Sir Arthur Evans

Archaeologist of Knossos Palace, Crete

William Blake Richmond portrait of Arthur Evans

Portrait by William Blake Richmond

Sir Arthur Evans was a distinguished scholar and archaeologist, intimately involved with Knossos Palace in Crete, he was its champion and faithful recreationist.

In this age of very fast trains, planes and even faster emails, of rapid money transfers and next-day-delivery courier services, it is hard to truly understand the magnitude of Arthur Evan's achievements in archaeology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

He not only revealed a hidden civilisation, he named it and created the dating system by which we categorise it, all in a time before cars, concrete or cash machines.

Arthur Evans - Early Life

Arthur Evans was born on the 8th July 1851, in Nash Mills, Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, England.

He had two brothers, Lewis and Norman, and a half-sister Joan. His father was John Evans and his mother was Harriet Dickinson. His father was a successful paper manufacturer, operating The John Dickinson and Company business, which came to him through his wife's (and cousins) family, the Dickinson's. They were a family of great wealth.

Evan's father, and before him his great grandfather, where learned men, interested in knowledge and antiquity. They, as well as Arthur's uncle John Dickinson, were members of The Royal Society.

John was a budding archaeologist, with a study overflowing with flint and bronze. He took the young Arthur on flint collecting expeditions in Britain and France. Arthur took on his father's interests, although in his own way. Arthur admired knowledge and education, and he loved collecting coins in place of flint.

Evans studied history at Harrow and Oxford, and later at Göttingen.

Evans was extremely short-sighted, which worked as a great advantage for him over the years. He very reluctantly wore his glasses. Items held a few inches away could be seen in almost microscopic vision. Even faint signatures of artist's names on coins could be discerned if he held them close.

Evans was not a sporting man, he was opposed to organised team sports. He was a physical, fit man who loved to travel.  In this he was quite unique for a man of his class, as he loved travelling off the beaten track and roughing it.

In 1871, when only 20 years old, Evans travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina. He became enamoured with the south Slavic people and the natural landscapes; the Dalmatian coast, their architecture, and their culture which was a blend of Roman, Byzantine and Moslem. A hearty, proud and tough people.

Biography of Arthur Evans

Biography of Arthur Evans

Architecture was the passion of Sir Arthur Evans whose life's work was the archaeology of Knossos in Crete, Greece. He restored, and in many places reconstructed, the site and added touches of colour to the Palace of Knossos which remain controversial to this day.

Here in our biography of Arthur Evans we explore his early life before he arrived in Crete and Greece and made such a significant contribution to ancient Greece architecture.

In 1871, when only 20 years old, Evans travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina. At this time, Bosnia and Herzegovina where under Turkish rule. Arthur became a Liberal and followed the ways of Gladstone, a man his father detested.  In 1872, Arthur went mountaineering in Rumania and Bulgaria with his brother Norman. In 1873, he toured Sweden, Finland and Lapland. In 1875, he returned to Bosnia with his brother Lewis, where they were arrested as Russian spies. The Slavic people and their struggle for freedom connected with Arthur.

Evans had decided that he did not want to pursue the family business. Instead he pursued an academic career. After a few rejections from various colleges for conventional roles, Arthur became Special Correspondent in the Balkans for the Manchester Guardian. He was chosen by then editor, C.P. Scott. Evans was based in Ragusa. Over many years, his letters to the magazine where seen to be so potent they were published as a book. While on the field as a journalist, he still made the time to excavate Roman buildings in the Balkans.

During these years, he took to using a walking stick come to be known as 'Prodger'.  This was to assist Evans due to his near-sightedness. They were to never be separated.

The British Consul was far from fond of Evan's work, due to their brutally honest depictions of events transpiring in the region. This made their slow, ineffective diplomacy look bad. When they criticised Evans, he lunged deeper afield for more proof. He went to burnt out villages, made lists of the dead and names of victims. He put himself through great physical danger to obtain the information he wanted to reveal. Just one illustration of this was his crossing near-frozen rivers whilst naked to access remote villages, to report on the local situation. This new evidence could not be ignored.

An old Oxford friend, Freeman, came to visit Evans at Ragusa. His sister Margaret, also came on this trip. She met a tanned and toned Arthur Evans, who she came to fall in love with. They were to eventually marry, celebrating their engagement by visiting Schliemann’s Antiquities of Troy in London.

Soon after their marriage, Arthur and Margaret bought a Venetian house in Ragusa, Casa San Lazzaro, where they were to live for a number of years.

Still correspondent to the Manchester Guardian, he delved into the history, antiquities and politics of the Slavic people, and also began directed a portion of his focus on archaeological excavation and buying Greek and Roman coins.

Ultimately, Margaret could not settle in Ragusa. The conditions too difficult for her. Although, as fate would have it, they would leave Ragusa, but not as Arthur would have liked. Austria, the now ruler of this region, kept a keen eye on Arthur Evans. They held him in the same regard as the Ottoman empire did. After they confirmed that he was meeting with insurgents at his home, both Margaret and Arthur were arrested. They were both later released yet expelled from the country.

Evans Visits Greece...

In a tour of Greece in 1883, Evans met the infamous archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. Evans was fascinated by ancient Greece architecture and especially with the gems found at Mycenaean sites. These seemed older than science had suggested to Evans, and not made by Mycenaean hands, as the approach and style was altogether different. In not, then by who?

Evan’s curiosity led him to Crete, and luckily for those of us with a love of ancient Greece architecture and Cretan history, it led him to Knossos. Evans would ultimately spend the next 30 years excavating, reconstructing and annotating his finds at Knossos, as well as rediscovering the long lost Minoan civilisation.


Ladies in Blue fresco from Knossos PalaceLadies in Blue fresco from Knossos Palace
Large pithoi at Knossos Archaeological SiteLarge pithoi at Knossos Archaeological Site