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Before Christ

The oldest ruins on Lesbos date from 3200-3100 B.C., among others near Thérmi five villages have been excavated, the remains of which were piled up in the ground and date from the period 3200-2400 B.C. The three oldest villages date from the time of Troy I (ca. 2920-2480/20 B.C.), the youngest two from the time of Troy II (ca. 2600-2480/20 B.C.). Defensive walls were also found in the sand layer of the youngest village, probably to stop attackers from Central Asia.

After this period it became quiet on Lesbos, and this is confirmed by the fact that no archaeological evidence from this period has been found. Not until ca. 1400 BC are there again activities on the island. Then Greeks from Mycenae and Asia Minor (western Turkey) arrived in the period of the Trojan War. They were Argiven, Achaeans and later, ca. 800 BC, Aeolian Greeks under Penthelides, who founded colonies on Lesbos and in Asia Minor. At the beginning of the Aeolian period, Lesbos had five towns ruled by as many kings, Mytilini, Methymna, Pyrrha, Antissa and Eresos. In the 7th century BC all these kings were expelled and in the 5th century BC the city of Arisbe was totally destroyed by the people of Mithymna. In ca. 615 BC, Sappho (ca. 615 - 562 BC) was born as the daughter of a noble family, probably in the village of Eresoú. She would later become one of the best lyrical poets of all time.

In 570 BC the Greek colony of Naucrate was founded in Egypt and the inhabitants of Lesbos had a large share in it. In this period Lesbos became so strong that Croesos, a powerful king in Asia Minor, did not try to conquer Lesbos as well, but concluded a treaty with the island. At the same time, a treaty was made between Lesbos and the Miletians of Miletus, a town in what is now the province of Anatolia on the west coast of Turkey. At that time Miletus was a naval power which established colonies everywhere, even in the Crimea. The inhabitants of Lesbos fought in vain with Miletus against Polycrates of Samos, an autocrat who also commanded a navy.

At the end of the 6th century BC Lesbos came without a fight under Persian rule, who appointed the tyrant Coes of Exandrus to keep the peace on the island. In 499 BC an uprising against the Persians broke out in many Greek cities and Lesbos also took part in the struggle. Coes was killed, but in 494 BC, after initial losses, the Persians won the battle and Lesbos was completely subjected to Persian rule. The inhabitants of Lesbos were even forced to fight on the side of the Persians when Xerxes, king of the Persian Empire from 485-465 BC, went on a rampage towards the Greek mainland. However, when Xerxes lost at the Battle of Mycale in 479 BC, Lesbos sided with the Attic Sea Confederation, which was consolidated in 477 BC by an alliance with the Athenians.

This alliance ended in 440 BC when the inhabitants of Lesvos came to the aid of Samos in their struggle against the Athenians, who were even crueler than the Persians. The revolt was crushed by Athens, but a few years later, in the fourth year of the Peloponnesian War, all of Lesbos, except the town of Mithymna, rebelled against Athens again. Mithymna proved so strong that it was able to subdue the other cities and the Athenians occupied Lesbos with their armies. In 405 BC all the towns on Lesbos were conquered by Lysander, a Spartan general (died in 395 BC), but by 392 BC all Lesbos was back in the hands of Athens. In 387 BC Lesbos was granted autonomy under the Peace Treaty of Antalcidas (name of the Spartan negotiator). In 369 BC Lesbos again became a participant in the Second Athenian Alliance, but in 357 BC Lesbos was again conquered by the Persians and friends of the Persians were again posted in the most important positions.

In 334 BC Alexander III of Macedonia, better known as Alexander the Great, invaded Persian-controlled Anatolia, and Lesbos immediately sided with Alexander. However, the Persians did not take this lying down, and with the help of Memnon of Rhodes (380 BC - 333 BC), a Greek employed as a mercenary general by the Persian army, several islands, including Lesbos, were retaken by the Persians. During the siege of the city of Mytilene, Memnon died of an illness. The Persian occupation lasted only a short time, however, as they were soon driven out by one of Alexander the Great's generals, Aegelogus. Lesbos now remained under Macedonian rule until 167 BC, when the Romans attacked Lesbos for the first time. In 88 BC the Romans settled permanently on Lesbos, at that time supporting an enemy of Rome, Mithridates VI of Pontus, nicknamed Eupator or the Great (134 BC - 63 BC). In revenge for Lesbos' support of Mithriodates, the Romans destroyed the capital Mytilene.

After Christ

Under Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasian (9 AD - 79) Lesbos gained a certain degree of independence and under Emperor Hadrian (76 - 138) it regained all its privileges. In Roman times Lesbos would become a popular holiday destination. For a long time it was peaceful on Lesbos, but in 769 the island was attacked by the Slavs, followed in 821, 881 and 1055 by the Saracens. In 1128 Lesbos was occupied by the Venetians and plagued by attacks from Catalan pirates. In 1204 Lesbos was occupied by the Franks who gave the island as a gift to Baudouin I of Constantinople. He in turn ceded Lesbos in 1224 to the Byzantine Emperor John III Ducas Vatatzes (reigned 1222-1254), and in 1261 Lesbos became again a Byzantine province. During this period the first merchants from Genoa settled on Lesbos, who were often granted special trading privileges. In 1335 the Byzantine Emperor John V Paleologus (1331-1391) gave Lesbos as a dowry to his brother-in-law, the Genoese Francisco Gateluzo.

On 14 October 1462, Lesbos was conquered by the Turks of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror (1432-1481), who named the island "Garden of the Aegean". The majority of Greeks were enslaved or exiled to Constantinople and the whole economic and cultural life of Lesbos came to a standstill. Of the approx. 100,000 inhabitants of Lesbos, only about 30,000 remained. Most of the buildings from the Byzantine and Genoese times were also destroyed by the Turks, as well as by earthquakes. During the Turkish occupation, the capital Mytilini was split into a Greek and a Turkish part and Lesbos suffered many attacks on the island, including in 1771 from a Russian fleet, which shelled and bombed Turkish ships and the fortress of Mytilini. In revenge for this, many Christians were killed by the Turks. Centuries later, in 1824, the Greeks still living on the island rebelled against the Turks, but the uprising was put down with much bloodshed.

It was only in 1912 that the island regained its freedom after the successful action of a Greek fleet under Admiral Koundouriotis, and became part of the Greek state. However, this only became official in 1914, but it was not until 1922 that the fighting for the island really stopped and many Greeks from western Turkey moved to Lesbos. In World War II Lesbos was again occupied, this time by the Germans on 4 May 1941. On 10 September 1944 Lesbos came back into Greek hands. An important year in the modern history of Lesvbs was 1981, when tourism to the island took off.

Nowadays, Lesvos is known for the many refugees who cross over from Turkey to the EU. Camp Moira is known for its problematic reception of refugees, which is also caused by the lax attitude of other EU member states to resettle refugees.

See also the history page of Greece.


Dubin, Marc S. / Griekse eilanden
Van Reemst

Greek islands
Lonely Planet

Griekse eilanden

McGilchrist, Nigel / Greece : the Aegean islands
Somerset Books

Midgette, Anne / Griekse eilanden : Egeïsche Zee
Het Spectrum

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated March 2024
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