Crete was again part of the Byzantine Empire following the successful Byzantine re-conquest of Crete in 961 CE. Just like for the preceding Islamic period, archival and archaeological evidence for the Jewish presence on the island is scarce for the late Byzantine period. However, Jewish communities in Crete probably continued to thrive during this period as there is an abundance of historical material on Jewish presence already quite early during the course of the next major epoch of Cretan history, the Venetian period.
During the late Byzantine times, Jewish communities were not permitted to live within walled cities; however, they were usually located as close as possible to the main gates for protection in times of danger. The proximity of the Jewish quarter – documented for the Venetian period – to the main gates of the city of Hania, for example, suggests that the location of the Jewish quarter might date to Byzantine times or even earlier.
In 1204 CE, the sacking of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade effectively led to the temporary dissolution and long-term weakening of the Byzantine Empire. Crete was then sold to the Venetians by the Marquis of Montferrat, the leader of the 4th Crusade, who had been given the island as a gift.
Bifolium from a Children's Alphabet Primer, 11th-12th century. Blue, red, and yellow ink on parchment; bifolium; 6 9/16 x 9 3/16 in. (16.7 x 23.4 cm). Cambridge University Library, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, Cambridge (T-S K5.13).
Mosaic of Menorah, 6th century. Made in Tunisia, excavated Hammam Lif Synagogue. Brooklyn Museum, New York, Museum Collection Fund (05.27)
Photos 3, 4: © Nikos Stavroulakis
Sephardi and Romaniot Jewish Costumes in Greece and Turkey, 16 watercolours, Athens 1986.