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 a rising economy, could strengthen their power and bring them more prosperity. 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 Potamides 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 Naxians tried to fight the Venetians with the assistance of their foremost enemies, the Genoese, and established a base around the fortress of Apalyros.

They fought for forty days but failed to drive Sanudo back; 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. In 1210, he inaugurated himself as the Duke of Archipelago (the Aegean Sea) with Naxos as his duchy's capital.

Marco Sanudo fortified the island and built a mighty castle. It 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 them as land among his officers. He brought about a feudal system in Naxos, which was easily accepted since the natives were used to the Byzantine system of pronoia. The historical proof shows that there was little conflict between the islanders and their Venetian rulers. The Venetians lived in towns, while the natives were closer to the countryside.

The Venetians also brought 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 the Catholic Church. The proof is that some churches built around that time had dual altars, one for the Orthodox natives and another for the Roman Catholics of the island.

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

Marco Sanudo ruled for twenty years. In addition to Naxos, he owned the islands of Paros, Antiparos, Milos, Sifnos, Kythnos, Ios, Amorgos, Kimolos, Sikinos, Syros, and Folegandros. His reign succeeded 21 dukes from the Sanudo and the Crispo Dynasties, who ruled as vassals of the Latin Emperors of Constantinople. By the end of the 13th century, the Byzantine Empire won back many of the duchy's islands, barring Naxos and Paros. In 1383, the Crispo family overthrew the heirs of the Sanudo Dynasty to become the Dukes of the Archipelago.

In 1566, though, the Crispos were overthrown by the Sultan of Ottoman, Salim II, and a Portuguese Jew named Joseph Nasi, who was appointed by the Sultan to become Duke. However, it was not the end of Latin Christianity since the Gozzadini, a family of Bolognese origin, survived as lords of Sifnos, Kythnos, and five other little islands in the Cyclades until 1617. Also, the island of Tinos remained under the rule of the Venetians until 1714. 

All in all, the Venetian rule of Naxos lasted for about 300 years and their influence is prevalent until today. Christianity is still a widespread religion on the island. The architecture of Naxos is also quite Venetian by nature. That is apparent in the Kastro, which includes several Venetian buildings, like a 13th Century Catholic Cathedral, a Jesuit School, and other Venetian towers by the hillside. Although Naxos came under many rulers over the years, no οne influenced and inspired the people, the culture, and the city of Naxos as much as the Venetians.