Crete Lost to the Ottoman Turks


After the war in which the Ottomans Turks had wrested Cyprus from Venice, the Venetians pursued a steadfast policy of never giving the Turks cause for renewed hostilities. The peril to her other Mediterranean territories, especially the enormously valuable island of Crete, was all too obvious.

Location mapUnfortunately, the Knights of St. John, based on Malta, seem to have felt no such compunction, and they frequently seized Turkish ships in acts of piracy rationalized as religious warfare. After one such incident in late 1644 the Knights attempted to land their loot and prisoners at Crete. For the Turks, this fact alone was all the evidence needed to prove that Venice was the true villain. In June of the following year, the Turks launched a massive invasion of Crete.

The first thrust of the Turkish campaign was directed at capturing the port cities of Canea and Suda. By the summer of 1647 the Turkish forces were laying siege to the capital city of Candia. Incredibly, that siege was to last for 22 years, becoming one of the most celebrated military engagement of the 17th century. Throughout the period, the Venetian fleet scored important victories at sea, extending into the throat of the Dardanelles.

None of those heroics ever succeeded, however, in effectively cutting off supplies to the attacking Ottomans. Their siege continued inexorably year after year. The European powers marvelled at the Venetian defense, but never united in concerted assistance. Finally, the end came with surrender of Candia in September 1669.


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1998 C. I. Gable