Obsidian from Milos begins to appear at sites on the mainland of Greece (the Franchthi cave) from as early as 9000 bc, suggesting the earliest beginnings of a seaborne ‘trade’ from the island. The excavation of cemetery sites on Milos shows that in the Early Bronze Age the island was widely and quite densely populated. From 2200 bc, habitation concentrates at Phylakopi on the north coast which became an important, latterly fortified, trading centre with important Minoan, and later Mycenaean connections. The site was abandoned by the beginning of the 11th century bc.
Both Herodotus and Thucydides say that the settlers in early historic times were Dorians from Laconia, who arrived between 1000 and 900 bc. The city they founded was at Trypiti, above Klima, where the cemeteries of the 9th and 8th centuries bc indicate already considerable wealth. Again according to Herodotus (Hist. VIII. 48), the people of the island, together with those of Siphnos and Seriphos, were the only ones not to make symbolic offerings of earth and water to the heralds of the Persian Emperor, Darius. In 480 bc Melos contributed two penteconters to the Greek fleet at Salamis. Like Thera, another Lacedaemonian colony, the island stayed out of the Delian League, but was given a hypothetical assessment of 15 talents in the tribute lists of 425 bc. The island remained independent and neutral until the Peloponnesian War, when, provoked by Athens, it leaned towards Sparta with whom it had obvious cultural and historical links. After a failed attempt to take the island in 426 bc, Athens determined to coerce it into submission, sending an embassy in 416 bc whose proposals and threats are vividly recorded by Thucydides in the ‘Melian dialogue’ (V, 84–116). The Melians declined to submit, were besieged by Athens shortly afterwards and forced to surrender: the men were executed, the women and children enslaved, and the island was colonised by 500 Athenian cleruchs. In 405 bc the Spartans under Lysander expelled the cleruchs and resettled the island with what remained of its former inhabitants. After the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 bc the island was under Macedonian rule; subsequently under Roman dominion, it regained stability and considerable prosperity from trading its minerals. Milos flourished in the Early Christian period, be represented at the Council of Nicaea in 325 by its own bishop. The city was eventually destroyed by a succession of earthquakes in the 6th and 7th centuries, after which the island may have been briefly abandoned.
In 1207 Milos was taken into the Duchy of Naxos (later ‘of the Archipelago’) by Marco Sanudo, for whom it had considerable commercial and strategic importance. A pro Byzantium revolt against Latin rule in 1261 was quickly put down by Marco Sanudo II, who had the ring-leader—a turbulent monk from the island—thrown from a cliff into the sea. In 1316 the island was raided by a Catalan fleet under Alfonso Fadrique, who was establishing a foothold in Attica in this period. Otherwise, the island remained under direct or indirect Venetian control throughout the next centuries, until it came under Turkish rule in 1566. There followed a brief and curious period of independence from 1675 to 1678 when a local corsair or sea-captain, Ioannis (or Giorgios) Kapsis, was acclaimed as ‘King of Milos’—an act of defiance which earned him capture and execution in Istanbul.
A native of Milos, Joseph Georgirenes, who had be come Archbishop of Samos , migrated with some fellow islanders to London in 1676, joined the Greek community in Soho—today’s ‘Greek Street’—and was instrumental in building the first Greek church in London in Crown Street, for which he obtained the particular patronage of James, Duke of York (later James II). In 1767 the islanders abandoned their capital of Zephyria either because of a malaria outbreak, or because an increase in volcanic activity had caused the escape of noxious gases in the area; they resettled at today’s Plaka and Trypiti. During the Russo Turkish War, the island was taken by the Russian forces of Count Orloff between 1771 and 1774. After making an important contribution in the War of Greek Independence in 1821, Milos joined the Greek State in 1830. In World War I, the bay of Milos was the Aegean base of the Allied Naval Command; during World War II the island was occupied by German forces from April 1941.
In 1862 the sulphur mines at Palaiorema opened, fol lowed in 1890 by the Manganese mines at Cape Vani; in 1899 industrial exploitation of kaolin deposits began; in 1934 quarries of baryte opened, in 1952 of bentonite, in 1957 of perlite and in 1984 of pozzolana. Only the first two have since ceased production.
(Note on spelling. In the text the older form, ‘Melos’, has been used as the name of the island’s city-state, and ‘Milos’ to refer to the island in later history.)
Milos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.
HIstory of Milos.