That an island with such plentiful fresh water has been inhabited since early prehistoric times is no surprise. West of Aghios Kirykos, in the area of Glaredo, evidence of extensive Neolithic settlement has been found; and on the slopes to the west of the airport, at a locality known as Propezoulopi, a number of megaliths and menhirs are still to be seen in situ. From early in its history, it appears the island has had several names: ‘Dolichi’ (elongated) and ‘ichtheoussa’ (rich in fish)—both accurate epithets. In fact the modern name ‘Ikaria’ is more likely to come from the Phoenician word for fish, ‘ikor’, than from the mythical Icarus; the name may then have subsequently suggested itself by assonance as the location for the Icarus legends. The identity of Icarus in myth is typically variable and shows the superimposition of several stories (see p.159 160).
Ikaria is frequently cited in ancient literature, but nearly always—other than for the fable of Icarus—for the wild ness of its seas, or for its famous Pramnian wine. Strabo’s description is of an island with a virtually harbourless coast (Geog. XIV.1.19), and an interior mostly uninhabited except for a seasonal exploitation of its pasturage by the inhabitants of Samos (Geog, X.5.13). Two small Classical cities, Oenoe and Therma, were sufficiently established, however, to need to pay tribute separately to the Delian League. Therma’s importance seems to have been superseded by the Hellenistic foundation of Drakanon, at the island’s strategic eastern tip. Both Therma and Oenoe (whose importance must have been increased by the presence of the Sanctuary of Artemis Tauropolos in its terri tory) appear to have been further developed in Roman times, and Oenoe became the seat of the Byzantine governor.
The remains of the late 4th–5th century ad church of the Archangel at Miliopo show that Christianity was well established on the island relatively early. Under Byzantium, the island—now named ‘Nikaria’, and frequently used as a place of exile for unwelcome courtiers—was linked (as often before in Antiquity) to the destiny of Samos and Chios, passing together with them under the Genoese rule of the Zaccaria, and subsequently Arangio, families in the 14th and 15th centuries. In 1481 Ikaria was taken by the Knights of Rhodes as their most northerly possession, but fell to the Turks less than 40 years later in 1522. Through out these uncertain centuries, in which the island was little protected and vulnerable to the predations of pirates, the inhabitants learned literally to disappear from sight into the invisible fastnesses of the mountains of the interior and to manage their own affairs for long periods which became known as the ‘aphaineia’—the ‘disappearances’. They perfected a kind of semi-asubterranean architecture, incorporating huge granite boulders in situ as the walls or roofs of dwellings, so as to be practically invisible from the sea. In this period, the remote valley of Langada in the southwest of the island became home of an unorthodox and autonomous administration. Although participating in the Independence Revolution of 1821, Ikaria did not go on to become part of the Greek State, and after 1835 fell back under Turkish rule. Finally, in 1912, in an almost bloodless revolution, the inhabitants evicted their Turk ish overlords and with characteristic flair established an independent state of Ikaria, with its own constitution, flag (a white cross, centred in a blue background), postage stamps and anthem. Less than four months later it joined the free Greek State.
In the 20th century the island’s population was depleted by wholesale emigration to the New World. During the Civil War of 1946–49, and later under the Colonels’ Junta, Ikaria became once again a place of exile for political dissidents, who at times even outnumbered the inhabitants of the island. Mikis Theodorakis, the composer and musician, was exiled here in 1947. The island has a reputation for its vigorous left-wing political culture, and the presence of so many political exiles must have enforced, if not created, this tendency. This in turn has earned the island a measure of deliberate neglect by central government for long periods, reinforcing its natural self-reliance and in dependent pride. All this can still be readily sensed today, and helps constitute the island’s unique character.
Ikaria Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
History of Ikaria