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History and Legend
Strabo, in his account of the island (Geog. X 5.16) points out that ‘Nisyros is said to be a fragment of Cos.’ Study of the geology of the area bears this out: until a catastrophic eruption around 160,000 years ago Nisyros may well have been a part of Kos. The legend, he continues, is that Poseidon in his pursuit of Polyvotis, broke off a fragment of the island, and buried the fuming giant beneath it—explaining in this way the island’s habitual volcanic activity. The most significant prehistoric human presence (Late Neolithic) discovered so far was on the island of Giali, just opposite Nisyros, which had important obsidian deposits. The first written mention of Nisyros is in Homer (Iliad II. 676), where it is said to have participated in the expedition of 30 ships to Troy under the leadership of the sons of Thessalos. The Dorian character of the island is apparent from Herodotus (Hist. V11. 99) who says that its inhabit ants came from Epidauros. In the early 5th century it was, together with Kos and Kalymnos, under the control of Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus; but the five ships that went with her to the Battle of Salamis in 480 bc, deserted to the Greek side according to Herodotus. After this the island joined the First Athenian League and supported Athens at the outset of the Peloponnesian War, although it later turned to Sparta and then back again to Athens as fortunes changed.
In the 4th century bc Nisyros was an autonomous city state, minting its own coinage (bearing various motifs, most commonly dolphins). In 200 bc, the island became part of the Rhodian State. The Nisyrian admiral, Gnomagoras, who had fought together with the Rhodian navy against Crete, was received with honours, a golden crown and the title of ‘Governor’ on his return to the island in 153 bc. Later the island became subject to the Ptolemies and then to Rome.
Subject in the 7th century to the Caliphate of Syria, and in the 11th century conquered by the Selcuk Turks, Nisyros was eventually reunited with the Byzantine state in 1204, and then taken in 1312 by the Knights of St. John. Four years later the vassalage of the island (together with Chalki, Alimnia and Tilos) was given by them to the Assanti family of Ischia in thanks for help they had given to the Order. In 1433 it passed to the Venetian admiral, Fantino Querini, the governor of Kos. The island’s population was decimated by the attack of Sultan Mehmet II in 1457 during his campaign of subjugation of the Aegean: in 1523 the island came under full Ottoman control together with Rhodes . Although a self-liberated Nisyros momentarily participated in the Provisional Administration of Free Greece in 1823, the island remained under Ottoman control until it passed to the Italians in 1912. In common with the other neighbouring islands it was liberated by Allied forces in 1944 and was incorporated into the Greek State in 1948. Major eruptions of the volcano in 1871, 1873 and 1887, and a strong earthquake in 1953, have repeatedly wrought damage to the buildings and altered the landscape of the island.
Nisyros Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.