He studied law at the University of Athens, where he was active in Cretan politics, then returned to Crete where he practiced as a lawyer and journalist. A year later he was elected to the National Assembly for the newly-formed Liberal Party.
In 1896 he took a prominent role in the Cretan rising against Turkish rule. In 1905 he became the island's first independent prime minister.
In 1910 Venizelos became prime minister of Greece and supported the Balkan League against Turkey (1912) and Bulgaria (1913). As a result of these conflicts Greece gained territory from its defeated rivals.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Venizelos favoured an alliance with Britain, France and Russia against the Central Powers. He wanted Greece to give military aid to the Allies during the Dardanelles campaign, and when King Constantine I refused to agree, he resigned from office.
When he invited the Allied forces to Thessaloniki he was dismissed by the King. Venizelos returned to Crete where he formed a provisional revolutionary government.
With the support of Allied forces, he made plans to march on Athens.
In June 1917 King Constantine I was in exile and Venizelos was able to regain power without resorting to force.
Venizelos led the Greek war effort until the Armistice in November 1918.
At the Versailles Peace Conference, he won substantial territorial gains from Bulgaria and Turkey.
Despite his achievements Venizelos was defeated in the 1920 General Election.
The new pro-royalist government invited King Constantine I back to power.
Venizelos was prime minister again in 1924, 1928-32 and 1933. In 1935 he came out of retirement to support another revolt in Crete.
When this failed, he was forced to flee to France where he died in 1936 while staying at the Hotel Ritz.
A crowd of supporters from the local Greek community in Paris accompanied his body to the railway station prior to its departure for Greece.
His body was taken by the destroyer Pavlos Kountoyriotis to Chania, avoiding Athens so as not to cause unrest.
He was subsequently buried in Akrotiri in Crete with much ceremony.