Crete under The Roman Empire

The Roman general Metellus' subjugation of the Cretan city-states in 68 BCE marks the start of a period of more than 2,000 years in which Crete is dominated by foreign (non-Greek) powers. And when the Roman Empire was divided around the third century BCE, Crete became part of the Eastern Roman Empire. Later called the Byzantine Empire.

Rome began its expansion beyond Italy in the third century BCE. At that time there were three powerful cities in Crete: Knossos, Kydonia (today's Chania) and Gortyn, which were in constant war with each other. During the same period outside powers tried to gain mastery over Crete. Egypt tried to invade Crete between 267 and 261 BCE and Philip V of Macedonia tried in 220 BCE to enter into an alliance with Gortyn. This brought peace to the island for a time, but also brought Crete into conflict with Rome.

Crete joined with Philip during the Macedonian war (214 BC - 196 BCE), but when Rome won this war, Crete was left to herself. And as the Roman influence over the Greek world spread, the regional powers lost their authority. Therefore, there was again conflict between the island city-states and the instability created a haven for pirates. The scale was enormous. Pirates attacked throughout the Mediterranean and were very damaging to Rome.

In 74 BCE the Senate had had enough of the pirates and ordered an invasion of the island to stop it and win back the pirates' great riches. Marcus Antonius got the job, but the invasion failed and many Roman soldiers were taken prisoner. Other wars and Spartacus' slave revolt prevented then for some years the Romans from reciprocating the defeat. But in 68 BCE the Senate ordered the Cretans to return the prisoners. They refused and the Romans undertook a new assault on the island led by Quintus Caecilius Metellus. This time the Romans managed to defeat the Cretans, who finally had to surrender.

Life on Crete in the period

In the time that followed, Crete developed into a peaceful, provincial part of the Roman Empire. The island exported olive oil, wine and grain, and because of Crete's vast forests at that time large quantities of wood were exported to builders all over the empire.

Sights from the period in modern Crete


Photo of the Temple of Asclepius. Floor mosaic, Roman time. Lissos, Crete.
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