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Cities in CRETE


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Ancient history

Archaeological findings have shown that Crete was not inhabited until the Neolithic period. The first people on Crete were initially collectors and hunters, but soon they switched to keeping cattle and pets and could make pottery. They lived, for example, in the many caves on Crete. Bones of goats, pigs and dogs from before 7000 BC have never been found. It proves that the colonisation of Crete must have been a planned and well-organised action. The first people on Crete probably came from North Africa and later from Asia Minor.

Minoan civilisation

This first period of colonization was followed by the Minoan civilization which lasted from about 3300 BC to 1050 BC. This Minoan period has been classified differently over time. The archaeologist Nikos Platon made a periodization, based on the architecture of the palaces:

Pre-palace period ca. 3200-2000 BCE.
Old-Palace Period ca. 2000-1800 BC.
New-palace period ca. 1800-1425 BCE.
Post-palace period ca. 1425-1050 BCE.
Ancient period ca. 1050-476 B.C.


Approx. 3300 B.C., new peoples who worked copper and later could make bronze reappeared. Handicrafts and overseas trade also flourished. After this, the early Minoan civilization developed, named after the mythical King Minos. Seal stones, in fact the precursor of the signature, date from this period. Minoan hieroglyphs can also be seen for the first time on these seal stones. It was also a time of rich harvests with, among other things, the important nutritious olive oil.

Old palace perid

From about 2000 BC, people moved from the small villages to the city where palaces were already being built for the kings. Proceeds from the trade in agricultural products were used to build a strong fleet. This fleet ensured that Crete was not attacked, but Crete itself also showed no interest in martial acts.

The institution of "king" was established in order to negotiate on equal terms with princes and pharaohs. Women probably played an important role in this civilization. In summary, it was a peaceful civilization with a great sense of beauty and culture.

New palace period

The Minoan civilization suffered a major blow after the earthquake in 1800 B.C. The palaces were not rebuilt until about 100 years later, with central authority in Knossos.

Late palace period

Around 1625 BC, the new palaces were all destroyed again, this time by a volcanic eruption. During this time, the Mycenaeans of mainland Greece took over power in Crete. The central administration was based at Knossos and they made Crete a rich seafaring nation, with contacts as far away as the Middle East (Ugarit).


Dorian tribes entered Greece from the Balkans and ended the Mycenaean civilization. They then crossed over to the Greek islands including Crete, and a large number of independent city-states were then formed. Under the Dorians, the island was governed according to an aristocratic system, reminiscent of that of Sparta in Greece. The island remained immune from the direct effects of the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars, but there was no shortage of fighting among them.

The period between the collapse of the Mycenaean cities ca. 1150 BC and the so-called archaic period of Greek civilization (650-520 BC) is also called the "dark ages", a period of little cultural prosperity. In some places the original Cretans, the Eteo-Cretans or "True Cretans" survived.

Crete remained important for trade on the Mediterranean during this time. For example, a Phoenician shipping route passed through Crete to Greece and North Africa. In the classical Greek period, Crete had a rather unimportant position, unlike Corinth and Athens in mainland Greece. Due to seafaring, the port city of Herakleia (now: Iraklion) became more important than Knossos. In the Hellenistic period the Cretans were mainly engaged in piracy for which the island with its many remote bays and coves was ideal. The inhabitants also served as mercenaries in foreign armies.

Roman period

In the 1st century BC, the Romans gained increasing power and influence in the eastern Mediterranean. The attack by the Romans under Mark Antony, partly necessary because of the many pirates on the island, the Cretans managed to repel. In 64 BC the Roman general Quintus Caecilius Metellus landed on Crete and after three years of fighting had all the Cretans on their knees. In 67 BC, Crete was annexed to the Roman Empire and Gortys became provincial capital. The occupation of the Romans ended the many wars between the former city-states and prosperity returned to the island. Later, the eastern part of Libya was still added to the province of Crete by Emperor Augustus.

In the year 60, the apostle Paul landed on the island of Cyrenaica and introduced Crete to Christianity. Paul's disciple Titus, now the patron saint of Crete, was appointed bishop by Paul and he succeeded in converting the Cretans to Christianity.

In 337, the Roman Empire broke up into two parts and Crete belonged to the eastern part ruled by Emperor Constantine. This part of the Roman Empire was greatly influenced by Greek civilization and expanded into the Byzantine Empire which extended far beyond the borders of the original Roman Empire. A few centuries later the area had shrunk to Greece and Asia Minor.

Crete became an independent province and benefited from the peace that existed under Roman rule.

Arabian period

From the 6th century, the Arabs proved to be dangerous enemies. The Islamization of North Africa put Crete in the front line. Fierce attacks on Crete followed in 673 and 715, and in 828 it was completely conquered by the Arabs. Led by Aboe-Hafs Omar, the island was plundered and Gortys destroyed. Many Cretans were sold into slavery, and the Arabs used Crete as a base of operations in their raids on the Mediterranean. The new capital was established on the site of present-day Iraklion and was called Rabd el-Kandak. In 961 the Byzantines succeeded in recapturing Crete, but the boom period did not return. The Islamists were defeated by the later emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Nikeforos Fokas.

Crusades and Venetian rule

Meanwhile, the time of the Crusades had arrived and Crete also became involved. The crusaders of the fourth crusade stranded in the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. In exchange for money and support, a crown pretender was placed on the throne. Constantinople was then horribly plundered and the Count Baudouin of Flanders became the new emperor of the Byzantine Empire. Other crusaders were also given pieces of the empire, including Venice, which was allowed to have Crete and called it "Candia". In 1263 Crete was conquered by Venice's eternal rival, Genoa. It remained Genoese territory for two decades and was not recaptured until the early 13th century. A "doge", a duke appointed for two years, was appointed as governor. Roman Catholic clergy tried to dissuade the Greek

Orthodox Cretans and noble Venetian families were given powerful positions, which they used to enrich themselves. The Cretan population was heavily oppressed but was eventually allowed to continue adhering to the Greek Orthodox Church. The Venetian nobility itself frequently rebelled against the mother city because it limited the influence of the local rulers.

Turkish rule

In 1645, after several earlier attacks, the armies of the Turkish sultan landed on western Crete. Soon all the cities fell prey to the Turks, except Iraklion, which held out for twenty years. However, due to lack of help from Europe, the Venetians had to surrender and peace was eventually signed. The Turkish era was to be a very difficult one for the Cretans. Crete was divided among a number of pasha's. Peasants were forced to perform labor and had to pay high taxes. Cretans were also forced to convert to Islam, which meant that people were forced to adhere to the Christian faith in secret. And those who were not Muslims could not hold any office either.

In 1692 there was another revolt with the support of Venice, which fought against the Turks together with other countries. This war was won by Venice and its allies, but Crete remained Turkish and paid heavily for its rebellion. In 1770, the Cretans received help from the Russians who were also already fighting a war with the Turks. However, at the peace talks, Crete again remained Turkish territory.

In 1821, the Greeks on the mainland revolted against the Turks, followed by Crete. However, Turkey again retaliated in a bloody fashion through the elite troops of Turks, the Janissaries. The battle in Greece was met with varying degrees of success for the increasingly decaying Ottoman Empire. Turkey therefore sought the help of Egypt and in 1824 Egyptian troops landed on Crete. On the mainland, the Turks lost the battle but Crete fell out again. The Turkish Sultan donated the island to the Egyptian Mehmet Ali but in 1841 the Egyptians left again as they also waged war against the Turks and lost.

Crete now came back under the direct rule of the Turkish sultan. In 1856 freedom of religion was introduced in Crete. Cretans who were "converted" to Islam suddenly appeared to be much more Christian than the Turks thought. Another period of oppression followed, which in 1866 led to another rebellion in which the Cretans demanded affiliation with Greece. In 1876 the Cretans managed to liberate a large part of the island because the Turks were at war with Russia.

In 1879, under pressure from the great powers, the Treaty of Halepa was concluded. Among other things it was arranged that Greek became the second language in Crete and that the Cretans no longer had to serve in the sultan's army. Political disagreements led the conservatives to seek to rejoin Greece. The response of the Turks was predictable:further oppression and persecution of Christians.

In 1896 riots broke out in Chania. Now the British intervened and the Turks were forced to make some concessions. These were not followed up after which another revolt followed which was answered by the Turks with a massacre of the citizens of Chania.

First autonomy and then union with Greece

With the help of a Greek expeditionary army, they then fought the Turks and large parts of the island were liberated. The Greek army took Crete, in the name of the king. An all-out war between Turkey and Greece was then threatened. However, this was prevented by the great powers who made sure that the Greek army left again. A British army took over but was attacked by the Turks. In response, the British fleet bombed Chania, after which the Sultan agreed to autonomy for Crete in 1898.

However, the people of the island preferred "enosis", joining Greece. Prince George of Greece became governor of the island but after a brief rebellion led by Elefterios Venizelos, George was expelled and Venizelos joined a provisional government in Crete in 1906. He would also become Greek prime minister several times. Governor was now the former prime minister Alexander Zaimis. In 1908 the European army left. In Turkey itself an uprising had broken out among the so-called "Young Turks", an excellent opportunity for the Cretans to join Greece.

However, it was only after the Balkan War of 1912-1913 that Prime Minister Venizelos dared to bring about the unification of Crete and Greece (Peace of Bucharest; Peace of Athens, November 14, 1913). The Greeks now dared to invade Asia Minor to reunite the Greeks who lived there with the motherland. However, the Greeks were driven out by the Turkish army.

At the peace negotiations in 1923, the following compromise emerged: all members of the Greek and Christian populations left Asia Minor and the Muslims from Greece went vice-versa.

Second World War

In World War II, many Cretans fought in the Greek army. Only late was the decision made to defend Crete because they wanted to use it to attack the Germans and Italians from the south. The English, Australian, and New Zealand troops were inexperienced and poorly armed, and besides, most Cretan men were fighting elsewhere in Europe.

On May 20, 1941, the Battle of Crete began, not with the German fleet as the Allies thought, but from the air with bombing and paratroops. The overwhelming force was too great and soon the Allies capitulated, despite great losses to the Germans. From that time on, the Cretans waged a guerrilla war from the mountains, which however were met by heavy German reprisals and many Cretans were tortured and killed. Eastern Crete was occupied by the Italians but in 1943 the Italians defected to the Allies. The Cretans got hold of many weapons from the Italians at the last minute which they could put to good use in their resistance against the Germans. In October 1944 the resistance fighters led by resistance leader Pandouvas liberated Iraklion, and by November most of Crete was in the hands of the resistance. Not until May 1945 was all of Crete liberated.

Greek tragedy passes Crete by

After the war, the battle between the communist and right-wing parties burned in Greece, which and degenerated into a civil war but largely bypassed Crete due to skillful maneuvering by Pandouvas. The history of Crete after the Second World War is generally calm without many problems. The situation on the Greek mainland was quite different. In 1967 some army officers seized power and the king lived in exile from then on.

However, the brutal colonial government also had no solution for the economic problems and suffered a significant defeat in the Cyprus issue with the hereditary enemy Turkey. In 1974 the socialist Karamanlis became prime minister, restored democracy and in 1981 Greece joined the EEC (European Economic Community).

In March 2015, an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale occurred off the coast of Crete. The epicenter was 152 kilometers south-southeast of the capital Heraklion. There were no reports of damage or personal accidents.

See also the history of Greece.


Buma, H. / Reishandboek Kreta

Hendriksen, B. / Kreta
Babylon-De Geus

Lubsen-Admiraal, S.M. / Kreta

Strijbos, E. / Kreta

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Last updated April 2024
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