Hominids settled in Crete at least 130,000 years ago. In the later Neolithic and Bronze Age period, under the Minoans, Crete had a highly developed, literate civilization. It has been ruled by various ancient Greek entities, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Emirate of Crete, the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. After a brief period of autonomy (1897–1913) under a provisional Cretan government, it joined the Kingdom of Greece. It was occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
The first human settlement in Crete dates before 130,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic age. Settlements dating to the aceramic Neolithic in the 7th millennium BC, used cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs as well as domesticated cereals and legumes; ancient Knossos was the site of one of these major Neolithic (then later Minoan) sites. Other neolithic settlements include those at Kephala, Magasa, and Trapeza.
Crete was the centre of Europe's first advanced civilisation, the Minoan (c. 2700–1420 BC). This civilization wrote in the undeciphered script known as Linear A. Early Cretan history is replete with legends such as those of King Minos, Theseus and the Minotaur, passed on orally via poets such as Homer. The volcanic eruption of Thera may have been the cause of the downfall of the Minoan civilization.
In 1420 BC, the Minoan civilization was overrun by the Mycenean civilization from mainland Greece. The oldest samples of writing in the Greek language, as identified by Michael Ventris, is the Linear B archive from Knossos, dated approximately to 1425–1375 BC.
Archaic and Classical period
After the Bronze Age collapse, Crete was settled by new waves of Greeks from the mainland. A number of city states developed in the Archaic period. There was very limited contact with mainland Greece, and Greek historiography shows little interest in Crete, so that there are very few literary sources.
During the 6th to 4th centuries BC, Crete was comparatively free from warfare. The Gortyn code (5th century BC) is evidence for how codified civil law established a balance between aristocratic power and civil rights.
In the late 4th century BC, the aristocratic order began to collapse due to endemic infighting among the elite, and Crete's economy was weakened by prolongued wars between city states. Gortyn, Kydonia (Chania) and Lyttos challenged the primacy of ancient Knossos, preyed upon one another, invited into their feuds mainland powers like Macedon and its rivals Rhodes and Ptolemaic Egypt, a situation that all but invited Roman interference. Ierapytna (Ierapetra) gained supremacy on eastern Crete.
Crete was involved in the Mithridatic Wars, initially repelling an attack by Roman general Marcus Antonius Creticus in 71 BC. Nevertheless, a ferocious three-year campaign soon followed under Quintus Caecilius Metellus, equipped with three legions and Crete was finally conquered by Rome in 69 BC, earning for Metellus the title "Creticus". Gortyn was made capital of the island, and Crete became a Roman province, along with Cyrenaica that was called Creta et Cyrenaica. When Diocletian redivided the Empire, Crete was placed, along with Cyrene, under the diocese of Moesia, and later by Constantine I to the diocese of Macedonia.
The Byzantines under the general Damian attack Crete but are defeated by the Saracens, c. 828, as depicted by Ioannes Scylitzes
Crete was separated from Cyrenaica c. 297. It remained a part of the Roman Empire, usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire after 600 AD.
Crete was subjected to an attack by Vandals in 467, the great earthquakes of 365 and 415, a raid by Slavs in 623, Arab raids in 654 and the 670s, and again in the 8th century. Circa 732, the Emperor Leo III the Isaurian transferred the island from the jurisdiction of the Pope to that of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Emirate of Crete
In the 820s when Crete was part of the Byzantine Empire, it was captured by Andalusian Muladis led by Abu Hafs who established the Emirate of Crete. Byzantium launched a campaign to take the island back in 842 and 843 under Theoktistos with some success. Further Byzantine campaigns in 911 and 949 failed. In 960/1 Nikephoros Phokas' campaign successfully restored Crete to Byzantium.
Byzantine Empire – second period
In 961, Nikephoros Phokas returned the island to Byzantine rule after expelling the Arabs. In 1204, the Fourth Crusade seized and sacked the imperial capital of Constantinople. Crete was initially granted to leading Crusader Boniface of Montferrat in the partition of spoils that followed.
However, Boniface sold his claim to the Republic of Venice, whose forces made up the majority of the Crusade. Venice's rival the Republic of Genoa immediately seized the island and it was not until 1212 that Venice secured Crete as a colony.
Venetian rule: Kingdom of Candia
From 1212, during Venice's rule, which lasted more than four centuries, a Renaissance swept through the island as is evident from the plethora of artistic works dating to that period. Known as The Cretan School or Post-Byzantine Art, it is among the last flowerings of the artistic traditions of the fallen empire. The most notable representatives of this Cretan renaissance were the painter El Greco and the writers Nicholas Kalliakis (1645–1707), Georgios Kalafatis (professor) (c. 1652–1720), Andreas Musalus (c. 1665–1721) and Vitsentzos Kornaros.
Under the rule of the Catholic Venetians, the city of Candia was reputed to be the best fortified city of the Eastern Mediterranean. The three main forts were located at Gramvousa, Spinalonga, and Fortezza at Rethymnon. Other fortifications include the Kazarma fortress at Sitia. In 1492, Jews expelled from Spain settled on the island. In 1574–77, Crete was under the rule of Giacomo Foscarini as Proveditor General, Sindace and Inquistor. According to Starr's 1942 article, the rule of Giacomo Foscarini was a dark age for Jews and Greeks. Under his rule, non-Catholics had to pay high taxes with no allowances. In 1627, there were 800 Jews in the city of Candia, about seven percent of the city's population. Marco Foscarini was the Doge of Venice during this time period.
Ottoman Crete and Cretan Revolt (1866–1869)
The Ottomans conquered Crete in 1669, after the siege of Candia. Many Greek Cretans fled to other regions of the Republic of Venice after the Ottoman–Venetian Wars, some even prospering such as the family of Simone Stratigo (c. 1733 – c. 1824) who migrated to Dalmatia from Crete in 1669. Islamic presence on the island, aside from the interlude of the Arab occupation, was cemented by the Ottoman conquest. Most Cretan Muslims were local Greek converts who spoke Cretan Greek, but in the island's 19th-century political context they came to be viewed by the Christian population as Turks. Contemporary estimates vary, but on the eve of the Greek War of Independence, as much as 45% of the population of the island may have been Muslim. A number of Sufi orders were widespread throughout the island, the Bektashi order being the most prevalent, possessing at least five tekkes. Many among them were crypto-Christians who converted back to Christianity in subsequent years, while many Cretan Turks fled Crete because of the unrest, settling in Turkey, Rhodes, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. By 1900, 11% of the population was Muslim. Those remaining were relocated in 1924 Population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
During Easter of 1770, a notable revolt against Ottoman rule, in Crete, was started by Daskalogiannis, a shipowner from Sfakia who was promised support by Orlov's fleet which never arrived. Daskalogiannis eventually surrendered to the Ottoman authorities. Today, the airport at Chania is named after him.
Crete was left out of the modern Greek state by the London Protocol of 1830, and soon it was yielded to Egypt by the Ottoman sultan. Egyptian rule was short-lived and sovereignty was returned to the Ottoman Empire by the Convention of London on 3 July 1840.
Heraklion was surrounded by high walls and bastions and extended westward and southward by the 17th century. The most opulent area of the city was the northeastern quadrant where all the elite were gathered together. The city had received another name under the rule of the Ottomans, "the deserted city". The urban policy that the Ottoman applied to Candia was a two-pronged approach. The first was the religious endowments. It made the Ottoman elite contribute to building and rehabilitating the ruined city. The other method was to boost the population and the urban revenue by selling off urban properties. According to Molly Greene (2001) there were numerous records of real-estate transactions during the Ottoman rule. In the deserted city, minorities received equal rights in purchasing property. Christians and Jews were also able to buy and sell in the real-estate market.
The Cretan Revolt of 1866–1869 or Great Cretan Revolution was a three-year uprising against Ottoman rule, the third and largest in a series of revolts between the end of the Greek War of Independence in 1830 and the establishment of the independent Cretan State in 1898. A particular event which caused strong reactions among the liberal circles of western Europe was the Holocaust of Arkadi. The event occurred in November 1866, as a large Ottoman force besieged the Arkadi Monastery, which served as the headquarters of the rebellion. In addition to its 259 defenders, over 700 women and children had taken refuge in the monastery. After a few days of hard fighting, the Ottomans broke into the monastery. At that
point, the abbot of the monastery set fire to the gunpowder stored in the monastery's vaults, causing the death of most of the rebels and the women and children sheltered there.
Cretan State 1898–1908 and Theriso revolt
Following the repeated uprisings by the Cretan people, who wanted to join Greece, in 1841, 1858, 1889, 1895 and 1897, the Great Powers decided to restore order by governing the island temporarily through a committee of four admirals.
On 25 August 1898, a Turkish mob massacred hundreds of Cretan Greeks, the British Consul and 17 British soldiers. As a result, the Turkish forces were expelled from the island by the Great Powers in November 1898, and an autonomous Cretan State was founded, under Ottoman suzerainty, symbolized by the white star in the red quadrant of the flag. It was garrisoned by an international military force, and its High Commissioner was Prince George of Greece, who took charge on 9 December 1898.
Prince George was replaced as High Commissioner by Alexandros Zaimis in 1906, and in 1908, taking advantage of domestic turmoil in Turkey as well as the timing of Zaimis's vacation away from the island, the Cretan deputies unilaterally declared union with Greece. However, this was not recognised internationally until 1 December 1913.
Second World War: Battle of Crete and Cretan resistance
German paratroopers landing on Crete during the Battle of Crete.
During World War II, the island was the scene of the famous Battle of Crete in May 1941. The initial 11-day battle was bloody and left more than 11,000 soldiers and civilians killed or wounded. As a result of the fierce resistance from Allied forces and Cretan locals, Adolf Hitler forbade further large-scale paratroop operations. During the initial and subsequent occupation, German firing squads routinely executed male civilians in reprisal for the death of German soldiers; civilians were rounded up randomly in local villages for the mass killings, such as at the Massacre of Kondomari and the Viannos massacres. Two German generals were later tried and executed for their roles in the killing of 3,000 of the island's inhabitants.