A Short History of Chios

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The island of Chios comprises 842 square miles and has a population of about 52,000. From 1940 to the mid 1980s the island showed a steady decrease in population due to emigration. The records indicate the following: 75,853 (1940); 66,823 (1951); 62,223 (1961), 53,948 (1971), and 49,865 (1981).

The principal industries on the island are agriculture and animal breeding (55.1%), manufacturing (10.3%), services and small business (27.1%). The balance includes banking, transportation, and communication. Approximately one-third of the labor force is involved in merchant marine activities, which accounts for three-quarters of the island’s foreign exchange.

Chios has been inhabited from about 3000 BC almost continuously. Discoveries made in northern Chios show that humans lived on the island as early as the Neolithic period. It was later colonized by the Pelasgians, probably a “sea people” who lived in the region of the Aegean Sea before the Hellenes came. The Pelasgians left walls near Exo Didyma and Kourounia and a temple of Zeus on top of Mt. Pelineon. The Achaeans followed the Pelasgians, and they in turn were usurped by the Ionians during the eighth century B.C. The Ionians probably came from Attica and Euboea. The area that came to be known as Ionia was formed around a religious center at Mycale and included the cities of Phocaea, Colophon, Ephesus, and Miletus and the islands Chios and Samos.

Levkonion, an ancient city and rival of Troy mentioned by Thucydides, is believed to have been located at what is now Emborio in the southern part of Chios. Archaeologists have discovered signs of a settlement dating from 3000 B.C. East of the port a seventh-century B.C. temple of Athena has been found on the ancient acropolis, surrounded by ancient walls. The great numbers of amphorae found under water here hint at the extent of Chios’ ancient wine trade. The Great Temple of Apollo Phana, which stood near the town of Olympoi, had an oracle that Alexander the Great is said to have consulted. Only the fountain by the temple remains there today.

A strong tradition says that the lonian poet Homer was born on the island of Chios in the ninth or eighth century B.C. and we do know that the school of rhapsodes known as the Homeridae flourished in Chios during this period. Chios was then an independent kingdom with colonies abroad, notably Voroniki in Egypt.

By the seventh century B.C., Chios reached the climax of its importance, having achieved a striking level of cultural development, famed throughout the Hellenic world for its school of sculptors (Malas, Mikkiades, Archermos, Boupalos, and Glaukos) and its system of government. Solon himself studied it and adapted parts of it in his Athenian reforms. The Hellenic constitutional movement is thought to have originated in Ionia. A broken stone pillar from Chios shows traces of an early written constitution and a popular law court. It was also during this period that commerce and shipping made significant progress and architecture and technology advanced. It was in the eastern region of the Aegean that the Ionic order of architecture was conceived.

During the sixth century B.C. Ionia became subject to the Persians. Difficulties arose later during the reign of Darius, when tyrants were imposed on the Ionian cities, taking them from subjection to slavery. When the Ionian Revolt broke out in 499 B.C., the Chians joined it. As a member of the famous Ionian confederacy, Chios joined Athens in the sea-battle of Lade (494 B.C) and supplied a contingent of 100 ships in a vain attempt to free itself from the Persians. After the capture of Miletus, however, Chians found themselves at the mercy of the Persians, who swept the island in 493 B.C. and virtually destroyed it.

Some fifteen years later, after the battle of Plateia, Chios regained its independence and held on to it even after Athens moved the treasury of Delos to the Acropolis, subjugating other former island allies as tribute-paying dependencies.

Later Chios allied itself with Rome and fought the enemy of the Empire Mithradates of Pontus (8 B.C.), only to be defeated and destroyed, although it was liberated two years later when Mithradates was destroyed by Sulla. A few hundred years later Chios made the mistake of siding with Galerius against his brother-in-law, Constantinos, who conquered the island and carried off to Constantinople many precious sculptures of antiquity, including, the bronze horses which now adorn St. Mark’s Piazza in Venice, brought there after the sack of Constantinople in 1204
In 1261 the Emperor Michael Paleologos gave Chios to the Genoese for their assistance in reconquering Byzantium. Under the Genoese Giustiniani family, Chios once again prospered, thanks to the activities of “Maona,” a company chartered in 1344 to govern and defend the island. It is believed that Christopher Columbus, a native of Genoa, visited Chios when he was 21 years of age, and that he became enchanted, as so many have been, with the fragrances of herbs and mastic that pervade the island. His logs recall his trip to Chios in three different entries.

The Genoese lost Chios to the Turks in 1566. The Turks were fond of the island, especially for its mastic, and granted Chios many benefits, including a degree of independence. Despite this, Chios rebelled with the rest of Greece in 1822, and the Sultan, furious at the subversion of an island he had treated with favor, ordered the rebellion to be mercilessly quelled. This led to one of the worse massacres in history. In a few days 30,000 Chians were murdered, and 45,000 others taken into slavery. A few Chians fled to other islands.

The massacre deeply moved the rest of Europe. Eugene Delacroix painted his masterpiece of the tragedy and Victor Hugo wrote about it. On June 6 of the same year, the Constantine Kanaris took revenge on Kara Ali, who had carried out the slaughter, by blowing up his flagship, killing him and 2000 soldiers. In 1840, Chios attained a certain amount of autonomy under a Christian governor. In 1912 during the Balkan Wars the Greek army fought and freed Chios from 346 years of Turkish rule. During World War II, Chios fell to the Nazis along with the rest of Greece. The island was freed in October 1944.