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Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

ANCIENT GREEK CULTURE

[From: Doumas, Christos, Prof. of Archaeology at the Univ. of Athens, Director of Excavations at Akrotiri. Santorini, A Guide to the Island and Its Archaeological Treasures. Athens: Ekdotike Athenon S.A. 1995.]

Introduction - Geography and Geology - Historical Outline - Archaeological Research - Archaeological Sites - Pottery - Wall Paintings

Santorini
[Historical Outline]

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Even though some scholars have considered certain sherds from vases as being Neolithic, it remains a fact that not a single certain sign has been observed so far which confirms human presence on the island prior to the Bronze Age. The earliest pottery found in the deepest levels of the quarries does not seem to be older than the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C., that is belonging to the second phase of the Early Cycladic civilization [c. 3200 - 2000 B.C.].

The large excavation at Akrotiri has verified that in the next period, the Middle Cycladic [2000 - 1550 B.C.] man's activity on the island did not cease. Perhaps, however, as seems to be the case in other Cycladic islands as well, the population was gathered into small conurbations rather than dispersed in small communities. From the Late Bronze Age only the first phase has remained but this in its great acme. The eruption of the volcano in around 1500 B.C. entirely buried the island beneath a very thick layer of pozzuolana. Naturally, all traces of human activity vanished from the island for several centuries. Fragments of Mycenaean vases located superficially in the region of Monolithos attest the resettlement of the island at least by the end of the 13th century B.C.

Herodotus, who speaks about the early history of Santorini, tells us that the island was initially called Strongyle, the Round One, from its shape. Later, because of its beauty, it was called Kalliste, the Fairest One. To Kalliste, the historian says, came the Phoenicians led by Kadmos and there they settled. This took place five generations before the Trojan War. After the Phoenicians, who ruled the island for eight generations, the Lacedaemonians arrived. These latter founded a colony and gave the island the name of their leader, Theras, son of Autesion. In the 9th century B.C. Thera, a pure Dorian colony, became one of the "stepping-stones" on the bridge linking the East with the West. Cyprus, Crete, Melos, the south-east shores of Mainland Greece were the other halting points on this communication route.

Towards the end of the 9th or beginning of the 8th century B.C. Thera, Crete and Melos were the first to adopt the Phoenician alphabet for writing the Greek language. Despite this the Therans, true children of conservative Sparta, did not follow the other Cycladic islanders in their cultural development even though they accepted some influences from the surrounding islands. We know very little about the life of the Therans during these years [Geometric period]. We have more information concerning their attitude to the dead. The prevailing custom was cremation of the dead and conservation of the ashes in special vases.

In the Archaic period [7th and 6th c. B.C.] Thera was in contact with [p. 12] Crete, first of all, then Paros, and later with Attica, Corinth, Rhodes and Ionia. These relations, however, remained superficial and did not manage to definitively influence the structure of the conservative society of the Therans nor alter the cultural life of the island. The Therans were frugal in their diet, sufficing on what the soil offered and avoiding marine involvements. The sole exception was the founding of Cyrene, the only Theran colony. But they were forced into this venture by dire necessity, as Herodotus informs us. The island was plaqued by a drought which lasted for seven years. The more daring, following the pronouncement of the oracle and after many adventures, reached the north coast of the African continent where they founded Cyrene in about 630 B.C.

From as early as the 6th century B.C. Thera minted its own coinage. The official emblem of the island [insignium] was two dolphins. As the consequence of the meagre diet and relative isolation, Thera did not play an important role in Hellenic events during the Classical period in Greece [5th and 4th century B.C.]. In the years of the Persian Wars Thera discontinued minting coinage. It did not begin again until the end of Athens' hegemony in the Aegean, that is in the middle of the 4th century B.C. During the Peloponesian War, as was to be expected, Thera sided with Sparta. In Hellenistic times the island's strategic position was especially esteemed by the Ptolemies. The natural fortification of Mesa Vouno and the two sandy beaches on either side of it, suitable for anchorage, made Thera a precious naval and military base from which the warring campaigns of the Successors of Alexander the Great were launched in the Aegean.

Within the immense inland sea of the Roman Empire, the Mediterranean, Thera was nothing more than an insignificant little island. Christianity, however, reached here early and there was evidently an organized church by the 4th century A.D. as is attested by the "Bishopric of Thera" with a certain Dioskouros [343 - 344] as first incumbent. From the period of the Emperor Justinian until 1207, when it was abolished, the Bishopric of Thera was one of those subject to the Metropolitan throne of Rhodes and is mentioned fifth in order.

The island was, apparently, of neither political nor military significance in Byzantine times. It is, however, noteworthy that the Emperor Alexius I Comnenus [108-1118] founded the church of Panagia Episkopi at Gonia, perhaps as the Katholikon of some monastery.

After the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade [1204] and the creation of the Latin Empire of the Bosporus, the Doge of Venice, Dandolo, ceded the islands to his nephew Marco Sanudo. Thus was founded the Duchy of Naxos or the Archipelago. Thera became the seat of one of the four Catholic Bishops of the Duchy and together with Therasia was ceded as a Barony to Giacomo Barozzi. Up until 1296 the island was administered by five generations of Barozzi who were accustomed to using the pompous title Dominatores insularum Santorini et Therasiae [Lords of the islands of Santorini and Therasia]. The name Santorini was given at that time by the Crusaders after a small chapel of Agia Irini [Santa Irene] which [p. 13] some say was at Perissa and others say was at Riva on Therasia.

In the years of Frankish rule [1207 - 1579] Santorini followed the fate and history of the other islands of the Duchy of Naxos. Important events in the history during these years are:

1. The expulsion of the Barozzi [1335] and the annexing of the Barony directly to the Duchy of Naxos. Under the hegemony of the Sanudi the island experienced a great floruit with the development of cotton cultivation.

2. The period of the reign of Duke Giacomo of the Crispi dynasty [1397 - 1418] which succeeded the Sanudi on Naxos. Giacomo studied the volcano and conducted experiments in its crater.

3. The ceding of Santorini to the Duke of Crete, Domenico Pisani. It was given as a dowry to the daughter of the Duke of Naxos Giacomo III [1480]. At that time a new Catholic Bishop was appointed under the protection of Venice and agriculture was supplemented by the special development of cotton cultivation and viticulture.

4. The annexing of the island along with the rest of the Duchy to Venice [1487].


Throughout the interval of Frankish rule the islands suffered as much from piratical raids as from the rivalries between the local Latin rulers or between the Dukes and the Sultan. In this same period the coexistence of the two Christian communities --the Catholic and the Orthodox --on the island frequently led to friction between them which was probably motivated by the religious leadership of the two communities.

The Turkish dominion [1579 - 1821] resulted in the abolition of piracy and the development of conveyancing trade. Santorinians created close contacts with the great harbours of the Eastern Mediterranean [Alexandria, Constantinople, Odessa] where they founded important communities. Their economic independence resulting from these activities is reflected in the old bourgeois mansions which still survive in the villages of Santorini. [p. 14]

[Doumas, Christos, Prof. of Archaeology at the Univ. of Athens, Director of Excavations at Akrotiri. Santorini, A Guide to the Island and Its Archaeological Treasures. Athens: Ekdotike Athenon S.A. 1995.]

[Featured above is the image of a prince - An interior wall painting in The Palace of Knossos. (The Hellenic Ministry of Culture)]




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