History of Crete

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The history of Crete can be divided into prehistoric and historical times . The Minoan culture (approx. 3000 BC - approx. 1050 BC) is counted partly to the prehistoric, partly to the historical epoch.

Prehistory and early history

To the fossil obtained extinct endemic among fauna Crete dwarf hippopotamus , dwarf elephants , mousedeer (Praemegaceros cretensis) , also large rodents and insects eater and predators such as badgers, Marder and a terrestrial otter. Large carnivores, on the other hand, were completely absent.

The exact time of the first settlement of Crete is not known. Traces of possible early hominids go back 5.7 million years, the time of the Messinian salinity crisis . A fossilized footprint of around 50 imprints discovered in 2002 and examined by researchers in 2017 at Trachilos , near the port of Kissamos , would be one of the oldest evidence of human ancestors (coordinates of the site: 35 ° 30 ′ 55.1 ″  N , 23 ° 37 ′ 29.2 "  O ). The prints come from an upright living being, but differ from those of common animals such as bears or monkeys. Next to the ball of the foot, five toes, including a big toe, point forward, which indicates a hominin .

Paleolithic finds of stone tools are traced back to an age of at least 130,000 years, but are not reliably dated. The nine sites are on the south coast near Plakias ( Kotsifou , Schinaria , Timeos Stavros, Gianniou) and on the lower reaches of the Megalopotamos ( Preveli ), all in the municipality of Agios Vasilios . Curtis Runnels, stone tool specialist and expedition member in southern Crete, believes that the stylistic features of the scrapers and hand axes that have been found suggest an age of 130,000 to 700,000 years. They did not come from modern humans ( Homo sapiens ) , but from an ancient species, either the Heidelberg man (Homo heidelbergensis) or the Neanderthal man (Homo neanderthalensis) .

Also on the south coast of Crete in the municipality of Agios Vasilios, around 1,600 Mesolithic ( Middle Stone Age ) stone objects, such as projectile points, burins and scrapers , were discovered in twenty places . These are up to 11,000 years old. The sites are at Damnoni , Ammoudi , Schinaria, Timeos Stavros, Preveli and Agios Pavlos . The archaeological expedition of 2008/09 under the direction of Thomas Strasser had the goal of finding evidence of a settlement of Crete before the Neolithic ( New Stone Age ) and thus the Mesolithic finds from the Samaria Gorge , which were mainly in question , and which were mainly made by inspection should replace conclusively.

So far, no bones of the endemic island fauna have been found in the Neolithic settlements; they died out before the arrival of the first rural settlers, as is also known from other Mediterranean islands (Cyprus, Sardinia, Mallorca). The first clear anthropomorphic evidence comes from the early Neolithic and is dated to around 6000 BC. Dated. The akeramischen layers of Knossos are significant here. In this period, agriculture was already practiced . Only since about 5500 BC Chr. Was ceramic produced.

Minoan time

Minoan culture in Crete

Main article: Minoan culture

The Minoan period begins around 3000 BC. BC and stands on the one hand in the tradition of the native Neolithic predecessor culture, on the other hand it was also fertilized by strong influences and possible immigration from Asia Minor . The metalwork was probably taken over from Asia Minor. This caused a cultural and economic boom, which was reflected in the emergence of the "Minoan" culture. The Minoan culture ended in the 13th century BC. When the Mycenaean culture prevailed from mainland Greece on Crete.

Archaic and Classical Times

After the fall of the Minoan culture, Crete was ruled by the Mycenaean Greeks, who followed them from the 11th century BC. More conquerors from mainland Greece. A number of independent poleis formed on the island. These did not have any influence on the events of the Greek mainland and vice versa the main powers of ancient Greece - above all Sparta and Athens - never tried to conquer Crete. The Greek historians showed little interest in what happened on the island and there are therefore few written records about the history of Crete.

Theseus and Minotaur
(antique mosaic)

However, one can say with certainty about the archaic age : In the period from the 6th to the 4th century, a relative period of peace lasted on the island of Crete, with extensive measures of rulership (including laws, cf. the town charter of Gortys ) a superficial compensation evident between the dominant aristocratic forces. Only in the second half of the fourth century did the old aristocratic order, which was strongly oriented towards the retention of power of a few families, perish as a result of power struggles between them.

The society of archaic Crete can be seen as quite peculiar. In many ways it resembled the Sparta . The nobility operated domination politics by exerting influence on the young men in the form of pederasty and young teams living together, i.e. sports and combat groups under a Paidonomos . When they came of age, these young teams passed into the meal communities in which the citizens were organized. One could only be a citizen if one took part in the joint meals, which were mostly financed by the wealthy Cretans. Crete was "ruled" by cosms, the number of which differed per city. That office was given to the most influential families on a rotation basis - of course to avoid power struggles. The family was probably of great importance in archaic Crete - its protection and preservation was guaranteed by various laws (cf. the inheritance, obligation and family law of the "Great Inscription" by Gortys ). The island's economic potential was weakened by ongoing wars between the various poles.

Hellenism and Imperial Era

Personification of Crete, House of Theseus, Paphos (Cyprus), 4th century AD

The Spartan King Agis III. set when Alexander the Great was in Asia Minor and had won a first victory against the Persian Empire, 333 BC. BC still on the Persian map. Through his brother and co-regent Agesilaos he had Crete occupied. In the spring of 332 BC The Macedonian Nauarchs Hegelochus and Amphoteros began to occupy the islands - from Tenedos and Chios to Kos and finally Lesbos. Amphoteros finally subjugated the Cretan bases.

Between 267 and 261 BC The Egyptian Ptolemies intervened in Crete, but they could not pacify the island, between whose cities war had become a permanent state. In 220 an intervention of Philip V of Macedonia followed, who was allied with the Cretan city of Gortyn . He was able to stabilize the situation on Crete, but drew the Cretans into his conflict with the Roman Republic. In the Macedonian Wars between 214 and 196, Crete was allied with Philip, without the king's defeats affecting the island. The Roman victory only led to the independence of the Cretan cities and the old rivalries between Knossos , Cydonia and Gortyna immediately flared up again. The Roman Senate sent envoys as mediators several times (184, 180 and 174 BC) without these having any effect. The instability of Crete provided the best breeding ground for pirates and slave traders , who easily found shelter on the island and made pacts with this or that city. The Rhodians , as the most important Greek trading power of the time, tried to regulate the situation and took action in 154 BC. A campaign to Crete. However, they were crushed. Only a Roman intervention prevented total defeat.

In the first century BC The Romans began to act more seriously against the pirates in the Aegean Sea. 74 BC Therefore the Senate ordered the conquest of Crete. The first attempt under the command of Mark Antony was poorly prepared and too few ships and troops were available. Antony suffered a severe defeat and many Romans were taken prisoner. Meanwhile, the war against Mithridates of Pontus and the revolt of Spartacus prevented a new attempt at Roman conquest for a few years.

Crete in Roman times

69 BC BC the consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus was commissioned by the Senate with the conquest of Crete. With success he took one Cretan city after another while Pompey fought the pirates at sea. The defeated Cretans only wanted to submit to Pompey and Pompey accepted this submission, although Quintus Caecilius Metellus was the real conqueror and made Crete a Roman province. Pompey was very annoyed not only by himself, but by all of the Meteller's gens . In Rome he celebrated a triumph and accepted the Cognomen Creticus .

Once pacified, the Cretans resigned themselves to Roman rule without resistance. The island was one of the quietest provinces in the entire empire. Under Emperor Augustus it was united with areas in Libya to form the province of Creta et Cyrenaica . Emperor Diocletian separated the two areas in 298 AD and formed a separate province of Crete. Christianity spread to the island in the 3rd and 4th centuries.

In 365 Crete was hit by a very strong earthquake . This earthquake off Crete 365 caused devastation not only in Crete but in most of the countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean.

Byzantine Empire (395–1204) and Saracen rule (826–961)

In the times of the Great Migration , Crete was spared from attempts at conquest by Germanic and Slavic peoples, apart from a procession of Slavic seafarers in 623 who may have intended to settle there.

In 674 there was a first Arab attack, in 692 another.

The Arab fleet attacks Crete
(Chronicle of Johannes Skylitzes )

Under their leader Abu Hafs al-Balluti (later al-Ikritishi, the Cretan called, the Greeks called him Apohapsis), Muladí were expelled as rebels from Islamic Spain in 816 . These 10 to 15,000 people made a detour to Egypt, where they were able to take Alexandria . After a heavy defeat against the caliph's troops, the Andalusians turned against Crete, which they may have previously struck with raids. It is not certain whether they actually fully conquered it from around 824, and their role in the decline of the cities on the island cannot be read from the few sources. What is certain is that they used Crete as a base for pirate expeditions against Byzantium, that they called it Al-Khandaq, and that later Heraklion was their capital.

See also: Emirate of Crete

Byzantium tried several times to recapture the island. Attempts in 826 and 828 failed, in spite of considerable success, also in 843–844, then again in 865.

In 961 the island fell again to the Byzantine Empire , whose general and later emperor Nikephoros Phokas conquered the island.

Venetian rule (1204–1669)

Sestieri of Crete

See also: Venetian colonies # Candia (Crete)

After the Fourth Crusade , the Republic of Venice acquired Crete in 1204 from Boniface of Montferrat for the official price of 1,000 silver marks . More important than the money, however, was the Doge's guarantee that Boniface would get areas of the same value in Greece in return. This began the period of Venetian rule, also called Venetocracy (Βενετοκρατία). The island became the most important Venetian colony . In six provinces, whose names corresponded to the sixths of the city ( sestieri ) of the mother city, around 4,000 Venetians moved to the island and took possession of feudal estates (including the Falier family, from which the Venetian-Cretan poet Marinos Phalieros came). But the Cretans fought back in about ten uprisings that ran through the entire 13th century - ultimately without success. The largest uprising lasted from 1283 to 1299 under the leadership of Alexios Kalergis. There was a strict marriage ban between Catholic Venetians and Orthodox Greeks.

At the same time, Genoa and Byzantium (or Nikaia) made several attempts to recapture the island. The population grew from around 50,000 to 200,000. The capital Candia became one of the most important trade relays in the Eastern Mediterranean. From 1363–1366 the Venetian settlers themselves rebelled against the harsh fiscal and trade policies of the mother city - just as unsuccessfully as the Greek Cretans before.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, many mainland Greeks fled to Crete; from the conquest of Cyprus by the Ottomans in 1570/71 , Crete was the largest remaining Greek settlement area outside the Ottoman Empire . The cultural tradition of Byzantium, mixed with Italian influences, was carried on in Crete for 200 years after the fall of Constantinople. One speaks of the Byzantine Renaissance . One of the most famous personalities of this period was the painter Domínikos Theotokópoulos, who became famous in Spain as El Greco (the Greek), but had started as an icon painter in Crete.

Ottoman rule (1669-1897)

Turkish Empire

From 1645 to 1669 the Ottoman Empire conquered Crete in the 6th Venetian Turkish War as one of the last Venetian bastions and thus ushered in the period of Ottoman rule, also known as Turkocracy (Τουρκοκρατία), on the island. Candia fell last after more than twenty years of siege .

Under the rule of the Ottomans, some Cretans converted to Islam . In the cities, Muslims soon made up 70% of the population and Christians were in the minority. In rural areas, however, only a quarter to a third of the population were Muslims. Resisters against the Ottoman rule withdrew to impassable areas such as the Sfakia . The first Cretan uprising against the Turkish occupiers under Daskalogiannis began there in 1770, but it was bloodily suppressed.

After the Greek struggles for freedom broke out on the mainland in 1821, the Cretans rose again, but were defeated by Egyptian troops in 1824. Further uprisings such as the capture of the fortress island Imeri Gramvousa (1825–1828) and the tragedy of Arkadi in 1866 showed the Cretans' will for freedom. In 1866 they were supported by the Italian-Bulgarian Garibaldi battalion . In 1896 the Greek Orthodox population rebelled again against Ottoman rule. Greek intervention led to the Turkish-Greek War , which ended in Greek defeat in 1897. In the peace treaty of December 4, 1897, Crete was given the status of an international protectorate under pressure from the major European powers .

De facto independence (1898–1913)

Flag of the Cretan State
Cretan postage stamp from 1901

Since 1898, Crete was de facto an independent state under the nominal suzerainty of the Sultan.

Main article: Cretan state

Association with Greece (since 1913)

In 1913 the island was united with Greece as a result of the First Balkan War . After the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) and the Treaty of Lausanne, the Muslim population of Crete was forcibly resettled. The selection criterion for this expulsion was primarily religious affiliation, not ethnic affiliation, i. H. Muslim families of Greek origin were also expelled.

cleared Turkish tombstones in Heraklion

Second World War

During the Second World War in 1941 Greek, British, Australian and New Zealand troops stood in Crete. They were supposed to hold the island against the Germans and Italians in order to secure British shipping in the Mediterranean. That did not succeed, from May 20, 1941, Crete was the scene of the Merkur company , the first large-scale airborne operation in World War II, with the result that the island was conquered by German and Italian troops. The subsequent partisan struggle, which was followed by large sections of the population, led to escalating war crimes. On June 2, 1941 , on the orders of Colonel General Kurt Student , most of the male residents of Kondomari were shot and the city of Kandanos was destroyed. On September 14, 1943, 500 residents, mostly women and children, were shot dead in the municipality of Viannos . On May 20, 1944, units under the command of the German commander of the " Fortress Crete" General Bruno Bräuer surrounded the Jewish quarter (278 members) of the city of Chania . Refugee residents were shot, all others were brought to Heraklion by ship and two weeks later deported to Greece. The former Greek freighter Tanais ( Danae ), which was supposed to bring the surviving members of the Jewish community along with hundreds of Greek hostages and some Italian prisoners of war to Athens, was torpedoed by the British submarine Vivid on June 9, 1944 and sank. Only four of the Jewish residents of Chania are said to have survived.

Plan of the German attack on Crete, monument in Heraklion

The entire island remained under German occupation until autumn 1944. (Eastern Crete was occupied by Italian troops until Italy left the Axis Alliance in 1943.) The last soldiers of the German coastal fighter regiment were not disarmed by the Allies in Chania until one month after the end of the war. During the occupation, around 8,000 Cretans were killed in fighting or massacres. Bruno Bräuer was transferred to Greece after the end of the war and sentenced to death. He and General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller , who was also convicted of war crimes in Crete, were executed on May 20, 1947 at 5 a.m. The kidnapping of the German general Heinrich Kreipe on April 26, 1944 from Crete to Egypt by the British Special Operations Executive in collaboration with Cretans is also considered remarkable .


  • Tilmann Bechert: Crete in Roman times. Zabern, Darmstadt / Mainz 2011, ISBN 978-3-8053-3901-8 .
  • Angelos Chaniotis : Ancient Crete. CH Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-50850-2 .
  • Theocharis E. Detorakis: History of Crete . Th. Detorakis, Iraklio 1997, ISBN 960-90199-4-3 .
  • Paul Faure : La Vie quotidienne en Crète au temps de Minos (1500 avant Jésus-Christ). 2nd updated edition. Hachette, Paris 1987, ISBN 2-01-005526-8 (German: Kreta. Das Leben im Reich des Minos. 3rd edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-15-010261-8 ).
  • Klaus Gallas , Klaus Wessel , Manolis Borboudakis: Byzantine Crete. Hirmer, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-7774-3240-7 ( travel and study ).
  • Klaus Gallas: Crete. From the beginnings of Europe to Crete-Venetian art. 8th edition. DuMont, Cologne 1995, ISBN 3-7701-1729-8 ( DuMont documents. DuMont art travel guide ).
  • Stefan Link : The Greek Crete. Studies on its state and social development from the 6th to the 4th century BC Chr. Steiner, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-515-06554-7 .
  • Gunnar Soul Day : Archaic Crete. Institutionalization in early Greece (= Klio . Supplements. New series, volume 24). de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2015, ISBN 978-3-11-036240-4 .
  • Joshua Starr: Jewish Life in Crete Under the Rule of Venice. In: Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research. Volume 12, 1942, pp. 59–114 (on the older history of the Jewish communities in Crete).
  • Adonis Vassilakis: La Crète minoenne. You mythe à l'histoire. Adam, Athens 1999, ISBN 3-15-010261-8 .
  • Marlen von Xylander: The German occupation on Crete 1941–1945 (= individual publications on military history. Volume 32). Rombach, Freiburg 1989, ISBN 3-7930-0192-X .

Web links

Commons : History of Crete  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Gerard D. Gierliński, Grzegorz Niedźwiedzki, Martin G. Lockley, Athanassios Athanassiou, Charalampos Fassoulas, Zofia Dubicka, Andrzej Boczarowski, Matthew R. Bennett, Per Erik Ahlberg: Possible hominin footprints from the late Miocene (c. 5.7 Ma) of Crete ? Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, August 31, 2017, accessed October 12, 2017 .
  2. Were there any pre-humans on Crete? Scinexx , September 4, 2017, accessed October 12, 2017 .
  3. Nadja Podbregar: Footprints of a Prehuman on Crete? Wissenschaft.de , September 4, 2017, accessed on September 13, 2019 .
  4. Thorwald Ewe: It rustles in the trunk bush . In: Image of Science . No. 12/2017 . Konradin, 2017, ISSN  0006-2375 , p. 11 .
  5. ^ John Noble Wilford: On Crete, New Evidence of Very Ancient Mariners. ( February 18, 2010 memento on the Internet Archive ) The New York Times , February 15, 2010.
  6. Thorwald Ewe: The riddle of the three islands . In: Image of Science . No. 06/2011 . Konradin media group , Leinfelden-Echterdingen June 2011, case number two: Crete, p. 58/59 .
  7. Sebastian Witte, Stefanie Peters: The way into the world . In: GEOkompakt . No. 24 . Gruner + Jahr , Hamburg August 2010, p. 6 .
  8. Thorwald Ewe: The riddle of the three islands . In: Image of Science . No. 06/2011 . Konradin media group, Leinfelden-Echterdingen June 2011, case number two: Crete, p. 56/57 .
  9. ^ Thomas F. Strasser et al .: Stone age seafaring in the Mediterranian. (PDF file 3.39 MB) Hesperia 79 (2010) - The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, accessed on June 18, 2011 (English).
  10. Stefan Link : The Greek Crete: Investigations into its state and social development from the 6th to the 4th century BC Chr. Stuttgart 1994, p. 23 f.
  11. ^ Livy: Ab urbe condita . Epitome Book 100.
  12. Michael Wilhelm Weithmann: Slaves on the Greek peninsula. Tofenik 1978, p. 27 and p. 147 refers to the chronicle of Thomas Presbyter von Emesa from the 7th century (EW Brooks, IB Chabot (ed.): Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium . Löwen 1907, 115). On the other hand, Klaus Gallas , Klaus Wessel, Manolis Borboudakis: Byzantinisches Kreta , Hirmer 1983, p. 16 deny them any intention to settle , but consider them to be looters.
  13. ^ V. Christides: The conquest of Crete by the Arabs (c. 824). A turning point in the struggle between Byzantium and Islam . Athens 1984, pp. 81-84.
  14. ^ Thomas Madden: Enrico Dandolo & the rise of Venice. Baltimore 2003, pp. 184f.
  15. ^ Lambert Schneider : Crete. 5000 years of art and culture. Minoan palaces, Byzantine chapels and Venetian city complexes . DuMont, Cologne 1998, ISBN 3-7701-3801-5 , pp. 74f.
  16. Pandelis Prevelakis : The Chronicle of a City.
  17. ^ KE Fleming: Greece. A Jewish History . Princeton University Press, Princeton 2007, ISBN 978-0-691-10272-6 , p. 110.
  18. ^ Jürgen Rohwer (among others): Allied Submarine Attacks of World War Two . Greenhill Books, London 1997, ISBN 3-7637-5975-1 , p. 216.