History of Serifos

MYTHOLOGY – PREHISTORY

The myth connects Serifos with the Cyclopes, the one-eyed giants inhabiting the island, as well as with Perseus, the young hero who turned king Polydectes and all the island population into stone, by showing them the terrible head of Meduse. These references to Serifos, with its name remaining unchanged till today, reflect the island’s importance during prehistoric times, presumably because of its mining wealth. One etymology theory states that the name derives from the Phoenician root “s-r-p”, meaning ore treatment.
According to the classical writers, the first inhabitants of Serifos were Aeolians from Thessaly. Other sources indicate that settlers from Caria (Asia Minor) and Phoenicia were ousted by Minoan Cretans. Only a few traces of settlements have been found so far, dating from the Protocycladic (3rd millennium BC) and the Mycenaean (1400-1200 BC) eras. Some remnants of ore smelting in Bronze Age sites have been located in Serifos, as well as in Crete, where ships were transporting the iron ore.

ANCIENT TIMES

During the early historical period Serifos was an autonomous hereditary kingdom, until the 7th century BC. At that time it became an Ionian colony under the Athenian chief Eteocles. Later on a democratic regime has been established and Serifos became a member of the Delian Amphictyony, along with some other islands. A few Inscriptions and coins found indicate a prosperous period, probably due to the exploitation of the mining resources. This fact is totally omitted by the writers, who generally refer only to mockeries about the rocky, infertile soil of Serifos.
In the Persian wars, Serifos was one of the few islands which fought on the Greek side in the battles of Salamis and Plataies. In 478 BC it became a member of the first Athenian League, succumbing to the leading position of Athens and following its fates. After the latter’s defeat in the Peloponnesian War, Spartans established an oligarchic regime on Serifos, which lasted until 377 BC, when it became a member of the second Athenian League. Later it fell under Macedonian control (363 BC), under the Ptolemean rulers of Egypt (306 BC) and again under the Macedonians (266 BC).
The year 146 BC marks for Serifos, as well as for the rest of Greece, the onset of the Roman period. The island was totally destructed (88 BC) due to its allegiance with Mithridates, king of Pontos. During this time it served mainly as a place of exile for notable opponents of the empire. Some monuments and building ruins have survived from the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

MIDDLE AGES

For the whole byzantine period and until the 13th century, there are just a handful of references about Serifos. The island rises up from obscurity after the Frankish conquest of Constantinople (1204). Shortly afterwards, Venice gave to its subjects the authorization to conquer the Aegean
islands by their own means. In parallel with the establishment of the Duchy of Naxos (about 1220 according to the most recent research), but independent from it, Serifos and Kea were occupied by Domenico Michieli and Pietro Giustiniani. After a short re-occupation by the Byzantines, Venetian dominion was consolidated in 1296 with the aid of Giorgio Ghisi, lord of Tinos, who kept as his share one half of each island.
For the next 150 years, as Serifos remained divided in three lordships, there are a few historical references for periods of both prosperity - most likely from the operation of the mines - and decline, caused by the pirates’ raids or the tyrannical rule of Nicolo Adoldo. After the latter was condemned in Venice never to revisit the island, his share was confiscated and given in 1433 to Alvise Michieli, first lord of the whole Serifos. His descendants remained in power until 1536.

MODERN TIMES

Two years later, a raid by the infamous corsair Barbarossa resulted in the almost total desertion of Serifos and marked the beginning of the Ottoman rule. Although never actually occupied, the island suffered at the mercy of pirates or in the vortex of the Venetian-Ottoman wars. It remained a closed agricultural society with few inhabitants, who struggled for survival with meager means under an unbearable taxation system.
The situation of the islands changed a bit after the short Russian occupation (1770-1774). The economy of Serifos showed a relative bloom, thanks to its commercial ties with the rich island of Hydra and the contribution of well-off immigrants who settled in Constantinople and present day Romania. Some of them were also members of The “Filiki Etaireia”, the secret organization which prepared the Greek Revolution of 1821.
The banner of liberation struggle was raised in Serifos on May 21st, 1821. The inhabitants took part in the war effort as well as in the political process, having one representative in the National Assembly. During the first decades after the establishment of the modern Greek state, the island saw a gradual improvement of its economic situation.
The year 1870 saw the new beginning of the exploitation of the iron mines, which became more intensive after 1885 and determined the fate of Serifos for the years to come, until 1963 when the mines ceased operating. This activity caused the island population to double by the end of the 19th century, was marked by the bloody miner strike of 1916, and by its ending sent away most of the inhabitants in search of a better life. In the later years Serifos entered, although at a very slow pace, in the era of tourist development, revealing its rare natural beauty to its visitors.

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