Mangana & Aghios Sostis

(Main junction in Apolloni­a = 0.0km for distances in text) A single road heads north from the plateia at Artemonas (1.1km) into the empty northern sector of the island. It skirts the eastern edge of the village, with the windmills above Aghia Anna to the left and steep drops to the shore to the right. After 2.4km, a track left leads uphill to the church of Aghios Ioannis and the monastery of the Panaghia Manganas, or ‘Ta Mangana’, situated close to one another in a tranquil and fertile valley. From both south and east, walled paths across the fields approach the monastery which is an unexpected combination of dignified elegance and rustic simplicity: the catholicon and surrounding buildings have fine 18th century proportions, while the design of the floor and the icons on the screen have a simple rural vigour.
   At Katavatos (3.3km), shortly beyond the junction for Mangana, a stone pathway heads north to the monastery church of Aghios Sostis, in a landscape of unforgiving rock above the shore (allow over an hour each way). There were ancient silver mines around and above this promontory, evidence of which can best be seen on its southeast side.
In the galleries the striations of the pick and chisel can still be seen as well as the niches where lamps were lodged for illumination. The hollows, roughly excavated in the rocks in the area, are evidence of smelt on site. A few of the shafts are close to the level of the water; this has given rise to the garbled tradition related by Pausanias that ‘Apollo flooded the mines of Siphnos’ in retribution when the Siphnian tribute to Delphi ceased to be paid as fully as before. Of the many mine installations all over the island, this is the only one which has shafts near sea-level, and archaeological examination of them suggests that they were already exhausted by the time they were inundated. It would appear that the geological seam bearing silver traverses the island on a northeast/ southwest line (about 220Β° off due north) from Aghios Sostis through to the bay of Tsocha on the west coast: evidence of ancient mining activity can be found at various points along this line.

The gold and silver of Siphnos

  It is not known for sure where the gold mines of Siphnos were, though it seems most probable that they were in the vicinity of the ‘White Tower’ in the island’s southeast corner. The silver mines were more abundant; the greatest concentrations being near Aghios Sostis on the north east coast and further inland in the area to the north of the island’s highest summit of Prophiis Eli­as, where silver and lead were both extracted. Siphnos supplied raw silver to Aegina which, as the first Greek city to issue coinage in the mid 6th century bc, had considerable demand for the metal. Siphnos herself soon followed, minting coins of no table refinement, with the head of Apollo wearing a fillet, on the obverse. This was at a time before either Athens or Corinth were yet producing their own. Herodotus is our main source of information about the mines; writing in the 5th century bc, he estimated that the Siphnians were ‘richer than any other of the island peoples’. Their mines were so productive that they dedicated a tenth part of their output to the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, building a splendid treasury there in 526/525 bc. The building was in the form of a small Ionic temple in antis: its opulent decorations—a sculpted and painted frieze in Parian marble which ran round all four sides—can still be seen in the museum at Delphi. Herodotus adds that, once the gift to Apollo had been made, the Siphnians ‘then distributed the remainder of their output amongst themselves’—a feat which required a remarkable degree of organisation and civic stability.
   Anxious to know whether this good fortune could last, the Siphnians questioned the Delphic Oracle who replied that danger only threatened them in the guise of an ‘attack with wood’ and a ‘herald in red’; this would come when ‘the market-place and council chamber in Siphnos turned white’ (the agora and prytaneion had just been rebuilt in white Parian marble). The ancient wooden boats of this period were generally caulked with beeswax which was strongly coloured with red ‘miltos’ (see under Kea above pp. 25–26). When a detachment of disaffected Samians, who had joined Spartan forces in a failed attack against their own lead er, Polycrates, arrived in such boats on Siphnos having abandoned their campaign, and proceeded to request a loan of ten talents of silver, the Siphnians—perhaps recalling the oracle and fearing some trap—refused the request. The Samians began plundering the island, got the better of the local population and subsequently extorted a payment of 100 talents from them. One hundred talents is equivalent to 600,000 drachmae, i.e. between 2,600 and 2,700kg of silver: at a roughly estimated purchasing power for the 6th century bc drachma, this would be a sum equivalent to well over 12 million dollars today. Even allowing for inaccuracy in this calculation and in Herodotus’s account, this must have been a sobering moment for the Siphnians who had perhaps come to take their prosperity for granted. Alongside such a turn in their fortunes, the mines began to be worked out and to yield ever diminishing quantities of ore in the subsequent centuries. No wonder then that the tithe promised to the sanctuary at Delphi diminished proportionately. Hence the stories, which Pausanias heard and recorded, of the islanders’ deceit, in which they sent gilded gifts in lieu of the solid gold gifts of yore.
   It is interesting that the earliest of the many fortified towers, which are such a notable characteristic of Siphnos, date from just after the episode with the Samians recounted by Herodotus. Perhaps the Siphnians were closing the stable-door after the horse had bolted, but it is interesting that they go on building towers in increasing numbers during the period in which the production of metal-ore was already be ginning to disappear. This suggests that the towers cannot solely be related to the mining activity. (See ‘Ancient Towers’ below.)

Siphnos or Siphnos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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