In 825 CE, Byzantine rule of Crete was interrupted by a short-lived Arab take-over and occupation of the island for which there is scarce archaeological and archival evidence. Crete was seized by Muslim exiles from Andalusia who established an emirate across the island from their base in what is now the city of Heraklion. Out of its port sailed corsairs or pirates who launched shipping raids throughout the Aegean. Athens was apparently attacked, if not occupied, for a period of time and Thessaloniki was also seized and sacked during one of these attacks. For the first time in over 2,000 years, Crete once again became a thalassocracy amassing wealth through raids of the coastal cities throughout the eastern Mediterranean. At this time, both Heraklion and Hania were surrounded by a great moat and fortifications.

Even though Jews are not mentioned in the extant historical accounts for this period, it is most likely that they were active in the island’s urban centres. Their community was well-established in Heraklion by the 11thcentury following the re-conquest of the Crete by the Byzantines in 961 CE.

Photo 1: public domain

Muslim fleet en route to Crete, from a 12th century illustrated manuscript of the Synopsis of Histories by Ioannis Scylitzes (ca. 1040s - ca. 1101)

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