The Mycenian & Geometric Archaic Periods in Naxos

During the course of the 2nd millennium BC the autonomy of the fresh and original civilisation of the Cyclades began to decline in the face of the rising power of other centres in the Aegean: first that of Minoan Crete and later that of Mycenean Greece. When the Minoan empire collapsed in about 1400 BC the Aegean islands formed a bridge by way which the power of Mycenae and similar centres was able to expand eastwards. The population of Naxos moved north-west, in the direction of mainland Greece. It was at this time that the large Mycenean city was founded at Grotta, a setlement which was to survive into the early Geometric period (c. 1000 BC). Huge cemeteries grew up at Aplomata and Kamini. A myth tells us that the fleet of Neleus, son of Codrus the last king of Athens, was blown off course by storm while sailing east and landed at Naxos. This is indicative of the island’s role as a way-station between Greece and the east and a stopover for Mycenean craft travelling in that direction .

By about the 7th century BC Naxos had an oligarchic regime with an extensive caste of rich and powerful nobles known as “pacheis, the fat ones. The main town stood on the hill which the Kastro of Hora now occupies and there were also settlements in other parts of the island. Agriculture and stock-breeding continued to be the chief occupation of the populace, along with fishing, trade and crafts. Naxos sent colonists to Arkesine and perhaps Aigiale on Amorgos, and close relations grew up with Thira (Santorini). Jumping to a somewhat later period (so as to show the extent of colonisation from Naxos), in 734 BC the island lent its ships to the city of Chalcis, with which it had friendly relations, to send colonists west. They went to Sicily and, in gratitude for having provided the transport, the settlers from Chalcis gave the name of ‘Naxos’ to one of the colonies that they founded there. During one of the wars Archilochus of Paros, his island’s greatest poet, was killed .

It would appear from the monuments that Naxos in the controlled and operated, 7th and early 6th centuries controlled and operated, almost without challenge, the major lonian religious centre of Delos. The oldest buildings on Delos and many of the most important offerings are Naxian, and given that Delos was sacred to Apollo, it might be said that the policy of Naxos at this time was “the Apollo line.  The deme (community) of Naxiots dedicated a number of valuable vessels to Delian Apollo and also a number of highly impressive monuments to the god’s other shrines, notably the Sphinx at Delphi. Naxian colonists carried the worship of Apollo to Amorgos and during the Archaic period there was a strong Naxian presence at the shrine of Ptoan Apollo in Boeotia. This flourishing of the island’s society was accompanied from a very early date by the development of the arts. It was on Naxos that the school of sculpture that would leave its mark on all antiquity rose to prominence and took on the element of the monumental. Marble had always been an abundant and familiar material on Naxos. At about this period it began to be exported for the huge building projects on Delos and the other important Greek santuries wherever man felt  need to express himself in terms rather larger than life. Indeed  the craftsmen of Naxos had considerable influence on the exact nature of the finished product, since of the statues left their quarries with the rough outlines of their shapes already carved.

And it was emery, another Naxian product, that was used to finish off the work. Not surprisingly, the craftsmen of Naxos were much sought after, and the fortunes they made allowed them to dedicate expensive offerings their own to the gods. They were the first people to build entire structures of pure and unalloyed marble, and there is a legend that Byzes and his son Euergos, sculptors and builders, were the first craftsmen to make marble tiles. The large nude statues of men and clothed statues of women known to be from Naxos are among the earliest of their type found in Greece. Among the best-known examples is the Artemis (c. 650 BC) dedicated by Nikandra of Naxos, a member of one of the island’s wealthy families, and found on Delos. It can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Kouroi of the third quarter of the 7th cen- tury made their way from Naxos to Thira, to be unearthed in archaeological excavations. The marble Apollo raised on Delos by the Naxiots about 600 BC was nearly 25 feet tall. Among other imposing examples of Naxian work are the enormous lions also to be seen on Delos. But the most impressive pieces of all are those that were never finished. They are to be seen at various places on Naxos or even in the quarries where they were being produced. Two of these kouroi are at Melanes, while the statue of Dionysus at Apollonas is more than 30 feet tall. It seems that, apart from the practical difficulty of moving these monsters, there may well have been other reasons -per- haps the death of the client or political upheaval- which led to their being abandoned. Whole buildings also fell

within the scope of the Naxian craftsmen, and the House of the Naxiots on Delos, dating from the late 7th century, was the most important edifice of its time on the sacred island. At home, the marble temple on the islet of Palatia was in antiquity, and still is today, a sort of trademark for Naxos. Archaeological research is still uncovering hitherto unknown aspects of the island’s past. Just how interesting and important was the temple to Demeter Gyroulas, near Sagkri,has only recently been revealed. The various parts of the temple, including its marble roof have survived in such good condition that would even be possible to would be possible, that is for Naxos to acquire a monument ofunique significance for lonian art, equivalent to the temple Aphala on Aegina in the Saronic. And as recently metres by 25 metres) came to light at Yria.This temple was built in the mid-6th century and functioned for nine consecutive centuries untilits violent destruction the 3rd century AD This find is of great importance the history of Greek architecture because the tem- was built at a timewhen the transition from granite marble was being made. Political turmoil, though, was also a feature of this period in Naxian history. When for instance, the widely-respected nobleman Telestagoras was insulted by others of his class, popu- lar feeling against the wealthy broke out into action. The chaos was exploited by another noble, Lygdamis, who with the help of his friend the tyrant Peisistratus of Athens, took control of Naxos in about 540 Bc and installed his own tyranny. It lasted until 524 BC when Lygdamis was overthrown by the Spartans. After brief period of democracy returned to Naxos and the island was able to withstand a four-month siege by Aristagoras, tyrant of Miletus, in 506 BC.