The area of Limenas, or Thasos town, has seen human habitation since before 10,000 bc, at which point the island was probably still attached to the mainland. This is indicated by the finding of bone and stone tools which were used to obtain ochre in caves in the vicinity of the town. The discovery of an important Early Bronze Age settlement of the 3rd millennium bc at Skala Sotiros, where defensive walls and carved anthropomorphic stelai have come to light, was followed by a number of other later Bronze Age (14th century bc) finds in the interior of the island, principally at Kastri, between Potos and Theologos. A greater need for security from sea-borne attack may have encouraged the move towards the interior from the coast.
Around 680 bc colonists from the island of Paros arrived to settle the island, purportedly on the instigation of the Delphic Oracle. Their leader was Telesicles, father of the poet and soldier Archilochus, who describes the is land’s appearance as like ‘the back-bone of an ass, covered in dense forests’. Herodotus, who visited Thasos to see its gold mines, states that the original colonisers of the island were Phoenicians ‘who came with Thasos , their leader, to colonise the island which has borne his name eversince’ (Histories VI.47). The names of the towns he refers to on the east coast, ‘Ainyra’ and ‘Koinyra’, are unusual and could well be Phoenician in origin. The mines certainly brought prosperity to Thasos ; with growing wealth and population, she in turn colonised the Macedonian and Thracian mainland opposite, in part so as to develop further mines around Mount Pangaios. On the strength of this, the is land developed strong trade links with the Cyclades and the Ionian islands, and with Corinth and Athens. In the build-up to the Persian wars, Thasos acceded to Darius’s demands that it dismantle its walls in 491; likewise in 480 it offered no resistance to Xerxes, but rather fited him at huge public expense. After 477 bc the island was part of the Delian League, but it seceded in 465 bc in a dispute with Athens over mining and trading rights. Thasos held out against the aggressions of Athens for over two years according to Thucydides (Peloponnesian War I.101) before surrendering her fleet, once again dismantling her walls, and renouncing her claims on the mainland. A period of compliance with Athens then followed until the island defected from the alliance in 410 bc. In 405 bc, after his defeat of the Athenian fleet at Aegospotami, the Spartan leader Lysander gathered the island’s Athenian partisans into the sanctuary of Hercules by means of a deceit, and massacred them.
In the course of the 5th century bc Hippocrates lived on the island for almost four years on his return from the Macedonian court—working with the sick and meticulously noting medical conditions and seasonal climatic changes. One of the greatest of all Ancient Greek painters, Polygnotos (fl. 475–450 bc), was born on Thasos , although he worked for most of his life in Athens.
The 4th century bc saw stability and prosperity for the island and a great deal of new building in the city. At first Thasos was part of the Second Athenian League from 375 bc; it then passed under loose Macedonian control after Philip of Macedon’s victory at Chaeronea in 338 bc. This was the island’s golden age of theatre and drama. The is land flourished also under Roman rule after 196 bc and was rewarded by Rome for its staunch resistance to Mithridates in 80 bc. Its wine and marble were much in demand in the capital, both before and throughout Imperial times (see Seneca, Epist. LXXXVI).
The mediaeval history of Thasos is relatively obscure. The island was a naval base for the Byzantine fleet, but when taken by the Genoese overlords of Lesbos—the Gattilusi family—it benefited from its Genoese connections and traded its produce as far afield as Northern Europe. In 1455 the Gattilusi descendants gave up the island to the Ottoman Sultan in order to safeguard their rights over Lesbos. In 1770, following a Russian defeat of the Turkish navy, Thasos became a naval base for the Russians who made heavy inroads into the tree-cover of the island for the maintenance and replacement of their fleet. In 1813, depopulated and deforested, the island was given by Sultan Mahmud II as part of a settlement to Mehmet Ali, Viceroy of Egypt. It became in consequence a quasi-independent apanage of Egypt, with its own ‘president’, for almost a century until 1902 when it again reverted to Turkish rule. In 1912 Admiral Koundouriotis liberated the island for Greece. The period between the Wars was marked by an influx of refugees from Asia Minor in 1922/3, who were settled mostly at Limenas and Limenaria, creating new centres which slowly began to supersede the former inland capitals of Panaghia and Theologos. In 1985, and again in 1989, areas of the island in the south and west were devastated by extensive forest fires, but they are now recovering their thick cover of green once again.
Thasos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.