Okay, we know that this chapter is always the most boring in
all travel guides, and nobody wants to fill his head with dates
and historical facts, especially when he is on holiday. That
at least is how most people feel at the outset. As you travel,
however, and you hear stories, see monuments, archaeological
sites, small country churches, even street names in the towns
which excite your curiosity, you may very likely want to take
a “stroll” through the history of the place.
To help you as much as possible on this “stroll”,
we thought it best to give you a “map” (in the form
of a chart) of Cretan history, so that, depending on the stimulus,
you can go straight to the “area” that interests
you. You can go from the end to the beginning, from the beginning
to the end or jump from one part to another in whatever order
you like, as if you were joining up the pieces of a big jigsaw
puzzle. The more pieces of this puzzle that you join, combining
them with your own impressions of the journey, the more complete
will be your picture of Crete.
Late Palaeolithic Period (33000 - 8000 BC)
In the final period of the Ice Age, when the level of the sea
was 100-200 metres lower than it is today and Crete was joined
to the Pelopponese, some palaeolithic people came to Crete in
search of mammals. Deer bones have been found in the Rethimnon
area which bear clear signs of having been worked by human hand
- these date back to approximately 10000 BC
Mesolithic Period (8000 - 7000 BC)
On a mountainside between Asfendos and Kallikratis (Rethimno
prefecture), a group of palaeolithic hunters decorated the cave
in which they lived, with rock-wall paintings (representations
of deer, weapons, etc).
Early Neolithic Period (7000 - 5000 BC)
Groups of neolithic people, who came from the coast of Asia
Minor, settled in caves in every corner of Crete. Some of these,
however, were bold enough to venture out from their dark caves
and to build their settlements outside, in the sunlight. The
largest of these settlements (and one of the largest in the
whole of the Eastern Mediterranean) was found in Knossos at
exactly the same point as that where the magnificent Minoan
palace was later built. Their houses were built of stakes. Their
pots were very clumsy, with thick sides and decorated with white
spots and linear patterns. Their weapons and their tools were
simple but well-made of bone and stone. They cultivated small
fields, raised small herds and knew how to weave.
Middle Neolithic Period (5000 - 4000 BC)
As they realised that they would not be eaten by lions, more
and more groups of neolithic people settled outside caves. Their
houses were no longer built hugging each other, but had small
yards and many small windows. Their pots were much more beautiful
with thin sides and new, elegant designs. They were brownish-black
in colour and had smooth surfaces and striped decorations. Their
tools and weapons continued to be made of bone or stone.
Late Neolithic Period (4000 - 3000 BC)
Neolithic settlements were especially spread out in Knossos,
Phaestos and Iraklio. The foundations of a house were found
in Knossos which can be regarded as the forerunner of Minoan
architecture, with a spacious central room equipped with a hearth
and many small rooms around it. The remains of a small circular
hut were found in Phaestos, and this seems to be the forerunner
of the vaulted Minoan graves. The potters of this period showed
a special love of colour, and they experimented with many new
shapes. They engraved decorative motifs with lines or spots
onto the smooth brown, black or red surfaces of their pots,
or they drew ribbons in a bright red or white colour. Their
weapons and tools were still of stone or bone, but the first
copper weapons appeared, probably imported and not made in Crete.
Prepalatial Period (3000 - 2000 BC)
A new people from the East came via the coast of Asia Minor
and the islands of the east Aegean to Crete. They intermarried
with the local population and they brought new technical knowledge,
such as working in copper. A new cultural thrust was created,
a preliminary period for the fantastic Minoan civilisation which
will soon flourish. Seafaring and trade were developed and social
classes were formed whereby rich merchants dominated and achieved
political power. Their pots were much more elegant and many
of these were made on a primitive potter’s wheel. Talented
craftsmen made wonderful gold jewellery, seals, stone ceremonial
vessels (rhytons) and works of art in ivory.
Paleopalatial Period (2000 - 1700 BC)
The first palaces were built in Knossos,
Phaestos, Mallia and Zakros. These were luxurious multi-storied
palaces with light, spacious rooms and many corridors, situated
around a large central courtyard which had many storehouses,
workrooms and places of worship.
Around the palaces, towns were built which had no fortifications,
a fact indicating that there were no internal conflicts in Crete.
Industrial production (ceramics, seal-making, small sculptures)
was concentrated in the palace centres and was under the direct
control of the nobles. The industrial and agricultural products
were exported to the main Mediterranean markets (Egypt, Cyprus,
the Middle East, mainland Greece and its islands), from which
the Minoans imported raw materials and merchandise (copper from
Cyprus, pots and seals from Egypt, etc). In order to record
their productive and commercial business, the Minoans used hieroglyphic
script which remains completely indecipherable.
Neopalatial Period (1700 - 1450 BC)
Circa 1700 BC. A powerful earthquake shook Crete and destroyed
the palaces. The Minoans found the courage to rebuild their
towns and palaces from the beginning, bigger and more magnificent
than the old ones and decorated with exceptional frescoes. The
palace of Knossos covers an area of 22,000 square metres, of
Phaestos and of Mallia 9.000 sq.m. and of Zakros 8,000 sq.m.
Circa 1600 BC. Linear A script was established. The palace
secretaries kept notes on clay tablets, that no one has yet
been able to decipher.
Circa 1600 BC. A powerful earthquake, which must have been
related to the violent eruption of the volcano on Santorini
that took place at that time, caused great destruction at the
palace centres and throughout the Cretan countryside.
1600 - 1500 BC The Golden Age of Minoan Civilisation. Weaving,
ceramics, stone-craft, goldwork, seal-making and small sculpture
were at their height.
The products of Cretan workshops and agricultural produce were
loaded onto the spacious, seaworthy ships of the Minoan merchants
and were sold throughout the Mediterranean. The wealth which
accumulated gave thrust to all crafts and significantly raised
the standard of living. The Minoan cities (at Gournia, Malia,
Zakros and many other places) were exceptionally well-built,
based on town planning, with paved roads and squares. As well
as the palaces, luxury villas were built in many parts of Crete,
where local noblemen and wealthy landowners lived, as were isolated
farmhouses with many rooms (storerooms and workshops). The presence
of the Minoans was dominant over the whole Mediterranean. They
founded trading stations and colonies on the islands and in
Postpalatial Period (1450 - 1100 BC)
1450 BC. Destruction of the second palaces by an unexplained
cause (a natural disaster of great intensity or an attack by
invaders). The Minoan civilisation took a great blow from which
it was never to recover.
Circa 1400 BC Achaean colonisers from the Peloponnese became
sovereign throughout Crete. The palace of Knossos was rebuilt,as
was the palace of Archanes where the Achaean (Mycenaean) lords
settled. Mycenaean style mansions were built in many part of
Circa 1400 BC the Linear A script was replaced by a more developed
linguistic system, the Linear B script, which is an archaic
form of the Greek language. This script was deciphered in 1952,
but there are still quite a lot of obscure or uncertain points.
1380 BC Final destruction of the palace of Knossos by a powerful
earthquake or by an attack by a second wave of invaders. The
wonderful Minoan civilisation is wiped out completely
Circa 1200 BC As Homer tells us, the Cretans took part in the
Trojan war on the side of the other Greeks, with 80 ships and
king Idomeneas as leader. This is an indication that Crete,
despite the destruction of the Minoan civilisation, maintained
its nautical power and had a strong presence in Mediterranean
Protogeometric Period (1100 - 900 BC)
Circa 1100 BC The first Dorian colonists arrived in Crete.
They were armed with swords and javelins made from a new material,
iron, which was much harder than copper. The weakened locals
resisted as much as they could, but without success. The Dorians
became masters of the island and settled in the towns of the
previous inhabitants whom they enslaved and forced to work for
them. Some small groups of locals (the so-called Eteokrites,
i.e. genuine Cretans) took refuge in inaccessible mountain areas
in Eastern Crete and continued to live under the traditions
of their Minoan ancestors.
Circa 970 BC Protogeometric A order in ceramics. The decorators
of the vases began to use compasses in order to draw straighter
Geometric and Orientalising Period (900 - 650 BC)
900-800 BC Many Doric city-states were founded such as Axos,
Lato, Driros, Rizinia and Lyttos. It is estimated that the total
number of cities in Crete in this period exceeds 100, but only
half of these have been located. The Dorians organised their
social life in accordance with the strict Doric model.
840-810 BC Protogeometric B order in ceramics was developed
in the Knossos workshops with obvious Eastern influence. The
vases were decorated with bold curvilinear combinations and
straight linear subjects, drawn freely by hand.
Archaic Period (650 - 500 BC)
650-600 BC The Daedalic order, whose first traces appeared
at the end of the geometric period, now reached its peak. The
decorative relief works and the statues took on movement and
life. This was a period of cultural flowering and prosperity
in Doric Crete.
600-500 BC Invasions from Greece and Asia created terrible
disorder in Crete. Bloody battles and plundering ruined the
local population, crafts and trade were neglected, and the best
craftsmen (like the sculptors Dipoinos and Skyllis, and the
architects Chersiphron and Metagenis) left Crete and went elsewhere
to look for work. The whole of the 6th century was a nightmare
Classical Period (500-330 BC).
490-480 BC During the period when the rest of the Greeks were
frantically fighting against the Persian invaders, the Cretans
chickened out! They put forward as the official excuse for their
non-participation, the prophecy which Pythia had given them
at the oracle at Delphi. When they asked her if they should
participate in the war, the priestess of Apollo (who from the
outset had taken the side of the Persians for financial reasons)
answered plainly and clearly, without her well-known ambiguity:
“don’t be childish!”.
431-404 BC During the period when the rest of the Greeks were
fighting even more frantically against each other (the well-known
Peloponnesian War), Crete was again totally absent because at
that time it was busy fighting its own civil war: Knossos against
Lyttos, Phaestos against Gortyna, Itanos against Ierapytna,
Kydonia against Apollonia, Olous against Lato, a complete mess!
In the end, Knossos and Gortyna predominated and the remaining
cities attached themselves to these, forming two camps.
Hellenistic Period (330-67 BC)
circa 300 BC . Six mountain cities in south west Crete (Elyros,
Lissos, Irtakina, Tarra, Poikilassos and Syia) joined forces
an formed the Koino ton Oreion (Mountainous Commonwealth) with
the aim of better protecting themselves against the many enemies
who threatened them.
circa 250 BC On the initiative of Gortyna, the Koino ton Kritaion
(Cretan Commonwealth) was founded, in which the following cities
allied themselves: Gortyna, Knossos, Phaestos, Lyttos, Rafkos,
Ierapytna, Eleftherna, Aptera, Polyrrinia, Syvrita, Lappa, Axos,
Priansos, Allaria, Arkades, Keraia, Praesos, Lato, Viannos,
Malla, Eronos, Chersonisos, Apollonia, Irtakina, Elyros, Eltynaia,
Aradin, Anopolis, Istron and Tarra. It was the loosest kind
of federation that created no type of obligation or bond on
its members, while its general assemblies were limited to expressing
220 BC Peace does not come about by good wishes alone. Old
disputes never caome to an end and so Knossos made a sudden
attack on Lytto and destroyed it, with the help of 1.000 Phokaian
216-217 BC The Cretan cities elected the king of Macedonia,
Philip V, as protector of the island. Macedonia, however, was
a long way away and it seems that its protection never arrived.
Civil conflict continued unabated.
210 BC War between Knossos and Gortyna.
172 BC War between Gortyna and Kydonia.
174 BC 29 Cretan cities formed an alliance with the kind of
Pergamos Eumenis II.
155 BC War between Crete and Rhodes.
74 BC The Cretans finally realised the meaning of the phrase
“strength in unity”. For the first time in their
history, they all joined together to confront an external threat,
and they achieved the incredible: in a sea-battle just off the
small island of Dia (opposite Iraklio), they beat the all-powerful
Roman fleet of Mark Anthony. All prisoners taken were hanged
without a second thought.....
69-67 BC If the Cretans had known what would happen next, they
would never have hanged those unfortunate prisoners. The Romans
were enraged and sent powerful forces against Crete, led by
the Roman Consul Cuidus Cecilius Metellus. After a grueling
three-year war, they occupied the entire island and destroyed
any Cretan cities which offered resistance. Fortunately things
calmed down quickly and not only did they stop the destruction,
but they also rebuilt many cities and made them more beautiful
than they had been previously.
Roman Period (67 BC - 330 AD)
67 BC Crete became an independent Roman prefecture, whose capital
was Gortyna, where a Roman administrator with the title of Pro-Consul
was installed. Gortyna was enriched with magnificent public
buildings and a long period of prosperity began.
27 BC Crete ceased to be an independent Roman prefecture and
was united administratively with the Cyrenean (the Roman prefecture
of North Africa, in the region of today’s Libya).
58 AD St. Paul himself ordained his disciple Tito as first
Bishop of Crete, with the seat of his bishopric in Gortyna.
249-251 During the reign of Emperor Decius, the first serious
persecutions of Christians in Crete took place. In Gortyna,
ten young Christian died a martyr’s death - the so-called
Circa 295 The Emperor Diocletian made an administrative reorganisation
of the Roman empire. The prefecture of Crete was taken out of
the Cyrenian and included in the Administration of Mysia (a
Roman prefecture in the Balkans).
300-330 The cartographers of this period must have gone crazy
with scribing and rubbing out, as the borders of the dominions
of the Roman Empire changed almost every month due to the continuous
clashes between those claiming power (in one particular year,
there were seven emperors simultaneously, each one claiming
his own vital space!). The final triumph out of all this confusion
belonged to the Emperor Constantine the Great, who abandoned
Rome and built the new capital of his state, the splendid Constantinople,
on the site of an old Megaran colony, Byzantium (after which
it was- wrongly- named the Byzantine Empire). As for Crete,
it followed developments without participating.
First Byzantine Period (330-824)
337 After the death of Constantine the Great, his three sons
divided the Roman Empire into three. The youngest of the three
brothers, the then underage Constantas, got Crete together with
the Administration of Illyrium (which included the whole of
mainland Greece), Italy and North Africa. The eldest brother,
Constantinos II, got the West (i.e. the Administrations of Spain,
France and Britain). The middle brother, Constantios II, got
the East (i.e. Thrace, Asia, the Pontus and Egypt).
340 The eldest brother, Constantinos II, thought that it would
not be difficult to push out his younger brother, Constantas,
and take his state from him. But the young man tricked him,
killed him and took his state from him instead (as we say, “the
bites bit”!). So, on the map at that time remain the East
Roman Empire and the West Roman Empire (to which Crete belonged)
395 The Emperor Theodosius I annexed East Illyrium to the east
Roman State and so Crete joined its fortune to what later became
the Byzantium Empire.
Circa 670 The Arab pirate Bavias conquered and plundered many
Cretan towns, giving a foretaste of the harshness of his race
which would soon ruin the island.
823 The Arabs who had conquered Spain were being increasingly
driven into a corner by the Spanish and realised that they must
soon look for new land to absorb. After extensive research,
an Arab patrol of 20 ships, led by the cruel Abu Omar Haps,
swallowed up the neglected and weakened Crete.
Arab Conquest (824-961)
824 A year after the first landing, the rest of the Arabs arrived
with 40 ships. They made a sweeping attack on the interior of
the island, leaving in their wake thousands of dead Cretans,
ruins and burnt land. The land where the refined Minoan civilisation
had once flowered, sank into the deepest darkness in its history,
conquered by the ruthless Arabs. They made their capital at
Chandaka (today’s Iraklio), an insignificant settlement
in the centre of the north coast which was once the port of
Knossos and which now became the biggest base for pirate attacks
and the centre of the slave trade in all the Mediterranean.
825 Alarmed, Constantinople immediately made the first attempt
to free Crete on the orders of Emperor Michael II and his generals,
Foteinos and Damianos, but without success.
826 The Byzantines made a second, more serious attempt with
70 ships and 23,000 men and managed to take Chandaka. The Arabs
retreated to the interior of the island and reformed themselves
while the stupid Byzantine soldiers were celebrating with all-right
drunken orgies. One evening, the Arabs suddenly attacked the
unguarded city and murdered any Byzantines who did not have
time to run away. Constantinople took many decades to get over
902 The Emperor Leon VI the Wise, wisely judged that the time
had come to relieve the Mediterranean from the Arab pirates.
He organised an expeditionary force of 180 ships and entrusted
the leadership to Admiral Imerios who, however, proved to be
deeply ignorant on matters of strategy: the Arabs went to meet
him at Limnos, sank his fleet and killed most of his soldiers.
949 The Emperor Constantine VII made the fourth attempt to
free Crete, but his general, Constantinos Gogylios, failed miserably.
960-961 The Emperor Romanos II made the freeing of Crete a priority
matter and entrusted the organisation and leadership of the
new campaign to his best general, Nikiforos Fokas.
Fokas made careful preparations, determined to crush the Arabs;
he armed 3,300 ships, 2,000 of which had special launchers for
the new superweapon of the time, liquid fire (a mixture of petrol
and other ingredients-a Byzantine invention). He landed outside
Chandaka and fought the first decisive battle with the Arabs
who had lined up outside the city walls. When the dust of battle
settled, the ground was littered with 40,000 dead Arabs, while
those who could, took refuge inside the walls. The Byzantines
immediately began the siege, punishing the previous barbarity
of the Arabs with the revenge they thought they deserved - they
beheaded the dead and the prisoners of war and stuck the heads
on stakes around the walls. They shot the left-over heads from
their catapults over the walls, into the city. After they had
shot over several thousand heads, the morale of the besieged
men was shattered and the Byzantines entered Chandaka. They
added another 160,000 to the mountain of chopped-off Arab heads
and after that, the Arabs literally did not again raise their
Second Byzantine Period (961-1204)
962-968 Nikiforos Fokas tried to move the capital of Crete
to a safer place in the interior, and began to build a fortress
which he called Temenos. After he was recalled to Constantinople,
the inhabitants returned to the ruined Chandaka and rebuilt
1082 The Emperor Alexios II (Komninos) “inoculated”
Crete with 12 Byzantine noble families, among whom was his son,
Isaakios. This was the seed from which sprang the local Cretan
aristocracy that quickly took ownership of large areas of fertile
land, accumulated great economic and political power and played
a leading part in the social and political life of Crete, even
under Venetian rule.
1203 The Byzantine prince, Alexios, in his attempt to reinstate
on the throne his deposed father, Isaakios II Angelos, gave
Crete away to the Venetian leader of the Crusaders, Boniface
Monferatico, in order to secure his support.
Venetian Rule (1204-1669)
1204 Boniface did not know what to do with Crete and he sold
it to the Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, for 5,000 gold ducats,
i.e. for a pittance!
1206 Before the Venetians had time to settle themselves in
Crete, their vindictive enemies the Genoans, led by the archpirate
Enrico Pescatore, conquered a large part of the island and had
time to build 14 fortresses to secure the conquered land. But
their effort was in vain.
1206-1217 Venetian-Genoan war on foreign soil (in Crete). The
Venetians won and threw the Genoans out of the island. The kingdom
of Crete was founded (Regnio di Candia) with Chandaka as the
capital, where the administrator of the island, who had the
title of Duke, was installed. The island was divided into six
areas (sestieri) that were given to Venetian feudal lords to
exploit. The pre- existing Cretan aristocracy developed alongside
the Venetian aristocracy.
1211 The Aghiostephanites Revolution, the first revolution
by the Cretan nobles (specifically by the Aghiostephanites family
with the support of the people, of course) against the Venetians.
The Duke of Crete, Jacomo Tiepolo, could not suppress it and
asked for the help of his colleague, Marco Sanoudo, the Duke
of Naxos, promising him a handsome reward. Sanoudo, after much
trouble and sacrifice, managed to put down the revolution, but
Tiepolo refused to give him the agreed reward. So Sanoudo got
angry, fought with the Cretans and captured Chandaka, Tiepolo
had time to escape, disguised as a woman. The Venetian motherland
then intervened, made a reconciliation between them, and Sanoudo
returned to Naxos. It is not known whether Tiepolo continued
to wear women’s clothes.
1212 First large-scale colonisation of Crete by the Venetians.
Venetian nobles settled on the island with their families. They
selected the most fertile pieces of land and shared them out
between themselves. The now landless locals worked without wages
as serfs for the Venetian lords on the land which had previously
1217-1219 The Skordilides and Melissinos Revolution. These
Cretan Lords had great support from the people and managed to
dominate the whole of West Crete. The Duke of Crete, Domenico
Delfino, was forced to give them land and privileges.
1222 The second batch of Venetian colonisers arrived in Crete
and grabbed even more land. The noble Melissinos family considered
that they had suffered damage and rose in revolution for the
second time (not on its own, of course, but with the support
of the people!). The Duke of Crete, Paolo Corino, came to a
compromise with them and granted them new privileges.
1228-1236 The more you have, the more you want, and the greedy
Melissinos again incited the Skordilides family and two other
noble Cretan families (the Dracontopoulos and Arkoleos families)
to revolution. The Venetian Duke was again unable to face them
and, without much delay, he granted new privileges and feudal
lands to the Cretan nobles in an attempt to avoid total defeat.
So the Skordilidos and Melissinos families (who didn’t
care about freeing Crete and were interested only in lining
their own pockets) betrayed the cause, whilst the Drakondopoulos
family, who were patriots, continued on their own, but they
were decimated and left the island.
1252 There was room for even more. The third batch of Venetian
colonists came to Crete and grabbed whatever was left. More
than 10.000 Venetian colonists in total (from the capture of
the island to that date) had left their cramped, damp houses
in Venice to settle in sunny, spacious Crete, mixed up with
around 150.000 Cretans.
1261 After the recapturing of Constantinople, the Byzantine
Emperor, Michael VIII, tried to pick up the pieces of the Byzantine
empire, starting with Crete. He incited the Cretan Lords (the
Chortatsides, Psaromiligos and Melissinos families) to revolution,
but they confused the national and their personal interests
and made a mess of it. The Venetians exploited their differences,
immediately satisfied their personal demands (with grants of
land and privileges) and things ended there.
1272-1278 The Chortatsides Revolution, with a genuine rational
character this time. The rebels routed the Venetians and they
laid siege to them at Chandaka. The man who saved the Venetians
from certain defeat was a miserable traitor, the Cretan Lord
Alexios Kallergis, who acted simply and solely for reasons of
personal opposition to the other Cretan Lords. As soon as they
recovered from the shock, the Venetians carried out horrible
acts of revenge to set an example.
1282-1299 The Kallergis Revolution. It seems that the exchange
made by the Venetians to Alexios Kallergis for his services
did not satisfy him, so he made an unprecedented revolution!
Indeed, it ended up in defeat for the Venetians and in the “Kallergis
Treaty”, which granted very large areas of land and the
title of Venetian Noble to the all powerful Cretan Lord, Alexios
1319 Revolution at Sfakia, which was put down by the Venetians
with the help of their friend Alexios Kallergis.
1330 Revolution by the Magarites family, which was also suppressed
by the Venetians, with the help of George Kallergis, the son
1341-1347 Revolution by Leon Kallergis (almost the only Kallergis
not to side with the Venetians), who stirred up other noble
families such as the Psaromilirgos, Skordilides, Sevastos and
Melissinos families. The Venetians put down this revolution
too and took revenge on all the instigators and those under
suspicion, with the most horrible tortures and the most barbaric
executions. Alexios Kallergis, the grandson of the previous
Alexios Kallergis, was an important helper and ally of the Venetians.
As you can see, betrayal was a traditional sport in the wealthy
1363-1366 The Saint Titos Revolution. For the first (and last)
time, Venetian and Cretan nobles joined forces to rebel against
the Venetian motherland with the aim of making Crete an autonomous
Republic and for them to pocket the enormous tax revenues instead
of sending them to Venice. The instigators of the revolution,
which succeeded temporarily in its aim, were the Venetian nobles
Gradenigo and Venieri, and the noble Cretan Kallergis family.
This was too serious and enraged Venice, which immediately sent
huge forces, suppressed the revolution and beheaded the instigators.
1415 One of the first travellers to visit Crete, the Italian
Cristoforo Buondelmonti, wrote his impressions in a travel book
which became the Bible of later travellers to Crete.
1508 A terrible earthquake almost completely destroyed Chandaka
and killed thousands of its inhabitants.
1527 The Revolution of George Kandanoleos, or Lyssogiorgis,
which the Venetians had little difficulty in suppressing. The
instigators were beheaded, while the whole of the noble Kontos
family (around 1,100 people), who were thought to be on friendly
terms with the Kandanoleos family, were exiled.
1538 Cherentin Barbarosa, the most fearful pirate who ever
operated in Mediterranean waters and arch-admiral of the Turkish
fleet, attacked Crete. He was unable however to capture Chania,
Rethimno and Chandaka, and he plundered the isolated Sitia and
the whole of Lasithi.
1570 The Turks, the new power starting to dominate the Aegean,
conquered Cyprus (as you can see, the Cypriots have old accounts
to settle with the Turks). Their next target was Crete, which
the Venetians were no longer in a position to protect effectively.
1577-1614 The Cretan painter, Dominicos Theotokopoulos known
as El Greco, lived and worked in Toledo, Spain.
1550-1650 Period of peak intellectual achievement in Crete.
Both, scholars and ordinary Cretans wrote pastoral poems, tragedies,
and comedies, and this art reached its zenith with the narrative
love poems Erofili by Chortatzis and Erotokritos by Vicenzo
Kornaros, written in the language of the common people.
1644 A Turkish ship carrying pilgrims on their way to Mecca
was arrested in the open sea off the coast of Crete, and the
Turks used this as the official excuse they were looking for
the invade Crete. The Turks accused the Venetians of harbouring
Cretan pirates and they prepared for one of the bigger military
operations in their history.
1645 The Turks attacked Crete with 400 ships and 50.000 soldiers.
They landed near Kasteli Kissamou and laid siege to Chania.
After a siege of two months, they captured the city.The leader
of the Turks was Yousouf Pasha and the defender of Chania was
the Venetian general Kornaro.
1646 Rethimno fell into the hands of the Turks after a siege
of 45 days
1648 The whole of Crete had now been captured by the Turks,
except for the well-fortified Chandaka. The Turks gathered all
their forces and began the siege of the capital. The Venetians
together with the Greeks proved themselves to be hard nuts to
crack and defended themselves effectively for 21 years, the
longest and hardest siege of a castle in history.
1669 Chandaka fell into the hands of the Turks, who had paid
the heavy toll of 108,000 dead for their conquest. But the besieged
too were in mourning for their approximately 30,000 victims.
Those who were left had a time-limit of 12 days to abandon Chandaka,
in accordance with the terms of surrender. The Turkish military
commander during the final years of the siege was the Vizier
Ahmed Kioprouli, and the leader of the defenders of Chandaka
was the Venetian Fransisco Morozini.
The Turkish Rule (1669-1898)
1671 The Turks took a census of the population in order to
impose their well-known poll-taxes and levies. At this time,
it was found that around 60.000 Christians and 30.000 Moslems
1691 The Turks captured the fortress of Gramvousa which until
then the Venetians had maintained control of.
1692 The Venetians sent their admiral, Domenico Motsenigo to
Crete, stirred up the Cretans and attacked the Turks at Chania.
The Turks defended themselves effectively and afterwards inflicted
exemplary reprisals at the expense of the locals, naturally,
and not of the Venetians, who got into their ships and sailed
1714 The Turks captured the fortress of Souda which was held
by the Venetians.
1715 The Turks captured the fortress of Spinaloga, the last
bastion of the Venetians in Crete, and they were at last absolute
rulers of Crete.
1770 - 1771 The Daskaloyianni Revolution. The Russians, who
had a dispute with the Turks, persuaded the Sfakians to rebel
against the Turks, promising that they would help them. The
help, however, never came and the 2,000 rebelling Sfakians,
led by the legendary Yiannis Vlachos, or Daskaloyiannis, found
themselves face to face with 15,000 better equipped Turks. After
a few temporary successes on the part of the Sfakians, the Turks
fought back and cornered them at Sfakia. They set fire to the
villages and the property of the rebels, killed and captured
many in the battles and, finally, Daskaloyiannis surrendered.
The Turks again demonstrated their cruelty - they skinned Daskaloyiannis
alive in the central square of Iraklio...
1821 The great Greek revolution which broke out in Mainland
Greece spread to Crete, the nucleus again being the inaccessible
Sfakia. The Turks responded with plunder and mass slaughter
(like the slaughter of 800 Christians at Iraklio) but the Cretan
rebels managed to strike some powerful blows on the occupying
forces in all corners of the island - in the battles of Therisos,
Lakkon, Rethimno and elsewhere, the Turki
1821 The great Greek revolution which broke out in Mainland
Greece spread to Crete, the nucleus again being the inaccessible
Sfakia. The Turks responded with plunder and mass slaughter
(like the slaughter of 800 Christians at Iraklio) but the Cretan
rebels managed to strike some powerful blows on the occupying
forces in all corners of the island - in the battles of Therisos,
Lakkon, Rethimno and elsewhere, the Turkish army suffered great
losses. The Cretan chieftains, however, did not manage to avoid
internal disputes and so they asked mainland Greece to send
someone to undertake the general command. The leader of the
Greek revolution Dimitrios Ypsilantis, sent Michael Afentoulief
to Crete who did what he could to coordinate and organise the
revolution in Crete. But the Cretans were stubborn and couldn’t
conquer their egotism. If they had had a little more accord,
they would have thrown the Turks into the sea much earlier.
1822 The Sultan saw that he could not manage things on his
own and he asked Mehmet Ali of Egypt for help. He landed at
Crete with a very big Egyptian army and the scales turned again
on the side of the Moslems who, after every victory, plundered,
burned and ravaged everything before them. The morale of the
Cretans was gradually lowered as they saw their country turning
to ashes and ruins
1823 Afentoulief was deposed and Emmanuel Tombazis became leader.
In a decisive battle on the plain of Mesara, the Turko-Egyptian
army beat the Cretans. A few months later, Tombazis left Crete
and the revolution was effectively over.
1825 A band of Cretan rebels came from the Peloponnese and
captured the fortress of Gramvousa. The revolution rekindled.
1825-1828 The Gramvousa Revolution. With the fortress of Gramvousa
as the centre of operations and under the direction of the “Council
of Crete”, whose chairman was the Warrior Vassilis Chalis,
the revolution spread in west Crete.
1828 The Battle of Frangokastelo. The brave warrior from Epirus,
Hatzimichalis Dalianis tried but could not beat the more numerous
army of Mustafa Pasha.
Dalianis himself was killed in battle, with the greater part
of his army. But Mustafa also sustained a sudden attack by the
Sfakian rebels during his return to Iraklio, and he suffered
1828 The first Governor of Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, realised
that Crete was a lost cause and ordered the Cretans to stop
fighting. The Cretans felt betrayed but they did not abandon
their attempt to free themselves from the Turks and to be included
in the newly formed Greek state.
1830 Despite the hard struggle the Cretans had put up all these
years and the rivers of blood that had been shed, the London
Protocol, which was the first official international recognition
of the Greek state, left Crete out of the Greek borders....
1830 -1840 Egyptian Occupation of Crete. The Sultan Mahmut
IV ceded the whole of Crete to the Egyptian viceroy, Mohammed
Ali in recompense for Egypt’s help in putting down the
Cretan revolution. In the beginning, the Egyptians showed themselves
to be better masters than the Turks; they granted a general
amnesty, asked the people to return to work, opened the schools
and carried out many infrastructure works (roads, bridges, harbours,
etc.), although at the expense of the people of course.
1833 The Mournies Revolution. Around 7.000 unarmed Cretans
gathered at the village of Mournies to protest against the very
heavy taxation, and in parallel sent a written protest to the
Great Powers (England, France and Russia). The Egyptians showed
their true face: they arrested the instigators and hanged them
from the village trees, while they terrorised the inhabitants
with similar acts throughout Crete.
1834 The English traveller Robert Pashley travelled for seven
months through the whole of Crete and managed to locate and
identify more positions of ancient Cretan cities than any previous
investigator. His two-volume work “Travels in Crete”,
published in 1837, is one of the most important travel books
ever written about Crete.
1840 The Egyptian Governor of Crete, Mohammed Ali, made a mess
of his war operations in Syria. The Great Powers intervened
and in the Treaty of London, Crete was taken away from the Egyptians
and given back to the Sultan.
1841 The Chereti and Vasilogiorgi Revolution, which took its
name from its two chieftains. Mustafa Pasha quickly crushed
it and a new wave of violence broke out against the Christians.
1856 The Sultan realised that he could not continue being so
tyrannical over his subjects and issued a firman (writ), the
famous Hati Houmayioun, whereby he granted them important rights
such as religious freedom, personal freedom, protection of property,
1858 The firman mentioned above never arrived in Crete, so
the Mavroyeni Movement arose. Around 5.000 unarmed Cretans gathered
in Chania to protest and to send a written report to the Sultan
and to the Great Powers. The Turks took a conciliatory stance,
obviously fearing an international outcry, and promised to grant
the Cretans the rights laid down in the Sultan’s writ.
1865 The English admiral T.A.B. Spratt, who came to map the
Cretan coast, took the opportunity to make an extended tour
in the interior as well, and to write a very interesting travel
1866-1869 The Great Cretan Revolution. The Turks continued,
as was expected, to violate the Christians’ statutory
rights, imposing new taxes. The Cretans rose up under the leadership
of Yiannis Zymvrakakis in West Crete, Panayiotis Koroneos in
central Crete and Michael Korakas in East Crete. The central
slogan of the revolution was “Union or Death”. The
Sultan, faced with this dilemma, obviously chose the second-death
to the Cretans. To this effect, he sent to Crete his best (i.e.
most brutal) general, Mustafa Giritli Pasha, who organised an
army of 55.000 fanatical Turks. Terrible battles broke out throughout
Crete with great losses on both sides. The Cretans had no help
from the Great Powers, which in this case maintained a clearly
pro-Turkish stance. The only ones who strengthened their struggle
as much as they could, were fellow Greeks from free Greece.
1866 The peak moment of the revolution was the Holocaust of
Arkadi in November 1866, when the 900 Christian defenders of
the monastery, realising that they had no hope of being saved,
blew up its powder magazine, bringing death to more than 1.500
Turks. This shocking event fired important Philhellenistic demonstrations
throughout Europe, but the governments of the Great Powers remained
unmoved and, on top of this, they obliged Greece to cut off
the aid to Crete.
1869 The revolution was extinguished with the Treaty of Paris
and the Turks consolidated their domination over the island,
although they were obliged to grant significant privileges to
the Cretans, with the so-called Organic Law.
1878 With the opportunity given by the Russo-Turkish war, a
new revolution broke out in Crete with the demand that Crete
be declared an autonomous state paying taxes to the Sultan,
but with a Christian governor. The Turks naturally rejected
the demand and the revolution took on enormous dimensions, with
spectacular successes for the Cretans. The revolution ended
with the Agreement of Chalepa, which granted significant political
and economic rights to the Christians. Among other things, Greek
was sanctioned as the official language of Crete, the publication
of newspapers was allowed, and Crete acquired a General Assembly
to which 49 Christians and 31 Moslem members of Parliament were
elected. Turkish oppression was steadily losing ground and the
time was approaching when it would be completely thrown off.
1878 Amid the general chaos, a sensitive, educated Cretan,
Minos Kalokerinos, from Iraklio, did the first excavations at
the ruins of Knossos. His findings (mainly earthen jars) were
donated to foreign museums and to the Friends of Education Society
1886 The German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, already
famous for his excavations in Troy, showed interest in excavating
at Knossos and tried to buy a large piece of land in the area.
But the money the owner of the field was asking seemed a lot
to him and he left, angry!
1889 As if is wasn’t enough for them to be ill-fated
and barefoot under a powerful occupier, the Cretans argued amongst
themselves! Such a civil political clash between the Cretan
members of Parliament led to yet another revolution against
the Turks, which the conquerors crushed immediately and which
they used as a pretext to repeal the Agreement of Chalepa and
to steep all of Crete in blood with indescribable acts of brutality.
Europe continued to be unmoved.
1894 The English archaeologist, Arthur Evans, came to Crete
for the first time and discovered that it was an unexplored
1895 A new revolution of the indomitable Cretans, which was
also crushed by the indestructible Turks. Unbelievable new atrocities
by the Moslems finally moved the Great Powers, who intervened
and obliged the Sultan to ensure the Christians’ political
rights by way of a sketchy Constitution, the so-called Memorandum.
1897 Not only did the Turks never put into practice the Memorandum
which the Great Powers had dictated to them, but they also began
to act with undisguised cruelty towards the Christians. An unrestrained
mob of Turks in Iraklio began to kill Christians and to burn
down churches, as in the bad old days. But those days had finally
gone into the past. The Greek government intervened strongly,
ignoring the pro-Turkish stance of the Great Powers. It sent
warships and 1.500 soldiers to Crete to reinforce the new revolution
that had spread right throughout Crete. The Great Powers sent
their own fleets, which blockaded the Cretan coast in order
to obstruct the dispatch of Greek reinforcements, set a 6 kilometre
zone around Chania which they forbade the Greek forces to approach,
and proposed the declaration of Crete as an Autonomous State.
The rebels rejected the proposal and continued their struggle,
demanding unification with Greece.
1898 The Great Powers decided to impose their own choice and
they captured Crete - The English took Iraklio, the Russians
Rethimno, the Italians Chania, the Germans Souda, the French
Sitia and the Austrians Kasteli Kissamou! Greece was then forced
to withdraw its forces. The Cretan rebels were forced to accept
the plan of the Europeans, who appointed Prince George of Greece
as governor of the Autonomous Cretan State and placed it under
1898 Whilst the English were establishing the new administration
in Iraklio, an enraged Turkish mob poured into the city, slaughtered
hundreds of Christians, set fire to houses and churches and
proceeded to all kinds of barbarous acts. While the river of
Cretan blood spilled over so many years left the Europeans unmoved,
the blood of the 17 English soldiers, killed in this final outbreak
of Turkish barbarity, was the straw that broke the camel’s
back. The Europeans now realised what Turkish barbarity really
meant, and they reacted strongly. They arrested and hanged the
Turkish instigators and ordered the Turkish army to leave Crete
immediately. On 2nd November, the last Turkish soldier left
Crete. So, after 230 years, the period of Turkish occupation
finally came to an end - it was one of the most nightmarish
periods in Cretan history.
Autonomous Cretan State (1898-1913)
1899 Prince George, the Supreme High Commissioner (something
like king, that is) of Crete appointed a 16 member committee
that prepared a draft constitution and proclaimed elections,
which took place in an absolutely orderly fashion and which
set up the first Cretan government, where a powerful political
personality stood out - Eleftherios Venizelos.
1900 The English archaeologist, Arthur Evans, came to Crete
again, bought a large piece of land in the Knossos area and,
by systematic excavations which lasted for 31 years, brought
to light the ruins of the Palace of Knossos.
1901 Prince George believed that Crete should continue as an
Autonomous State, while the Cretan people as a whole, with Venizelos
as their chief spokesman, sought unification of Crete with Greece.
As was to be expected, they came into collision. Prince George
sacked Venizelos from the government (as he was empowered under
the Cretan Constitution) and things started to get hot again.
They were difficult times for princes....
1905 The Revolution of Therisso.
With Venizelos as leader, around whom the most capable politicians
in Crete and all the Cretan people were allied, the “Provisional
Government of Crete” was formed in the village of Theriso.
1906 Prince George was forced to resign and his place was taken
by Alexandros Zaimis, a person trusted by Greece, by Venizelos
and by the Great Powers.
1907 The Cretan Civilian Guard was formed, which undertook
to keep order and to protect the regime. The armies of the Great
Powers were withdrawn from Crete.
1908-1909 As Austria had managed to annex (the diplomatic word
for “grab”) Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Bulgaria East
Romylia, with no international reaction, why should Greece not
annex Crete with which, when it came down to it, it had the
closest national and religious bonds? The Cretan members of
Parliament, headed by Venizelos, proclaimed unification with
Greece and introduced the Greek Constitution to Crete. The High
Commissioner, Zaimis, who at that time was away from Crete,
received an order not to return to the island, where a temporary
coalition government was being formed. Greece, so as not to
provoke international reactions, did not officially accept the
unification. In fact, the Great Powers did not intervene, despite
Turkey’s strong protests. When, however, the Greek flag
was raised on the fortress of Firka in Chania, a detachment
from the European fleet landed and took it down.
1910 Venizelos was elected Prime Minister of Greece. A brilliant
politician and diplomat, he worked carefully in the direction
of unification of Crete with Greece, and also of regaining Greek
territory in Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace and the Dodecanese.
He reinforced tacitly and very effectively Greece’s military
strength and when he finally felt ready, he declared war on
1912-1913 First Balkan War. Greece allied with Bulgaria and
Serbia. The allies attacked the Ottoman Empire, put down all
resistance and freed significant parts of their territories.
By the Treaty of London, which ratified the new borders of these
countries, Crete was at last unified with Greece. On 1st December
1913, the Greek flag was officially raised on the fortress of
Firka in Chania.
Province of Greece (1913-until today)
1923 Following the Asia Minor Catastrophe (the brave but unsuccessful
attempt by Greece to free the very ancient Greek territories
in Asia Minor from Turkish occupation), a large wave of Greek
refugees came to settle on the hospitable land of Crete. By
the Treaty of Lausanne, which regulated the question of population
exchanges, all the Turkish minority in Crete (around 32.000
people) were forced to leave the island.
1941 The Battle of Crete. The German Staff, and specifically
staff officers Gohring (chief of Luftwaffe) and Student (deputy
chief of Luftwaffe) drew up the “Mercur” Plan for
the capture of Crete. All day on 20th May, a cloud of 1.100
airplanes rained down German parachutists of the crack 7th Division.
On the ground, they were “welcomed” by approximately
32.000 allies (English, Australian and New Zealanders) with
10.000 Greek soldiers (very badly armed) and the whole of the
Cretan people who saw a foreign invader and ran amuck! Despite
their terrible losses (4.000 dead parachutists and 170 crashed
airplanes), the Germans captured Crete within ten days.
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.