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Cyclades Islands | Naxos

Naxos History

The first inhabitants of Naxos were probably Thracian, later supplanted by the Karians, whose early leader gave his name to the island.
Beside the present town of Naxos, inhabited from 3000 B.C., are the sea-eroded remains of a Cycladic town at Grotta, and, at Kastraki, there is a Cycladic acropolis by the Mycenaean fort.  Homer, the famous Greek poet, mentions the island with the name Dia (or Zeus) and other ancient writers by other names. 
In mythology, Theseus and the Cretan princess Ariadne stopped off at Naxos on their way to Athens, after the destruction of the Minotaur.  Then, for some unknown reason, Theseus deserted the girl who had assisted him so greatly and left for Athens with the other Athenians.  Ancient writers had many and varied explanations for the hero’s behaviour.  One was that he had fallen in love with another woman, Aegle, a second that he was fearful of his reception (and hers!) in Athens if he arrived with the daughter of their ancient enemy, King Minos, for a bride.
This myth supposedly demonstrates the rise of a late Cycladic culture after the fall of Crete, which itself eventually gave way to the Ionian and Athenian ones.  As for poor Ariadne, she later married the god of wine, Dionysos, who happened to be on Naxos at the time teaching the Naxians how to make wine.  In honor of Dionysos and his bride Ariadne, the islands held large festivals in the spring, and even today the Naxos inhabitants organize wine festivals.
After the passing of the Thracians, Naxos was inhabited by the Phoenicians and the Cretans.
The greatest enemies of powerful ancient Naxos were the Miletians from Asia Minor.  Many battles were fought between the two rivals at the fort called Delion, of which a few vestiges remain by Naxos town.  It was here that the Naxian heroine, Polykrite, fled when her island was besieged by these enemies, only to find the gate of the fortress already closed.  One of the Miletian leaders found her there and fell so much in love with her that he agreed to help her people, informing her of all the movements of his armies.
Thus the Naxians were able to make a sudden and vicious attack on the Miletians.  However, in the confusion of the battle, Polykrite’s lover, turned traitor for her sake, also perished, and the girl died in sorrow the next day, despite being acclaimed a great heroine.
Naxos was one of the first islands to work in marble, later producing in the Archaic period the lions of Delos and huge kouros statues.  Two of these were left in the quarries because they were flawed. 
In 523 B.C. the tyrant Lygdamis decided to make the buildings of Naxos the highest and most glorious of all of Greece.  The archaic temple was Ionic.  It was 59 m long x 28 m wide, and it was designed to have peristyle of 6x12 columns with double porticos at its end.  The only remaining sign of Lygdamis’ determination is the huge lintel from the gate of the Temple of Apollo, located next to the town on the islet Palatia.  An ancient mole connects Palatia to the mainland, attesting to the former glory of Naxos when the island was the leader of the Ionic Amphictyonic League. 
Political opponents of Lygdamis, in league with the Spartans, overthrew the tyrant in 506 B.C.  Lygdamis’ followers sought the help of the Persians who sent an army to the island, only to see it defeated.  In 490 B.C., however, a Persian fleet, under Megagetes, sacked Naxos in revenge and sold the islanders as slaves, at least all those who were not lucky enough to escape to the mountains.
When the Persian Wars had ended, with Naxos playing a very small part in the battles, the island was the first to come under Athenian rule in 471 B.C.  It became part of the Macedonian kingdom in 338 B.C., after the battle of Chaeronia.
Later Naxos came under the rule of the Ptolemies of Egypt, and finally the Romans took command.  During the Roman Empire, the island suffered terrible raids by pirates, mostly by the Saracens.  Apostle John, from Patmos, brought Christianity to the island in the first century A.D.
The Byzantines continued to build defensive walls on this rich and strategic island.  Then it was in the power of governors who were responsible to the prefect of Constantinople.  Next to conquer the island were the Venetians, who later turned the island over to Marco Sanudo in 1207, after a two month siege.  He became Duke of Naxos and the Archipelago.  Recognized by the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, Sanudo made Naxos the capital of his Duchy.
The Dukes of Naxos ruled until 1566, when the Turks claimed the island, but like many of the islands during the Turkish occupation, it enjoyed a fair degree of autonomy.  The Russians interrupted this rule between 1770 and 1774.  In 1821 the islanders took part in the Greek War of Independence with patriots from Crete and other Aegean islands.  The end of the war freed Naxos from Turkish rule.
Petros Protapapadakis, a Naxian, planned the Corinth canal and gave many public works to the island, boosting its financial status.  He was the Minister of Economics in 1922 during the misadventure in Asia minor, and was executed with other members of that sad government by the following regime.  His statue now stands by the port.