Die Insel Lesbos

An island with charme

Lesbos is a Greek island located in the northeastern Aegean Sea; its inhabitants are called Lesvonians (rather than Lesbians) or Lesviotians. It is the third largest Greek island and the seventh largest in the Mediterranean. It has an area of 1630 km² (630 square miles) with 320 kilometres (230 miles) of coastline. Its population is approximately 108,000 about a third of which live in the capital city, Mytilene, located in the southeastern part of the island. The remaining population is distributed in small towns and villages. The largest towns are Kalloni, Plomari, Ayassos, Eressos, and Molyvos, the ancient Mythymna. Mytilene was founded ca 1050 BCE by the family Penthilides who arrived from Thessaly in mainland Greece and ruled the city until the popular revolt (590-580 BCE) led by Pittacus.

According to myths, Lesbos was the patron god of the island. Macar is reputed to be the first king whose daughters bequeathed their names to some of the present larger towns. Homer refers to the island as “Macaros edos”, the seat of Macar. Hittite records of the Late Bronze Age name the island Lazpas and must have considered its population significant enough to ”borrow their gods”, presumably idols, to intervene in the cure of their king since the local gods were not forthcoming. It is believed that emigrants from mainland Greece, mainly from Thessaly, entered the island in the Late Bronze Age and bequeathed it with the Aeolic dialect of Greek, whose written form survives in the poems of such writers as Sappho and abundant gray pottery ware and the worship of Cybele, the great mother-goddess of Anatolia, suggest the continuity of the population from Neolithic times. When the Persian king Cyrus defeated Croesus (546 BCE) all including the Ionic Greek cities and the adjacent islands became Persian subjects and remained such until the Persians were defeated by the Greeks at the naval battle of Salamis (480 BCE). The island was governed by an oligarchy in archaic times followed by quasi-democracy in classical times. For a short period it was member of the Athenian confederacy its apostasy from which is described in a stirring chapter of Thucydides’s history of the Peloponnesian War. In Hellenistic times the island belonged to various Macedonian kingdoms until 79 BCE when it passed into Roman hands. During the middle ages it belonged to the Byzantine Empire and in 1355 it was granted to the Genoese Gateluzi for economic and political reasons. The island was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1462 and remained in their possession until 1912 when it became part of modern Greece. The cities of Mytilene and Mythymna are bishoprics since the 5th century. Important archaeological sites on the island are the Neolithic cave of Kagiani, probably a refuge for shepherds, the Neolithic settlement of Chalakies, and the extensive habitation of Thermi (3000-1000 BCE). The largest habitation is found in Lisvori (2800-1900 BCE) part of which is submerged in shallow coastal waters. There are also several archaic, classical Greek and Roman remains. Vitruvius called the ancient city of Mytilene "magnificent and of good taste". Remnants of its medieval history are three impressive castles. Lesbos is the birthplace of several famous persons. In archaic times, Arion developed the type of poem called dithyramb, the progenitor of tragedy, Terpander invented the seven note musical scale for the lyre, followed by the lyric poet Alcaeus, and the most famous poetess Sappho. The seminal artistic creativity of those times brings to mind the myth of Orpheus to whom Apollo gave a lyre and the Muses taught to play and sing. When Orpheus incurred the wrath of the god Dionysus he was dismembered by the Maenads and of his body parts his head and his lyre found their way to Lesbos where they have remained ever since. Pittacus was one of the seven sages of the ancient world. In classical times Hellanicus advanced historiography, Theophrastus, the father of botany, succeeded Aristotle as the head of the Lyceum. Aristotle and Epicurus lived there for some time. In early CE times lived Theophanes, the historian of Pompey's campaigns, Longus wrote the famous novel Daphnis and Chloe, and much later the historian Doukas wrote the history of the early Ottoman Turks. The island was also the birth place of the Barbarossa Brothers, Aruj and Khair ad Din. The elder brother Aruj was the first to embark on his career of piracy by signing on a corsair galley based on the island, a haven for Greek and Moslem pirates of the time. In modern times the poet Odysseus Elytis, descendant of an old family of Lesvos received the Nobel Prize.