Gyaros and Makronisos

Gyaros and Makronisos, two substantial uninhabited islands of the Upper Cyclades, are bound by a common history as places of exile. Neither island has water or tree cover today, and would only have had a very meagre-sup ply of fresh water, if any, in Antiquity. For this reason, in spite of size and strategic position, neither island has sup ported a viable settlement in recent times. Their history is not unimportant, however: they remain as monuments to the dark period of political oppression during the dictatorships and the Greek Civil War of the last century.

   Gyaros lies equidistant in longitude between Tinos and Kea, and in latitude between Andros and Syros; its profile is clearly visible from all four. Though abandoned today, a settlement existed on the island in Antiquity. An inscribed Hellenistic stele found at Palaiopolis on Andros, refers to the ‘deme of the Gyarians’. Strabo visited the island in person in 31/30 bc, and mentions that his boat took on board a local fisherman who was being sent as an envoy to the Caesar to request reduction of the is land’s annual tribute from 150 drachmae, which it could not manage to pay, to a minimal 100 drachmae (Geog. X, 5.3). Strabo emphasises the poverty of the island, and other references to its harshness abound: the first is a pseudo-Aristotelian work cited by Aelian which asserts that even the ‘rats eat iron’ on the island. No significant trace of the ancient settlement has been uncovered, nor is its exact location determined; but archaeological finds (an inscription) attest a cult of Aphrodite Mychia, and from other pottery fragments the worship of Zeus and of Demeter is inferred. Gyaros appears to have been relative ly well-known in the later ancient world, since we have references to it, in different contexts, in Virgil, Ovid, Cicero, Pliny, Juvenal, Tacitus and Lucian. Most frequently it is mentioned as a place of exile under Imperial Rome. Some idea of how inhospitable the island must have been is indicated by the fact that on two occasions Tiberius had a sentence of exile on Gyaros changed to another more hospitable island, such as Kythnos or Amorgos, noting that ‘if a man were granted his life he must be allowed the means to live’. (Tacitus, Annals III, 69 & IV, 29).
   The only remains visible today behind the island’s one protected landing point in the middle of the eastern shore, are those of the internment camp built in 1948 to isolate and confine members of the Greek Communist Party and National Liberation Front. Most of the several thousand detainees lived in cramped tents, in all weathers; the decaying buildings were only for the administration of the camp. The island was used again as a prison during the military dictatorship in Greece between 1967 and 1974, since when the island has been uninhabited.

Gyaros Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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