The story of the ring known as the “Ring of King Minos” sounds like a tale made in Hollywood, a mix of ancient Greek history, mythology and a plot involving a poor boy, a cunning priest, an English archaeologist and hidden treasure.
The story starts in 1928, when a boy, Michalis Papadakis (1918-1974), found a ring by accident at the archaeological site of Knossos. The place of discovery alone meant that the ring certainly had a very long history behind it, probably even going back to the Minoan civilization.
Indeed, several decades later, the shiny gold seal ring proved to be 3,500 years old (1,500-1,400 BC), as archaeologists assured him — and his was the most significant discovery of Minoan Civilization.
The boy’s father, a destitute farmer named Emmanouil, for some unknown reason, hid the ring from his wife and, for another unknown reason, two years later he handed it over to the village priest, Father Nikolaos Polakis. Yet, before giving it away, he carved a line on the ring with his knife in order to mark its originality.
Father Polakis initially presented it to English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans with the intention of selling it. However, there was no deal struck between the two, since the priest demanded an astronomical amount of money.
In 1933 or 1934, Father Polakis decided to take the ring to the Heraklion Museum. At the time, the distinguished archaeologists Nikolaos Platon and Spyridon Marinatos were on the staff of the institution. Platon decided that the ring was genuine while Marinatos believed the ring was a fake.
Since both archaeologists could not come to an agreement, they decided it was best to return the ring to the priest.
However, Platon kept a copy of the ring by casting it in plasticine. (The cast was later found in Platon’s archive). Several years later, he manifested a new interest in the ring and went back to the priest to ask for it. Father Polakis told him that he had given it to his wife for safekeeping — but she had lost it.
Minos ring depicts three themes
Platon wrote a treatise on the ring saying that it depicts three themes: the Minoans’ rule of the seas (“thalassocracy”), tree worship (dendrolatry), and a goddess descending from heaven to earth and getting into a row boat.
There are other, more recent interpretations of the depictions of the ring including the worship of goddesses, including Mother Dimitra, and offerings to the Great Mother Rhea and to Great Mother Artemis.
For some time, all traces of the ring were lost. The only information about the ring came from the copies that had been made and a number of archaeological reports which were associated with those copies.
Many years later, when Father Polakis was in his last days, he felt great regret about the “disappearance” of the precious ring. He called Evangelia Papadakis, the wife of the farmer Emmanouil, and apologized for lying to her family. He admitted that he had actually sold the ring ro the English archaeologist Evans for 100,000 drachmas back in 1938.
However, that was one last lie by the cunning priest. What he had actually sold to Evans was a fine replica of the ring.
Evans had returned to England with the belief that he had bought the actual ring, along with a copy, and donated both, along with other precious artifacts to the Ashmolean Museum. Today, two replicas of the legendary ring are still exhibited at the Ashmolean.
The story of the ring was forgotten for decades. But in the early 2000s, Giorgos Kazantzis, a retired police officer, inherited the house of the priest who was the last person in Greece who had had possession of the priceless artifact.
During renovation work, Kazantzis found a jar hidden inside the wall next to the fireplace. Inside the jar was a ring — which indeed proved to be the original Ring of King Minos. It even had the scratch made by Papadakis over 70 years ago.
Kazantzis delivered the precious artifact to the state and in 2002 the Central Archaeological Council and a panel of expert archaeologists confirmed the authenticity of the ring. The actual monetary value of the ring was estimated to be €400,000, although its cultural value is incalculable.
Yet, for finding the ring and promptly delivering it to the appropriate authorities, Kazantzis was given a measly finder’s fee of €440.
Today the priceless gold Minoan ring is exhibited in all its splendor at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.