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HISTORY

Herodotus, the great historian of antiquity who visited Thassos in the late 5th century BC, said the island took its name from Thasus the Phoenician. Thasus and his brother, Cadmus, organised an expedition to find their sister, Europa, who had been abducted by Cretan merchants or pirates. They never found Europa. But they each found a place where they settled. Cadmus built Thebes and Thasus settled on a magnificent island in the northern Aegean that took its name from its settler to become "Thassos". Enticed by the plentiful wood, dazzling-white marble and the gold hidden in its bowels, Thasus and his companions decided to stay in this earthly paradise forever. Others believe the name may have originated from the word "dasos", meaning "forest", where the "d" was changed to "th". The island was also called Edonis; Chrysi (Golden), for the gold buried deep underground; Aeria and Aethria for its clear skies.

Findings from archaeological excavations in recent years indicate that there were people living there long before 2000 BC. There are prehistoric settlements in Sotiros (2500 BC), in Maries and in Astris (10000 BC). Many neighbouring peoples had passed through Thassos by 700 BC, when the Parians settled there permanently. The Parians arrived to help the Thassian-Phoenicians drive out the Thracean invaders. Following their victory, the Parians, delighted with the wealth of the island, settled there permanently, as the Phoenicians had done before them. They made a name for the island with their hard work and passion. They took advantage of the island's plentiful and productive resources. The abundant white marble was used to construct great public buildings and temples, but was also exported. Numerous colonies were established on the opposite shores and came to form the "Thassian Continent". Thus, Thassos soon emerged as a great economic power. Its products filled the markets of the known world. The aroma of its delectable wine was intoxicating. Thassian wine became widely known and was served at symposia as an eclectic product. "Even the Thassian wine which has an apple aroma, I believe, is the best of all wines, after the wine of Chios that banishes all sorrow..." Athenaeus. This is where the oldest law regulating the trade of wine and vinegar (5th century BC) was found.

Its currency was considered to be strong, as the gold and silver mines provided maximum coverage on the major markets. In fact, some of the coins were true works of art. Famed engravers promoted the island's strength through those coins used on the markets of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The wealth that flowed into the island is still apparent to anyone visiting the remains of the once-grand public and private structures. Its flourishing economic course became the envy of the other cities, particularly Athens. The island became involved in the Peloponnesian War, sometimes on the Athenian side and sometimes on the side of the Spartans. After a three-year siege, Athenian general Cimon took control of the city and forced the Thassians to demolish the great walls which had symbolised their power. The island suffered huge losses in human lives and was economically devastated. Philip II, Alexander the Great's father, incorporated it into Macedonia. The Thassians followed military commander Alexander the Great on his major campaign to Asia, with armies and warships contributing to the successes of the Macedon general.

The arrival of the Romans was a relief to the Thassians who had suffered at the hands of the Athenians and the Spartans. They welcomed the Roman legions as liberating forces. They even minted a coin to commemorate the new superpower. A limited economic resurgence followed. Grateful to their liberators, they erected triumphant arches and made statues of the emperors. Perhaps the name "Augustus" still used today is a remnant of that period.

During the Byzantine period, the island dramatically declined. It fell victim to numerous pirates plying the waters of the Aegean. Vandals, Normans, Genoans and Venetians spread terror through this formerly glorious island. Its population dropped drastically. Those who remained withdrew to the interior of the island to escape attacks and the slave trade. Shadows of its former glory now only wandered over the ruins that were evident everywhere. A deadly silence enveloped all corners of the island that were once vibrant with life. The market was dead. It bore no resemblance to the once bustling corner of the town where merchants from all over the known world brought joy and progress.

The presence of the Venetian family of Gatilusi in 1353 boosted the economy for a time but the island was taken over by the Turks in 1455 and it once again sank into oblivion. Like other occupied territories, Thassos struggled in obscurity, poverty and inertia in all of its sectors. The soil was not cultivated; trade was non-existent; taxes unbearable; and morale in tatters. Along with the humiliation imposed by the Turks, its people were overcome by hopelessness where once prosperity had been taken for granted. The situation changed after 1813 when Thassos was handed over to Governor of Egypt Muhammad Ali as a show of gratitude for his services to the Sultan. Muhammad Ali was born in Kavala in 1769. According to oral tradition, he was raised in Rahoni, Thassos, by the family of Argyris Karapanagiotis. Later persecuted by the Turks, he again sought refuge with his Greek benefactors. He did not forget their kindness and when later in life he became a successful leader, he found a way to gain control of his beloved island. His multifaceted benevolence was a breath of fresh air for the beleaguered inhabitants. A unique system of community freedoms was established that lasted until 1874. Though the oppressive Turkish regime was not present, as in other occupied areas, the island took part in the 1821 War of Independence under the leadership of Hatzigeorgis.

THASSOS IS FREED

Thassos was liberated on 18 October 1912. An infantry company under Captain Kontaratos landed at the Limenas wharf and raised the flag of the free Greek state, spreading untold joy among the tormented Thassians. The burdensome veil of slavery was lifted and the wind of freedom revived the suffocating atmosphere that had covered everything for more than 450 years. Since then, the island has progressed steadily onward along the road of creativity, eager to work hard.

FAMOUS THASSIANS

Thassos was the birthplace of Polygnotos, the famous painter of antiquity. When Cimon gained control of Thassos after its three-year siege during the Peloponnesian War, he recognised his talents and took Polygnotos with him to Athens. His works graced the Painted Stoa (Poikile Stoa) in Thission for years. None of his works remain. However, Pausanius has been a source of information about them.

Thassos was also the home of Theagenes, one of the greatest athletes in ancient Greece, with more than 1,600 first-place victories.

The island is also very proud of Polygnotos Vagis. A sculptor of world renown, he was born in the village of Potamia in 1896. At the age of 16, he followed his ambition and journeyed to America. Once there, he was able to devote himself with passion to the art he had loved since childhood. His works can be seen at many of the world's major museums. Some of these are on show in his birthplace, the village of Potamia.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, also visited and stayed on the island for three years in ancient times. He left written observations about the climate, the winds and other information that provides a clearer picture of life during that period.

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