A very strange version of the name ‘Arsinoe’ was used for the city’s name in ancient years and in some myths.
The name Rithymna, Reithimna or Reithemnos is pre-Hellenic and mentioned in almost all the silver and copper coins of the ancient town for the 4th and 3rd BC centuries.
During the Venetian Period, Rethymno is named in various sources as Rethemno, Retimo, Rettimo, Retemo and Rehimo. Since then (1210 AD), the starting letters Re dominate upon the Ri in the first syllabi. Under the Turkish occupation the name remains the same, while the Turks use also the name Ressimo and the inhabitants Ressimi. The official name during the period 1646-1898 was initially Rethymni and later Rethymnon.
After the Turkish occupation, the locals called their city just as in the Venetian period: Rethemnos. Common names were: Rethemno, Rethemnos and the contemporary Rethymno.
According to the Legislative Decree of 1946-7, the town is officially named Rethymnon.
Archaeological findings show that Rethymno welcomed in the later years of the Neolithic period (3500-2800 BC) its first populations. An extended human activity is spread also during the Minoan period (2800-1100 BC) in combination with the appearance of settlements and large building complexes. The area of Eleftherna and Axos show evidence of civilization and great property during the Geometric and Deadalic era (1110-620 BC). These areas continue to grow with works of enormous artistic value into the Archaic period (620-500 BC).
Classical and Hellenistic Years
The ancient town of Rithimna, the predecessor of today's Rethymno, flourished during the Classical (500-330 BC) and Hellenistic periods (330-67 BC), while other towns such as Eleftherna, Axos, Lappa and Sivrytos continued to exist till the Greek-Roman period (67 BC - AD 323). Lappa appears as the city with the largest influence in the whole prefecture.
In the Early Byzantine period (330-824), Rethymno came under the control of the Eastern Roman Empire. Christianity begun to spread and, as a result, many churches were built. Continuous Arab invasions disrupted Crete until it was finally conquered in 821. Over the period AD 824-961, the town remained under the Arab rule. 150 years later the Byzantines succeeded the re-conquest of the area and Rethymno passed another 150 years under Byzantine rule. The first fortification of the town was built in this second Byzantine period (961-1210).
Between 1204A.D. and1669 A.D. Crete was under Venetian rule, a period of remarkable growth, especially during the last centuries when the Venetians used Rethymno as an intermediate commercial station between Chania and Heraklion. It was a long but remarkable era which clearly left its marks in the town up today. Rethymno was the third largest town on Crete and an important number of monuments of that time have been preserved.
In the third quarter of the 16th century, the town begun to adopt a Renaissance character according to the Venetian standards: "Fortezza", the fortress built in 1570 to protect the city and its population from the Ottoman threat, “Loggia”, a Noblemen’s Club and the most characteristic Renaissance monument of Rethymno, “Rimondi Fountain”, built by Rimondi, a governor of the area of this time which was rebuilt in 1626 on the ruins of an earlier one and “Saint Franciscus Church”, the church of a Franciscan monastery.
Ottoman Years & Turkish Occupation
Under the Turkish occupation Rethymno suffered a dark period for three centuries starting from November1646. In 1770 the revolution of Sfakia prepared the grounds for the national Revolution of 1821, which in turn sparked off the events of 1866. By that time, Arkadi Monastery became worldwide known for the mass-death of its defenders. Even after those events, Rethymno remained under the Turkish rule, which led to a new revolution in 1878 resulting in several political and religious privileges to the inhabitants. Eventually,1897 was the last year of the Turkish occupation. The Nerantzes Mosque , the Kara Moussa Mosque , the Great Door Mosque , the Veli Passa Mosque are reminders of the Turkish occupation era.
Years 1898 - Today
In 1898, Russian troops disembarked and settled on the island. In the same year, Crete became an autonomous state with its own Constitution and Government till the 1st of December 1913, the day on which Crete was finally unified with the rest of Greece.
In May 1941 Rethymno was one of the German parachutists' three fronts. The memorable resistance of the local people in the battle of Rethymno led to the execution of hundreds of inhabitants and the leveling of entire villages. From 1941 till 1944 people took forceful action against the Germans throughout the entire prefecture, till it was finally liberated like the rest of Greece.