Blog 23 07/01/2016 Crete under Ottoman Rule. Part I: The events leading up to the Massacre at the Monastery of Arkadi, 1866

Posted in on 7 January, 2016 in News

 Crete under Ottoman Rule.  

Part I: The events leading up to the Massacre at the Monastery of Arkadi, 1866.

turkish invasion of Crete

Turkish Invasion of Crete 1648

On the night of November 7th 1866, Giritli (Cretan) Mustapha Pasha, two times Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire and ruler of Crete for over thirty years, left Rethymno with a regular army of 15,000 men and thirty canons for the Monastery of Arkadi, 23 km south-east of Rethymno. The monastery, which lies amongst the gently rolling hills of the Amari Valley, had become the focal point for the Cretan revolutionaries

The occupation of Crete by the Turks began in 1648 and for the majority of Cretans, Ottoman rule was preferable to the tyrannical rule of the Venetians. Once again, Cretans were openly allowed to worship in their own Orthodox faith and there was now the possibility for them to benefit economically, although this came at a cost as they were required to accept Islam. Under Venetian rule, the Cretans were not allowed to be merchants. Only Jews were exempt from those laws. Christians and Jews were allowed to buy land and to establish Turkish partnerships, especially with the Janissaries – the military corp. For those who were tempted to convert, one of the concessions was to enable them to live side by side with Turks within the city walls.


Candia (modern day Heraklion)

The first few years of the occupation saw many converts to Islam, partly for survival and partly for economic gain. For many, they had thought of their conversion as a token gesture until one day, the sunnetci, or circumciser reported to the authorities that many converts were trying to avoid this and he was given full power to enforce this. For those who did not convert, there were often mixed marriages between Orthodox women and Muslim men (never the other way round), and guests from both sides would attend the wedding celebrations. Laws were firmly in place to ensure that any children from mixed marriages were to be brought up as Muslims.  For the majority of Cretans, the converts were frowned upon and in later years, when the converts were forced to attack their own people, these “terrible Turko-Cretans” as they were known, were considered to be more savage than the Turks themselves.  Slavery was commonplace to the Cretans. It had become a way of life under the Venetians and it continued to be so under the ottomans. With their families constantly under threat, there had always been open resentment of slavery, and as the Turks became more creative in taxation, they burdened the Cretans until life was not worth living. It became a matter of freedom or death.

Cretan fighting

Cretan Fighters

Under the Ottomans, reprisals against insurgents were commonplace and harsh. During this period of bloodshed, there were three great turning points and to this day they are still remembered with great clarity in Cretan ballads known as mantinades, sung throughout the island to the accompaniment of the Cretan lyre. The laments of the brave palikaria (brave young men), are as ingrained in the Cretan psyche as the Massacre of Chios, the deaths of the revolutionary leaders in Greece, and the brave Suliot women who close death rather than risk the wrath of the infamous Ali Pasha.

The Cretan Dagger of Daskaloyannis

The Cretan Dagger of Daskaloyannis

The first turning point was the revolt by the Sfakian, Yannis Vlachos, otherwise known as Daskaloyannis – teacher John.  His uprising occurred in 1770 when Daskaloyannis, a wealthy shipowner, led some 2000 men to Candia (Herakleion) and besieged the Turks within the city walls. Daskaolyannis had earlier negotiated with the Russians and was promised support. After one month, the Russians failed to intervene and the Turkish army attacked forcing Daskaloyannis and his men into the mountains. For six months the Sfakians held out until it finally became clear the Russians would not keep their promise.  This would not be the last time Crete was let down by foreign powers. To save his men, Daskaloyannis gave himself up to the Pashia of Candia. On the morning of June 17th 1771, he was flayed alive. His brother was forced to watch and as a consequence of the barbaric punishment, went mad. Daskaloyannis is the archetypal Cretan hero. With his pistol and sword tucked into his waistband, he had a striking appearance. His long waxed moustache, carefully curled at the tips, is in contrast to his rugged beard, and he had a penetrating gaze portraying strength of character that all Sfakians today are proud of.

Archetypal Cretan Man

Archetypal Cretan Man

The second struggle was in 1821when Crete joined the Greek mainland in the War of Independence. During the following seven years the Turko-Cretans suffered greatly, often besieged to the point of starvation. For a part of these years, Mustapha Naili, then a young man, was in charge of the island. Mantinades portray him as a monster who vowed “to eat up his enemies like an anchovy salad”. Again the great powers – England, France and Russia, let the Cretans down until finally, under the influence of the Duke of Wellington, they decided that Crete should join the newly independent Greece but that it was to become a protectorate of Mehmet Ali and Egypt. The Egyptian rule lasted ten years and was then handed back to the Turks. Mustapha Naili left Crete in 1851 and after a brief spell in Constantinople serving the Sultan, he retuened to Crete in 1866 with the expressed wishes of the Sultan to quell the rebellion – the third great uprising.

A street in Candia during Ottoman rule

A street in Candia during Ottoman rule

On the morning of November 8th  1866, Mustapha Naili’s troops were deployed before the Monastery of Arkadi and in the surrounding hills although he himself close to stay in the nearby village of Messi and hand over the negotiating skills to Mustapha Suleiman. The scene was now set for what was to be the final turning point in the years of struggle between the Cretans and the Ottomans which began just over 200 years earlier

To be continued in Part II

Buy The Embroiderer

The EmbroidererThe Embroiderer is a beautifully written novel spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, set against the backdrop of the Greek War of Independence. It was published on 5th November 2014 and is available to buy in paperback and as an ebook.

You can order from all good bookshops and online retailers.

Purchase directly from the publisher here:

Published by SilverWood Books Ltd.
CornucopiaCornucopia is the award-winning magazine for connoisseurs of Turkey.
The Embroiderer can also now be purchased from the Cornucopia web site.

Cornucopia: Turkey for Connoisseurs






  1. Ottoman oppression in Crete | Kritsa, at the heart of it all - […] To read more of this post, click here. […]