Crete, French Occupation (1898 – 1909)

ALBUM – view my French Occupation of Crete album

Fast Facts

Region: Aegean / Ionian Islands
Group: Crete
Classification: Military Occupation (France / International forces)
Prior Regime: The Ottoman Empire
Key Dates:
  1896 – Rebellion on Crete against the Ottomans
  1897 – Greek troops land on Crete
  1897 – Multinational forces land on Crete
  1898, Nov – Ottoman forces withdraw from Crete and multinational forces assume control
  1905, Apr – Theriso Revolution, martial law declared, but it ultimately resulted in a proclamation of unification with Greece
  1909 – Multinational Forces withdraw
  1913 – France closes post office in Create as unification with Greece was recognized after the Balkan wars
Following Regime: Autonomous Crete, however it soon joined the Kingdom of Greece
Scott Catalogue: (France, Offices in Crete) #1-20
Pick Catalogue: none for the occupational forces.


Agios Nikolaos, the capital of Lassithi, the province of Crete under French control - 1911
Agios Nikolaos, in the French controlled province of Lassithi – 1911
Crete is a major island in the Mediterranean and through most of the Middle Ages it was under Venetian rule. In 1669 the island fell to the Ottoman Empire. It remained under Ottoman rule, except for a 10 year period (1830-40) where it was ceded to Egypt. In the much of the 1800’s, Crete was under constant civil unrest as much of Greece was breaking away from Ottoman rule.

In 1896 a rebellion against Ottoman rule erupted on the island of Crete, resulting in the Greco-Ottoman War of 1897 when Greek troops landed on Crete. The Protecting Powers (Britain, Russia, France, Italy, Germany and Austria-Hungary) imposed a blockade on Crete in 1897 and, following Ottoman approval, established control of the Island.
In April, 1898, Germany and Austria withdrew their ships, due to their interest in maintaining relationships with the Ottoman Empire, leaving the four remaining powers to negotiate a settlement.

An agreement was reached that Crete would be given autonomous status within the Ottoman Empire, but would be administered by Prince George of Greece, the second son of King George I, as High Commissioner. The Great Powers would continue to retain forces on the island to maintain order. Upon urging from the occupying powers, Ottoman forces withdrew from Crete in November of 1898 and all fighting ceased.

The occupying forces divided Crete into four zones, in which the respective power was to guarantee the status quo. The French controlled Lasithi (Λασίθι), the British controlled Heraklion (Ηράκλειο), the Russians controlled Rethymnon (Ρέθυμνο), and the Italians controlled Chania (Χανιά). Prince George of Greece was appointed High Commissioner of the Powers. The occupying powers issued stamps for their respective zones, although throughout the period of Cretan autonomy (1898-1908) Crete had its own currency and postage stamps.

With the eventual exodus of the majority of the Muslim population , the predominately Greek population favored unification with Greece. In April 1905 a coup (the Theriso Revolution) erupted, demanding reforms and a unification with Greece. The Powers reacted by declaring the act void and placing the island under martial law.

Eventually, on 15 Aug 1905, the regular assembly in Chania voted in favor of most of the reforms that the revolutionaries proposed. In a subsequent meeting with Venizelos, the leader of the Theriso revolution, the Great Powers’ consuls accepted the reforms which ended the revolt and resulted in the resignation of Prince George as High Commissioner.

In May, 1908, the occupying powers announced that they would gradually withdraw troops when order in Crete could be assured and Greek Gendarmerie slowly began to replace the foreign soldiers. Taking advantage of unrest in Constantinople, Cretan officials declared union with Greece on 9 Oct 1908. Of course Turkey protested, but not wanting to take sides, the nations of the Great Powers continued their withdrawal, which was completed in 1909. Crete’s unification with Greece was finally internationally recognized in 1913, after the Balkan Wars.


AEG - Crete, French Offices StampALBUM
Before the arrival of multinational occupying forces in 1898, there was a rudimentary postal service between Crete and the mainland, and Ottoman stamps were used. After the occupation, each of the occupying powers issued stamps for the use of their troops and the civilian population in their area of control. Britain and Russia issued stamps inscribed in Greek, but France and Italy used stamps overprinted with the name of the island. Austria also had specially overprinted stamps for use in its POs on the island. Stamps from the Occupational forces were used concurrently with Cretan issues and had a limited usage.

The French established a post office in Sitea, Lasithi and in 1902 and issued stamps using the 1900 French “Liberty” design inscribed with CRETE at the bottom of the stamp. Fifteen values were issued from 1 centime to 5 francs. As the local currency in Crete was still in piasters (the currency of the Ottoman Empire), five of the higher value stamps issued the were overprinted in piasters and issued in 1903.

Although French forces withdrew from Crete in 1909, French Post Offices continued until 1913 when Crete officially became part of Greece.


While the occupational forces didn’t issue currency, the Bank of Crete was founded in 1899 and had the exclusive privilege of issuing banknotes in the island of Crete. Two denominations were issued (25 and 100 drachmas) and have the dates from 1901 to 1919. The first issued banknotes had handwritten dates and were printed by Bradbury Wilkiinson & Co. Ltd. Bank of Crete was merged with National bank of Greece in 1919.


VIDEO – Ottoman War of 1897
The Union of Crete with Greece

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