The Arab Incursion and Occupation

During the 7th century AD, however, and indeed beginning even earlier in the 8th, pirate raiding (chiefly on the part of the Arabs) brought about a loss of population and the abandonment of almost all coastal sites.

Finally the Saracen Arabs, operating out of Egypt, landed on the south coast in 824 AD (some say 828 AD), burning their boats to compel them to remain – or die: Crete was a land ‘running with honey and milk’ as they put it.

Thus began a tough time for Crete. The Arabs sacked Gortyna, the old capital and set up their own – Chandax (modern Heraklion). This became a base for pirate raids. The name comes from the deep ditch (khandak) which the occupiers had dug around the wall of the city, and after which they named the city – El Khandak.

History of Crete. The Arab Incursion and Occupation

The Arab domination (the Emirate of Crete) of the island for some 140 years forced upon the natives a servile way of life, severing every link with Byzantium and so halting all progress and development from that quarter.

From their piracy and overseas occupations, as well as on-island agriculture, the Emirate prospered.

The Arabs spread throughout the countryside over the entire island, where they set up new settlements, to which they naturally gave Arab names. Such come down to us as Chondras, Choumeri, Atsipas, Atsipopoulo amongst several others. The capital, Chandax, was urbanized and became a slave-market

Crete is thus reduced to a base for the Saracen pirates to launch their raids throughout the Mediterranean.

The local Christian population was persecuted and suffered. All this time the Byzantines dispatched several ventures to win back freedom for Crete – but they all failed and brought about blood-baths for the locals and Byzantine forces alike.

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