About Crete - History
NEOLITHIC PERIOD (6000- 2600 B.C.)
Archeological excavations in Crete indicated that the island had been
inhabited since 6000 BC . Neolithic ruins were found in Phaestos,
Knossos and Sitia, where the first settlements were formed by farmers
and stock-breeders. People lived in slate houses and caves such as the
caves of Ilithia, Stravouitis, Ellinospileo, Trapeza Lasithiou, etc.
Excavations brought to light pottery, weapons, tools, blades made of
bone or stone and offerings to the goddess of fertility.
PREPALATIAL PERIOD (2600-1900 B.C.)
The extensive use of copper resulted in growth of the population, as
well as commercial activity in Asia Minor, Cyclades and Egypt. The
islandĒs geographic location, the fertile ground and the long periods
of peace favoured the development of a glorious civilization which
thrived in the ensuing centuries. The pre-Palatial period is divided
into three periods, following the Egyptian calendar, which is based on
the change dynasties.
In the first period, copper has not fully substituted stone
and clay (utensils) and communication with the nearby areas is limited.
The second period is characterized by growth in fishing, farming and
shipping acctivities, as well as the trade of tin, a ingredient
necessary for the production of bronze. Several cities thrived in that
period, having been built in strategic positions. In Messara and
Archanes, arched tombs the period provided valuable information about
the localsĒ worshipping habits and civilization. The third period is
known for the improvement of construction techniques, while new
products are used, such as precious stones, elephant bone, from Egypt
and gold. The various seals, from that period, are beautiful works of
PALOPALATIAL PERIOD (1900-1700 B.C.)
In 1900 BC the first palaces were built in Crete, including the
magnificent palaces of Knossos, Malia and Kato Zakros. Their size and
decorations are impressive still today, a fact which proves that the
Minoan civilization was one of the most glorious in Greece. Findings in
the areas of Monastiraki Rethimnou, Chania and Archanes are also dated
in this period.
The settlements around the palaces had organized watering,
sewage and street system and the daily-life utensils found here are of
great significance. The most important find is the well-known Disc of
Phaestos (1700-1600 BC), a unique sample of hieroglyphics, excibited in
the Archeological Museum of Heraklio. The periodĒs economy was based on
agriculture and thrived on trade, as indicated by finds from Crete that
have been located in Egypt as well as Cyprus. The end of this period
comes after a strong earthquake in 1700 BC, which destroyed most of the
NEOPALATIAL PERIOD (1700- 1450 B.C.)
Despite the severe damage caused by the strong eartquake in 1700 BC,
the palaces were restored and the Neo-Palatial Period, the thriving
years of the minoan civilization, was inaugerated. The palace was the
centre of the economic, social and religious life. The splendour of the
palace, the wealth and the size (22000 sq.m.) impress visitors even
nowadays. Around the palace, there were many other buildings such as
workshops, storage-rooms, and mansions that belonged to the merchants,
the priests and the higher officials.
A multitude of archaeological finds testify to the way in
which daily life and economy were organised, a way which varied from
town to town. The locals mostly occupied with shipping and wine and
perfume oil trade, as well as with farming, pottery and weaving,
although not in a large scale. The commercial centers were the Port of
Amnissos, Agioi Theodori, Malia, Phaestos and Agia Triada,while goods
were transported from one town to another through a perfectly organised
street trammel. The class of merchants, manufacturers and priests
commanded respect, second only to the King who was worshipped as a High
Priest, along with the Goddess of Fertility. The ruins of contemporary
arched tombs provide a multitude of information regarding the
worshipping and burrial customs of that period.
The artistic production was of high levels, with beautiful
items of pottery, painting, seal-making, lithotomy, miniatures and
jewels. The daily life representations on pots and murals testify to
the prominent role of women, in the minoan civilization. As expected,
the thrive of the minoan civilization influenced the mainland and the
Cretan colonnies. In about 1450 BC, this colourful splendor came to a
sudden end. The cities and palaces of the Minoan civilization were
swept away by a tidal wave, caused by a volcanic eruption in the island
of Thera, while extensive fires demolished everything.
POSTPALATIAL PERIOD (1450-1100 B.C.)
The Achaeans, exploiting the demise of the Minoan civilization,
occupied Knossos and established a strong Achaean dynasty. According to
tablets written in Linear B script, the Achaeans soon took control of
the island. Although the economy was still based on trade with nearby
Egypt and Asia Minor, the change is evident in art and daily life. All
ceramics, bronze objects, jewels etc., testify to the coexistence and
influence of the two populations on one another, for a long time.
In 1300 BC another strong earthquake destroyed the last
remains of the Minoan civilization, including the palace of Knossos.
Another theory claims that the palace was destroyed during a battle
between the Achaeans of the mainland and the Achaeans of Crete. After
this destruction, the new conquerors became very powerful, retained the
wealth of their predecessors, but failed to continue their great
cultural tradition. According to historians, in 1200 BC, Crete had a
powerful fleet that raided the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.
In the early 11th cent. BC, European tribes descended on Crete from the
PROTOGEOMETRIC PERIOD (1100-900 B.C.)
In the 11th century BC, Greece was swarmed with Achaeans and Dorians
who occupied the mainland and then took over Crete. The islanders,
known as Eteocretans, built new settlements, in the remote areas of
central and eastern Crete, such as Karfi Lasithiou and Praissos, where
they tried to keep their language, customs and traditions unchanged.
The new conquerors brought to the island tools, weapons and other
objects made of iron, as well as new customs such as the burning of the
GEOMETRIC & ARCHAIC PERIOD (900 - 500
Ever since 900 BC, following the Dorian Rule in Crete, the basic
political system was monarchy. There were more than 100 city-states
such as Gorty, Phaestos, Knossos, Tylissos, Littos, Rizenia,
Hersonissos, Lapa, Lissos, Tara, Milatos, Terapytne, Cydonia, Itanos,
Sitia, Praissos and Olounda. There were three social classes :
“Periiki” who enjoyed limited political rights, but owned land and were
involved in trade; “Minoites” who worked as slaves in the construction
of public works and “Afamiotes” or “Klarotes” who were the personal
slaves of the Dorians and did all the hard, agricultural work.
Art and science were influenced by both Dorian and eastern
elements, as indicated by pots, jewels, metallic items etc. Daedalus,
the sculptor, created a new technique in sculpture, called “Daedalic”
style. Many works of this school are exhibited in Cretan museums.
During the 7th century BC, Crete was the cultural and art center of
Greece. Unfortunately, the next century was characterized by the
constant fight between the Cretan cities and the enemy invasions from
mainland Greece and Asia. Life was based on the strict models of
Sparti, as attested to by the “Laws of Gorty” (5th century BC), found
during the excavation in Gorty.
CLASSICAL & HELLENISTIC PERIOD (500-67 B.C.)
During the classic period, with the cities of mainland Greece being in
constant conflict with one another, Crete flourished. It did not
participate in either the Persian or the Peloponnesian wars that
plagued the Mainland. When the Macedonians inaugurated the Hellenistic
Period, the Cretans, attempting to win the favour of the powerful new
rulers, pronounced Philip E (217-216 BC) protector of the island. Yet ,
even the presence of an outside strong force was unable to put an end
to the rivalry among the important cities in Crete.
This fact was exploited by the pirates of Celichia, who
dominated the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Using Crete as the
base of operations, they marched against the Roman city of Ostia in the
2nd century BC. The Romans used this as reason to interfere in the
islandĒs political life. After the failed expedition of Marcus Antonius
in 71 BC, commander Cointus Caecilius Metellus marched against Crete in
69 BC, and after two years of harsh siege, finally managed to conquer
the island in 67 BC.
ROMAN PERIOD (67 B.C. - 330)
In 67 BC, Crete was conquered by the Romans after two years of siege.
This was followed by a period of peace during which the cities, Gorty
being the capital, flourished. Luxurious roman buildings, temples,
stadiums and baths were built. The population by then was numbering
300,00 inhabitants. The biggest cities were Knossos, Cydonia, Aptena,
Ierapetra, Phaestos, Littos and Eleftherna. The presence of Romans did
not influence the daily life and habits of Cretans who retained their
language and worshipping customs. This is the time when Crete first
heard about Christianity and the first church was founded by Agios
Titus, the islandsĒ protector saint and apostle PaulĒs student. In 330
AD after the roman empire was divided in the eastern and western parts
Crete became part of Byzantium.
PROTOBYZANTINE PERIOD (330-824)
When the Roman empire was divided, Crete became originally part of
Illyrian country, which in 395 AD became part of Byzantium, under the
emperor Theodosios the Great. This is the first time that Christianity
spread and the Abbey of Crete came under the Patriarchy of
Constantinopole. Some of the biggest churches of the island were built
then: the basilica of Agios Titus in the area of Gorty, the basilica of
Panormos in Rethimno and the basilica of Almyrida Apokoronou. During
the first Byzantine Period, Crete was raided by the Arabs who finally
conquered the island in 824 AD.
ARAB RULE (824-961)
In 824 AC, the Saracene Arabs , led by Abbu Chaffs, conquered Crete.
This period was characterized by constant raids and the island has
become the biggest slave-bazaar in the East. The city of Chandia
(Heraklio) was fortified, surrounded by a deep trench (Chandax) and it
became the capital of CreteĒs independent Arab state. During the Arab
Rule, Byzantium tried to take back Crete and in 826 AD, General
Karteros caused severe casualties to the Arabs. Yet the Arab Rule
lasted till 961 AD, when, after months of siege, Nikiforos Fokas
brought Crete back to the Byzantine empire.
NEOBYZANTINE PERIOD (961- 1204)
The second Byzantine Period begins with CreteĒs conquest by Nikiforos
Fokas in May 7th 961 and its release from Arab Rule. The final battle,
after several months of siege, caused severe casualties to the Arab
army and the death of 200,000 Arabs. Thus began a new period of
cultural and economical flourish and the revival of Christianity in
Crete. Missionaries spread the word of Christianity around the island,
two of them being Nikon “Metanoite”(ĄrepentĒ) and Agios Ioannis Xenos.
The local population grew, as Alexios Komninos ordered the migration
and settlement of Byzantine families here, in 1082. In 1204, after
Constantinopole was occupied by the Franks, the Latin emperor gave
Crete away to Bonifatius Momferatius who sold it to the Venetians, in
VENETIAN RULE (1204- 1669)
The Venetian Rule began with the occupation of Constantinople by the
Franks, in 1204 and the offer of Crete to Bonifatius Monferaticus by
the Latin emperor. The former sold it in 1210 to the Venetians who
fought successfully against the Genovans and settled in the island
permanently, appointing Heraklio as capital. The Venetian Rule lasted
for four centuries and was divided into two periods: the first one
ended in 1453, when the Turks occupied Constantinople and the second
one ended in 1669 when, after 21 years of siege, Crete was conquered by
During the Venetian Rule, the population of Crete augmented,
as many venetian families settled here to fortify the venetian element
in Crete.The island, also known as “kingdom of Crete”, was originally
divided in six “sexteria” and, later, in four counties. All power came
to the hands of the Duke, his councellors and the administrators, while
the locals had absolutely no authority or fortune. The Venetians
appointed a Latin archbishop and tried to limit Orthodox church and
confiscate its property. As expected, there were many riots against the
Venetian Rule, the most significant being led by Scordilis, Callergis
and Melissinos families, thus gaining some privileges for the locals,
like the treaty of 1299 (Pax Alexii Callergi) that acknowledged the
right to an Orthodox bishop, free settlement around the island and
freedom to the slaves.
The movement of Callergi brothers was supported by Venetian
feudatories who, irritated by heavy taxation, helped to proclaim the
island an autonomous democracy under the name “Democracy of St Titus”.
Yet, despite the riot results, the feudal system was extremely
suppresive of the poor farmers who worked as slaves at the property of
the rich feudatories. After the decline of the feudal system, the class
of the bourgeois merchants took over and the Orthodox church thrived.
The basic element of the Venetian Rule was the cultural growth, as
attested by significant works of the Cretan School of Painting,
theater, literature and poetry. The architectural influence was
impressive, with sublime castles, fortifications and public works still
TURKISH OCCUPATION (1669 - 1898)
In 1645, 60,000 Turks led by Yussut Pasha disembarked on Crete and
occupied Chania and Rethimno. After an unbelievable 21 -year siege,
Chandax, the last fort of resistance, was surrendered by Francesco
Morozini to Turk Ahmed Kioproulis, in September 27th 1669. Thus, Crete
came under Turkish occupation. This period is characterized by
destruction, raids, property confiscation, which were now handled by
the Sultan and the persecution of the local Christians, despite the
privileges that Mohammed B had granted the Patriarchy.
Most of the churches were turned to mosques and the locals
were either massacred or imprisoned. The Cretans did not leave the
island, in spite of the conditions of poverty and pressure, and
resisted in every possible way. In 1692, they fought together with the
Venetians against the Turks, a fact that irritated the enemy and
resulted in the massacre of many Christians. Another attempt at
independence with the help of the Russians, in 1770 ended in bloodshed.
Yet, the Brave Cretans did not quit the struggle. The biggest part of
the island was liberated in 1821-1824.
Unfortunately, Egyptian Ahmet Alli came to the aid of the
Sultan before all of Crete was liberated. After the declaration of the
Greek state, the circumstances allowed the Sultan to give Crete away to
Egypt until 1840 when the extensive riots forced Egypt to grant
privileges to the locals. This irritated the Turks and a series of
battles began, the most important of them being the Revolution of
1895-96, the battle of Crete in 1866-68 and the holocaust of the
monastery of Arkadia. These were followed by riots which led to the
declaration of Crete as an independent “Cretan State” in 1898, when a
period of healing for two centuries of slavery begins.
MODERN YEARS (1898- TILL TODAY)
In 1898, the Great Powers declared Crete as “an independent Cretan
State”, under the rule of Sultan. Yet, the administration of commander
Prince George irritated the Cretans who, in 1905 revolted - the famous
“Revolution of Ieriso”-, thus forcing Prince George to resign and
appoint commandeer, Alexandros Zaimis. This is when Eleftherios
Venizelos, the greatest politician in Greece, sealed the history of
During 17-30 May 1913 the final union of Crete with Greece
was signed and the Greek flag was installed in Crete. During the German
occupation, the Cretans fought for their liberation, the most known
being the battle of Crete, dated 20-28 May 1941, when the most
important German landing was rebuked by the Cretans and the Allies :
Australians, New Zealanders and British. After the four years of German
occupation, a period of peace and healing began for the Cretans. From
that point on the island flourished, thanks to agriculture and in
recent years, tourism.