The short history of Crete

Venetian Fort in Heraklion

Venetian Fort in Heraklion ©robertpaulyoung/Flick

The history of the Island of Crete is full of battles for freedom against the Venetians, Turks and Germans. Crete is the place where the Minoan civilization flourished and it is believed that the Minoans were the first that have contributed to the creation of the classical Greece.

We would like to present you the short history of Crete that has eleven main periods: the Minoan period, the Subminoan, Geometric and Arhaic period, the Classical, Greek and Roman period, the Byzantine Period, the Venetian period, the Turkish period and the modern times.


The Minoan period (2600 BC – 1100 BC)

The Minoans were the first European civilization and have an important place in the history of Crete. The first palaces were built in Crete around 2000 BC, in Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Zakros. Minoan palaces had no fortifications or walls, which demonstrates that this civilization controlled the Aegean see and wasn’t afraid of enemies.

Knossos lied in the middle of the island and controlled the economic and political life. Main activities as agriculture and pottery have contributed to the flourishing economy of the island. The works of art created by the residents of Knossos were exported to Egypt, Phoenicia and Syria, and Minoan vessels were discovered all over the eastern Mediterranean.

Minoan site in Crete

Minoan site in Crete ©Travelling Runes/Flick

The Subminoan, Geometric and Arhaic period (1100 BC – 900 BC)

After the fall of the Minoan civilization, Crete was conquered by the Dorians, who came from the mainland of Greece and all cities of the island of Crete were united under the leadership of Knossos. Remains of the historical Doric cities can be found in Prinia, Lato and Gortun.

The Classical, Greek and Roman period (900 BC – 330 AD)

Crete did not participate in the Persian war, or in the Peloponnesian war of the Greek mainland.

The island was exploited by the pirates of Celicia, who dominated the eastern part of the Mediterranean and marched against the Roman town of Ostia in the II century BC. The Romans used this as a pretext to engage in the politics of Crete and in 67 BC took over the island.

During the period of peace that followed in the history of Crete the towns of the island flourished, the population grew and were built temples, stadiums, Roman baths and other buildings. The Roman occupation did not influence the Cretan habits, who have preserved their language and customs.

Roman remains in Crete

Roman remains in Crete ©skuds/Flick

The Byzantine Period (330 – 1204)

In 330, when the Roman Empire was divided, Crete became part of the Byzantine Empire led by Emperor Theodosius the Great. Gortyna was the administrative and religious center of the island at that time. Between 826 and 960, Crete was conquered by Arabs. The Arab occupation lasted until 960, when, after months of siege, Nikiforos Fokas brought back the Byzantine Empire to Crete. Heraklion became the new capital of Crete and the seat of the Archbishop.

The Venetian Period (1204 – 1669)

In 1204 Crete was sold to the Venetians. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, many noble Greeks came to Crete. The Saint Catherine Monastery became a center of culture, theology, philosophy, music and literature. The Cretan School of Art was born, combining traditional Byzantine style with Renaissance.

Venetian Fort in Heraklion

Venetian Fort in Heraklion ©robertpaulyoung/Flick

The Turkish Period (1669 – 1898)

The Turks conquered Chania, Rethymnon, the rest of the island and eventually the city of Heraklion. During this period in the history of Crete many Cretan churches were converted into mosques. The “Great Cretan revolt” that broke out in 1866 and lasted until 1868 led to the destruction of the Arkadi Monastery and the loss of many lives. In 1897 the Greek forces and the volunteers arrived in Crete to liberate the island, with the intention of unifying it with the rest of Greece.

The modern period

The Great Powers (Britain, France and Russia) have recognized the autonomy of the “Crete State” under the reign of Prince George of Greece. The Therisos Revolution in 1913 led to the union of Crete with Greece.
During the German occupation in the Seconf World War Cretans fought for freedom and after four years of German occupation finally began a period of peace for the Cretans. Since then the island has flourished because of agriculture and tourism in recent years.

Beach in Crete

Beach in Crete ©idleformat/Flick

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