Byzantine period

Byzantine period

The Byzantine Period

The Byzantine period in Crete begins after the death of Emperor Theodosius the Great in 395, when the Roman Empire falls into two parts. Crete became a part of  its eastern part, better known as Byzantium.

The “calling card" of this period is the gradual penetration of the Christian Faith on the island.


Crete continues to be a major religious, commercial and cultural center. It is also the most important strategic point, an outpost of the Byzantine Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean.

However, it is also impossible to call this time a period of cloudless prosperity. The whole Western world suffered from the incessant raids of the barbarians, who did not deprive Crete of their attention. Constantinople, due to the vast size of the empire, could not always respond in a timely manner to an external threat, especially in such remote areas.


In 457, the Vandal tribe invaded Crete, and in 623 the Slavs. The pirate raids of the Spanish Arabs, which in 824 ended with the complete capture of the island, also posed a significant threat.


Arabs destroyed the capital of Crete Gortina and built a fortification on the north coast. In fact, it was an earthen rampart with a moat surrounding it. In Arabic, this type of fortification is called "Handak", which gave the name to the city that appeared on this site.


However, Byzantium was not going to put up with the loss of such a valuable island. Four times Byzantine emperors equipped expeditions to Crete, but only the latter was successful. It was headed by the future emperor Nikephoros II Phokas. At the head of an army of 7,200 soldiers and 5,000 horsemen in 250 ships, he arrived in Crete in 960 AD. As a result of fierce clashes, the Arabs managed to expel from the island. Almost the entire population of Handak was slaughtered by the Byzantines, and the city was destroyed.


However, under the Byzantines, Handak was rebuilt again and received the name "Handaks". Christianity is beginning to revive on the island, new temples are being built, Crete is once again returning the lost position of the Byzantine outpost in the Eastern Mediterranean.


The beginning of the second millennium in Europe was marked by a series of military campaigns in the Holy Land. The Crusades shook the whole Western world, and in 1204, as part of the 4th Crusade led by Boniface II, Marquess of Montferrat, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, was also captured. This event was a turning point in the history of Crete, because after the division of Byzantium, the island, like many other territories, moved to the Republic of Venice.


From 1204, in Crete the Venetian period of history begins.


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