Turks Conquer Crete Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The declining Ottoman Empire still coveted the last and largest of Venice’s Mediterranean possessions, so it invaded Crete and provoked a quarter century war, even amid its own internal crises.

Summary of Event

Venice Venice had acquired the island of Crete as the largest of its maritime spoils of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204). Subduing the Greek population and establishing an orderly regime had been a painful process, fraught with recurrent setbacks and local rebellions. Culturally, the regime had positive aspects, and for some four centuries Crete was the ultimate anchor of Venice’s naval and mercantile position in the eastern Mediterranean. [kw]Turks Conquer Crete (Aug. 22, 1645-Sept., 1669) [kw]Crete, Turks Conquer (Aug. 22, 1645-Sept., 1669) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 22, 1645-Sept., 1669: Turks Conquer Crete[1590] Expansion and land acquisition;Aug. 22, 1645-Sept., 1669: Turks Conquer Crete[1590] Crete;Aug. 22, 1645-Sept., 1669: Turks Conquer Crete[1590] Middle East;Aug. 22, 1645-Sept., 1669: Turks Conquer Crete[1590] Ottoman Empire;Aug. 22, 1645-Sept., 1669: Turks Conquer Crete[1590] Crete, conquest of Ottoman Empire;conquest of Crete

By the seventeenth century, administrative incompetence had mounted, while the home government was hard-pressed and declining in resources and prestige. Economic decay, rampant poverty, and mounting dissidence made Crete an ever more vulnerable target for the Ottoman Empire, which had long resented this Venetian obstacle to its full command of the sea lanes.

The Ottoman Empire was in disarray by the seventeenth century. Gone was the heyday under Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566). In 1571, the Turks had conquered Cyprus from Venice and weathered the naval defeat at the Battle of Lepanto Lepanto, Battle of (1571) . However, the throne was occupied by dynastic successors of weak character and erratic behavior, while the exercise of power was increasingly assumed by the powerful chief minister, the grand vizier. A bloody struggle for the throne ended with the accession of the teenaged Murad IV Murad IV (r. 1623-1640) who, by ruthless assertion of will, brought a brief restoration of energy and expansionist success. His premature death, however, undid much of his work and disarray resumed. He was succeeded by his brotherIbrahim Ibrahim (Ottoman sultan) , who was emotionally unstable and eventually quite insane

In March, 1644, some corsairs of the Hospitaler Order of Malta Hospitaler Order of Malta seized a Turkish vessel carrying distinguished pilgrims to Mecca. Venice was implicated in the episode.Ibrahim was enraged and his fury was channeled toward the capture of Crete. A pretense of Malta as the target masked preparations, but Venice suspected the worst and sent a flotilla to strengthen Crete’s defenses, though one that had been critically delayed. After heading toward Malta in late April, 1645, the Turkish expeditionary fleet, as a feint, changed course and landed on June 25 at Canea on Crete’s northwestern shore. The town held out briefly, surrendering on August 22. The relief fleet arrived too late, and subsequent Venetian efforts to recover Canea failed.

As desperation and confusion marked Venetian countermeasures, the Turks moved out to seize or beleaguer a number of important points. By summer of 1647, they began a siege of Candia Candia, Siege of (1647-1669) (now Iráklion), the island’s capital. Heavily fortified, and with a small but stubborn population, the city could be regularly provisioned, since Venetian patrol of the sea lanes kept it accessible. The result was a siege that was to last twenty-two years, one of the longest of any city in history.

With a stalemate at Candia, the Turkish attempt to conquest the remaining island was undermined by government confusion in Constantinople. Venice’s economy still was resilient and had considerable resources, but the Venetian Republic was not equal to the burden of defense, so it desperately appealed for outside help. Since the fifteenth century, Venice had taken up the role of Christian champion in the eastern Mediterranean through recurrent naval wars with the Ottoman Empire. From that ideological position, Venice asked the great powers of Christian Europe for support. Preoccupied with their own affairs and never interested in disinterested causes, the European rulers were indifferent. Nevertheless, individual countries did provide small spurts of aid. The old spirit of crusading was moribund by the mid-sixteenth century, though armchair theorists still discussed it. The opportunity once again to fight infidels on behalf of the Christian faith inspired many young adventurers, noble and otherwise, to go to Crete and perform often heroic service there. The defense of Candia was, in a way, the last crusade.

Though Venice could not recover the lost parts of Crete or break the Siege of Candia, it was still capable of counteractions. In the spring of 1648, a Venetian fleet smashed its way into the Dardanelles (narrow strait between Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula in Europe and Turkey in Asia) and established a maritime blockade of Constantinople that lasted one year. This outrage was the last straw for the Turkish leadership, exasperated by the irresponsible behavior of Ibrahim. A palace coup brought about his deposition and execution, replacing him with his son, Mehmed IV Avci Mehmed IV Avci , a child of six. Actual power was left to shifting court and military factions, producing some eight years of confusion and drift.

A new Venetian exertion brought matters to a head. In June, 1656, the republic’s fleet met and smashed the Turkish fleet at the mouth of the Dardanelles; only the death in action of the Venetian admiral prevented movement all the way to Constantinople, the center of the Ottoman Empire. Both in symbolic and practical terms, this setback was far graver than the defeat at Lepanto eighty-five years earlier. Once again, the Venetians imposed a blockade on the straits and the Aegean coasts. There was panic in Constantinople, where communications were cut off and food prices skyrocketed.

In this crisis the court agreed to place an able leader in full power as grand vizier. This was the aged but energetic Köprülü Mehmed Paşa Köprülü Mehmed Paşa . Of Albanian background, a product of one of the final rounds of the devshirme system Devshirme system (the “recruitment” of children from subject nations as slave-soldiers), he founded a family dynasty of viziers that would mask the weakness of sultans with a revitalized ministerial rule in place of dynastic autocracy.

Mehmed Paşa marshaled forces to break the Venetian blockade. While Ottoman naval strength would never fully recover, serious renewal of the Candian war was now possible. Through the next five years, Mehmed Paşa instituted a relentless program of reform. When he died in 1661, he could pass on to his son and successor as grand vizier, Fazıl Ahmed Paşa Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed Paşa , a secure momentum. Operations in the Balkans, capped by a pivotal defeat by Habsburg forces in 1664, distracted Ahmed’s regime, but by 1666, he was ready to end the Cretan stalemate. He took personal command of a new force directed at Candia, to press its siege with renewed vigor

Candia now had an able new commander, Francesco Morosini, Morosini, Francesco son of a former duke of Crete and kin to several Morosini leaders who had given their lives for Crete. He was aided at times by flamboyant volunteer forces from France who, however, were unruly and soon departed. Faced with Ahmed’s relentless pressures, his resources gravely depleted, Morosini recognized the hopelessness of his situation by September of 1669. Though lacking home authorization, he negotiated directly with the vizier, who proved pragmatically generous. Venice was allowed to retain Souda on Crete and a few small offshore islands, but Candia and the rest of the island was surrendered to the Turks formally; Morosini and his diminished troops were allowed to depart in peace, and Venice’s trading rights with the Ottoman Empire were renewed.


Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed Paşa continued to rule energetically, even achieving expansionist successes in the Ukraine. When he died, still young, in 1676, the dynastic vizierate passed to his brother-in-law, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa Kara Mustafa Paşa, Merzifonlu . Kara Mustafa’s recklessness led to the ill-fated Turkish Siege of Vienna Vienna, Siege of (1683) in 1683, and his failure further proved Ottoman slippage in the Balkans. The Köprülü leadership was renewed by Ahmed’s younger brother Mustafa, but only briefly (1689-1691), and Ottoman reverses and misrule only multiplied.

Shorn of Crete, with Corfu in the Ionian Sea as its only important maritime holding, Venice sought a scapegoat. Morosini’s enemies arraigned him on a range of mostly trumped charges. He refuted them triumphantly and, in 1684, was confirmed as captain general in a new campaign against the Turks in Greece. In the middle of this last great display of Venetian strength, he was elected doge of Venice, dying while still in field command (1694).

Betrayed by its allies, Venice saw its Greek conquests evaporate and lost even its last token holdings around Crete (1715). The Venetian Republic entered its final century definitively reduced to minor-power status in the European order.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Georgopoulou, Maria. Venice’s Mediterranean Colonies: Architecture and Urbanism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. A fascinating study of Venetian colonial practices, with special focus on Crete.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kinross, J. P. D. The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. New York: Morrow Quill, 1977. A basic historical narrative, with the Cretan war traced in context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McKee, Sally. Uncommon Dominion: Venetian Crete and the Myth of Ethnic Purity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. A provocative study of the island’s colonial demography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murphey, Rhoads. Ottoman Warfare, 1500-1700. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999. A useful work that examines seventeenth century Ottoman military campaigning.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Norwich, John Julius. A History of Venice. New York: Knopf, 1982. A popular, solid narrative account, with particularly full treatment of the Cretan War and on Morosini’s Greek campaign.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Richardson, Aubrey. The Doges of Venice. London: Methuen, 1914. Old and dated, but a colorful narrative of the Candian war and Morosini’s career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shaw, Stanford J. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Vol. 1 in Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. A standard scholarly history, with integrated treatment of the Candian war and Ottoman governmental developments.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Michael Llewellyn. The Great Island: A Study of Crete. New York: Longman, 1965. A broad general history of Crete. Illustrated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Turnbull, Stephen. The Ottoman Empire, 1326-1699. New York: Routledge, 2003. A very brief history of Ottoman rule, imperial expansion, and military tactics that focuses especially on Ottoman battles against European powers and on control of the Balkans. Handsomely illustrated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wheatcroft, Andrew. Infidels: A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam. New York: Random House, 2004. Examines the continuing religious conflicts between the Christian West and the Islamic Middle East.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wiel, Alethea. Venice. New York: T. Fisher Unwin & Putnam’s Sons, 1894. Reprint. A History of Venice: From Its Founding to the Unification of Italy. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1995. A quite old-fashioned popular history, but with extensive treatment of the Candian and Peloponnesian wars.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

John III Sobieski; Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa; Leopold I; Murad IV. Crete, conquest of Ottoman Empire;conquest of Crete

Categories: History