Running parallel to the eastern coast of mainland Greece for almost 180km—and often called ‘Makris’ in the Byzantine period because of its considerable length—Euboea all but encloses a large and tranquil inland water which favoured the development of important settlements in prehistoric and early historic times. The coastal plains to the northwest and southeast of Chalcis supported a scattering of Stone Age and Bronze Age communities, the best known and explored being the Early Helladic settlement on the small promontory of Manika near Nea Artaki. In the Bronze Age, Euboea shared the culture of the Cyclades. The island has three distinct geographic zones, each sup posed to have been originally settled by different groups of colonists from Thessaly: ‘Ellopians’ in the north, ‘Abantes’ in the centre and west, and ‘Dryopes’ in the south. It was only later, at the turn of the 1st millennium bc that Ionians from Attica, Aeolians from Phthiotis, and Dorians from the Peloponnese are said to have arrived. Although a number of cities emerged in later Antiquity at different points on Euboea, the north of the island was always dominated by the city of Histiaia-Oreos, the centre of the island by the rich and important cities of Eretria and Chalcis, and the south by Karystos and, to a lesser extent, Geraistos. Located between Eretria and Chalcis is Lefkandi-a highly significant site occupied from the Early to Late Helladic period and in the Geometric period. As well as yielding the largest building yet known to us from the 10th century bc in Greece, Lefkandi and its unusual finds have notably amplified our previously scant knowledge of the culture of its period. Through it we understand better the transition from the Mycenaean period into the so-called ‘Dark Age’ in Greece.
Both Eretria and Chalcis founded their own colonies on the coasts of Macedonia, Thrace, Italy and Sicily, as well as in the islands of the Aegean. They were also leading participants in the Greek emporion at Al Mina in Syria. At home they were in constant competition as rivals for the possession of the fertile Lelantine Plain which extended between them. On more than one occasion the contention erupted into armed conflict, and Herodotus and Thucydides imply that other Greek states were involved in this bitter and largely unresolved war. At the end of the 6th century bc, when Chalcis allied itself with Boeotia against Athens in a failed attempt to restore Hippias, the exiled tyrant of Athens, retribution was swift to follow: the Athenians crossed the Euripus strait in 506 bc, defeated the Chalcidians and divided their land up between 5,000 clerurchs (Herodotus, Hist. V, 77). Eretria suffered also, but at different hands, when the Persians attacked and burned the city in 490 bc and enslaved its inhabitants in retaliation for its support of the Ionian revolt. Although later rebuilt, Eretria never fully recovered her former power.
It was off the north coast of Euboea near Cape Artemision, that Greek ships boldly attempted to delay Xerxes’s advance into Greece in July of 480 bc, and successfully separated his navy from his land forces for a short period. In the same campaign, a number of Persian ships were also lost in bad weather in the treacherous waters of the Kaphireas Strait, off the island’s south coast. After the Persian wars, the whole of Euboea became subject to Athens and was a member of the Delian League. It was not long before this became a source of resentment and led to two concerted bids for freedom: first in 446 bc, when the island revolted but was re-conquered by Pericles and the inhabit ants of Histiaia-Oreos were expelled and replaced by Athenian clerurchs; then with a second and more successful revolt in 411 bc, at a time when Athens was weakened by its disastrous venture in Sicily. In the same year the inhabitants of Chalcis, with the cooperation of Boeotia, built a bridge over the Euripus channel to hinder and control the maritime trade of Athens. In his Peloponnesian War (VIII. 96), Thucydides deemed Euboea of ‘greater value to Athens than Attica itself ’.
For a short period after 378 bc, the Athenians persuaded most of the Euboean cities to join their new maritime league. But with the ascendancy of Boeotian power in the wake of its defeat of Sparta at the battle of Leuctra in 371 bc, the island came under the control of Thebes. In 358 bc it was liberated by the Athenian general, Chares, who restored the island’s alliance with Athens. Twenty years later, after the battle of Chaeronea in 338 bc, the island fell under Macedonian control. It was in this period that Aristotle fled from Athens to settle in Chalcis, and died after a brief sojourn in 322 bc.
The Romans first moved into Euboea in 199 bc, capturing first Histiaia and then Eretria the following year. By 196 bc the whole island had been taken from Macedonian control by the Roman general Titus Quinctius Flamininus, who declared it free. The two cities of Aedipsos and Karystos appear to have flourished in Imperial times, the latter principally on its favoured marble quarries; but Chalcis, though diminished in importance, remained the island’s chief city.
Notices from Byzantine Euboea are sufficient only to show that Byzantium had to struggle to maintain control of the island. The city of Chalcis was still clearly a busy and productive enough port to attract the attention of the Saracen emir of Tarsus, who sailed across the Aegean at the end of the 9th century with the intention of sacking the town, but was defeated and killed by a detachment of Byzantine troops. In 1147 Roger II of Sicily appears to have used his army to kidnap the silk-workers of Chalcis; and the island’s coasts were plundered not long after by the navy of William I ‘The Bad’, king of Sicily, fresh from a victory over the Byzantine forces of John Dukas in 1159. In the wake of the Fourth Crusade, the island had originally been taken by Jacques d’Avesnes in 1205. When he died without heirs, it was divided in 1209 into the three baronies (called ‘triarchies’) of Chalcis, Karystos and Oreos, which owed allegiance to the Frankish ‘king of Salonica’, Boniface of Monferrat. The baronies were subdivided latterly into smaller fiefdoms held by Frankish nobles who controlled small areas of the island from their fortified towers. The 14th century saw a concerted and increasing Venetian domination of the ports of the island, and by 1366 the Venetians were effectively masters of almost the whole of Euboea. Their name for the island was ‘Negroponte’, a fanciful variant of ‘Egripo’—itself a corruption of ‘Euripo’ or ‘Evripo’, the name of the channel separating the island from the mainland at Chalcis. Under the Venetians, Negroponte ranked as a kingdom, and its standard was one of the three hoisted in St Mark’s Square—symbolic of the importance which the island had to Venice as a principal centre of influence and control in the Aegean area.
In July 1470 the Ottoman forces of Mehmet the Conqueror laid siege to Chalcis and, not without difficulty, wrested the city and control of the island from Venice. The island thenceforth came under the immediate rule of a Kaptan Pasa, or high admiral of the Ottoman Empire. After the War of Independence, Euboea passed to Greece in 1833. It was in this period that the prominent British Philhellene, Edward Noel, purchased the lands around Prokopi in Northern Euboea from a departing Ottoman official (see p. 46)—a policy originally promoted by the Government of Kapodistrias to encourage the management of rural areas and to prevent depopulation. In similar fashion, a certain number of Moslems, nearly all of whom were ethnic Albanians, were permitted by special decree to remain on the island. In practice much of the southern and central part of the island had historically received Albanian settlers, a policy initiated in the 15th century by the Venetians.
Although by the early 20th century Euboea had be come a backwater supplying timber and building materials to Athens, the development of mining created employment and led to a measure of industrialisation. There was bitter resistance to the Axis Occupation, and strong sup port for the popular forces of ELAS (the Ellinikos Laikos Apeleftherotikos Stratos or ‘Greek People’s Liberation Army’) and the Democratic Army in the mountains dur the Civil War period between 1944 and 1949. North rn Euboea was controlled by ELAS as early as June 1943. In the summer of 2007 the central southern area around Styra, and some areas further north, were devastated by forest fires.
Euboea Island, Greece