Chios (Greek: Χίος) is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, situated in the Aegean Sea, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) off the Anatolian coast. The island is separated from Turkey by the Chios Strait. Chios is notable for its exports of mastic gum and its nickname is The mastic island. Tourist attractions include its medieval villages and the 11th-century monastery of Nea Moni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Administratively, the island forms a separate municipality within the Chios regional unit, which is part of the North Aegean region. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Chios town. Locals refer to Chios town as “Chora” (“Χώρα” literally means land or country, but usually refers to the capital or a settlement at the highest point of a Greek island).
Archaeological research on Chios has found evidence of habitation dating back at least to the Neolithic era. The primary sites of research for this period have been cave dwellings at Hagio(n) Galas, in the north, and a settlement and accompanying necropolis in modern-day Emporeio at the far south of the island. Scholars lack information on this period. The size and duration of these settlements have therefore not been well-established.
The British School at Athens excavated the Emporeio site in 1952–1955, and most current information comes from these digs. The Greek Archaeological Service has also been excavating periodically on Chios since 1970, though much of its work on the island remains unpublished.
The noticeable uniformity in the size of houses at Emporeio leads some scholars to believe that there may have been little social distinction during the Neolithic era on the island. The inhabitants apparently all benefited from agricultural and livestock farming.
It is also widely held by scholars that the island was not occupied by humans during the Middle Bronze Age (2300–1600), though researchers have recently suggested that the lack of evidence from this period may only demonstrate the lack of excavations on Chios and the northern Aegean.
By at least the 11th century BC the island was ruled by a monarchy, and the subsequent transition to aristocratic (or possibly tyrannic) rule occurred sometime over the next four centuries. Future excavations may reveal more information about this period. 9th-century Euboean and Cypriote presence on the island is attested by ceramics, while a Phoenician presence is noted at Erythrae, the traditional competitor of Chios on the mainland.
Archaic and Classical periods
Pherecydes, native to the Aegean, wrote that the island was occupied by the Leleges, aboriginal Greeks themselves reported to be subject to the Minoans on Crete. They were eventually driven out by invading Ionians.
Chios was one of the original twelve member states of the Ionian League. As a result, Chios, at the end of the 7th century BC, was one of the first cities to strike or mint coins, establishing the sphinx as its specific symbol. It maintained this tradition for almost 900 years.
In the 6th century BC Chios’ government adopted a constitution similar to that developed by Solon in Athens and later developed democratic elements with a voting assembly and people’s magistrates called damarchoi.
In 546 BC Chios became subject to the Persian Empire. Chios joined the Ionian Revolt against the Persians in 499 BC. The naval power of Chios during this period is demonstrated by the fact that the Chians had the largest fleet (100 ships) of all the Ionians at the Battle of Lade in 494 BC. At Lade the Chian fleet continued doggedly fighting the Persian fleet even after the defection of the Samians and others but ultimately the Chians were forced to retreat and were again subject to Persian domination.
The defeat of Persia at the Battle of Mycale in 479 BC meant the liberation of Chios from Persian rule. When the Athenians formed the Delian League Chios joined as one of the few members who did not have to pay tribute but instead supplied ships to the alliance.
By the fifth to 4th centuries BC, the island had grown to an estimated population of over 120,000 (two to three times the estimated population in 2005), based on the huge necropolis at the main city of Chios. It is thought that the majority of the population lived in that area.
In 412 BC during the Peloponnesian War Chios revolted against Athens and the Athenians besieged it. Relief only came the following year when the Spartans were able to raise the siege. In the 4th century BC Chios was a member of the Second Athenian Empire but revolted against Athens during the Social War (357–355 BC), and Chios became independent again until the rise of Macedonia.
In the decades immediately preceding Macedonia’s domination of the Greek city-states, Chios was home to a school of rhetoric which Isocrates had founded, as well as a faction aligned with Sparta. After the Battle of Leuctra, supporters of the Lacedaemonians were exiled. Among the exiled were Damasistratus and his son Theopompus, who had received instruction from the school and went on to study with Isocrates in Athens before becoming a historian.
Theopompus moved back to Chios with the other exiles in 333 BC after Alexander had invaded Asia Minor and decreed their return, as well as the exile or trial of Persian supporters on the island. Theopompus was exiled again sometime after Alexander’s death and took refuge in Egypt.
During this period, the island also had become the largest exporter of Greek wine, which was noted for being of relatively high quality (see “Chian wine”). Chian amphoras, with a characteristic sphinx emblem and bunches of grape have been found in nearly every country that the ancient Greeks traded with from as far away as Gaul, Upper Egypt and Southern Russia.
During the Third Macedonian War, thirty-five vessels allied to Rome, carrying about 1,000 Galatian troops, as well as a number of horses, were sent by Eumenes II to his brother Attalus.
Leaving from Elaea, they were headed to the harbour of Phanae, planning to disembark from there to Macedonia. However, Perseus’s naval commander Antenor intercepted the fleet between Erythrae (on the Western coast of Turkey) and Chios.
According to Livy, they were caught completely off-guard by Antenor. Eumenes’ officers at first thought the intercepting fleet were friendly Romans, but scattered upon realizing they were facing an attack by their Macedonian enemy, some choosing to abandon ship and swim to Erythrae. Others, crashing their ships into land on Chios, fled toward the city.
The Chians however closed their gates, startled at the calamity. And the Macedonians, who had docked closer to the city anyway, cut the rest of the fleet off outside the city gates, and on the road leading to the city. Of the 1,000 men, 800 were killed, 200 taken prisoner.’
After the Roman conquest Chios became part of the province of Asia.
Pliny remarks upon the islanders’ use of variegated marble in their buildings, and their appreciation for such stone above murals or other forms of artificial decoration.
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