History of Milos

Milos is referred to by various writers in many different names: Vivlis, Gorgis, Melas, Memblis, Mimmallis, Zephyria, Akytos. However, the prevalent one is “Milos”. A name taken from its first settler, “Milos”, a royal hero descendant, sent by goddess Aphrodite from Cyprus to Milos.
A lot is being said or written about its inhabitants, too, that they were Carians or Phoenicians. It has been historically documented that Milos was inhabited by Dorians and they migrated from the Peloponnese between 975 and 800 B.C.

Neolithic Age (7000 – 2800 B.C.)

Not only is there evidence that Milos was inhabited, but it has also been shown that it thrived and prospered more than its neighboring regions, because Melians owned an important raw material in plenty. This was the obsidian stone, a very hard black volcanic rock with a glassy appearance, for this reason known as “glass mineral”. The inhabitants of Milos were not only specialists in the working of this mineral, but also exported it.
Tools, small knives or arrow- and spear-heads made of Milos’ obsidian have been found in Peloponnese, Crete, Egypt and elsewhere. This is certain, since obsidian found in other areas of Greece, e.g. Ikaria, is of a different form.

Bronze Age (2800 – 1100 B.C.)

It was in this period when the first houses were built, remains of which were discovered during the excavations in Fylakopi by the English archeologists C. Smith and D. Hogarth (1896-1899). Milos had a major growth and became the most important center of the Cycladic civilization. Wall-paintings, ceramics and pottery prove that, during those years, it was a rich island with well developed trade. Samples of this growth are exhibited today in the archeological museums of Athens and Milos.

Archaic period (1100 – 480 B.C.)

When Fylakopi was abandoned, a new town appeared on Milos’s map, in the area where Klima is located today. This area extends from the sea as far as the village of Trypiti to the north-east and down to the outskirts of Plaka to the North. With the experience of previous centuries, in addition to the natural fortification of the area, a wall was erected straightaway, traces of which have survived to date. This town started being built in 1000 B.C., which coincides with the descent of Dorians, who subjugated the previous inhabitants. After a few years, Melians were assimilated with the new settlers and started boasting they were Dorians. Arts developed once again, while pottery reached perfection. “Melian amphorae” (urns), unique in kind, are admirable.

Classical period (480 – 323 B.C.)

Melians took part in the Persian Wars on the Greek side. They are mentioned in the sea-battle of Salamis and the battle of Plataea in 480-479 B.C. During the Peloponnesian war, though, they tried to stay neutral, risking their independence. Thereafter, Athenians set out to subjugate Milos which insisted in its denial to join in the Athenian League. The debate held between the aspiring conquerors and the defendants did not bring about any result, since Melians believed in their freedom and their autonomy. This was when the siege of the town started, however Melians broke it through twice, with heroic sorties to get the necessary food supplies. Athenians sent new reinforcements under the leadership of Philokrates, and managed to destroy the town in the beginning of 415 B.C., after a betrayal. Melians who had survived the massacres returned to Milos only after Athenians were defeated by Spartans at the naval battle of Aegospotami in 405 B.C.

Hellenistic period (323 – 146 B.C.)

The history of the town, resembles the history of the Macedonian era, follows once again the history of Greece and the islands. During this period, peace and tranquility prevail on the island. As a result, trade of its mineral wealth and arts develop. The prosperity of Milos is evident in the masterpieces which decorated several buildings and can be seen nowadays in museums, like the world-famous masterly statue of Venus (Louvre museum), the giant statue of Poseidon (Athens National Museum), the equestrian statue of a general (Athens National Museum) and others.

Roman period (146 B.C. – 330 A.D.)

With a few minor exceptions, peace continues to prevail; trade of minerals makes Milos’s inhabitants rich, and arts progress. Statues of officials and cuirassiers, portraying heads and imperial coins attest that life was continued on Milos during the Roman domination. The marble theater was also built during this period, on a site of amazing view. Seven tiers and six stairs of the theater have been perfectly preserved, and it is considered as a sample of the great intellectual development of the inhabitants during this era. At the same time, Christianity appears on the island and expands rapidly. To protect themselves, probably since the 1st century, believers of this new religion build catacombs, where they fulfill their religious duties and bury their deceased. However, there is also life outside the ancient town of Klima. There are traces of buildings spread all over the island. Areas like Komia, Pollonia, Panaghia Kastriani, Paleohori, Ag. Kyriaki, Provatas, Kipos, Ag. Eleni, Agathia, Empourio, show that there were people, possibly farmers, cattle-raisers or miners, who lived outside the walls of the town.

Byzantine period (330 – 1204 A.D.)

When the Roman Empire was divided, Cyclades, Milos included, came under the Byzantine Empire. There is only scarce evidence on these islands by chronographers and historians of the period, because the Byzantine Empire was vast, whereas the islands were very small. Milos was part of the “Theme of the Aegean” (as the region was called), seated on the island of Rhodes.

The Period of Venetian and Turkish Rule (1204 – 1821 A.D.)

After Constantinople was conquered by the Franks, the islands of the Aegean were taken by the Venetians. Melians once again showed their love for freedom. In 1268 they revolted against the Venetians and they seized the Castle, hoping to get support from the Byzantine fleet, which, though, never arrived. So, this revolt was again quelled in blood by Guillaume I. In 1580, after Nazis’ death, all islands came under the direct administration of Sultan Murat III. It is noteworthy that, all through the Turkish domination, Milos did not have any permanent Turk inhabitants; there were only Turks who traveled around and supervised the islanders’ life. In this same period, Chora was destroyed too, today’s Zephyria. Gradually built since the medieval years, it reached its greatest prosperity in the 16th and 17th centuries. It started however being abandoned by its inhabitants in the mid 18th century, for many reasons. Earthquakes, noxious gases escaping from the ground, floods and malaria forced its inhabitants to abandon it finally in 1767 and reside in the Castle and the surrounding area, today’s Plaka. This was how a beautiful and prosperous town of 5,000 inhabitants, as described by the French Joseph Pitton de Tournefort in 1700, was destroyed; visitors today find in its former location a village with very few inhabitants.

The 1821 War of Independence and the period thereafter

Melians’ contribution in fighters and money for the 1821 Hellenic Revolution against the Turk conquerors has been remarkable. Milos was the third island in order on the Greek territory that revolted, where the first sea-battle of the Liberation Fight took place, on April 11th, 1821. During the World War I, the harbor of the island was used as a navy yard of the French-English, and Adamas hosted the naval administration of the alliance forces of the Aegean. A few years later, during the World War II, Milos was taken by the Germans, on May 6, 1941. The island raised the flag of liberation four years later, the 9th of May, 1945.