AMORGOS, the easternmost island of the Greek Cyclades is a stunner,
with whitewashed houses, trestled alleyways and fiery rust sunsets ...
Kevin Raub in New York Post, 2010

Settlement began on Amorgos in the late 5th millennium BC at the hill-top of Minoa where obsidian from Milos and Late Neolithic clay vessels have been found.

The 3rd millennium BC marks the island’s first apogee, when it was an important centre of the Cydadie culture which flourished contemporaneously on Naxos and in the islands of the protected waters in between. Amorgos, with almost a dozen separate inhabited centres in this period, is the origin of many famous Cycladic figurines and of the idiosyneratie ‘Dokathismata style’. Cemeteries at Aghia Paraskevi, Aghios Pavlos, Dokathismata, Kapros, Kapsala, Nikouria and Stavros have all yielded Cydadie sculpture.

Aigiale Bronze coin 3nd-2nd century BC.

Aigiale Bronze coin 3nd-2nd century BC.

From the 2nd millennium BC, apart from evidence of a Mycenaean presence in the bay of Katapola, the island’s history becomes less dear. During the 10th century BC I0nian settlers arrived, and the three cities of historic times emerged – Aegiale, Minoa and Arkesine: first, Arkesine colonised by Naxos, then Minoa by Samos, and Aegiale by Miletus. The mid-7th century BC poet, Semonides, was allegedly amongst the colonisers from Samos.

The island appears in the Athenian tribute lists from 433 BC paying one talent (compared with Kea’s four talents, and Paros’s 18 talents). It participated in the Second Athenian League in 357 BC. The fine Hellenistic towers and constructions on the island were put up during the uncertain times when the island was first a possession of Macedonia, then of the Ptolemies, and finally of the Rhodian State from the end of the 3rd century BC.

After 133 BC, the three cities were assumed into the Roman Province of Asia. Amorgos was often a place of exile in the Roman period, though clearly not one of the most punitive: Tacitus records that Tiberius commuted the proposed confinement of the hapless Vibius Serenus on the barren island of Gyaros, into exile on Amorgos, for humanitarian reasons (Annals IV, 29).

There is evidence of scattered Early Christian communities, especially in the bay of Katapola; but the increasing frequency of pirate raids from the sea, pushed habitation into the central uplands of the island, and the site of Chora began to be enlarged and settled in the 9th century.

The arrival 0f refugee monks with the icon from Khoziba in Palestine in this period, followed by the subsequent founding of the Chozovi6tissa Monastery allegedly in 1088, was 0f considerable importance for the history 0f’ the island. Amorgos was taken by Geremia and Andrea Ghisi, on behalf of the Duchy of Naxos of Marco Sanudo, in 1207.

As was common with the less central Cycladic islands, it subsequently changed hands many times; first ruled by the Ghisi family; regained between 1269 and 1296 by the Nicaean Emperor, John Vatatzes, and used  principally as a place of exile; formally re-assigned to Venice by treaty in 1303 and governed by the Barozzi family; it was finally sold piecemeal in several stages to Giovanni Querini, Lord of Astypalaia, who possessed the island until its seizure by the Ottoman Admiral, Khaireddin Barbarossa in 1537. From 1540 it became formally a Turkish possession. A Turkish governor was installed at first, but by the 18th century the island was self-governing, paying tax to the Ottoman authorities for Jiberty of commerce and faith.

The island was always a prey to piracy, culminating in one particularly fierce attack in 1797 by pirates from the Mani. In 1835 the island became part of the new Kingdom of Greece. In the same year a devastating fire spread from Aigiali and burned the oak forests 0f Mount Kroukelos, radically altering the landscape and ecology of the northern end of the island.

McGilchrist's Greek Islands 2010Text with friendly permission from McGlichrist’s GREEK ISLANDS, No. 20 of the series about Amorgos Island.
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