The largest of the Aegean islands, known in Italian and Latin as Candia (mod. Kriti, Greece), Crete came under Western domination as a result of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204). Up to that time it formed part of the Byzantine Empire, except for a period from around 824, when it became the seat of a thriving Muslim emirate, reverting to Byzantine authority following its reconquest in 961. After the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade, the island’s fate was initially connected with the crusader Boniface of Montferrat, although it is difficult to verify either a concession of it to him by Emperor Alexios IV Angelos in 1203 (shortly before the crusade reached the Byzantine capital) or its grant as a dowry to Boniface on account of his purported marriage to a Byzantine princess. It is clear, however, that in exchange for Thessalonica, Boniface was quick to sell Crete to Venice, which succeeded in gaining control over the island after a lengthy struggle with the Genoese pirate Enrico Pescatore (1206-1210/1211). Thereafter Crete was administered by a Venetian duca (duke) who was not a subject of the Latin emperor of Constantinople, but enjoyed sovereign authority, being answerable only to the ruler of Venice, the doge.
From the beginning of their long rule in Crete, the Venetians faced a stern resistance on the part of local archontic (magnate) families, culminating in a series of revolts from the early thirteenth century onward. These revolts were often checked only after prolonged fighting, and in many cases were followed by concessions by Venice to the insurgents. By the fourteenth century, the political and social climate was ripe for a combined rebellion of the Cretans and the disaffected indigenous Venetians of the island, who felt exploited by the Venetian Republic. Venice’s oppression of both Greeks and Cretan Venetians had become burdensome by the 1350s, while the stifling of the Orthodox clergy, rigorously limited in number and placed under the jurisdiction of a Latin archbishopric, added to Greek discontent. A consequence was a massive uprising known as the Revolt of St. Titus (1363-1366), which Venice eventually succeeded in suppressing; a parallel uprising of the Kallergai family in 1364-1367 was equally unsuccessful. In 1453-1454, following the final fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, a Greek from Rethymnon, Siffios Vlastos, attempted to topple the Venetian government, but his plans were betrayed to the authorities, and his enterprise failed, as did a renewed attempt a few years later. Venetian rule in Crete survived for over two more centuries, until the Ottoman annexation of the island between 1645 and 1669, in the course of the fifth Venetian-Ottoman war.
Of cardinal importance throughout the Venetian period was the island’s enormous and lucrative productivity in foodstuffs, wine, and other commodities, as well as its extensive trade with the Levant, particularly with the Mamlûk territories of Egypt and Syria and the Turcoman emirates of Menteshe and Aydin on the western Anatolian coast.