History of Ikaria
Ikaria is a place with a rich mythological past, and it has connected its name with the mythical figure Icarus. Sandy beaches, running waters, mountains and lush green hillsides compose the majestic relief of the island. Ikaria is also famed for its thermal springs, unique in the whole world for its chemical composition and radiation. Moreover, the unparalleled local lifestyle with a unique work-rest schedule, the famed festivals with traditional dances, the local manners and customs, are very impressive features for the visitors.
The island extends over a surface of 260 km2, its coastline is 102 km long and it has 8,500 inhabitants.
Ikaria, Icarus in classical antiquity, is a member of the Anatolian Sporades and is part of the same mountain range which connected Samos to Asia Minor. Ikaria has nearly an unbroken coastline and is without adequate ports. The sea around Ikaria, the Ikarion Pelagos, was known to Homer (Iliad 2. 145) as one of the most turbulent areas of the Aegean. The Ikarian Sea is especially tempestuous in July and August during the Meltemi season because the island, situated without a protective barrier to the north, has no buffer from these northeasterly gales known as Etesian in antiquity.
There are some neolithic remains on Ikaria, that are presently being excavated by a native, Themistocles Katsaros. Another native, the eminent anthropologist Ares Poulianos, has found a number of neolithic artifacts. Until their work is published we can say little about the neolithic period in Ikaria except that the island was inhabited in the seventh millennium B.C. The Greeks called these early inhabitants of the Aegean Pelasgians, and they probably controlled Ikaria until the second millennium B.C. when the Carians, another indigenous Aegean people, got a foothold in Ikaria. These terms, Pelasgians and Carians, are very vague and it is perhaps best to simply think of the early settlers of Ikaria as pre-Greek.
The Greeks entered the Aegean in ca. 1500 B.C., and by 1200 B.C. had taken most of the Aegean islands, though there is no sign of any Greek settlement on Ikaria until much later. The Greeks may have been discouraged by the lack of harbors, the shortage of arable land, and thick forests. Greeks from Miletus colonized Ikaria in ca. 750 B.C, probably establishing a settlement at Therma then Oenoe (modern-day Campos.) The purpose of these Milesian outposts on Ikaria was probably to aid Milesian ships on their way north to Milesian colonies in the Propontis.
The sources for the history of ancient Ikaria consist of random references in ancient authors such as Thucydides, Herodotus, Strabo, Pausanias, Athenaeus, Pliny, and a handful of inscriptions. Eparchides, a native of Oenoe, wrote a history of Ikaria about 350 B.C. We assume that he provided a capsule history of the island, but the main purpose of his work seems to have been to promote Ikarian wine. Only several fragments of Eparchides' history survive. Accounts by 17h. to 19th travellers are very helpful, especially the book of Bishop J. Georgirenes in the early 17th. century and the German archeologist L. Ross in the middle of the 19th century.
Sometime in the sixth century B.C. the Ikaria was absorbed by Samos and became part of the Polycrates sea empire. It was perhaps at this time that the temple of Artemis at Nas, on the northeast corner of the island, was built. It seems that Nas was a sacred spot to the pre-Greek inhabitants of the Aegean, and an important port in the Aegean, the last stop before testing the dangerous Ikarian Pelasgian. It was an appropriate place for sailors to make sacrifices to Artemis, who among other functions, was a patron of seafarers. The temple stood in good repair until the middle of the 19th. century when it was pillaged by the villagers of Christos, Raches for marble for their local church. In 1939 it was excavated by the Greek archeologist Leon Politis. During the German and Italian occupation of Ikaria in the Second World War, many of the artifacts unearthed by Politis disappeared. Local custom has it that there are still marble statues embedded in the sand off the coast.
In the first decades of the fifth century, Ikaria may have fallen into the sphere of Persia. In 490 B.C. the Persian expeditionary force to Greece touched upon Ikarian shores. After the war, Ikaria became part of the Delian League and prospered. Oenoe became known for its excellent Pramnian Wine. There were several areas in Greece which produced this type of wine, and we do not exactly know what its qualities were, though it seems to have been rather expensive and enabled Oenoe to pay a substantial tribute to the Athenians. The tribute list kept in Athens, which shows Oenoe paying 8,000 drachmae in 453, dropping to 6,000 in 449 B.C., and 4,000 in 448 B.C. Therma, which was less prosperous, never paid over 3,000 drachmae. A drachma was a substantial sum in the ancient world, and the total Ikarian tax placed Ikaria in the upper thirty percent of the tribute-paying states. It is not clear why the tax of Oenoe fell by fifty percent in the 440's B.C., but we can guess that the Athenians placed a military colony, a cleruchy, at Oenoe to keep watch on Samos which had rebelled from the Athenian empire. The great playwright Euripides visited the island. His trip may have been officially connected to the Athenian settlement.
Therma apparently did not share in the great wine industry, and apparently had little to do with Oenoe. There are no records that the two Ikarian cities had much contact. This division is reflected in the modern period when in 1912 the two sections of the island almost went to war with one another to determine the site of the capital. Therma's prosperity seems to have been based on its thermal springs which even then were considered highly beneficial.
We can estimate about 13,000 inhabitants on Ikaria in the fifth century B.C. The prosperity, which the island enjoyed during the Athenian empire, began to decline during the Peloponnesian War (431 B.c. to 404 B.C.) On two occasions Spartan admirals, Alcides and Mindarus, brought their fleets to Ikaria. After the war, Ikaria suffered from piratical raids. Conditions improved in 387 B.C. when Ikaria, that is Oenoe and Therma, became a member of the Second Athenian League.
Alexander the Great named an island, Failaka, in the Persian gulf Ikaria because it resembled Ikaria. In fact, there is no resemblance between the two islands, and it is unknown why Alexander would do this, but his gesture does signify that he held Ikaria in some degree of esteem, and perhaps had soldiers from the island in his Persian campaign. In the wars that followed the death of Alexander in 323 B.C., Ikaria became an important military base. One of Alexander's successors, possibly Demetrius Poliorcetes, built the tower at Fanari, Dracanum, and the adjacent fortress. It is one of the best-preserved Hellenistic military towers in the Aegean.
In the second century B.C. the Ikarians changed the name of Therma to Aslcepieis. The change in names only lasted for about thirty years. Apparently, it was an effort to advertise the medicinal qualities of the thermal baths and make Therma into an important resort. But this was generally a period of decline. Philip V (221-178) ravaged the Aegean islands. Though the Romans established control of the area they did not adequately patrol the seas. In 129 B.c. Samos was incorporated into the Roman province of Asia, which represented a coastal area of Asia Minor, and Ikaria seems to have been included in this province. A Roman general undertook to repair the temple of Artemis which had apparently fallen into a state of disrepair during the third century B.C, doubtless from piratical raids, but the Romans, preoccupied with domestic problems, neglected the Aegean, and by the early years of the first century B.C. pirates took control of the Aegean islands.
All the coastal settlements in Ikaria disappeared, and the few people who remained on the island retreated into the interior. Emperor Augustus (29 B.C.-A.D.14) reestablished order in the Aegean and encouraged Samians to develop Ikaria. The traveller Strabo, ca. 10 B.C., saw two small settlements on Ikaria, but noted that it was essentially a deserted island used mainly by Samian ranchers who kept herds of animals there. In the first century A.D. Pliny, the Younger was weather-bound on the island for several days and was struck by its rustic qualities.
By the end of the fifth century, A.D. Ikaria fell into the sphere of the Byzantine Empire. Campos became the administrative center and the seat of a bishopric. The Samians, given support by the government in Constantinople, maintained a local fleet that offered Ikaria some protection from pirates. In 1081 A.D. the emperor Alexus Comnenus established, only a few miles from Ikaria, the monastery of St. John the Theologian in Patmos. This became a cultural center in the Aegean and kept Ikaria from sliding into total oblivion.
By the end of the 12th. century the Byzantine empire cut back its naval defense and the Aegean became open to inroads from pirates and Italian adventures. The Ikarians built fortresses at Paliokastro and Koskino. A glimpse of conditions is provided by a document in the monastery of Patmos which recorded pirates fleeing Patmos and arriving in Ikaria where the local population executed them.
On the 14th. century the Genoese took Chios, and Ikaria became part of a Genoese Aegean empire. When the Turks drove the Genoese from the Aegean the Knights of St. John, who had their base in Rhodes, exerted some control over Ikaria until 1521 when the Sultan incorporated Ikaria into his realm. The Ikarians killed the first Turkish tax collector but somehow managed to escape punishment.
The Turks imposed a very loose administration not sending any officials to Ikaria for several centuries. The best account we have of the island during these years is from the pen of the bishop J. Georgirnees who in 1677 described the island with 1,000 inhabitants who were the poorest people in the Aegean. In 1827 Ikaria broke away from the Ottoman Empire, but was forced to accept Turkish rule a few years later, and remained part of the Ottoman empire until July 17, 1912, when it expelled a small Turkish garrison during the IKARIAN INDEPENDENCE. Due to the Balkan Wars, Ikaria was unable to join Greece until November of that year. The five months of independence were difficult years. The natives lacked foodstuffs, were without regular transportation and postage service and were on the verge of becoming part of the Italian Aegean empire.
There was considerable dissatisfaction with the Greek government which invested little in developing Ikaria which remained one of the most backward regions of Greece. Until the 1960s the Ikarians looked to the Ikarians in America rather than Athens for help in building roads, schools and medical facilities. Throughout the first half of the 20th. century the economy depended on remittances sent from America by Ikarian immigrants who began settling in America in the 1890s. In America, Ikarians demonstrated talent as steel mill workers and independent businessmen.
The island suffered tremendous losses in property and lives during the second world war and the German and Italian occupation. There are no exact figures on how many people starved, but in the village of Karavostomos over 100 perished from starvation. After the war, the majority of the islanders were sympathetic to communism, and the Greek government used the island to exile about 13,000 communists from 1945 to 1949. The quality of life improved after 1960 when the Greek government began to invest in the infrastructure of the islands assisting in the promotion of tourism.