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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.

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 art.


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 palaces.

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.

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 North.

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 dead.

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.

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.

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.

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 1210.

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 the Turks.

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 standing.

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.


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 Modern Greece.

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.

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