Mount Oxa and Olous in Antiquity
The first signs of occupation of Mount Oxa go back to the Late Minoan period (LM IIIC) as it appears from sherds found on the slopes of the mount. It probably served as a refuge site for the population established on the coast, for which we know only the cemetery at the place called Schisma.
There isn’t any other trace before the Classical and Hellenistic period when the Oxa was certainly the upper city of Olous (the location of the Archaic city is still unknown). It seems to be too inconvenient a location to have a permanent settlement but could have served as a refuge for the population of Olous, whose urban centre, situated on the isthmus of Poros, is particularly vulnerable.
On the summit of Mount Oxa there is at least a Hellenistic tower – if not a fortress – and on its north side a relatively large fort (26.35 m × 6.30 m), protecting the road going from the summit to the urban centre.
Around the Mirabello, in the Classical period, there are numerous independent cities. Olous is surrounded by Dreros to the west and Lato to the south (then only situated inland). Further on the coast there is Istron. At the end of the Hellenistic period, only Lato and Olous remained, Dreros being conquered by Lyttos; Oleros and Istron either by Lato or Hierapytna.
Due to its situation in Eastern Crete and its good harbours, Olous has been attractive to the foreign powers searching to control the maritime routes (and the trade) in the Eastern Mediterranean: the Ptolemies (just like Itanos further east) and Rhodes.
The defence of Olous seems to rely on a series of forts disseminated on its territory. Even if we can’t accurately date them or assign them with certainty to a city, it makes no doubt that they belonged to the Classical-Hellenistic city of Olous, and were destined to protect the harbours of the city and their approach. To the two defensive structures on the Oxa, we have to add the fort situated on the islet of Spinalonga, now covered with a venetian fortress, which controlled the entrance to the bay, and a fort at Stis Pines, that was certainly controlling the northern approach to the small coastal plain of Olous, on the road leading to Dreros.
Mount Oxa had a strategic importance as it was situated on the border of Olous with Lato, its southern neighbour. These borders are well known by two treaties passed between Lato and its neighbours Olous (in 114) and Hierapytna (in 111/110).
Text and map: Nadia Coutsinas