Crete History


Crete (krēt), Gr. Kríti, island (1991 pop. 539,938), c.3,235 sq mi (8,380 sq km), SE Greece, in the E Mediterranean Sea, c.60 mi (100 km) from the Greek mainland. The largest of the Greek islands, it extends c.160 mi (260 km) from east to west and marks the southern limit of the Aegean Sea, the southern part of which is also called the Sea of Crete. The rocky northern coast of Crete is deeply indented, and the interior is largely mountainous, culminating in Mt. Ida (8,058 ft/2,456 m). Iráklion is the capital of the Crete governorate and is the island's largest city; Khaniá is the only other large city.

Crete has many small farms, whose chief crops are grains, olives, and oranges, and food processing is its main industry. Sheep, goats, and dairy cattle are also raised. The island has few mineral deposits, but tourism is an increasingly important industry. Transportation facilities include a developed highway system and an airport.


Crete had one of the world's earliest civilizations, the Minoan civilization, named after King Minos, the legendary author of Cretan institutions; in the ruined palace at Knossos invaluable finds have been made. The Cretan kingdom reached its greatest power, prosperity, and civilization c.1600 BC Later, for reasons still obscure, its power suddenly collapsed; but Crete flourished again after the Dorian Greeks settled on the island in large numbers and established city-states. Among the most powerful of the cities (110 in number, according to Homer) were Knossos and Cydonia (modern Khaniá). Although important as a trade center, Crete played no significant part in the political history of ancient Greece. It became a pirate haven in the 3d cent. BC but was conquered (68 BC–67 BC) by the Romans under Quintus Metellus.

It passed (AD 395) to the Byzantines, fell (824) to the Arabs, but was reconquered by Nicephorus Phocas (later Nicephorus II) in 961. As a result of the Fourth Crusade, the island passed to Venice in 1204; and in 1212, after expelling rival Genoese colonists, the Venetians set up a new administration, headed by a duke. Under Venetian rule Crete was generally known as Candia (Iráklion) for the duke's residence. Insurrections against the arbitrary Venetians were frequent, and the Cretans were not displeased at changing masters when the Ottoman Turks conquered (1669) virtually the whole island after a 24-year war. Two offshore island fortresses remained in Venetian hands until 1715.

A series of revolts against the Turks in the 19th cent. reached a climax in the insurrection of 1896–97 that led to war (1897) between Greece and Turkey. The European powers intervened in the war, forcing Turkey to evacuate (1898) Crete. An autonomous Cretan state was formed under nominal Turkish rule, but it was governed by a high commission of the occupying powers (England, France, Russia, and Italy). The Cretan national assembly, led by Eleutherios Venizelos, declared in favor of union with Greece, but the powers rejected its demand. The Young Turk revolution of 1908, however, enabled the Cretans to proclaim their union with Greece, and in 1909 foreign occupation troops were withdrawn.

Cretan representatives were admitted to the Greek parliament in 1912, and in 1913, as a result of the Balkan Wars, Crete was officially incorporated into Greece. The followers of Venizelos controlled Crete during their uprising (1935) against the imminent restoration of the monarchy but were defeated by Gen. George Kondylis. A new revolt (1938) against the dictatorship of John Metaxas was also suppressed.

In World War II, Crete was used as a British military and naval base late in 1940. The British and Greek forces on the Greek mainland evacuated to Crete in 1941, but they were quickly overwhelmed by the Germans in a large-scale airborne invasion, the first of its kind. Late in 1944, British ships isolated the German occupation troops, who eventually surrendered. In the postwar period there was some Communist guerrilla activity on the island.


See R. F. Willetts, The Civilization of Ancient Crete (1978); J. W. Graham et al., The Palaces of Crete (1987); J. Freely, Crete (1989). See also bibliographies under Aegean civilization and Minoan civilization.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Crete History: Selected full-text books and articles

Crete: A Case Study of an Underdeveloped Area By Leland G. Allbaugh; George Soule Princeton University Press, 1953
Crete and Mycenae By Spyridon Marinatos; Max Hirmer H. N. Abrams, 1960
Lost Cities and Vanished Civilizations By Robert Silverberg Chilton, 1962
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Knossos of Crete"
The Near East: A Modern History By William Yale University of Michigan Press, 1958
Librarian's tip: Chap. IX "Trouble in Crete and the Balkans"
The Art of Crete and Early Greece: The Prelude to Greek Art By Friedrich Matz; Ann E. Keep Greystone Press, 1962
Thera in the Bronze Age By Phyllis Young Forsyth Peter Lang, 1997
Women under Venetian Colonial Rule in the Early Renaissance: Observations on Their Economic Activities By McKee, Sally Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 1, Spring 1998
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History By Sarah B. Pomeroy; Stanley M. Burstein; Walter Donlan; Jennifer Tolbert Roberts Oxford University Press, 1999
Naval Warfare in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1940-1945 By Charles W. Koburger Praeger Publishers, 1993
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Greece, Crete, and Yugoslavia"
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.