Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC San Diego

UC San Diego Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC San Diego

“Setting the wolf to protect the sheep”? The Criminal Justice System in Late Ottoman Crete (1878-1913)


This dissertation traces modernization processes in Crete through a case study of Ottoman imperial criminal justice reform. I argue that mid-nineteenth century Ottoman legal reforms, which were in part inspired by legal reform happening in Western Europe, were the main foundation by which Crete as a protectorate of Great Britain, France, Italy, and Russia was able to build a strong gendarmerie and court system when it became autonomous in 1898. Because of the endurance of these legal foundations, there was continuity in the interactions between the Cretan public and criminal justice officials between 1878 and 1913, a period which is often deemed as one of sweeping changes on the island. In particular, much of the scholarship on this period on Crete argues that it was a time when Crete drifted away from Ottoman influence. Though Crete is deemed a rebellious province in Ottoman scholarship, Cretan participation in the structures and processes of criminal justice ranged from resistant to amenable depending on public perceptions of the system’s branches they interacted with. This diversity in interaction, coupled with the strengthening of the criminal justice system as a whole, challenges the narrative of Crete as a Mediterranean honor society in which men in particular take justice into their own hands because of the weak state that governs them. The way Cretan officials administered the justice system is also indicative of the strength of the Cretan state. Legislators were keen to impose a monopoly over legitimate violence after a period of incessant revolutions and built on Ottoman laws that were the foundations for it. Court officials, though unexpectedly lenient, still abided by these laws, which in turn gave judges and prosecutors a significant degree of discretion in determining punishment. These punishments themselves ranged widely and allowed officials to negotiate social expectations while adhering to the law. The gendarmerie itself over this period of time became an efficient and effective policing force through professionalization. With the examination of these parts of the criminal justice system, I show the transformation of Crete into a strong state.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View