencing that Translate to the Business World


7 Principles of Fencing that Translate to the Business World

Financial Services Consultant, Olympic Pentathlon Coach

In a recent article with the New York Times, Trip Advisor CEO Stephen Kaufer briefly glossed over the virtues fencing had instilled in him. “In fencing, you have to think three moves ahead. It turned out to be good training for corporate life,” Kaufer said. While fencing itself was not the central focus of Kaufer’s article, his truthful words spurred my thinking as to ways in which the principles of fencing translate to the world of modern business. Thinking of ways in which fencing inspired me in my (relatively new) career, I came up with a list in which the sport has helped inspire my work ethic and demeanor. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on ways fencing has inspired you off the strip as well.

  1. Ability to overcome adversity– Fencing is a sport in which the athlete might find him/herself down a few touches and facing defeat. The best fencer will see his/her misfortune as an opportunity to problem solve and confront the challenges at hand head-on to rise to victory. In the world of business, things aren’t always going to go swimmingly. One may encounter risks, miss important milestones, or perhaps drop the ball on a presentation.
  2. Ability to adapt to and understand cultural norms- Fencing attracts a potpourri of individuals of different races, ethnicities, and cultures; and for those who have fenced in international competitions, they are frequently encountering a hodgepodge of different backgrounds. In our modern globalizing business world, you’re likely to work on diverse teams with each individual coming to the table with a unique perspective and approach to his/her work. Fencing makes interacting with diverse cultures second nature—an important skill to have in this day and age.
  3. Ability to remain calm- Panic is the death knell of a fencer’s bout. To quote Napoleon Hill: “Your own emotions are your greatest handicap in the business of accurate thinking.” Lose your marbles, let your emotions run awry in the working world, and you’ll be as popular in the workplace as Justin Bieber is to anyone who knows about music.
  4. Ability to think creatively/outside the box– If a fencer enters a bout with plan A, and only plan A, s/he is likely to lose. Fencing frequently challenges athletes to change their plans on the go and adapt to their opponent’s style in a given scenario. Business is never as simple as a linear path from planning to execution. Fencing stimulates right brain creative thinking to achieve results.
  5. Ability to socialize/work as a team– Competitive fencing is (mostly) an individual sport, but in the act of practicing, it fosters a team mentality. Any team is only as strong as its weakest link. Fencing teaches you to learn from the strongest links in your clubs/teams while simultaneously helping the weakest links to improve performance in a respectful, constructive manner. Exhibiting humility is also an integral part of team dynamics, as no one likes a hotshot prima donna Kanye West type fool in their club or on their working teams.
  6. Ability to listen/receive feedback- In fencing and in life, when you think things are going well, they can always be going better. The best fencers in our club have constant dialogue with their coaches in lessons, asking how they can tweak their actions to make them close to perfect. One of the best ways to work in sync with one’s manager/boss is to frequently sit down with them to align to their expectations and figure out areas for development.
  7. Ability to work hard and prepare- If you think you can sit on your butt, twiddle your thumbs and have playtime with Barney the Dinosaur leading up to competition, you’re going to be sorely disappointed when you plug into the strip and get slapped around like a disobedient puppy. The time you put in before you fence precedes a successful competition. In business, the more familiar you are with materials you might be presenting, the more confidence you exude and display a mastery of the subject matter you’re bringing forward. “Winging it” rarely works in fencing or business, and fencing prepares you for that fact in the values of hard work and preparation it instills.


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