The following article, (taken directly from Jack Causton’s ‘Blue Book’) was written by the late, Betsy Barnard, an Oxford scholar, frequent visitor and sometime resident in Skiathos. It provides an insight into Skiathos’ colourful, yet often turbulent, historical past:
“Outline of history
The Northern Sporades lie on trade routes that have at all times been valuable – all the trade to Chalkis to the north and east and all the trade to the east from the gulf of Pegasae must have come this way. They had a strategic value too. The only pass from the north down into Greece on this side was at Thermopylae, but an army could land and march down through Euboea and shipe could attack Thermopylae itself.
The islanders have always been sea going and when there was peace they did well, but peace rarely lasted long and their well being never reached any height. There was what seems like an almost perpetual state of war, unrest and piracy in the Aegean. To the islanders (there was) an almost perpetual threat. Men were taken to man ships, whole herds would be killed for food and anything of any value would be appropriated. Villages could be destroyed, vineyards uprooted, olives cut down, people massacred if there was any opposition. There was rarely any power strong enough to police the seas and the islanders had to be able to defend themselves.
They had to be self-supporting too – very little could be brought in from the outside and they must have been near to starvation at times. Ultimately this seems the crucial factor. Of all the islands, Skopelos (Peparethos), was the biggest, perhaps most fertile, certainly capable of supporting more people and this perhaps explains its greater importance almost all through history.
Skiathos was probably inhabited from very early on but the island has never been excavated and so far nothing is known. There were, however, primitive people on Alonnisos (Ikos) before 3,000 BC. The people there were sailors and would at least have known the island.
There is a myth that Pelias ruled Skiathos and Skopelos (Peparethos) before seizing Iolkops and sending Jason off to find the Golden Fleece. The Argonauts probably went through the Skiathos Channel and passed north of the island on their way to Lemnos and the Black Sea. (? About 1300 BC)
The Greeks sailing to Troy probably went the same way (? About 1270 BC). People living on the island then would have seen their ships. Nearly a quarter of the ships recorded in the Iliad came from the lands round the Gulf of Pagasae and Thessaly. Achilles was born at Pteleon.
At Kephala the surface finds seem to indicate that there was once an ancient settlement here. Most of the pottery found is geometric and it was inhabited from at least the 11th century BC.
In the 8th century the Chalkideans colonized the island. They founded many colonies on the Chalkidiki and Skiathos would have been a useful staging post.
480 BC The first historical reference to the island is in Herodotus. (The Histories. Book VII)
Look-outs were posted to warn the Greek fleet at Artemision of the approach of the Persians.
The lookout post was probably at Pyri but there may have been another at Koukounaries. (Later, watch towers were built at both places). The Persian ships came down the Skiathos Channel and are said to have harboured at Platanias. The sea battles were fought within sight of Skiathos.
Afterwards the island was included in the Athenian alliance and was governed by Athens. The tax it
paid in 450 BC was 1,000 Drachmas. Skopelos paid as much as Chalkis did, more than 17 times as much as Skiathos, and it was clearly flourishing then.
351 BC Demosthenes urged the Athenians to use Skiathos as a base against Philip of Macedon, arguing that its fine harbour and the corn it grew. It was about this time that the island minted its own coin.
338 BC Philip took Skiathos. The walls of the Akropolis and the two watch towers are said to have been built in the second half of the 4th century and they may have been built by the Athenians in defence, or by Philip to consolidate his position.
200 BC When the Macedonians finally left they devastated everything. Probably both Kephala and the harbour town were destroyed at this time. When the Romans came they found some corn but ‘of booty, found they none’
80 BC One of the Mithradates’ pirate admirals plundered Euboae and Magnesia and stored his loot on Skiathos. The Romans just missed capturing the admiral himself and took retribution on the islanders, crucifying the slaves and cutting off the hands of the free men.
AD 128 The island did not benefit from the Romans till Hadrian declared it free. Then there seems to have been some prosperity. The islanders raised a statue to Hadrian and later (about AD 196) another to Septimus Severus. (The inscription to Septimus Severus is noe in the courtyard outside the Mayor’s office). Skiathos wine was known in Rome and a sort of fish caught here, considered a delicacy.
Skiathos probably had a church soon after Christianity was recognised (AD 325) and it was certainly a
bishopric in AD 530. The church of Aghia Sophia at Troulos and the church of Aghia Triada on the Akropolis (both now in ruins) could have been built about this time.
Then, almost for centuries at a time, very little is recorded even for Athens and the rest of Greece, and nothing seems to be known about Athens. There were devastating raids by sea and the island was probably deserted for long periods. Still, at least by the end of the 11th century, the harbour town was lived in again and there seems to have been some prosperity then. The marble tombstone of the bishop of that time is now built into the wall of the upper church.
The Crusaders took Constantinople and partitioned the Byzantine Empire. The Ghisi (relations of the Doge of Venice) captured Skiathos and Skopelos. Their chief possession was Tinos and their court was there. In the Northern Sporades their town was at Skopelos. They built the wall around the Bourtzi.
In 1276 The Byzantines re-captured the islands.
In the 14th century there was another long period of piracy. It was probably then that the islanders found life insupportable at the harbour town and moved to Kastro.
All that is known is that when Constantinople fell to the Turks and the the islands came under the protection of the Venetian Republic, the chief town of Skiathos was at Kastro and it was there that the Governors lived.
Venetians lost the islands to the Turks in 1475 and, when they got them back ten years later, Skopelos was deserted. In 1526 the Venetian governor planted a small colony there.
Khaireddin Barbarossa took Skiathos. He probably landed at the inner harbour and brought his guns up the old road to besiege Kastro. The siege lasted 6 days. When the Venetian Governor was wounded the islanders killed him and let the Turks in. They may have hoped to avoid a massacre but it is said that all the chief men of the island were killed and 3,800 people taken as slaves.(This is about the total present population). The Turks kept the fortress intact though and the island sems to have been repopulated almost at once.It was part of the estates of the Admiral himself and the islanders had many privileges. There are signs of some prosperity
the beginning of the 17th century – Kastro was re-fortified in 1619 and the frescoes of the church of the Nativity at Kastro were painted in 1621. The icon of the Panayia of kounistria, is said to have been discovered in 1650 and the church there probably built soon afterwards. A marriage contract of 1653 sets out in detail the brides houses and land holdings as well as the jewellery and possessions she would bring with here. Ships from Skiathos traded with Egypt and the Black Sea.
Kounistria was restored in 1726 and the frescoes painted in 1741. The frescoes at Kechria were painted
in 1745. Chapels were built. A school was started near the monastery of Aghios Ioannis Krifos. People started to leave Kastro and re-establish themselves in the harbour town. Then the whole scene changed.
In 1771 There was at least one major pirate raid when Kastro was plundered and in the aftermath of the Russian/Turkish war there were numerous small acts of piracy that the islanders had not the power to resist. They themselves took to piracy at this time.
In 1794 a monk from Skiathos, son on one of the rich men of the island, came back and he and his Superior founded Evangelistria. The church was finished in 1797 and all the building completed by 1806. There were 65 cells, an olive press, stables and workshops. The monastery was founded at a time when there was great hope
for Greek Independence and became a meeting place for the klepht (guerrilla) leaders. Kolokotrones and Nikotsaras are said to have been sworn in there and the island tradition is that Nikotsaras was brought back there to die and is buried with his great sword near the mill at Lehouni.
In 1821, when the War of Independence actually started the Greeks massacred the Turks and the Turks retaliated. There were massacres in Pelion and Thessaly. Skiathos was full of refugees.
The klephts of Mount Olympus capitulated at Trikkeri and escaped to Skiathos. Here they behaved like pirates; they took over the harbour town and the staores of corn, oil and wine kept in the warehouses scoured the island and slaughtered the sheep and goats. There were 2,000 klephts here. In a petition to the Greek Admiral the islanders begged for help but even he could not do anything. In October a Turkish fleet appeared and the islanders at Kastro took in a Turkish commander. The Turks attacked the harbour town and landed near Megali Ammos but were severely defeated by the klephts under Karatassos.
The klephts had for a long time wanted Kastro as a safe place for their families and eventually Karatassos attacked and took it. As the keys were being handed over his son was shot at and there was nearly a massacre. At Kounistria the Prior was suspected of hiding a man who’d fired the shot; he was tortured and the monastery robbed.
In 1829 Turkey acknowledged Greek Independence.
Skiathos was included inside the first frontier of Greece but Volos, Pelion and Thessaly were still Turkish. People had started coming back to the harbour town in 1829, now a quarantine station was established there and many ships came to the island. In 1833 the shipyard at Aghios Giorgos began work.
There are said to have been 300 houses at Kastro and 30 churches. There was also a Turkish mosque which suggests a Moslem population at some time – though it was probably very small.
The new town was officially opened in 1839. By then 500 houses had been built and the last people left Kastro. But there was still insecurity and still pirates in the area. The last pirate raid was in 1849 when 40 men from Thessaly landed at Kechria and came up to plunder Evangelistra.
Dionisios Epifanios, son of one of the first scholars of the island, restored Kounistria and re-established it as a monastery. He may himself have written the poem by the spring. (the marble is broken and the first verse is now in the courtyard of the church itself).
In 1851 Papadiamantis was born. His stories record the ordinary life of the island as well as its traditions. Even quite small incidents have the ring of truth and many of them are probably historical. The earthquake mentioned in the ‘Fonissa’ for instance, could have been the earthquake of 1868.
The Greeks were constantly striving to extend their frontiers and eventually (1881) got back Pelion and Volos and nearly all of Thessaly.
By the early 20th century some families on the island had become prosperous, even rich. Chapels and churches were restored. The Demotic school on the Bourtzi was built in 1906.
In 1923 there was a compulsory exchange of minorities between Turkey and Greece and 80 families from Asia minor are said to have come to Skiathos.
In 1944 the Greek guerrillas on the island captured a German caique lying in the inner harbour and took a German officer prisoner. Reprisal was inevitable. The Germans shelled the town and set fire to it. 30 houses were burnt down and another 177 burnt or damaged.
In 1964 Skiathos was scheduled as a tourist island and tourism began to be a significant part of its life.
The high school opened in 1969
In 1971 the first airstrip was completed.
In 1972 there were 120.000 officially registered visitors.”
Today, the total indigenous population of Skiathos has risen to approximately 10,000 (3,000 of which are Albanian nationals). In addition, an ever-increasing expatriate population now owns holiday and/or retirement homes on the island and there is a thriving, well-established expat community.
With a new, much larger, airport serving up to 15 charter flights a day, from a variety of European countries, throughout the high tourist season (May – October) and the newly extended port facilities, tens of thousands…(? exact figures awaiting confirmation) …of tourists either visit Skiathos or pass through on their way to Skopelos & Alonnissos, annually. Tourism is today, the main industry of the island.