Ikaria is very rich in historical inheritance, as it is shown from its monuments and the different findings from archeological excavations. Once you learn it, you will not forget it!
The history of Ikaria begins millions of years ago. It is not known among the researchers when the island was first inhabited. However, there are several findings which testify the presence of traces of human civilization different periods, from the Neolithic period, to the early Bronze Age, the Mycenaean times etc. until later antiquity and modern times.
For many people, Ikaria is assumed to be the birthplace of god Dionysos and specifically near Drakano and motherland of wine. It is remarkable that many placenames in Ikaria, are related to Dionysos.
The Name of the island
Before its current name, Ikaria (or Icaria) had the names Dolichi or Doligi, which according to some historians means ‘worm’ while according to others, it was due to the shape of the island. Other names that have been given are Makris, due to its elongated shape, Ichthyoessa, because of the number of fishes (‘ichtyes’=fish in Greek) in the sea and Anemoessa, because of the severity of the wind. It was also called Oinoe (‘oinos’=wine in Greek), because of the large production wine. It is worth mentioning that Oinoe was also the name of an important historical city of Ikaria, which today is called Kampos.
The final name of the island, that has become prevalent nowadays, is Ikaria, however there are many versions about the origin of this name. According to the ancient researcher Bochartous, the name comes from the ancient ‘Ι/κωρ’(= I / kor), which in Phoenician means Ichthyoessa, whether it comes from the Phoenician word ‘kara’, which also means sheep, meaning that the island has developed animal husbandry.
Nevertheless, the version that has prevailed, is that the name comes from the famous myth of Icarus, when Icarus and his father Daedalus escaped from the palace of King Minos of Crete and flew to Ionia and to the coast of Asia Minor. At some point, Icarus, excited and enchanted by the beauty of the landscapes he was seeing, flew higher towards the sun. His wings then melted and he fell into the sea and drowned in the sea (the current location is the sea area between the villages Xylosyrti and Chrysostomos, where it is built a monument and a summer amphitheater). The sea was named after the Icarian Sea and the adjacent island Ikaria.
Among locals, Ikaria is also called Nikaria and people are called Kariotis and Kariotina, or Ikariotis and Ikariotina.
There are not many things to say about the prehistory of Ikaria. There are some findings in the area of Kampos, Agios Kyrikos, Therma and Glaredo, dated on Neolithic era until 7.000 B.C., when the first residents, Pelasgoi were settled in. In the 8th century B.C. (750 B.C.), Ikaria was firstly colonized by the Milesians. Miletus was one of the largest cities of Ionia and was a major naval power. For centuries, colonization has had positive impact on the lives of indigenous Ikarian people. The sea transportation developed and the commerce flourished. There were exports of wine, potatoes, olives, apricots, honey, timber, charcoal etc. to other islands and to the coasts of Asia Minor. Moreover, at that time began to organize for the first time the administration of the island.
In antiquity, the four large towns of the island were Oenoe (current name Kampos), Therma and Drakano and Tavropolion (current name Nas ). In the 6th century B.C., Ikaria was dominated by the tyrant of Samos, Polycrates. During his days, Samos became a first naval power and enjoyed great prosperity, having escaped from the power of Cyrus had the subordination of all Asia Minor and the islands. At that period, the temple of goddess Artemis in Nas, was constructed. Later, after the fall of the tyrant of Samos, Ikaria came under the control of the Persians and specifically to Darius.
Oinoe and Therma received part of the Athenian Alliance, that fought against the Persians, which prevailed against the expansionist policy of the Spartans. Ikaria remained in the Athenian Alliance until the complete subjugation of the island to the Macedonians (about 436 B.C.), when it created a single confederation called 'KOINON IKARION'.
Ikaria was received initially in the state of Alexander the Great and ended after several brawls, in the kingdom of Pergamon, in the king Attalus the Third, around the 2nd BC century and then passed to the power of the Roman Empire.
The early years of the Roman Empire reigned peace, until the onslaught of Mithridates in the East, in order to conquest of Rome. By the end of Mythridatic Wars (108-66 B.C.), in the Mediterranean prevailed quite a turmoil. There was a significant effect of the pirates of Cilicia (coasts of Asia Minor ) who dominated throughout the Mediterranean and Ikaria, which they pillaged and robbed up even the temple of Artemis at Tauropolion (Nas).
After the defeat of the pirates by Pompey, islands managed to come round. Later, however, with the rise of Octavius, Ikaria came under the control of Samos. During the Roman Empire , the island was filled with exiles, while the tyranny of the Romans continued and brought the island into disrepair.
There are not many historical sources that indicate the status of Ikaria during Byzantine times. However, according to tradition, it became known that at that time the island was a place of exile for the royal race for many years. For this reason, residents considered themselves as descendants of nobles and did not allow marriages to others, except each other, in order to maintain the royal blood. Then, the island had a great prosperity, rebuilding the houses of residents and ensuring about defense, while the population in the island at that time was extremely large (traditions say for a population of over 70,000 residents!).
Throughout the Byzantine period, Ikaria and the Aegean was at the mercy of pirates and barbarians. At that time, the impregnable castle of Koskina played an important role, which was used for the defense of the population. At that time, the coastal villages were abandoned and the inhabitants lived in the mountains in the interior part of the island, where it was not visible from the sea and the pirates.
Ikarians had managed to create a unique survival system, under which the houses were made of stones and plates (schists) and they looked like they were rocks from a certain distance. The houses were low ceiling and there was no chimney for the fireplace so as not to see the smoke from away.
Moreover, people didn’t move during the day, only during the night. Around 1204 A.D., Constantinople was conquered by the Crusaders (Frankish authority) and Ikaria was under the control of the Venetians. During the Frankish authority, the last occupation of the island made by the Knights of Rhodes and is worth mentioning that during this period, which lasted more than one century, there are no findings to indicate the influence of the Franks in Ikaria.
After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks and the withdrawal of the Franks from the Aegean, many people of Samos relocated in Chios, in order to make a common front fortification against the common enemy that extends to the Aegean. Ikarians, however, refused to leave their island and settle in Chios. Instead, they preferred to hide in secret settlements in the mountains, as they did in the past, so as the island can show desert and uninhabited. This period was characterized as 'The century of obscurity' and lasts from 1521 until 1601 (80 years), and areas where population had gathered was Laggada, Koumaro,Pezi, Perdiki and others. In this way they managed to survive, from the raids of the Turkish pirate Barbarossa (around 1537 A.D.).
During that period, it should be noted that a huge wave of migration to safer destinations presented in Greece. Ikaria was an area of high preference and there is evidence of installed population from Mani the island. Ikarians slowly began to pop up and circulate in the island, when the leader was sultan Suleiman the Magnificent , who was quite bland on the islanders.
Around the 18th AD century, the first Aga (=military officer) settled on the island in order to collect taxes from residents and control the administration there. Noteworthy is the fact, that the residents themselves managed to vanish him and when they were asked who did it, they answered: to kaname ouloi meis afenti’(=’we did it all together master’). A phrase that remained in history until modern times. The Russo-Turkish war (1770-1774 A.D) in the Aegean Sea was devastating to Ikaria, which contributed to the rise of piracy in that period.
During the Revolution of 1821, many Ikarians were members of the Friendly Society. The national revolution gave great optimism on the islands. In 1822, after the massacre of Chios, many people from Chios found refuge in neighboring Ikaria. With the London Protocol in 1830, the island was handed back to the Turks and forced to pay tax ('machto') to the Sultan Mahmud II, but noted that the period a great prosperity, especially in shipping and carbonize
. In 1912, the Ikarians couldn’t suffer any more and they revolted. They became independent and they made ’Elefthera Ikariakin Politeian ' (=Free State of Ikaria). The government established under the physician J. Malachi, it had its own constitution, flag and anthem. It lasted four months until November 1912, when it was formally incorporated with Greece.In modern times, Ikaria had the same luck of all Greece, poverty during the 2 world wars and rapid development today.
Ikaria is known until today as the island of exiles or red island. Due to its geomorphology, Ikaria received a great number of exiles during the World War II and after that, who were communists and managed to become one with the locals.One of these was the great musician Mikis Theodorakis.