Byzantium

Byzantium I (330-824 AD)

Until the 3rd century BC, Crete was a province of the Roman Empire and its capital was at Gortyna.

Later (534 AD) it became one of the 64 autonomous provinces within the Byzantine Empire, actually achieving a degree of independence because of its position and its fertile soil.

History of Crete. Middle Ages, Byzantium

Christianity, the new religion of the time, spread rapidly through the island after the visit of Paul the Apostle and the later organization of the church by his disciple Titos.

Its impact was felt on all sides – not only upon the social and economic organization of the island, but also on architecture, art and literature in general.

Early Christian churches (basilicas) were constructed in a number of places: traces of at least 40 of these structures of this early period are still preserved today – at Gortyna (to Aghios Titos), at Chersonesos, Sougia, Elounda and Itanos.

Dioceses established now remain the basis for every later administrative division of the island.

In 365 AD a series of catastrophic earthquakes and accompanying tidal-waves utterly devastated all the seaside towns and settlements, but despite that until the 7th c AD Crete experiences a period of expansion and calm.

This period was interrupted in 824 AD by the Saracen Arabs. 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

Byzantium II (961-1204 AD)

The fate of Crete finally changed in 961 AD with the recovery of the island by the Byzantines under Nikephoras Phocas, on behalf of the Emperor Romanos II.

Nikephoras conducted a four month overwinter siege of Chandax and its fort, which he captured: losses were severe - mostly on the side of the besieged. The town was sacked.

History of Crete.Byzantine Empire, Nikephoras Phocas

After that a new era of 250 years saw growth and prosperity take off once more as Crete became an independent theme of the Empire, enjoying again a measure of autonomy because of its position.

The new administrative capital, Khandakas, becomes the main ecclesiastical centre too as the diocese of Crete is refounded upon it.

The significant reduction in the population numbers that had occurred in the last century or so was combated by the installing of veteran soldiers and Byzantine nobles in fertile and strategic places – to preserve security. In other areas families of Byzantine nobles established themselves, or the local ruling Cretan classes were buttressed – again with the aims of preserving stability and safety by ensuring effective government.

History of Crete. Byzantium

The Emperors set up a social and economic structure of a feudal sort: ownership of whole (or parts of) villages were deeded to these local lords. In exchange they provided men, horses and weapons to the Empire.

Only Sphakia was exempt from this arrangement – since everyone there was well-born!

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