Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A Turbulent History

 A Turbulent History

An Ancient Town – Hefestia (to the north)

 In the 11th C BC, a number of years after the Trojan War, a large group of people arrived on the island. These were the Pelasgians. They had been expelled from the mainland of Greece by the Athenians. These people built the town Hefestia. From 1,000 BC - 1,200 AD Hefestia became the most important town on the island, covering 5 acres.  (By now the old town of Poliochni was deserted, though Myrina was still flourishing in the south of the island) so there were still two towns on the island.

This group often sided with other Greek states against the Persians. And though they did not want Athenians to come and live on the island at first, they later came to accept their help to fight off the Persian navy. This alliance also gave them protection from the pirates. Eventually their capital, Hefestia, became one of the centres of Athenian culture.

 A Greek Amphitheatre at Hefestia
This was one of the sites where ceremonies were held in which slaves were given Greek citizenship.

Athenians and Romans

479  BC Athenians occupied the island (While Hefestia welcomed them the Myrians at first resisted and some left the island). In 511 BC Hefestia had been burned to the ground by the Persians but it was rebuilt by the Athenians and became the island’s capital during the Middle Ages with a parliament, senate and political life.

The island’s open plains, which are a unique geographical feature not found in many other Greek islands, has meant that Lemian farmers have been able to grow wheat in abundance. Because of this wheat has long been an important export, and at this period Lemnos grew wheat on all its hillsides and sent wheat to the city of Athens. But these years were also filled with tragedy as famine hit the country in 430BC and there was a powerful earthquake in 330 BC.

In 166 BC the Romans conquered the island. Lemnos was at this time important to the Eastern Roman Empire for its position which enabled the occupying force to control the maritime route between the Aegean and the Hellespont.

Athenian Gods and Goddesses
With the Athenians came new gods and goddesses. Though what happened was that the older gods were often kept but with a name change. The Great Goddess of Lemnos was now called Artemis or Aphrodite, and also many of the old fire ceremonies remained.

Mount Athos had temples with statues of old gods and goddesses, and it is said that when Saint John and Mary the Mother of Jesus landed there these statues fell and were broken. This was seen as a sign that the people should now follow the new religion of Christianity.

The Rule of the Church

During the Byzantine Era the Christian Church was an important political entity, and tracks of land in Lemnos belonged to the monasteries on Mount Olympus. In the 9th century Aghios Efstratios, who was exiled from the monasteries of Mount Olympus and who found refuge on the island was buried here. A small nearby island is named after him.

There are many churches on the island. Each has its special festival. Here one of our grandchildren is climbing the steps to attend a church festival.

Lemnos during the time of the Byzantine Empire was extremely cultivated, from shore to shore and every hillside was terraced. In its ports were anchored caiques, frigates and sailing vessels carrying metals, oil, wood, marble, wine, flour, leather, pottery, wool and grain.

During this period the island was also seized periodically by others nations: Saracens, Venetians, and Genoans and then the Venetians again.

Strong Women 

The children on Lemnos love stories about their women heroes. There are the stories about Myrina and Hypsipili,  but there is also one about Marula who helped the islanders and the Venetians fight off the Turks when they tried to take over the island. 

One of our cousins with a statue of Marula

The Turks

In 1442 came the first appearance of a Turkish fleet and again in 1447 both times it was beaten back. But in 1479 Venetians ceded the island to the Turks and many Lemians left to make a life elsewhere, many in Smyrna, Alexandria, Syros, Odessa.

In 1854, during the Crimean War, an attempt to become independent from the Turks was made by the islanders but this was not successful and so again a large number of Lemians fled to other cities. Many to Alexandria. It was not until October 6th of 1912 that independence was declared. This was the signal for many Alexandrian Lemians to return, they were now wealthy merchants and they enriched the island with schools, churches and large houses.

The Great Wars and Other Recent Troubles

In 1915 Lemnos sheltered many camps of Allied soldiers. Before their attack on Gallipoli the Allies used the port of Moudros as a naval dockyard. Over 500 ships were anchored in that bay and the camps housed more than 30,000 soldiers.

In1922, after that war an exchange of nationals was decreed, Turks living in Lemnos left to go back to Turkey (even though they had long lived on the island) and 45,000 Greeks who had settled in Asia Minor resettled back on the island (even though they now had absorbed a different culture).

In 1941 German army invaded the island and in 1944 the Germans left.

During the Greek Civil War Limnos was made on of the places of exile for communists and leftists.

In 1967 the Greek Monarch fled the country, and in 1974 the constitutional monarchy was declared ended.

Another grandchild. Sitting on the steps of a memorial for the fallen at the battle of Gallipoli.

Modern Heroes
Sometimes we call someone a hero even when they do not win their battles. Those who came to Lemnos from Australia, and other countries, to fight at Gallipoli died without winning that battle, yet every year these heroes are remembered for their bravery.

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