home Best of Greece, Greek Islands, Historical The Age-old History of Chios Island

The Age-old History of Chios Island

Chios is the fifth largest of the Greek islands situated in the North Aegean region. It is at the crossroads of West and East. From the magnificent mountains of the North to the protected valleys of the South, from the pristine shores of the West to the cosmopolitan resorts of the East, Chios arises from the merge of these antitheses imposing, stately and majestic. The Chios strait, as it is referred to, separates the island from the Anatolian mainland and Turkey.


History of Chios

Archaeological traces indicate that Chios was inhabited as early as the Prehistoric Times. Its particular strategic position on maritime routes linking Eastern Mediterranean with the Black Sea and the island’s proximity to the shores of Asia Minor led to its early settlement. It is reportedly the birth place of Homer, the legendary author of Iliad and Odyssey.

Prehistoric Period

Archaeological research provided evidence that Chios has been inhabited from the Stone Age to the present day. This is largely due to its location in the Easter Aegean just off the coast of Asia Minor from where it has been able to exploit the trade routes north to the Black Sea and south to the Mediterranean. The earliest settlements were established initially at Ayio Gala in the north and subsequently at Emporio in the South. Evidence has led scholars to content that the social distinction was feeble during that period as it appeared that all profited from agriculture and livestock.

Archaic and Classical Period

Chios was one of the original 12 member states of the Ionian League, a confederation of cities formed by the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor at the end of the Meliac War. During the 7th and 6th century, the elements of political stability and economic growth led to the island’s rise. During that time Chios exceled in arts and was also home of the renowned School of Sculpture. The government adopted a constitution that entailed democratic features, such as a people’s magistrates (damarchoi) and a voting assembly, comparable to that of Solon. In 546 BC Chios was incorporated into the Persian Empire. After an unsuccessful attempt to obliterate the Persian yoke by joining the Ionian Revolt in 499 BC, Chios was eventually freed in 479 BC at the Battle of Mycale, which essentially marked the end of the Persian Wars and subsequently joined the Delian League under the leadership of Athens. The Athenian-Chian relations were strong during that period as a result to Chios’ benefits to Athens and its abiding loyalty. When Athens tightened its control to the city states Chios rebelled during the Social War (359-357 BC), as did Rhodes and later on others, demanding to be Athens’s social and political equals and gained its independence until the rise of the rampant imperialism of Macedonia.

Hellenistic Period

Chios was conquered by Alexander in 332 BC and this marks the beginning of the Hellenistic Period of the island. During that time the island acquired much of its wealth through the export of wine – known to have been a pivotal economic activity for Chios. The quality of this wine was particularly fine and its reputation quickly spread throughout the Greek world. As attested by the Chian amphorae, the export of Chian wine has started during the early 6th century.

The Roman Period

The Treaty of Dardanos (85 BC) ended the First Mithridatic War between Pontus and the Roman Empire. It sealed the return to the status quo before wartime and consequently Greece belonged to Rome. There is some evidence that Chios was declared a free city by Sulla in 80 BC and Romans did not have authority over Chians in their city. Chios seems to have forged close relationships with Rome and this is corroborated by the fact that Gaius, heir of Emperor Augustus, and other Roman dignitaries have been associated with the island and that many Chians were awarded the Roman citizenship.

The Byzantine Period

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Chios was incorporated in the Byzantine Empire and developed to one of its leading economic centers. A hub of trade and commerce Chios exported its monopolistic products such as mastic, silk, wine and salt and imported grain and grew to a shipping power in the Mediterranean. The Empire reinforced the island’s defensive capacity with fortresses and castles against the invading Arabs and Persians. The Byzantine Empire ceded trade privileges to the cities of Italy in exchange for services such as the Empire’s naval reinforcement. During that period the competition between Chios and their Italian rivals who traded mastic extensively grew fierce.

The Genoese Period

The penetration of the Genoese to Chios is sealed with the Treaty of Nymphaeum (1261), a trade and defense pact signed between the Empire of Nicaea (the largest of the three Byzantine states) and the Republic of Genoa. The Empire cedes significant trade privileges to Genoa. In return the Republic would ally with the Empire in their effort to reconquer Constantinople. During this period the Genoese were more interested in trade and profit. They restructured the island both financially and military to obtain tight control of the trade posts and exploit the commercial revenues. The famous Maona was a company which monopolistically exploited the Gum Mastic and its obligation was to invest part of the proceeds to the island’s defense system.

The Ottoman Period and Liberation

Chios became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1566. The Chians were granted a number of privileges, mainly in the form of tax exemptions, due to the cultivation of the mastic trees. The island developed marine sectors and trade routes to the Mediterranean and Black Sea. At the same time the School of Chios is founded. Chios is liberated from the Turkish yoke in 1912 and joins the rest of the Independent Greece.