submitted by George Poulos on 13.05.2004
From APKAS draft of manuscript for Sydney University Archaeological Monographs and Studies
2.0 The Island of Kythera
2.1 Geomorphological setting
Kythera lies at the edge of the Eurasian tectonic plate where it slides over the African tectonic plate sinking into the Ionian Deep. Part of the Aegean Arc, which itself is part of the great Alpine-Himalayan Range, Kythera is rising out of the Mediterranean at a rate equal to sea level rise during the past 5,000 years. In the geological past, the entire island has risen out of the sea, leaving behind a tell-tale ring of ancient shorelines along its coasts. These wave-cut platforms and seacliffs produce the obvious stair-stepped morphology of its steep coasts. The broad central plateau, on which rests the airport, was a shallow sea over one million years ago. Hills, such as those north of the airport and near Aroniadika were islands in this sea. Kythera is also farther southwest than it was a million years ago, by an estimated distance of some 2.5 km. This southwestern migration continues today at a rate of about 2 cm per year. These crustal movements occur as the result of the cumulative effects of marked, sudden changes in position during earthquakes. This is the history of the Aegean Arc; large-magnitude earthquakes result in meters of uplift and geographical shift, followed by centuries to millennia of relative quiescence. The last major event to strike the region with significant change was about 1500 years ago during the 5th century AD when the Arc, from western Crete to Kythera, was uplifted during a great earthquake.
It is on this backdrop that the imprint of natural and cultural change to the Kytherian landscape has been made. While not patently obvious to viewer of the low rolling plateau cut by deep, steep-sided gorges, humans have transformed much of the northern island. Little has been left untouched to remain in its so-called "natural" state. In fact, the changes to the landscape brought about by agriculture and other developments so blend into the landscape as to be called "natural" themselves. These changes, however, are not very deep, in a geological or stratigraphical sense. They are superficial treatments of terrace walls and check dams that save sediment and soil from being washed into the sea. The human-constructed terracing contrasts with the smooth, steep-sided bedrock valley walls and the v-shaped unchecked river bottoms. The terraced landscape unintentionally mimics that of the greater geological terraces that surround them.
2.2 Geographical setting
“The fourth day after our departure from Zakynthos, we arrived on the Island of Kythera, the birthplace of Aphrodite. This may of course lead you to imagine it as the most beautiful and fun-loving island. I must correct you on that – (Kythera) is a small hilly island. Its soil is dry and presents nothing attractive.”
Jacob Spon 1675-76 in Vanges 1983:75-6
As a result of historical accident in the late 18th century, Kythera today belongs to a group of seven islands of western Greece, known as the Ionian Islands; the other six are Kerkyra, Kefallonia, Zakynthos, Lefkas, Ithaka and Paxos. Geographically isolated from these islands, Kythera is situated approximately 70 km off Cape Malea, the south eastern tip of the Peloponnesos. Given its location, the island displays characteristics reminiscent of both the verdant Ionian islands and the barren Cyclades, but excels in neither attribute.
Kythera straddles the sea passage between the mainland and Crete. This stretch of water forms the passage between the Aegean and the Ionian Sea, and is a major arterial linking the eastern and western Mediterranean. Its strategic location is such that for much of its recorded history the island has been under the control of one foreign power or another, and when no such power existed Kythera dropped out of the historical record, perhaps as a consequence of it being totally abandoned.
One of the largest of the Greek islands, measuring approximately 30 by 20 km, Kythera is hilly and scrubby. Topographically the island can be divided into two distinct zones, the upland plateau, which dominates the centre of the island, and the coastal plains along the eastern and southern sides. The central plateau, which extends from the Potamos area down to Livadi and across to Mitata and Paliochora, is scored at its edges by abrupt and deep gorges, the most impressive of all being Kako Lagadi, within which is situated the site of Paliochora. The eastern side of the island affords relatively safe anchorages such as Platea Ammos, Agia Pelagia, Diakofti, Avlemonas, Kastri as well as Kapsali at the extreme southern end of the island. The plain between Mitata and Kastri forms the most fertile and well watered agricultural region on the island. The western side of the island is exposed to the prevailing westerly winds and has no suitable anchorages. Along the West there is no coastal plain and the coastline is mostly precipitous.
The population centres on the island today reflect the distinct topographical zones. The oldest of the modern centres of Kythera are situated along the centre of the plateau; Karavas, Potamos, Aroniadika/Friligianika, and Fratsia through to Chora. Other centres scattered around the periphery of the plateau are Logothianika, Mitata, Milopotamos and Kalamos. The coastal settlements of Platea Ammos, Agia Pelagia, Diakofti, Avlemonas and Kapsali, once satellites and fishing hamlets of the upland settlements, are now fast becoming the major centres of activity on the Island.
The present-day administrative and commercial arrangements of Kythera are the product of not so much the internal topography but rather the political and social realities of the two closest sources of immigrants for the island, the Peloponnese and Crete. For much of the medieval and modern period, as will be seen in the following history of the Island, Kythera was dominated by Venice, and before the fall of Candia in 166(9) the administration of Kythera was conducted from Venetian Crete. Coincidental with the fact that southern Kythera has the more secure harbours and fertile land, Venetian administration and settlement was centred around Chora. This Venetian presence is still evident today, witnessed by the style of architecture and the Italian, and Cretan, family names prevalent south of Mitata and Aroniadika. Because of this legacy, most of the present day government offices are still located in and around Chora.
The northern part of the island, whether due to its distance from Chora, or because of its poorer agricultural potential, or both, was largely neglected by the Venetian authorities. This allowed the pre-Venetian trend of immigration from the mainland opposite Kythera to continue. The population of northern Kythera grew in proportion with the declining, and eventual cessation, of Venetian political effectiveness and eventual British domination. As a consequence, the inhabitants of northern Kythera outgrew the meagre agricultural resources at their disposal and needed to seek a livelihood in another form. Many turned to commercial pursuits, which required migration from the island to succeed. Over the last 150 years Potamos, in the north, has become the commercial and financial centre of the island. The dominance of the north in the economic life of Kythera can be best seen in the construction, through private funding, of the harbour at Agia Pelagia in the 1950s, which replaced Kapsali (Chora) and Avlemonas as the main ports on the island. The Greek Government’s new development of Diakofti as a major port perhaps reflects the changing imperatives on the island of Kythera. Though the tensions of north-versus-south, commercial versus administration and agricultural may still exist, these conflicts are dissipating through the belated awakening of a tourism culture
2.3 History of Kythera
The following historical account is not intended to be a definitive work but a preliminary study pending more in-depth historical research as the project develops.
Prehistory: before 1000 B.C.
The earliest recorded archaeological evidence for human occupation of Kythera indicates that the island was inhabited by the Early Bronze Age. Early Helladic sites have been identified so far in the northern part of the Island, at Pyreatides and at ythoula, between Agia Pelagia and Potamos (Waterhouse & Hope-Simpson 1961:149).
By far the most important prehistoric site, and one of the most significant archaeological sites on the island, is the Minoan colony at Kastri. Established sometime in the Early Helladic/Minoan Period, this settlement, and the associated Minoan Peak Top Sanctuary on Agios Georgios, brought the island into the wider trade and political system of the Aegean and the wider Mediterranean world (Coldstream & Huxley 1972). The findings from these two sites have contributed greatly to the understanding of the Minoans’ mercantile activities in the middle of second millennium B.C.
Minoan settlement does not appear to have been confined to the immediate hinterland around Kastri. Evidence of Minoan/Mycenaean presence has been noted at Lioni, approximately 1 km north of Chora, and near the village of Kalamos, as well as further north at Vythoula and Karavas (Waterhouse & Hope-Simpson 1961:149-152).
The Dark Age and Antiquity: 1000 B.C. to 500 A.D.
Off the coast there is an Island called Cythera – Chilon, the wisest man who ever lived amongst us, once said that it would be better for the Spartans if it were sunk beneath the sea ….
Herodotus, Book 7:234-238
Cythera is an island lying off the coast of Laconia opposite Malea. The population is Spartan, though they belong to the semi-independent class. …..it was the port for merchant ships from Egypt and Libya and also served as a protection to Laconia from attack by pirates from the sea …
Thucydides, Book 4:53
The settlement at Kastri, and possibly the whole island, appears to have been abandoned sometime towards the end of the Late Bronze Age; and apart from a few isolated finds of Geometric sherds there appears to have been no settlement on the island until the 6th century B.C. (Huxley 1972:37 and 309). It was in this period that Herodotus states that Kythera was an Argive possession (Herodotus, Book 1:78-82). Herodotus, however, alludes to a possible earlier presence on the island when he refers to the celebrated Temple of Aphrodite at Paliokastro as having been built by the Phoenicians (Herodotus, Book 1:103-108).
By the 5th century Kythera had moved into the Spartan sphere of influence. Like the rest of Greece in the 5th and 4th centuries Kythera was not spared in the conflicts between Athens and Sparta, when it appears to have changed hands between the two rivals no less than six times, its strategic importance centred on its excellent position to serve as a base from which to launch raids into Lakonia (Huxley 1972:37-39). The “capital” of the island at this time was no doubt Paliokastro (Kythera), with Skandeia (Kastri) as its harbour town (Thucydides, Book 4:54).
The Hellenistic and Roman periods seem to have been a time of peace and prosperity for the island as more sites from these periods, such as at Vythoulas, Elliniko, Gonies and Galati, near Mitata, have been located (Huxley 1972:39; Waterhouse & Hope-Simpson 1961:157).
The end of Antiquity and the Byzantine Period: 500 A.D. to 1204 A.D.
Early in the Byzantine period, Kythera underwent a major decline. The area around Kastri, the most fertile and densely populated part of the island in Antiquity, appears to have been depopulated after the 4th century AD, with signs of intermittent habitation identified up until the 7th century. The final abandonment of the Kastri area seems to have taken place in the mid-7th century (Herrin 1972:43-44). This obscure period in Kytherian history is paralleled elsewhere in southern Greece between the 6th and 8th centuries. Byzantine central authority, centred on Constantinople and Anatolia, had been losing control along the periphery of the Empire since the end of the 6th century. Piratical raids by Arabs based in Crete as well as possibly Slav tribesmen from the mainland, were the most likely contributors to the abandonment of Kastri and perhaps all of Kythera (Maltezou 1980:154). The island itself however, does not appear to have been permanently settled by Slavs or Arabs, although it is always possible that there might have been an (as-yet-undiscovered) Arab base on Kythera.
The resurgence of the Byzantine Empire in the 10th century led to the stabilization of the situation in southern Greece. This culminated with the re-conquest of Crete in 961 AD, which resulted in the dramatic diminishment of pirate activity in the Aegean. It is not surprising therefore, that in these favourable conditions, Kythera became an attractive location for renewed sedentary occupation.
The initial re-settlement of the island was undertaken by one man. According to his biography, Osios Theodoros is said to have arrived on the abandoned Island sometime during the middle of the 10th century (Herrin 1972: 45; Leontsinis 1987:43). Theodoros chose the remains of the earlier church of Sergius and Bacchus, situated somewhere near Logothianika, in which to settle (Herrin 1972:45). The saint lived in very difficult circumstances and his original companion almost immediately left to Kythera, but Osios Theodoros lived for some time on the island, apparently in isolation. The saint’s example for holiness and his courage in defying the wild circumstances on the island, however, attracted some attention and after his death Kythera began to attract other settlers from the Greek mainland.
It is in this period that the shadowy figure of Georgios Pachys emerged. Alternatively described as either the Despot of Sparta or a Monemvasian citizen, Pachys seems to have encouraged the initial re-settlement of the island with Lakonian immigrants (Herrin 1972:46-7;Leontsinis 1987:34). For reasons that are unclear, Pachys handed over his interests to the powerful Monemvasian family, Eudaimonoioannis, and retired to Mitata where he appears to have acted as their agent until the arrival of the first Eudaimonoioannis “governor” (Herrin 1972: 46-7 and Ince, Koukoulis, & Smyth 1987:97). The “governor” established himself at the site of present day Potamos, where he built a tower, which has only recently been demolished (Ince, Koukoulis, & Smyth 1987: 97). By the end of the 12th Kythera was more or less under the complete control of the Eudaimonoioannis family (Herrin 1972:47).
That settlement across the Island in this period must have been rapid and this is reflected in the number of churches dated to the 10th to 12th centuries, among them: the monastery of Osios Theodoros near Logothianika, Agios Demetrios (Pourko), the Spelaion of Agia Sophia and Agios Nikolaos (Milopotamos), Agios Nikon (Zaglanianika), Agios Vlasios (Friligianika), Agios Andreas (Livadi) and Agios Petros (Areoi) (Herrin 1972:46).
The Venetian Period: 1204 to 1797
The eye of Crete
Quote from a report by the general proveditor of Candia, 1602
in Maltezou, 1980:GET PG NO
The strategic position of Kythera has never been more apparent than in the division of the Byzantine Empire amongst the victors of the Fourth Crusade (1204), when the island was awarded to the Venetians. The possession of Kythera was of critical importance to the Venetians, serving as a staging post between Venice and its possessions in the Levant (Leontsini 1987:33).
In 1207 Marco Veniero was appointed Marquis of Cerigo (Herrin 1972:48). The political condition of Kythera throughout the 13th century was unsettled. The primary reasons for this were the preference of Marco Veniero and his descendants to reside in their more lucrative estates in Crete and the continued maintenance of a strong presence on the island by the Eudaimonoioannis family (Herrin 1972:49). In 1238 the Venieri gained some measure of control by forming a marriage alliance with the Eudaimonoioannis family, only to lose the island to the adventurer knight Licario in 1269. Licario handed control of the island back to the Byzantines, who in turn returned the island to the Eudaimonoioannis family (Leontsini 1987:36).
The situation stabilized in 1309 when another marriage alliance between the Venieri and Eudaimonoioannis families gave the former greater control over the Island. Kythera was divided up into a feudal system of 24 “lots,” of which the four grandsons of Marco Veniero took six each. The areas around Kastri and Kapsali, however were exempted from this division (Herrin 1972:49). It appears that the Venieri initially adopted a conciliatory position towards the inhabitants of the island, acting quite independently of Venetian authority (Maltezou 1980:151).
The Venieri involvement in the Cretan uprising of 1363 against Venetian rule gave the Venetian government the opportunity to impose greater control over the strategically important Kythera. Following the suppression of the revolt, the Venetians expelled the Venieri from their positions and established direct rule over the island by appointing a governor (Herrin 1972:50).
The island’s defensive and agricultural capabilities were enhanced during the 14th and 15th centuries but these efforts came to nought in the Turko–Venetian War of 1537-40 (Herrin 1972:50 and Chatham 1981:253). During this war many of Venice’s Aegean possessions were ravaged by the Turkish Admiral, Khair-ed-Din Barbarossa. In the first year of the war Barbarossa (trans. “RedBeard”) swept through the Frankish and Venetian controlled islands of Amorgos, Astypalaia, Ios, Anaphe, Seriphos, Antiparos, Paros, Skyros, Skiathos and Skopelos (Chatham 1981:253 and Kem, 1988:57). Kythera in that year also felt the fury of Barbarossa’s armarda. The island was attacked and the town of Agios Demetrios sacked. According to local tradition seven thousand islanders were either killed or taken away as slaves (Leontsinis 1987:43), a number that is certainly an exaggeration but still an indication of the seriousness of the attack.. . In a census taken eight years later the population of Kythera was recorded at only 1,850 (Maltezou, 1980:156) and the attack apparently had a significant effect on the development of the island for centuries. Again according to local tradition, survivors of the sack founded the modern villages in the Paliochora region, while others apparently contracted to the southern half of the island where the forts of Milopotamos, Chora and Avlemonas afforded some measure of security. The re-population of the island was painfully slow and did not reach its pre-1537 levels until the start of the 19th century (Leontsinis 1987:Table 1). This period, coupled with the neglect affected by the continuing decline of the Venetian Republic throughout the 16th and 18th centuries was yet another ”Dark Age” for the island.
The Modern Period: 1797 to present
The end of Venetian rule on the island came with the collapse of the Republic in 1797 and was followed by nearly a decade of instability. After Venice’s defeat by the French, Kythera and the other Ionian Islands were ceded to the victors (Leontsinis 1987:19). The French occupation was short-lived, however: a Russo–Turkish co-dominion was established over the Ionian Islands in 1800, in the form of the Septinsular Republic. This political entity did not survive long, as the French regained possession of the Islands in 1807, only to lose them shortly after to the British (Leontsinis 1987:20).
At the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, Kythera and the Ionian Islands were formally acquired by the British Empire. This period was one of peace and prosperity for Kythera, as the British occupiers went to considerable effort to promote education and agriculture, as well as establish a transport infrastructure of roads and bridges, many of which are still in use today.
In 1864 the Ionian Islands were ceded to the Greek Government and henceforth the fortunes of Kythera have followed those of the modern Greek State. The incorporation of Kythera into a large and relatively stable State did not insulate it from the most recurring feature of the island’s history, depopulation. AS mentioned previously, many inhabitants of the north of Kythera sought their fortunes in trade and business abroad, especially in Asia Minor and Egypt. From the end of the 19th century until the 1970s thousands of Kythereans migrated to countries such as Australia and America in search of better life. By the 1970s the permanent population of the island had been reduced to 3000, a quarter of what it had been a century before (Leontsinis 1987:Table 1). Foreign exchange, funds sent back to the island from immigrants abroad, have played a large role in the economy of the island and, in the past decade there has been an important reverse migration, as Kytherians living in North America and, especially, Australia have come back, either for a long vacation, or to live permanently on the island. Tourism, based primarily on Kytherians living in the Athens area and Australia, is a growing industry, as is the building trade, focused on the reconstuction of family village homes or new summer residences.
2.4 The town of Agios Demetrios (Paliochora)
“…….. they also spoke to us about an old city called Paliohora [sic], where one can still see the remains of an old mosaic and carved stones that the locals sell to the foreigners.”
A visitor to Kythera in 1717 in Vanges,. 1993:75.
The focal point of the project is the enigmatic ruin of Agios Demetrios (Paliochora). Little is known of the history of Agios Demetrios, other than the story of its violent demise, a story almost every Kytherian can recount
The site of Paliochora is located in the north-east corner of the island, approximately 3.5 kilometres east of Potamos (Ince et al. 1987; 1989). Upon approaching the site from the west the most visible feature is that of the collapsing fortification wall which failed to protect those huddled behind it the day that Barbarossa arrived. Walking through the ruins one is impressed by the proportion of churches to domestic structures. It is obvious that Agios Demetrios was not a typical Greek town. The remains are perched on a precipitous ridge at the southern end of a large gorge (Kako Lagadi) which leads to the coast. The site is bounded on three sides by steep cliffs and is connected by a narrow land-bridge to higher ground towards the south. Much of the surrounding countryside to the south of Agios Demetrios is scored by deep terraced gullies running in a general northerly direction, and is now given over to goats.
It is not known with certainty when the earliest human habitation of the site took place. The first known historical reference to the settlement of Agios Demetrios dates to an official Venetian register in 1260 (Leontsinis 1987:43). It most likely came into existence with the arrival of Georgis Pachys and the Eudaimonoioannis family sometime before the 12th century (see above) and was probably initially controlled by authorities on the mainland prior to the establishment of Frankish Greece (Leontsinis 1987:43-4).
Agios Demetrios was the administrative and cultural capital of the island until the start of the Venetian period. In the period of Byzantine re-conquest of Kythera by Licario in 1269 until the island was back under the control of the Venieri in 1309, the Eudaimonoioannis family constructed fortifications across the island including the fortress of Agios Demetrios (Leontsinis 1987:36). The existence of fortifications at Agios Demetrios by the time the Venetians gained full control of the island in the 14th century, guaranteed its status as a major centre, most likely becoming the “Greek” capital of the island, while Chora evolved into the Venetian capital.
That the town was wealthy can be demonstrated by the number of churches that dominate the ruins. It has been suggested that one of the town’s likely sources of prosperity was that of piracy; a plausible scenario given the Island’s turbulent status and “frontier”’ position throughout the medieval period (Leontsinis 1987:44). It is more likely however, that greater wealth was generated by the arrival of refugees from the collapsing Byzantine Empire. The fall of the Despotate of Mistra, in the southern Peloponnesos, in 1458 saw many refugees come to the island, some of whom had positions within the Byzantine administration (Leontsinis 1987:45). It may be that during the 15th century, the function and form of Agios Demetrios may have changed dramatically from a simple agricultural settlement to a citadel that protected the wealth of these new refugees. It seems clear that the churches that survive at the site were connected directly with individual houses (rather than serving as parish churches: Ince et al. 1987) and this raises questions about who actually lived in the Byzantine city and where the farmers who presumably tilled the surrounding land had their residences.
The sack of Agios Demetrios has already been recounted, but deserves some further attention. The traditional figure of seven thousand Kytherians enslaved by Khair-ed-Din Barbarossa has been assumed to refer to the entire population of Agios Demetrios. It is obvious from the apparent extent of the site that Agios Demetrios could not have housed so many people. This is an important distinction in determining whether the people were removed from Agios Demetrios and its environs, or whether the losses were spread around the island. It may provide a clue to the question of why Agios Demetrios was finally abandoned.
Contrary to popular belief, Agios Demetrios was not in fact totally abandoned immediately after the sack. The Venetian census of 1583 mentions Agios Demetrios as one of fourteen settlements outside of Chora. Of the settlements mentioned, Agios Demetrios appears to be the only settlement in the north of the island. It is not currently known how long after this date Agios Demetrios was abandoned.
 However seven of the fourteen place names are not to be found on contemporary maps (Maltezou, 1980:159)
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