The Middle Ages In Rhodes – Its History and Culture

Saint Paul the Apostle, St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church, Dayton, Ohio
St Paul
Ted, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today I want to talk to you about The Byzantium And The Middle Ages in Rhodes. This is yet another major important era that shaped the future of Rhodes!

Now this period dates back as far as 58 BC. It is believed that Saint Paul (Saul Of Tarsus) came to the island to spread the word of Christ and he taught the Gospel which led to many people on the island converting to Christianity.

The preacher delivered his sermon in Lindos, and today, the bay named after him, Saint Paul’s Bay, still bears witness to this event!

Being both a Roman citizen and a Jew, he could expand his audience, allowing him to preach to both groups effectively.

He is also well-known for his founding of many churches in the olden days throughout Europe.

After The Division Of The Roman Empire

Once the Roman Empire had suffered division, the Byzantine territory had Rhodes as its Capital of the islands.

This caused further and regular bombardment and carnage.

Examples of this are the Persians occupying once more in 620 AD under Chosroes (The King Of The Sasanian Empire) from 590 – 628.

The Saracens also came into play in 651 and Rhodes was once again devastated by Caliph Haroun El Raschid of Baghdad. In the early days, people commonly used the word ‘Saracen’ to describe those from a background that would later be known as ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’.

Once again Rhodes was at the mercy of pirates at the close of the 12th century during Alexios the First’s reign from 1081 to 1118 and he was the Emperor of the Byzantine!

The island of Rhodes reestablished contact with the western world in the 11th century. At this time, Alexios the First granted the Venetians permission to use Rhodes’ main harbor as a commercial port.

The Middle Ages In Rhodes – The Crusades

In the early 1190s came the time of the crusades.

Documentation also shows that Richard the Lionheart (King of England from 1189 until his demise) and Philip (King of France) visited the island to recruit soldiers for assistance in the crusades.

Once these Crusaders occupied Constantinople in 1204, Leo Gabalas (a Byzantine Greek merchant) affirmed himself as the ruler of the island and this came also with the agreement from the Venetians.

Later on, the Byzantine Empire regained control of Constantinople in 1261, and Rhodes was reportedly under this Empire. However, in reality, Genoese Admirals occupied the harbor, effectively controlling the island.

The Knights Of Saint John!

It was in 1306 that one of these Geonese Admirals (Vignolo Vignoli) sold the harbor to the Order Of The Knights Of Saint John from Jerusalem.

The Order Of The Knights Of Saint John - Byzantium And The Middle Ages
The Knights Of Saint John
Szilas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Rhodians fiercely resisted, but in 1309, the Knights gained full control of the island, ruling for over 200 years until 1522, when Sulieman, the Turkish Sultan, forced their surrender.

During the Knights’ reign, their significant historical impact on the island is evident, and many consider this period one of the best for Rhodes in terms of expansion and growth.

Rhodes really prospered when under the control of The Order Of The Knights Of Saint John!

The Middle Ages In Rhodes – The Turkish Rule

When it comes to the occupation of the Turkish in 1522, it is thought to be the worst period for the island.

At this time Rhodes was under the control of the Naval Captain and Chief of the Ottoman Empire. They were known as the Kapudan Pashas which translates to the ‘Captain of the Seas’.

During this period, Rhodes Town was secured as the Capital of the Vilayet (The Administration of the Ottoman Empire).

The Reaction Of the Greeks

The Greeks lived within the beautiful walls of the old city in Rhodes before external forces compelled them to flee and settle outside these walls, leading to the development of a new area named Marasia.

The Greek population outnumbered the Turks by far though, and because of this the Turks were never really able to stamp their authority on the island.

Rhodes old town Greece 2
The Walls Of The Old City In Rhodes
Norbert Nagel, Mörfelden-Walldorf, Germany, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Greek people went on to settle deals in commerce and business and the island really came to bear fruit.

The Turkish rule finally came to an end in 1912.

The Middle Ages In Rhodes – Overall

As you can see Rhodes has experienced a lot in the way of history from the ancient times and beyond.

It has had its fair share of misfortune and maybe this is why today the island is flooded with visitors.

They all want a little taste of this amazing history.

Personally I find it fascinating to stand here and be in the place where all these historic events took place. It is certainly something I do not take for granted!

So what are your thoughts on the Knights Of Saint John? The Ottoman Empire? What about the Greek people themselves?

Just leave me a comment below and I will get back to you.

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26 thoughts on “The Middle Ages In Rhodes – Its History and Culture”

  1. Hi Chris,
    WOW, you really know your history. I am amazed by the history of Greece, especially that of the island of Rhodes! I wonder what amount the Knights Of Saint John paid for the island of Rhodes? Any idea?

    I will definitely visit Greece with my wife this or next year (its on my bucket list) and I would love to visit the Island Of Rhodes and hopefully meet up with you and talk about this amazing island and it’s history! 


    • Hi Tom and thanks for getting in touch.

      When you say you are curious to know what amount The Knights Of Saint John paid for the island, what do you mean? The Knights actually landed in Rhodes in the year 1309 and stayed for over 200 years. They were overpowered by The Ottoman Empire in 1522.

      The Knights primary purpose was to attend to the sick, but during their stay they were responsible for rebuilding many castles (including The Medieval City) in Rhodes.

      Although a lot of time, effort and cost went into these projects, the Knights to my knowledge never paid to be on the island.

      I hope this clears it up!

      Thanks Tom


  2. Hey Chris!

    Interesting article of a very tumultuous era. I am specially intrigued by the The Order of The Knights of St John who faced Suleiman and the Ottoman Empire. 

    I am not very studied about this historic time, but I believe Suleiman drove part of the order out of Rhodes, as you mention in 1522. The order eventually would settle in the Island of Malta to become known as the Knights of Malta, but would later face Suleiman the Magnificent again, in 1565. Is this accurate? 

    Also, is this historic figure one and the same? 

    In your website I wrote a comment with a recommendation for you, a book that portrays the gritty reality; narrated in incredible graphic detail, that knights of this period had to face when going into battle. 

    The book’s name is “The Religion” by Tom Willocks. Great read, if you have a chance. Anyway, thanks for a great article regarding a very important and often forgotten historical time of our world. 

    Good work!

    • Hello Luis and thank you for your interest.

      You are absolutely right yes, the Knights did indeed face Suleiman again in 1565. This battle entailed as the Ottoman Empire were unhappy to see the Knights resettled. 

      The Knights continued their fight with the Muslims, and this got the attention of Suleiman which was followed by them attacking once more.

      This fight left The Knights Of Saint John in a desperate situation and they lost over half of their army.

      Also with regards to Tom Willocks book, I am aware of it but I have not read it. I will check out your information on that too 🙂

      Thanks Luis. Really great to hear from you.


  3. Hey Chris!

    Thanks for your informative article!

    I am particularly interested in the Order Of Saint John whom I believe later traveled to Malta and became the Knights of Malta. Is this accurate?

    I have read little of this period but there is a book which shows in graphic and spectacular detail all the turmoil and gritty reality that these knights faced every time they went into battle.

    The book’s name, If I recall, is called “The Religion”, by Tom Willocks. I remember clearly the story taking place on the Island of Malta, in 1565.

    The main character is a daring mercenary and arms dealer , Mathias Tanhauser, leading the order of The Knights of Malta on a historic defense of the island against Suleiman the Magnificent and the Ottoman Empire.

    It’s “Kingdom of Heaven” on steroids. Highly recommended read.

    Anyway, is this Suleiman the same as the one they originally fought against in 1522, driving part of the Order of The Knights St. John to Malta, to later face them again?

    An incredible era, surely. The battles must have been of epic proportions.

    Thanks for a great informative post!

    • Thanks so much for your recommendation Luis.

      I have actually heard of this book but I will admit I have not read it. I will change that 🙂 Thank you, that is much appreciated.

      When it comes to the battle in Malta, it was indeed orchestrated by the same Suleiman that besieged Rhodes. This attack took place in 1565 only one year before the death of Suleiman on the 6th September 1566 ages 71.

      It was for sure an incredible era like you say, and sometimes a forgotten/unheard one for many.

      When you visit Rhodes though, you can still clearly see the influence that has been left behind from the Knights stay.

      There were a lot of establishments put together by The Ottoman Empire too during their reign here, but many were destroyed by the Italian Forces during their control of the island.

      Inside the old medieval city, you can still see and visit The Suleiman Mosque. This is not to be missed if you are ever in the area!

      Thanks again Luis. Keep in touch my friend!


  4. Thanks for the article, Chris. 

    It sounds like a pretty tumultuous time for this island. Given that that Ottomans ruled the area for quite some time, are there a lot of Turkish influences in the architecture and art work? or did the large Greek population have more influence in those areas?

    Also, props on the chain-mail picture it drew me in to explore the page.

    • Hi there Kendra and thanks for your question.

      If you visit Rhodes you will see a lot of Turkish influence in architecture.

      Unfortunately, when the Italian forces occupied the island, they destroyed a lot of the structures built by the Turkish, and they undertook a lot of redevelopment on the island.

      On saying that, there are still some great places to see. For example the Suleiman Mosque still stand proud in the Medieval City and is well worth a visit – among other 🙂

      Thanks Kendra


  5. Hi Chris,

    For a moment I was traveling within my mind and visiting Rhodes.

    It has quite an interesting history it would seem.

    I haven’t been in Greece yet, but you never know, one day I might get there. My son spent two months in Greece while his girlfriend was studying her masters degree there and both told me how beautiful Greece is and how nice the people are there.

    They loved the time they spent there and they always talk about visiting again.

    • Hi there Alejandra, I appreciate you getting in contact.

      For sure, people who visit Greece have the urge to come back. It is like a drug to some people. 

      Here in Rhodes I see people coming back year after year, and sometimes 2 or 3 times per year. Once Greece gets into your blood there is no going back.

      It is great your Son his girlfriend managed to spend some time here. Where exactly were they?

      Maybe next time you can make a visit too and see it for yourself 🙂

      Thanks Alejandra. Great to hear from you.


  6. Hi Chris, you have a wonderful site. 

    I visited many of your pages on Rhodes, and you are very informed on the culture and history. I lived in Europe for three years, but unfortunately did not visit Greece. 

    I love ancient architecture. Thanks for your knowledge, and vivid images. 

    I now have an idea of where I want to visit.

    • Hello Deborah and thanks so much for taking some time to look over my information here.

      It is a shame you never got to visit Greece during your time in Europe, you have really missed out there. But hey, never say never 🙂

      If ancient architecture is your thing, there is no reason why you cannot organize a trip to Greece. There is much here that would interest you. I have a section here on Rhodes Architecture too, maybe you will find it interesting.

      I will keep developing here, so feel free to call back any time, and I am happy to answer any questions you have 🙂

      Thanks again Deborah!


  7. We are about to go to Greece for week sailboat charter trip. 

    It will take place in September just not yet make the final decision. It depends on price what the charterers will offer. One of the options is Istion Yachting Rhodes. 

    It is great to read so many exciting facts about this wonderful ancient place. At least I am ready to be the smartest boy on the yacht who know so many historical facts about Rhodes Island.

    • Hey there Andrejs, it is great you have this plan in mind.

      There are a lot of offers when it comes to charter trips and Istion yachting is one I am aware of. Here in Rhodes there is an office for this which is located in Mandraki Harbor (Rhodes City). if it helps you the telephone number is 0030 22413 03528. 

      It is open Monday through until Saturday 9AM until 5PM daily. Closed on Sundays 🙂

      Hope this helps you out, and if you need something just let me know. Would be great to see you here on the island of Rhodes 🙂



  8. The island of Rhodes sounds like an amazing place.

    There is so much history and culture to take in. I would love to visit someday.

    You are very well read in the history and have obviously done a lot of research. How is it traveling around the island of Rhodes? Do you have a favorite place you like to visit?

    I would love to visit Greece someday and will have to add this to my bucket list of places visit.

    Thanks for the information!

    • Hi Guys thanks for passing by and taking an interest into my work here.

      You know, history and culture was never really my thing. It was never something I was particularly educated in nor did I spend a lot of time studying it.

      Living here though has taught me to appreciate it and with this comes the interest to learn more. I always found the atmosphere of some of the places in Rhodes rich with historic feelings. I would stand in certain places knowing that The Romans were in the same place, or The Knights Of St John paraded.

      When you visit the Old Medieval City for example, you cannot only see the history, but it touches you.

      With surroundings like this, it is impossible not to be inspired, and I wanted to share that with people that have a liking for something different.

      Getting around Rhodes is easy and if you check out the Getting Around section you can learn more about the different options!

      For my favorite place in the island it is hard to say. For sure the Medieval City and Lindos and its Acropolis have to be up their on the list though!

      Thanks again for your comment. I really appreciate it!


  9. Hey Chris,

    I somehow keep getting confused between Rhodes Greece and Rhode Island USA, but Greece is much more exciting to read up on, and their history is very interesting, especially the Templars!

    Not to say that I like wars or anything, but having known that there was conflict back then makes it a place very much alive to me and I want to check it out.

    I would love to check out how Marasia looks like today, I had to look twice at the name because it sounded like Malaysia where I’m from, greetings all the way from here 🙂

    Definitely planning a trip to Greece at the end of this year, keep writing more good stuff and hope you have a great weekend ahead!

    • Hey Riaz, once again thanks for reading and your getting involved with the work I am doing here, I really appreciate your support.

      I know you have been confused in the past when it comes to Rhodes Greece and Rhode Island in America. I remember the comment you made with reference to ‘Mercy Brown’ which indeed is the US vampire tale 🙂

      No problem though, I forgive you 🙂

      Indeed the island has had hard times in the past though Riaz, a lot of conflicts have been fought. But this is what has made it the place it is today! There is so much history on Rhodes I would say it is a near impossible task for anyone to learn ALL of it.

      If you are planning a trip here let me know please my friend!

      I will give you all the help and guidance I can 🙂

      Thanks again!


  10. This is rad.

    I don’t really get the chance to travel much but this is for sure a place on my wishlist.

    I really like visiting places with a rich historical background and my buds have been planning a trip for a while and I was wondering around what time of the year would you recommend is most ideal for visiting Greece in terms of climate and conditions?

    • Hey Bob and great 🙂 Rad,,, I have not heard that word for a long time 🙂

      If you are looking for a place full of history and culture then for sure you would not regret visiting Greece. The place is full of rich history and you would have a vacation you will never forget.

      For the climate and weather you will find Rhodes and excellent choice. From May and June the weather is beautiful and you will also find the same temperatures here around September and October time.

      If you like it really hot then from the middle of July until the end of August will serve you perfectly.

      You can read more on the climate here 🙂

      I hope this helps!



  11. Hi Chris ,

    I have a keen interest in ancient civilisations in particular Ancient Greece.

    Last year we cruised round several Greek islands and saw some great sights, unfortunately Rhodes wasn’t on the agenda.

    We are cruising again later this year and I believe Rhodes is on the agenda this time so I shall bookmark your site for future reference, thanks for the great info!


    • Hey Paul great to know you may get the chance to later in the year. Shame you could not manage it last time but I know these cruises can lead to thousands of locations, so it is not possible to cover all bases with one trip!

      Where did you get to visit the last time around? I would love to hear more!

      For sure if you manage to get to Rhodes then you will love it, and having this interest in history that you have will make it all the more enjoyable.

      Of course you are welcome to bookmark this site and I promise it is updated regularly with new information. Call back any time and if you need anything you can let me know anytime.

      Thanks again Paul and look forward to seeing you here!


  12. The Island of Rhodes looks like an amazing place to visit.

    I just added it to my travel list. Do the Rhodes sailboats have any connection to this island? Just wondering. Great information on this site!


    • Hi Veronica, I am glad to be able to inspire you to visit this wonderful island.

      The history here is really wonderful and there is so much to see and do. I am sure you will love it here 🙂 So make sure you keep it on your travel list. You will be made most welcome!

      As the the Rhodes sailboats are you referring to Philip Rhodes? I am not aware of any connection to this in all honesty, but I will look more into it.

      If you need anything more prior to a potential visit just let me know!

      Thanks again!


  13. Great article!
    I’m very interested in history. And I love to travel to places with a historical background. Unfortunately I haven’t been to Greece yet. I’ll keep in mind your site when it ever comes to this.

    Thanks for sharing this with the world!


    • Hey Sam thanks for your interest and for your visit to my site.

      I am happy you found the information here interesting to read and of course if you visit Greece you will love the history here.

      Feel free to come back as often as you like as my work here is never finished 🙂 I am always adding new material and updating the older stuff too so there is always something to see.

      Of course if you ever have plans to get here just let me know and I will do what I can to make your stay here a memorable and enjoyable one. I have a lot of friends here and I know a lot of places for you too see, so be sure to contact me 🙂

      Thanks Sam!



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