History Of Rhodes

The island’s strategic location at the crossroads of two major Mediterranean sea routes, between the Aegean Sea and the shores of the Middle East and Egypt, has shaped the economic and cultural history of Rhodes. Although its pivotal position along important trade routes facilitated the development of commerce, bringing great wealth to Rhodes, it also acted as a powerful lure for conquering armies.

In Greek mythology the original inhabitants of the island were the Telchines, a bizarre race of demon-like people with magical powers. Archaeological finds at Kalythies date the earliest human inhabitation of the island from the Late Neolithic period (6th millenium BC). Beginning in the 17th-16th centuries BC, or possibly even earlier, the Minoans established contact with Rhodes and remains dating from the 16th century BC at Triada are probably those of a Minoan colony.

Following the collapse of the Minoan civilisation in the mid-15th century BC the Mycenaeans, whom Homer called the Achaeans, colonised the island. Sometime later in the 12th-11th centuries BC at the begining of the Greek Dark Ages and the sudden decline of the Mycenaeans, the Dorians reached Rhodes. In the Iliad they, under their ruler Tlepolemus, divided into three communities according to their tribes and founded the three city-states of Lindos, Ialyssos and Kameiros.

During the 7th century BC the three city-states joined together in an alliance, the Dorian Hexapolis, with Halicarnassus, Kos and Knidos as a response to the Ionian League, allowing them to thrive and establish colonies around the Mediterranean. In the 6th century BC the tyrant Cleobulus, one of the Seven Sages of antiquity to whom the famous saying Metron Ariston (moderation is best) is attributed, is said to have been king of Lindos.

With the defeat of Persia at the Battles of Marathon and Salamis, the three city-states joined the newly created Delian League in 477 BC. They mainly stayed neutral during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta and finally left the Athenian dominated alliance citing the unsustainable taxes imposed on them before the end of the conflict in 404 BC.

In 408 BC the three city-states united and founded the city of Rhodes, which was built using the city plans of Hippodamus of Miletus. The same layout was, according to legend, used by Alexander the Great to build cities including Alexandria in Egypt. Rhodes during this period developed trade relations and on a political level endeavoured using all means possible to ensure its independence, concluding alliances on favourable terms from sometimes with Sparta, sometimes with Athens.

Rhodes was later allied with Alexander the Great. His death in 323 BC lead to discord amongst his successors, the Diadochi, who vied for control of his empire. In 305 BC Demetrius Poliorcetes, son of Antigonus I Monophthalmus, laid siege to the island’s capital in order to break the Rhodian alliance with the Ptolemy. He brought with him 400 ships and a powerful army numbering 40,000 men and including a large number of cavalry and siege engines such as the Helepolis (literally taker of cities) siege towers, which stood 38 metres tall, and a battering ram 55 metres long. Despite the numerical advantage he was unable to capture the city and abandoned the siege after a year. The Rhodians sold the siege equipment left behind by Demetrius Poliorcetes and with the money raised they constructed the famous Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

An alliance with Rome was concluded in the 2nd century BC, in the framework of which Delos was declared a port free of duties. Later the Roman General Cassius conquered and plundered the island in 42 BC.

Christianity came to Rhodes in the 1st century AD brought by Saint Paul and is mentioned in the book of Acts of the New Testament. In 395 AD Rhodes became part of the Byzantine Empire. The Arabs arrived in 653 AD and then in 1046 AD the Genoese occupied the island. During the reign of Alexius I Komnenos in the 11th century AD the Byzantines recovered Rhodes and later granted trading rights on the island to the Venetians.

In 1309 AD the Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem conquered the island. They used the island as a military base for raids on the Holy Land. Many buildings constructed by the Knights during their rule of the island remain standing to this day in the medieval city, which in 1988 was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The Ottomans took Rhodes from the Knights in 1522 AD. Denied the right to partake in commercial activities by their new overlords, the Rhodians were confined to a rural life. Under the Ottoman dominion the islanders rebelled regularly but inconclusively.

Italy occupied Rhodes and the rest of the Dodecanese in 1912, during the Italo-Turkish War. The Italians undertook many important construction projects including the aqueduct, bringing electricity to the island, the harbour and the aquarium. Italian archaeological missions also unearthed important findings. On the political level, claims by Rhodes and the Dodecanese for union with mainland Greece were seemingly acceptable to the Italians even though in reality they had no intention of allowing this to happen.

Within the Dodecanese and Greece there was little desire to see the islands become part of the Italian Empire. By the terms of the Venizelos-Tittoni Agreement of 1919, Italy agreed to cede all the islands to Greece except Rhodes although this was never implemented due to the Asia Minor Catastrophe. The Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 saw Italy officially annex the Dodecanese and it was not until 31st March 1947 that union with Greece became a reality when British Brigadier A. S. Parker officially transferred the islands to the Greek Military Command.

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