History Of Crete

concentrated history of half of the world

I wrote this history from memory so please take it with a grain of salt.

Minoan period - Roman period - Byzantium - Arabian invasion - Venetians - Turks on Crete - Modern Greek history

Minoan period

Crete has been celebrated mostly by Minoan culture. Without it that would be normal Greek island.

  • The top of the Minoan civilization is between 1700 - 1450 B.C. That's called supreme palace period.
  • Before it was older palace period, it was 2000 - 1700 B.C.
  • After 1450 was else late palace period, perhaps till 1100. In this time they made war against Mykens, in the end they got to the authority of continental Mykens.

It's better to represent it by the chart with the chain of events

Date Name of Greek epoch Events on Crete Events in the world
2000-1700 B.C. Older palace period Foundations of palaces in Knossos, Zakros, Malia and Festos.
Fantastic ceramics. Stone sealers, character basics took over from Egypt.
In Egypt is Middle empire, big pyramids stand long ago.
The copper and stone age is finishing, bronze age is slowly starting.
In whole Europe are still running wolves and nameless nations are building  Stonehenge.
around 1700   great earthquake, palaces were destroyed  
1700 - 1450 B.C. Younger palace period The top of the Minoan epoch.
Big palaces were built again.
Theatre, bullfights, water closets, canalization, decorative ceramics, frescos.
No wars.
In Egypt is Younger empire.
Jewish tribes are coming to Palestine.
bronze age
In Hittite (Small Asia) is starting iron.
around 1450   great Cretan disaster caused probably by eructation of near-by volcano Thera and Mykens invasion. Everything was destroyed.  
1450 - 1100 B.C. Late palace period Mykens are governing, they are Greeks.
Palaces were restored, new palaces are Tilissos, Agia Triada.
Development of transmarine business.
In the end of this period was Trojan war. Possible connection with so-called Marine nations which destroyed Hettite empire.
after 1100 B.C. ancient dark period cultural failure, infiltration of Greek Dorians.
Homer, who versified Illias in this time, spoke about Crete as about an island with the count of ninety languages (I think).
cultural failure in whole ancient world
since 500 B.C. Classic Greek period Crete is in classic Greece unimportant Greek-Persian wars.
Classic Greek culture, philosophy, drama, etc.
The Celts in Central Europe.

This chart may refer to the fact that the Minoan culture is very old. It is much older than classic Greece with Aristoteles and Alexander, it is much older than Trojan war and Homer. But in classic Greek period, Crete had to be only an unimportant province.

More about Minoan period

Kréta: freska s delfíny
Detail of fresco with dancing dolphins

In the top ages of Minoan civilization lived on Crete 2 million people. Just for comparison -- now is on Crete about 500 000 people and more half a million tourists in the season.

Minoan period is the first European culture. The Myken(§) culture was derived from the Minoan culture, which was a base for Myken Greek. The Roman culture is derived from Greek one. The account won't be pointed out.

We know three types of character of the Minoan period:

  • The oldest is as it were hieroglyphic, evidently assumed from Egypt.
  • The first really Cretan character is so-called linear character A, which now can nobody read, nobody knows, which language it is.
  • Younger linear character B is deciphered -- it was wrote in Greek! I feature, that it is the period for example one thousand years before Aristoteles.

Roman period

Kréta: rozvaliny města Gortis
Tens of buildings of Roman Gortis

Roman conquered Crete in 67 B.C., it is roughly the time of G. I. Caesar -- in this time Rome was expanding all over the Mediterranean, Crete's turn was later. The most important Greek city was Gortis. Gortis was the capital of province, which also included Libya. In Gortis was probably spoken Greek, the language of Greek elites, however it pertained to Rome.


After the partition of Roman Empire, at the end of the fourth century, Crete became a part of Easter Empire, so Byzantine Empire. Now Byzantine Empire sounds a little bit oriental for us, but it is distinguished by two important characterizations:

  • it is Christian empire
  • it is quite Greek empire

Byzantines ruled Crete, with a little break during Arabian invasion, until 1212, when they endured the island to Venetians.

In the beginning of Byzantine period was still most important south-cretan Gortis (extant church from this time). Christianity was very propagated.

Arabian invasion

Kréta: mešita, Rethimnon
Arabian mosque in the heart of Rethimon

In 824 Arabians invaded to the island and ruled it till the year 961. Every city was reputedly destroyed. If you want to imagine when it in the rough was, so imagine Karel the big empire and its failure.

There remained hardly fortified trade center Kandak (Chandac, Candak), that reputedly means drain. At that time it was the greatest Mediterranean market with slaves. The name Kandak was used a long time, but now is that place called Herakleion and it is the capital city of Crete.


When was Byzantium weakening under attacks of Turks and crusaders and digesting from within, it was losing its ability to retain provinces. Because these facts Byzantines sold Crete to Venetians on symbolic payment (in 1212). Venetian Republic ruled the trade in eastern Mediterranean, the republic among others grown rich on the crusaders' transportation.

Crete was good for Venetians as a base. They let people to live at ease, speak Greek and profess Christianity, so this age is in Greek history rated very positively. Under rule of Venetians were built many fortresses (which Turks later improved) and irrigation windmills (which Turks didn't improve). The same way as the  centers of Czech cities are created by Gothic and Renaissance buildings, old Cretan towns are full of Venetian buildings (thus Renaissance). Some churches are rebuilt to mosques (and then back again, but prayer towers stayed).

The period of Venetians' reign is very long, although it is not evident from view on the numbers (1212 - 1645). After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks' dominion in the second half of 15th century, Crete became a refuge for runaway painters of icons (real clerks backed down to the Italy).

Turks on Crete

Turks were since 1645, when they have conquered Crete, hateful for Cretan population. Thus is at least said. They brought Islam and Arabic habits, maybe also Turkish, I don't know. It was problem for them to control mountain areas of the island (these mountains are really giant and difficult). The half amount of the villages has own tale, about how they hid to Turks to caves (or to Germans in the war? or to communists after war?).

In the 19th century grew up the Greek kingdom on the continent. By officially spoken term it's nationally liberational movement, but I rather think, that it was England's and France's endeavour to weaken Turkey. It's similar like powers forced Crete's autonomy within the frame of Arabian imperium. At the end, Crete was made independent after some little war in 1900 and almost immediatelly was added to Greece, I think it was in 1913.

Modern Greek history

In Czech it is less known, that in 1922 was Greek-Turkey war. Greeks were winning at first, but then lost. Since this time they don't like one another, see Cyprus, for example. In 1920's 25 thousand Turks had to leave Crete. Ah, those departures, damnation of Europe!

Kréta: památník

World War Two is also well commemorated on Crete. Germans did in 1940 attack upon Greece (when Italians didn't strike it down), I think. Greeks had lost and fell back to Crete. Germans had land there and annexed the island. They have been landing somewhere near Chania and both sides had big bereavements. It is a little bit sad chapter. In 1944 conquered allies Crete back.

Modern history shares Crete with whole Greece. They've get out of dictature and in spite of they have the third strongest Communist Party (after Russia and Czech), they have good democracy. Now they are also in European Union and assumed Euro (Euro replaced Drachma as a tender in 2003).

Crete > History
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