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Karpathos before Christ

The oldest archaeological finds on Karpathos date back to around 2500 B.C. The influence of the Minoan civilisation started to become clear around 1600 B.C. In the 14th century B.C. the Mycenaeans conquered Karpathos and built the acropolis of Potidaio or Poseidio. From this period a lot of pottery has been found on Karpathos. It is remarkable that Homer (ca. 800 - ca. 750 BC) in the Iliad refers to the participation of Karpathos, he called the island 'Krapathos' by the way, in the Trojan War by sending ships.

All indications are that Karpathos was permanently inhabited during the Neolithic period (from 11,000 BC), although this somewhat conflicts with the view that the Minoans were the first permanent inhabitants of Karpathos.

In any case, Karpathos was strongly influenced by nearby Crete in ancient times. Karpathos was also inhabited for a while by Phoenicians (1500 - 400 B.C.), a shipping and trading people that used Karpathos to cross the Mediterranean Sea with their ships until ca. 1000 B.C.

After the Mycenaeans and Phoenicians, the Dorians took over Karpathos and ensured a period of great prosperity. The Dorians built four fortified cities on Karpathos: Potidao or Poseidio, Arkesia, Vrikous and Nisiros, the present island of Saria to the north of Karpathos. This is why Karpathos was called Tetrapolis at that time.

Karpathos joined the Attic Sea League in the 5th century BC and fought with Athens against Sparta in the Peloponnesian Wars (431-401 BC). However, when Athens lost the battle, Karpathos defected to Sparta in 404 BC, only to return to the Attic Sea League in 397 BC with independence as a 'reward'.

During the Hellenistic period (323 - 31 B.C.) Karpathos was governed by neighbouring Rhodes.

Karpathos after Christ

In the 1st century AD, Karpathos was occupied by the Romans. In 330 Constantine the Great legalized Christianity and in 395 Theodosius I divided the Roman Empire into an Eastern, to which Karpathos was to belong, and a Western Empire. Around this time, the construction of churches like the Agia Fotini and the Agia Anastasia started on Karpathos.

In the 5th century A.D. Karpathos was plundered many times by Arabs, Syracusans, Mauritanians and many other invaders. The inhabitants of Karpathos at that time had no other choice but to flee to the mountains and found some villages there. Under the Byzantine Empire Karpathos was part of the Kibberaiotai until it was conquered in 1224 by Leo Gabalas, Prince of the Cyclades.

From 1282-1306 the brothers Luigi and Andrea Maresco of Genoa took over the administration of Karpathos and the island was called Scarpanto by the Italians. After the rulers from Genoa, the Venetian Marco Cornaro conquered the island, but had to give it up to the Knights of Rhodes in 1311.

In 1315, however, Karpathos was again ruled by the House of Cornaro and this lasted until 1537. During that reign many fortresses and churches were built. During the war with Venice (1537-1940) Karpathos was plundered by Chaireddin Barbarossa, who came from Lesbos but was operating under the authority of the Turkish sultan, and handed over to the Turks, who did not care about the development of the island. All the Turks were interested in was collecting taxes. Therefore, no evidence has been found that Karpathos was inhabited by Turks at that time, which, moreover, was highly affected by piracy at that time.

During the Greek Revolution in 1821, Karpathos also raised the Greek flag and became a refuge for Greek refugees and helped the rebels in the fight against the Turks wherever it could, including repairing broken Greek warships. After independence was declared in 1823, Karpathos joined Greece and belonged to the province of Santorini. The island of Kassos, where many warships were anchored, was under attack from the Turks until 1824. On 7 June 1824 this resulted in a horrible massacre, the Turks conquered the island and almost all the men were killed and most of the buildings destroyed by Egyptian troops of Caliph Mohammed Ali who came to their aid. Many women and children were shipped to Alexandria in Egypt to be sold as slaves. After the Treaty of London (1830), the islands of the Dodecanese came under the administration of Turkey again (Turks call Karpathos Kerpe), but were taken over by Italy in 1912. In 1894, by order of the Turkish governor, Aperi was replaced as island capital by Karpathos Town or Pigadia.

In 1943, during the Second World War, the Italian troops present were supplemented by German soldiers. The Germans, who at that time were losing everywhere, left on 4 October 1944, and less than a day later, Carpathian attacks on Italian troops started from the village of Meletes. Other villages soon followed, but because of the lack of Allied help due to bad weather conditions, the Italians held out. At that time there was a severe famine on the island, and in desperation seven men sailed in a small fishing boat from Karpathos to Alexandria in Egypt to ask for help from the Greek government that had fled there. On 17 October 1944, the men returned to Karpathos with two Allied destroyers in their wake. This was the beginning of the official liberation of Karpathos.

On the 7th of March 1948 Karpathos officially became part of Greece.

Not so much the turbulent past, but developments in the last fifty years have shaped the character of today's Karpathos. Because of the economy that was destroyed by the war, many Karpathians emigrated, especially to the cities on the east coast of the United States. Many of them, having become rich, returned to Karpathos and invested their money in the development of the island. Karpathos Town in particular became a modern town, although still in a traditional setting. Only the villages in the north still retain almost all the old (religious) traditions.

In 2004, there was a devastating fire near the village of Mesohori.

In May 2006, a Greek and a Turkish military plane collided over South Karpathos and subsequently crashed into the sea. The Greek pilot survived the crash, the Turkish pilot was saved by his ejection seat.

See also the history page of Greece.



CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated January 2023
Copyright: Team The World of Info