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The history of Naxos

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The history of the Cyclades and of Naxos in particular is exceptionally interesting. The first humans reached the Cyclades already in the Palaeolithic age, although a permanent settlement of the island can only be proven for the Neolithic age. The step to the Bronze Age was made very early, at least several centuries earlier than in the other areas of Europe. It is no exaggeration to say that the Cyclades were one of the cradles of the European civilization. Naxos, the largest and most fertile island of the Cyclades, always played an important role in the historical development as the cultural centre of the region.

Many different factors determine and influence the historical development of a region. Important are for example geographical factors like the location, the landscape and the resources. But other factors are also crucial, for example the contact with neighbouring peoples: They often set the different developments into motion.

The historical course of Naxos was influenced in particular by its location in the middle of the Aegean Sea. First of all the Cyclades could only be settled by a seafaring people. The necessity of seafaring required and promoted not only the craftsmanship (for building the ships), but also skills and understanding in areas such as navigation, meteorology and astronomy. There is no doubt that maritime navigation played a decisive role in the emergence and development of our sciences.

The island’s wealth in natural resources was also important for its development. Here the remarkable fertility of the island has to be mentioned, which is mainly due to the comparatively high rainfall and the numerous springs and rivers, and which meant that the island could support and feed a considerable population. The presence of excellent marble and emery are also of particular importance: They enabled the early development of marble processing on the island, and thus of sculpture and architecture. The unique emery was an important export good until modern times.

From the very beginning the trade with raw materials such as obsidian from Milos, the Naxian emery, marble and other natural resources was of great important for the people who settled in the Cyclades. This trade meant regular contact with their closer and more distant neighbors. Accordingly, they were particularly open to outside influences and had close and stimulating connections with the rest of the Aegean, but also with the Middle East (Palestine, Syria, Anatolia) and Egypt. However, in contrast to many other Greek cities, the economy of the island of Naxos was never predominantly trade-oriented – the vast majority of its products remained on the island and imports were of secondary importance. Still due its location in the middle of the Aegean Sea the island played an important role as a stop over on the shipping routes from east to west or north to south and vice versa as a point of supply and refuge. Of great importance for the island was further the continuous threat of piracy that played a big role in the Aegean from the bronze age till modern times.

On the other hand, living on an island always brings with it also a certain protective isolation: The Cyclades existed always only on the edge of the great empires. That meant that here new developments were not suppressed by the rigid conservatism that so often characterises a great empire. It is characteristic that the island of Naxos always played a greater role in the early periods of the epochs (Early Bronze age, Archaic epoch, Early christian times), which is precisely due to this fact: Many new developments reached the island early via shipping and trade and were quickly adopted and developed. In the later times with the higher development of the respective culture, however, the small islands were outrun and overshadowed by their big neighbours who were then taking over the leading role (Crete, Mycenae, Athens…). On the other hand, its small size and isolation also meant that some aspects of culture were preserved longer without change on Naxos than on the mainland, which was continually shaken by wars, invasions, population shifts, political struggles and revolutions.

A. Prehistoric times

  1. Stone age
  2. Bronze age: 3300 – 1100 BC

B. Antiquity

  1. Geometric epoch: 1100 – 700 BC
  2. Archaic epoch: 700 – 500 BC
  3. Classical Epoch: 500 – 340 BC
  4. Hellenistic epoch: 340 – 150 BC
  5. Roman epoch: 150 BC – 300 AD

C. Middle Ages

  1. Byzantine epoch: 300 – 1207 AD
  2. Venetian epoch: 1207 – 1566 AD

D. Modern era

  1. Ottoman epoch: 1566 – 1827 AD
  2. Independent Greece: from 1827 AD

see also: The sights and monuments of Naxos

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