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History and Legend
As might be expected of an island as close to the Peloponnese as Kythera, archaeological evidence (from the southern cave of Aghia Sophia in particular) bears witness to settlement as early as the 6th millennium bc, becoming more widespread on the island in the 4th millennium. Lying on the route between Crete and the Peloponnesian mainland, Kythera was already subject to Minoan settlement early in the 2nd millennium bc. By the end of the 15th century bc the island had been abandoned by Minoan settlement, and a Mycenaean presence proliferates in its place. The name ‘Kutira’ appears in a list of Aegean place-names dating from the reign of Amenhotep III (c. 1400 bc): but Aristotle remarks that, in remote Antiquity, the island is said to have been called Porphyrousa (‘the purple one’) from the abundant murex-bearing molluscs in its waters (see pp. 33–34). The Phoenicians (c. 1100 bc) developed the island’s purple industry and also may have introduced the worship of Syrian Aphrodite, as Herodotus (Bk. I, 105) suggests. This might explain Hesiod’s account of the birth of Aphrodite as occurring just by Kythera in the Theogeny (l. 192). The island figures in the Iliad as the home of the two Achaean warriors, Amphidamas and Lycophron: the latter was killed by Hector, the former was one of those hidden within the wooden horse. The 5th century bc dithyrambic poet, Philoxenos, was also born on Kythera.
In c. 550 bc, Sparta seized Kythera from Argos, and during the Peloponnesian War the island guarded the south ern seaboard of Lacedaimonia until it was subdued by Nicias for Athens in 424 bc. In 195 bc it was under Spartan dominion once again; but in 21 bc it was gifted to C. Iulius Eurycles by Augustus in gratitude for his support at the Battle of Actium, later being returned once more to Sparta by Hadrian.
Christianity may have come to the island in the per son of the martyr, Aghia Elessa, in the 4th century. Archaeological evidence suggests well-established Christian communities in the 6th century, which were later given considerable impetus by the arrival of the Blessed Theodoros in the 10th century. After the Fourth Crusade, Kthera, mostly under the control of the Venetian family of the Venieri, suffered many invasions—the worst in 1537, when the capital was destroyed and the inhabitants sold into slavery by Khaireddin Barbarossa. The island remained a Venetian possession, however, referred to by its Italian name Cerigo, up until the dissolution of the Serene Republic in 1797, except for a brief interlude of three years of Turkish sovereignty, 1715–18. In church matters, how ever, the Orthodox Church maintained an almost absolute dominance.
After 1797, briefly captured by the French, then seized by the Russians, left in anarchy, and returned by treaty again to the French, it was eventually taken by the British in 1809, who administered Kythera together with the Ionian islands until their union with Greece in 1864. Kythera was the first piece of Greek territory to be liberated by Allied forces in September 1944. Since the Second World War the island has seen massive emigration to Athens, the USA and, most significantly, to Australia, where the largest overseas community of Kytherans today is to be found.
Kythera Island, Greece