Ottoman Crete

Ottoman Crete
Province (eyalet/vilayet) of the Ottoman Empire

Location of Crete
Crete within the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century
Capital Heraklion (Candia), Chania
35°20′N 25°8′E / 35.333°N 25.133°E / 35.333; 25.133Coordinates: 35°20′N 25°8′E / 35.333°N 25.133°E / 35.333; 25.133
 - Established 1646
 - Treaty of Constantinople 1898

The island of Crete was declared an Ottoman eyalet in 1646, after the Ottomans managed to conquer the western part of the island as part of the Cretan War,[1] but the Venetians would not surrender the capital Candia until 1669, when Francesco Morosini surrendered the keys of the town.[1] The island fortresses of Souda, Granbousa, and Spinalonga would remain under Venetian rule until in 1715.[1] Crete became a vilayet in 1864 as a result of the Tanzimat reforms. The autonomous autonomous Cretan State was established in 1898.



During the Cretan War (1645–1669), Venice was pushed out of Crete by the Ottoman Empire. Most of the island fell in the first years of the war, but the capital Candia (Heraklion) held out during long siege which lasted from 1648 to 1669, possibly the longest siege in history. The last Venetian outposts, the island fortresses of Souda, Gramvousa and Spinalonga, fell in the Ottoman–Venetian War of 1714–1718.

Rebellions against Ottoman rule

There were significant rebellions against Ottoman rule, particularly in Sfakia. Daskalogiannis was a famous rebel leader.

The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 and Cretan participation was extensive. An uprising by Christians met with a fierce response from the Ottoman authorities and the execution of several bishops, regarded as ringleaders. Between 1821 and 1828, the island was the scene of repeated hostilities. The Muslims were driven into the large fortified towns on the north coast and it would appear that as many as 60% of them died from plague or famine while there. The Cretan Christians also suffered severely, losing around 21% of their population. In the 1830s.[citation needed]

As the Ottoman sultan, Mahmud II, had no army of his own available, he was forced to seek the aid of his rebellious vassal and rival, Muhammad Ali of Egypt, who sent an expedition to the island. Britain decided that Crete should not become part of the new Kingdom of Greece on its independence in 1830, evidently fearing that it would either become a centre of piracy as it had often been in the past, or a Russian naval base in the East Mediterranean. In 1832, a Greek state was established which, however, did not include Crete; the island was administered by an Albanian from Egypt, Mustafa Naili Pasha (known as Mustafa Pasha), whose rule attempted to create a synthesis of Muslim landowners and the emergent Christian commercial classes. Though subsequent Greek nationalist historiography has portrayed the Pasha as an oppressive figure, as reported by British and French consular observers, he seems to have been generally cautious, pro-British, and to have tried harder to win the support of the Cretan Christians (having married the daughter of a priest and allowed her to remain Christian) than the Cretan Muslims. In 1834 however a Cretan committee was set up in Athens to work for the union of the island with Greece.

In 1840, Egypt was forced by Palmerston to return Crete to direct Ottoman rule. Mustafa Pasha angled unsuccessfully to become semi-independent Prince of Greece but the Christian Cretans instead of supporting rose up against him, once more driving the Muslims temporarily into siege in the towns. An Anglo-Ottoman naval operation restored control in the island and Mustafa Pasha was confirmed as the governor of the island, though under command from Istanbul. He remained there until 1851 when he was summoned to Istanbul, where though of relatively advanced age (his early fifties) he had a successful career, becoming Grand Vizier several times.

After Greece achieved its independence, Crete became an object of contention as the Christian part of its population revolted several times against Ottoman rule. Revolts in 1841 and 1858 secured some privileges, such as the right to bear arms, equality of Christian and Muslim worship, and the establishment of Christian councils of elders with jurisdiction over education and customary law. Despite these concessions, the Christian Cretans maintained their ultimate aim of union with Greece, and tensions between the Christian and Muslim communities ran high. Thus, in 1866 the great Cretan Revolt began.

The uprising, which lasted for three years, involved volunteers from Greece and other European countries, where it was viewed with considerable sympathy. Despite early successes of the rebels, who quickly confined the Ottomans to the northern towns, the uprising failed. The Ottoman Grand Vizier A'ali Pasha personally assumed control of the Ottoman forces and launched a methodical campaign to retake the rural districts, which was combined with promises of political concessions, notably by the introduction of an Organic Law, which gave the Cretan Christians equal (in practice, because of their superior numbers, majority) control of local administration. His approach bore fruits, as the rebel leaders gradually submitted. By early 1869, the island was again under Ottoman control.

During the Congress of Berlin in the summer of 1878, there was a further rebellion, which was halted quickly by the intervention of the British and the adaptation of the 1867-8 Organic Law into a constitutional settlement known as the Pact of Halepa. Crete became a semi-independent parliamentary state within the Ottoman Empire under an Ottoman Governor who had to be a Christian. A number of the senior "Christian Pashas" including Photiades Pasha and Kostis Adosidis Pasha ruled the island in the 1880s, presiding over a parliament in which liberals and conservatives contended for power. Disputes between the two powers however led to a further insurgency in 1889 and the collapse of the Pact of Halepa arrangements. The international powers, disgusted at what seemed to be factional politics, allowed the Ottoman authorities to send troops to the island and restore order but did not anticipate that Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II would use this as a pretext to end the Halepa Pact Constitution and instead rule the island by martial-law. This action led to international sympathy for the Cretan Christians and to a loss of any remaining acquiescence among them for continued Ottoman rule. When a small insurgency began in September 1895, it spread quickly, and by the summer of 1896 the Ottoman forces had lost military control of most of the island.

The new uprising led to the dispatch of a Greek expeditionary force to the island, culminating in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, in which Greece suffered a heavy defeat. The Great Powers forced the Greek army to abandon the island, but the Ottoman troops too were soon forced to depart. Crete was placed under international occupation and a new Cretan State, autonomous but under the suzerainty of the Sultan, was established.


One result of the Ottoman conquest was that a sizeable proportion of the population gradually converted to Islam, with its tax and other civic advantages in the Ottoman system. Contemporary estimates vary, but on the eve of the Greek War of Independence as much as 45% of the population of the island may have been Muslim.[2] A small number of these were crypto-Christians who converted back to Christianity; others fled Crete because of the unrest. By the last Ottoman census in 1881, Christians were 76% of the population, and Muslims (usually called "Turks" regardless of language, culture, and ancestry) only 24%. Christians were over 90% of the population in 19/23 of the districts of Crete, but Muslims were over 60% in the three large towns on the north coast, and in Monofatsi.[3]

Administrative divisions

Administrative division of Crete until 1827

Sanjaks of Ottoman Crete in the 17th century:[4]

  1. Sanjak of Canea
  2. Sanjak of Retimo
  3. Sanjak of Selina


  1. ^ a b c Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire at Google Books By Gábor Ágoston, Bruce Alan Masters
  2. ^ Excerpts from William Yale, The Near East: A modern history by (Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 1958)
  3. ^ A. Lily Macrakis, Cretan Rebel: Eleftherios Venizelos in Ottoman Crete, Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard University, 1983.
  4. ^ Narrative of travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the ..., Volume 1 at Google Books By Evliya Çelebi, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall

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