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The Venetian occupation in Crete

Trade and Economy.

The most important exported products of Crete were the wine, the olive oil, the cheese and the wheat from the Messara valley. The Cretan ports played a very important role in the development of the Venetian trade. Amongst other things, the slave trade became very important for the economy of Crete during the 14th and 15th century. Many documents of that era mention Cretan merchants mainly partnered with other Jewish and Venetian merchants. Ioannis Mocenigo, in 1589, is describing how Cretans are travelling around the Mediterranean sea, in Syria, Alexandria, Constantinople, the Aegean and other areas in Asia Minor using all kinds of boats. In those times, when a child was born it was said that "a sailor was being born".

From the 16th century on, the apparent threat from the Ottoman Empire, forced the Venetians to reach out to the locals. This is why they implement various policies that gave equal rights and opportunities to Cretans, attaining a peaceful coexistence between the Catholics and the Orthodox Christians. Crete was not a mere trading port but an integral part of the Venetian state. These rights were given in order to foster unity amongst the population anticipating the Ottoman invasion.

Feudalism was in decline. The land had been divided in small territories owned even by non aristocrat Cretans. The remaining feuds were not operating under the bondservant system but were now leased to the farmers. The social and economical conditions in Crete were similar to the ones in the Western European regions as they had evolved after the Renaissance. This is how the Cretan bourgeoisie started joining the cultural revolution that was happening in the West.

Cretans, by combining the rich Byzantine culture with the European cultural influences, they assimilated them and incorporated them to their own, giving rise to the Cretan culture. This way, they renewed their arts and philosophy. Looking at the notary documents, the testaments and the dowry agreements of the 16th century, it becomes apparent that the Grecophones were prospering.

A senior bureaucrat of the time is writing: "the riches of the nobility and of the bourgeoisie can be seen from the lavish dresses, the festivities, the symposia and even the funerals that are celebrated with immense extravagance". On the other hand, the villagers were suffering due to the exploitation from the feudalists and the senior bureaucrats. Thus, the villagers cared little about who the occupier or the ruler would be. Numerous Cretans defected to the Ottoman armies hoping that a new regime would bring better days for them.

Chrysa Maltezou

Crete: History and Culture,
 Association of Local Unions of Municipalities and Communities of Crete (1988)