Naxos and the Venetians

The Venetian Period of Naxos: The Venetians had their eye on the island of Naxos for a long time. They realized that having control over Naxos, which was the center of trade and had an extremely rich economy, could strengthen their power and bring more prosperity to them. The Venetians saw their chance after the Fourth Crusade, as the Byzantine Empire was falling apart.

In 1207, Marco Sanudo, the nephew of the former Venetian doge Enrico Dandolo arrived at the harbor of Potamidides to the southwest of Naxos with eight galleys loaned to him by the Venetian Arsenal and captured the island. He did this independently without the approval of the Latin Emperor, Henry of Flanders. Accompanying him were Marino Dandolo and Andrea and Geremia Gizi, as well as Ravano dalle Carceri, lord of Euboea, and Philocalo Navigaioso, lord of Lemnos. The Naxiotes tried to put up a battle with the assistance of the foremost enemies of the Venetians, the Genoese and established a base around the fortress of Apalyros.

They fought for forty days but failed to drive Sanudo back and he eventually got hold of the fortress after a six-week siege. He slowly moved on to conquer the whole of Naxos as well as other Cyclades islands, eventually pronouncing himself the Duke of Archipelago (the Aegean Sea) in 1210 with Naxos as its capital.

Marco Sanudo fortified the island and built a powerful castle. This castle consisted of seven towers of which only two remain today. He burned the ships of his men so that they wouldn't attempt to leave the island. He also divided the Cyclades islands into 56 provinces and distributed these provinces as land among his officers. He brought about a feudal system in Naxos which was easily accepted by the natives as they were already used to the system of pronoia under Byzantine rule. The historical proof shows that there was little conflict between the Islanders and their Venetian rulers. In fact, while the Venetians lived in towns, the natives tended to live closer to the countryside.

The Venetians were also responsible for bringing the Roman Catholic religion to the island. For the centuries that followed, the Greek Orthodox people co-existed without any problem with people who had converted to Christianity. Proof of this is seen in that some churches that were built around that time had dual altars, one for the Orthodox natives and the other for the Roman Catholics of the island.

As Naxos is located in the center of Cyclades, this made it a very crucial trade route and the Venetians recognized that. They could now control trade with regions of the Eastern Meditteranean. Besides providing safe routes to Venetian ships, they could also now easily export corundum and marble mined on Naxos to Venice. They also opened up the island to trade with countries in Western Europe.

Marcos Sanudo ruled for a period of twenty years. He owned the islands of Paros, Antiparos, Milos, Sifnos, Kithnos, Ios, Amorgos, Kimolos, Sikinos, Syros, and Folegandros, besides Naxos. His reign was followed by the rule of 21 dukes from the Sanudo Dynasty and the Crispo Dynasty, who ruled as vassals of the Latin Emperors of Constantinople. By the end of the 13th century, many of the islands barring Naxos and Paros were won back by the Byzantine Empire. In 1383, the Crispo family overthrew the heirs of the Sanudo Dynasty to become Dukes of Archipelago.

In 1566, the Crispos were overthrown by the Sultan of Ottoman, Salim II and a Portuguese Jew by the name of Joseph Nasi was appointed by him to become Duke. However, it was not the end of Latin Christian for the Gozzadini, a family of Bolognese origin, survived as lords of Siphnos, Cythnos and five other little islands in the Cyclades until 1617. Also, the island of Tinos remained under the Venetians till 1714. The last Venetian ports in Morea were captured as late as in 1718.

All in all, the Venetian rule of Naxos lasted for about 300 long years and their influence is prevalent till date. Christianity is still a widespread religion on the island. Also, the architecture found in Naxos is also quite Venetian by nature. This can be seen in the Kastro built in 1207 at Hora within which are a number of Venetian buildings including a 13th Century Catholic Cathedral and a French School and other Venetian towers that are found by the hillside. Although Naxos came under many rulers from across the globe over the years, none has influenced and inspired the people, the culture and the city of Naxos by itself as much as the Venetians have.