Cyclades - History and Cultural Relations

It is difficult to generalize about the Cyclades as a whole, for each island has to some extent experienced its own unique history. Although visited by Paleolithic peoples seeking obsidian and other stone, the Cyclades seem to have been first inhabited in the late Neolithic (c. 5000 B.C. ), and they were probably settled by peoples arriving from the Greek mainland. The islands flourished during the Bronze Age, despite the occasional destruction of some settlements by earthquakes. Although subject to the cultural influences of other areas (particularly Mycenean and Minoan influences) and to periodic invasions and/or waves of immigration, the islands developed a distinctive Bronze Age culture with a now well-recognized Cycladic art, perhaps most clearly represented in the characteristic Cycladic marble figurines. In the eleventh century B.C. , at the end of the Bronze Age, the Cyclades underwent a decline in population, but by the ninth to eighth centuries B.C. their population began to grow again, and new settlements were established. In the classical period some Islands were the home of independent city-states. From the eighth century B.C. the island of Delos was an important holy place for Ionian Greeks; during Hellenistic times it was an International merchant community as well, and it continued to flourish into Roman times. Ravaged by Mithridates of Pontus in AD. 88, it fell into decline, and then eventually into oblivion with the arrival of Christianity. After the Romans, the Cyclades became part of the Byzantine Empire. It is uncertain exactly when Christianity came to the islands, but it may have been sometime in the late fourth or fifth century. By the late eleventh century the Byzantine Empire was no longer able to protect its Cycladic holdings effectively, and they were subject to raids by both Italians and Turks. Following the Fourth Crusade and the division of the Byzantine Empire Between the Venetians and the Crusaders, many of the islands fell into Venetian hands. It was during this period that the Islands acquired their Catholic populations. During the centuries of Venetian rule, the islands gradually declined, their populations ravaged by the depradations of pirates, by struggles among the local rulers, and by the Venetian rulers' conflicts with both Turks and Greeks. When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, the position of the islanders became even more difficult. One by one, the islands were ceded to the Ottomans, with Tinos, the last to capitulate, surrendering to a Turkish fleet in 1714. After the Greek War of Independence from Turkey (1821-1829), the Cyclades became part of the newly formed nation of Greece. The population at this time appears to have been increased by Greek refugees from areas still under Turkish rule. The Cyclades probably reached the peak of their population in the nineteenth century, declining somewhat in the early twentieth century and then dropping precipitously through out-migration after World War II.

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