An island bounding the Aegean Sea on the South. It stretches from 34 degrees 50' to 35 degrees 40' North latitude and from 23 degrees 30' to 26 degrees 20' East long. With Cythera on the North and Carpathos and Rhodos on the Northeast, it forms a continuous bridge between Greece and Asia Minor. The center of the island is formed by a mountain chain rising to a height of 8,193 ft. in Mt. Ida, and fringed with low valleys beside the coast. There are no considerable rivers; the largest, the Metropole, on the South, is a tiny stream, fordable anywhere. An island of considerable extent (156 miles long, and from 7 to 30 miles broad), in several districts very fertile and possessing one or two good harbors, it seems marked out by its position for an important role in the history of the eastern Mediterranean. But never since an age which was already legendary when Greek history began has Crete occupied a dominating position among the powers of the surrounding continents. Internal dissensions, due in ancient times to the diversity of races inhabiting its soil (Eteocretans--the original inhabitants--Pelasgians, Acheans, Cydonians and Dorians), and in modern times to the fact that a large minority of the population has accepted the Ottoman religion along with Ottoman government, have kept Crete in a position of political inferiority throughout the historical period.
1. Early History:
Mt. Ida in Crete was famous in Greek legend as the birthplace of Zeus. The half-legendary, half-historical King Minos was said to be the son of Zeus, and to have derived from his father the wisdom to which, by a type of myth common in Greek lands, the constitution of the Cretan cities was ascribed. Minos was accepted as a historical personage by Thucydides and Aristotle, who say that he was the first dynast in Greece to establish dominion on the sea. One of his exploits was the suppression of piracy in Cretan waters, a feat which had to be repeated by the Roman Pompeius at a later period. Aristotle compares the Cretan institutions with those of Sparta; the island was said to have been colonized by Dorians from Peloponnesus (Politics ii.10). The most important cities in Crete were Knossos (whose palace has been excavated with fruitful results by Mr. Arthur Evans), Gortyna, near the Gulf of Messara, and Cydonia, with its river Iardanus. The excavations of Mr. Evans at Knossos and of the Italians at Phastos (near Fair Havens) prove that Crete was a center of Mediterranean civilization in an early age. In the Homeric poems, Crete is said to have contained an hundred cities; at that period the Cretans were still famed as daring sailors. In the classical age of Greek history they never held a leading position. They are mentioned chiefly as traders and mercenary soldiers, skilled especially in archery. During the Hellenistic period Crete remained free. Demetrius Nicator made the island his base of operations before his defeat at Azotus in 148.
2. The Jews in Crete:
In 141, the Cretan Jews were influential enough to secure the patronage of Rome. They were being oppressed by the people of Gortyna, and appealed to Rome, which granted them protection. In strengthening the position of the Jews, the Romans were copying the Seleucid policy in Asia Minor; both the Seleucids and the Romans found the Jews among their most devoted supporters in their subject states. This interference of Rome in the interest of her future partisans paved the way for her annexation of the island in the following century. From this date, there was a strong and prosperous body of Jews in Crete, and Cretans are mentioned among the strangers present at the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2:11. Its alliance with Mithradates the Great, and the help it gave to the Cilician pirates gave Rome the pretext she desired for making war on Crete, and the island was annexed by. Metellus in 67 BC. With Cyrene on the North coast of Africa, it was formed into a Roman province. When Augustus divided the Empire between the Senate and himself, Crete and Cyrene were sufficiently peaceful to be given to the Senate.
3. Later History:
They formed one province till the time of Constantine, who made Crete a separate province. The Saracens annexed Crete in 823 AD, but it was recaptured for the Byzantine Empire by Nicephorus Phokas in the following century. From the 13th till the 17th century it was held by the Venetian Republic:
from this period dates its modern name "Kandia," which the Venetians gave to the Saracen capital Khandax, and afterward to the whole island. After a desperate resistance, lasting from 1645 to 1669 AD, Crete fell into the hands of the Turks, who still exercise a nominal suzerainty over the island.
4. Crete in the Old Testament:
In 1 Samuel 30:14; Ezekiel 25:16, and Zec 2:5, the Philistines are described as Cherethites, which is usually taken to mean Cretans. The name is connected with Caphtor and the Caphtorim (Deuteronomy 2:23; Jeremiah 47:4; Amos 9:7). The similarity between the river-names Jordan and Iardanos (Homer Odyssey iii. 292) "about whose streams the Kydones dwelt," has suggested that. Caphtor is to be identified with Cydonia; or possibly it was the name of the whole island. Tacitus believed in an ancient connection between Crete and Palestine; the Jews, he said, were fugitives from Crete, and derived their name Iudaei from Mt. Ida (Hist. v.2). Crete is mentioned in connection with the campaign of Demetrius Nicator, referred to above, in 1 Macc 10:67.
5. Crete in the New Testament:
Crete owes its connection with Pauline history to the accident of a gale which forced the ship carrying Paul to Rome to take shelter on the South coast of the island. In the harbor of Myra, on the coast of Lycia, the centurion in charge of Paul transferred him from the Adramyttian ship which had brought them from Caesarea, to a ship from Alexandria in Egypt, bound for Ostia with a cargo of grain. The fact that the centurion was in virtual command of the ship (Acts 27:11) proves that it was one of the vessels in the imperial transport service. Leaving Myra they came opposite Cnidus with difficulty, against a head-wind. The ordinary course from Cnidus in good weather was to steer straight for Cythera, but on this occasion the West or Northwest winds made this route impracticable, and they sailed under the lee of Crete, whose South coast would shelter them from a Northwest gale, and afford occasional protection from a West gale. They passed Salmone, the Northeast corner of Crete, with difficulty, and worked round the coast to Fair Havens, a harbor somewhat to the East of Cape Matala. The great Feast fell while they were at Fair Havens; in 59 AD it was On October 5, in the middle of the season when the equinoxes made sailing impossible. Paul advised the centurion to winter in Fair Havens, but the captain wished to reach Phoenix, a harbor farther to the West, where ships from Egypt were accustomed to put in during the stormy season. It was decided to follow the captain's advice; but on its way to Phoenix the ship was struck by a Northeast wind called Euraquilo, which rushed down from Mt. Ida. The ship was carried out to sea; it managed to run under the lee of Cauda, an island 23 miles West of Cape Matala, where the crew hauled in the boat, undergirded the ship, and slackened sail. On the fourteenth night they were driven on the coast of Malta, and wrecked.
The narrative does not state that Paul landed in Crete, but as the ship lay for some time at Fair Havens (Acts 27:8,9) he had plenty of opportunity to land, but not to travel inland. The centurion gave him permission to land at Sidon. Paul left Titus in Crete (Titus 1:5); tradition made the latter its first bishop, and patron saint.
6. The Cretans:
Cretans were present, as noted above, at the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:11). Paul's estimate of the Cretan character (Titus 1:10-16) was the one current in antiquity. Paul quotes (Titus 1:12) a well-known line of the Cretan poet Epimenides (who lived about 600 BC) on the mendacity of the Cretans. The sentiment was repeated by Callimachus (Hymn to Zeus 8). Other ancient witnesses to the detestation in which the Cretan character was held are Livy xliv.45, and Plutarch Aemilius section 23.
Smith, Voyage and Shipwreck of Paul; Ramsay, Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, 320-30. On Crete in Greek and Roman times, consult e.g. Grote, Holm, and Mommsen. A succinct account of the prehistoric archaeology of the island is given in Burrows, The Discoveries in Crete, and Bailkie, The Sea Kings of Crete.
W. M. Calder
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