The history of Crete

Pre 20th Century History: Between 5700 and 2800 BC, Neolithic Cretans lived in caves or basic houses. These people were hunter-gatherers who also farmed and raised livestock.

The Minoans arrived in Crete in about 3000 BC from North Africa or the Middle East, bringing with them the skills necessary for making bronze.

The Minoans thrived, as their use of bronze allowed them to build better boats and thereby expand their trade opportunities.

Around 2000 BC they built their first palaces, and improvements in technology allowed them to produce fine pottery and jewellery. The Minoans became the first advanced civilization to emerge in Europe.

The golden age of the Minoans was from 1700 BC to 1450 BC. Palaces destroyed by a cataclysm in 1700 BC were rebuilt to a more complex design with multiple storeys, sumptuous royal apartments and reception halls and advanced drainage systems. Some wonderful frescoes were created during this period.

Minoan cup

Another cataclysm in 1450 BC brought Minoan civilization to an abrupt halt. Crete then underwent over three millennia of occupation by various forces.

First were the Mycaneans from the mainland (1400-1100 BC), then came the Dorians, also from the mainland (1100-67 BC), although this period saw almost constant warfare between Crete's city states.

The Romans took over in 67 BC; in 27 BC Gortys  (present-day Gortyna) became the capital (and most powerful) city of Crete.

Gortys Odeon

When Rome's power declined at the end of the 4th century AD, Crete became part of the Byzantine Empire and was ruled from Constantinople (Istanbul).

The Arabs conquered Crete in 824; the Byzantines reclaimed it in 960 and sold it to the Venetians in 1204; it fell to the Turks in 1669 and became part of the Ottoman Empire; it was given to Egypt in 1830, and returned to the Ottomans in 1840.

Modern History - In 1898 the Turks were removed from Crete, which was then ruled by an international administration. Greece and, in particular, the world powers of the time resisted Crete's desire to be unified with Greece until 1913.

A Greek invasion of Smyrna in Turkey was thwarted and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 resulted in a population exchange - 1.5 million Greeks left Turkey and almost 400,000 Turks left Greece.

By 1935 a rigged plebiscite put King George II on the Greek throne. He promptly named Metaxas prime minister, and then turned a blind eye as Metaxas went down the autocratic road in the guise of protecting the nation from communist forces.

Metaxas had a grandiose vision of a Third Greek Civilization rising from the ashes of its Byzantine past, but what he created was more Hitlerian than Hellenic: opponents were exiled or imprisoned, trade unions were banned, the Greek Communist Party was gagged and fascist youth gangs were encouraged.

His one act of moral fortitude was to say 'no' to Mussolini's request to use Greece as a thoroughfare for Italian troops.

German PosterAntartes FightersBattle Of Crete

In the final washout of WWII, Greece was overrun by the Germans and, after the bloody, gritty Battle of Crete in 1941 (waged on the Cretan side by peasants armed with anything they could find), the Third Reich occupied the island until its defeat in 1945.