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The Arab period in Crete

Coin of the Arabian Era

Crete's fall into the hands of Arabs was a very significant event and that is why we find numerous references of both in Byzantine and Arab sources.    

Two of the main disputed facts are the origins of the invaders and the year this invasion took place. The Arabs that captured Crete came from Andalusia in Spain. Right before, an important rebellion broke out in Cordoba, which was however, quelled in blood by the Emir Hakam. The rebels left their homes behind and sought shelter in other Arab countries. Between 814 and 815 around 15000 of them arrived in Alexandria, where by taking advantage of the civil unrest, they occupied the city in 818. Their chief-elect was Abu Hafs Omar. The Caliph al Mamum (813-833) only managed to strike back in 825. He marched into Alexandria, defeating the Andalusians. However, he allowed them to flea under the condition that they would settle in a non Muslim land. The Andalusian Arabs embarked onto their ships and arrive to Crete that had already raided several times.

Yet, Byzantine sources give us a different account of the events: The Andalusian Arabs arrived directly from Spain, motivated by the riches of the island and the poverty they were facing back home. Still, this account seems to be fictional as it contains several mythological elements.

The fall of Crete to the Arabs was of great significance as it utterly changed the balance of power in the area. This development had great consequences on the security, the control and the Byzantine presence in the islands of the Aegean sea. It seems that the Arabs that occupied Crete were not religious as they were systematically sacking the monasteries of the islands, in an attempt to uncover the treasures that the monks had collected, as the legend had it.

The Andalusian Arabs that came from Cordoba were mainly merchants and specialized labourers. Forced by the circumstances, they quickly became very capable seamen. Soon, their main occupation became the seafaring and therefore they were not occupied with farming. Besides, controlling the mountainous inland was always a challenge for every occupier, even for the Germans. Hence, while the cities on the coast were greatly affected, the inland settlements probably continued following the same way of life as they did before.