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My Favourite Planet > English > Europe > Greece > Dodecanese > Kastellorizo
Kastellorizo, Greece A brief history of Kastellorizo   page 2
Kastellorizo island at dawn

View of the north of Kastellorizo at dawn from the Turkish resort of Kaş.
See our Kastellorizo photo gallery
which has 260 pages of photos and information
about the island's sights, historical and modern.

We are currently working on the history of Kastellorizo.
Meanwhile, here is a brief overview.

Kastellorizo's remoteness, diminutive size and rocky landscape forced its inhabitants from it earliest history to seek their living at sea as traders, fishermen and sponge divers. Little is known of the Minoans and later Doric Greeks who lived here before Classical times or their relations with the Lycians who controlled the southwest corner of the Anatolian mainland, just 2.5 kilometres away, and who had a distinctly different culture and language. However, the island's deep, well sheltered bay made it an ideal trading post and stop-off for ships from Greece and beyond carrying out commercial and military expeditions to Asia, Cyprus, the Levant and Egypt.

The island and its port are mentioned only briefly by ancient authors. The Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC – circa 24 AD) referred to the largest island on the Lycian coast as Kisthene (Κισθήνη), "on which is a city of the same name". [1] Although no later authors refer to the island by this name, some modern scholars have suggested that Megiste may have also been known as Kisthene. [2] Aischylos' play Prometheus Bound (written around 430 BC) names Kisthene as the home of the Gorgons and the Graiae. [3]

An ancient Doric inscription on a rock on the island, first reported by Charles Robert Cockerell (1788–1863), confirms its name as Megiste [4], as mentioned by Ptolemy, Pliny the Elder, Livy, Stephanus and Scylax. In his History of Rome, Titus Livius (Livy) noted that the harbour of Megiste was large enough to contain a whole fleet during the Roman–Seleucid War (192-188 BC) [5]. Later, however, Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) reported that the city "no longer exists", perhaps having been destroyed or abandoned during one of the many wars in the area. [6]

From the mid 4th century BC Lycia, including the opposite city of Antiphellos (today Kaş), was Hellenized by the successors of Alexander the Great after he had conquered the area and driven out the Persians, and for a while the island came under the control of Rhodes. Later it was dominated by the Romans, then the Byzantine Empire, the crusading Knights of Saint John, the Egyptian Mamelouks and in 1522 it was taken by the Ottoman Turks.

Over much of this period Kastellorizo enjoyed commercial and cultural links with other islands and Greek settlements along the Anatolian coast, and it became a thriving, prosperous port. However, the wars of the 19th and early 20th centuries (the Greek War of Independence, the Balkan Wars and World War I) and the subsequent Italian take-over of the Dodecanese islands, including Kastellorizo, from 1912 did much to disrupt these important ancient ties.

Towards the end of World War II British forces took control of the island from the Italians and evacuated the inhabitants to Egypt. During their absence German bombing on 17th October 1943 and a catastrophic fire on 6th July 1944 destroyed most the houses in the island's only settlement.

The island officially became part of Greece in 1948, but by that time many Kastellorizans had already decided to emigrate, mostly to Australia, leaving a few hundred to rebuild their lives in the shattered town and carry on the local lifestyle and traditions. Emigration had actually started in the late 19th century when, as in the the rest of the Mediterranean, people left for the Americas and Australia to escape strife, oppression and poverty in search of better opportunities.
Maps of Kastellorizo in the Dodecanese islands at My Favourite Planet

Map showing the position of Kastellorizo
in relation to Rhodes in the Dodecanese
and the Lycian coast of Turkey.

Larger maps of Kastellorizo are on page 9,
including a detailed map of the island.

See also our interactive map of Greece.

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Symbol of Kastellorizo island, Greece


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Notes, references and links

1. Strabo on Kastellorizo

Strabo (Στράβων, Strabon; 64/63 BC – circa 24 AD), Greek geographer, philosopher and historian from Amaseia in Pontus (today Amasya, Turkey).

"Next is Myra, at the distance of 20 stadia from the sea, situated upon a lofty hill; then the mouth of the river Limyrus, and on ascending from it by land 20 stadia, we come to the small town Limyra. In the intervening distance along the coast above mentioned are many small islands and harbours. The most considerable of the islands is Cisthene, on which is a city of the same name. In the interior are the strongholds Phellus, Antiphellus and Chimaera, which I mentioned above."

H. C. Hamilton and W. F. Falconer (translators), The Geography of Strabo, Volume III (of 3), Book 14, chapter 3, section 7. George Bell & Sons, London, 1903. At Perseus Digital Library.

The passage has been translated by others in different ways, including: "Among others is Megiste an island, and a city of the same name, and Cisthene". In all the original Greek manuscripts it appears:

"ὧν καὶ μεγίστη νῆσος καὶ παὶ πόλις ὁμώνυμος, ἡ κισθήνη."

2. Leake on Kisthene

The suggestion that Megiste may have been known in earlier times as Kisthene was first made by the British antiquarian and topographer William Martin Leake (1777-1860).

See: William Martin Leake, Journal of a tour in Asia Minor, pages 183-184. John Murray, London, 1824. At

John Anthony Cramer, A Geographical and Historical Description of Asia Minor, Volume 2, page 251. Oxford University Press, 1832.

3. Aischylos on Kisthene

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, lines 780-818, translated by Herbert Weir Smyth. Harvard University Press. 1926. At Perseus Digital Library.

There was another city named Kisthene on the coast of Mysia, northwest of Pergamon (Strabo, Geography, Book 13, chapter 1).

See the quote from the play and discussion on the home of the Gorgons
on the Gorgon Medusa page of the MFP People section.

4. Cockerell on Megiste

The inscription discovered by Cockerell was published by Leake in Journal of a tour in Asia Minor, pages 183-184 [see note 2 above].


The inscription can still be seen on a natural rock outcrop below the Castle of the Knights of Saint John. It has not been dated, but is thought to be from the 4th-3rd century BC, when Megisti was part of the Rhodian Peraia.

According to Leake's rendering it is a dedication to Hermas Propylaios at a tower on Megisti by Sosikles Nikatora of Samos. A later interpretation gives the dedicator as Sosikles Nikagoras of Amos (Σωσικλῆς Νικαγόρα{ς} Ἄμιος), epistates in Kastabos and Megista. Amos (Ἄμος) was a coastal settlement of the Rhodian Peraia in Caria (near the modern town of Turunç, Turkey).

Σωσικλῆς Νικαγόρα{ς}
Ἄμιος ἐπιστατήσας
ἔν τε Καστάβ<ω>ι καὶ
ἐπὶ τοῦ πύργου τοῦ ἐν Με-
γίσται, Ἑρμᾶι προπυ-
λαίωι χαριστήριον

See: Rhodian Peraia 58. At (The Packard Humanities Institute), which provides the following references: CIG 4301; LW 1268; Holleaux, BCH 18, 1894, 390-395; van Gelder, Mnemosyne 24, 1896, 249, no. 29; *SGDI 4332; van Gelder, Geschichte 446, no. 32a.

Cockerell's own brief account of his visit to Kastellorizo appears in:

Travels in Southern Europe and the Levant, 1810-1817: the Journal of C. R. Cockerell, R. A., edited by his son Samuel Pepys Cockerell, pages 164-165. Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1903. At

5. Livy on Megiste

Titus Livius (64 or 59 BC - 17 AD), in Book 37 of his The History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita Libri, Books from the Foundation of the City, written 27-9 BC), describes events of the the Roman-Seleucid War (192-188 BC) between Rome allied with Eumenes II of Pergamon against Antiochus III the Great, ruler of the Seleucid Empire. Various manoeuvres on land and sea eventually led to the defeat of Antiochus at the Battle of Magnesia, fought near Magnesia ad Sipylum (today Manisa, Turkey) in 190 BC.

"It was then resolved that Eumenes should return home, and make every necessary preparation for the passage of the consul and his army over the Hellespont; and that the Roman and Rhodian fleets should sail back to Samos, and remain stationed there, that Polyxenidas might not make any movement from Ephesus. The king returned to Elaea, the Romans and Rhodians to Samos.

There, Marcus Aemilius, brother of the praetor, died. After his obsequies were performed, the Rhodians sailed, with thirteen of their own ships, one Coan, and one Cnidian quinquereme, to Rhodes, in order that they might take up a position there, against a fleet which was reported to be coming from Syria.

Two days before the arrival of Eudamus and the fleet from Samos, another fleet of thirteen ships, under the command of Pamphilidas, had been sent out against the same Syrian fleet; and taking with them four ships, which had been left to protect Caria, they relieved from blockade Daedala, and several other fortresses of Peraea, which the king's troops were besieging.

It was determined that Eudamus should put to sea directly, and an addition of six undecked ships was made to his fleet. He accordingly set sail; and using all possible expedition, overtook the first squadron at a port called Megiste, from whence they proceeded in one body to Phaselis, resolving to wait there for the enemy."

William A. McDevitte (translator), Titus Livius, The History of Rome, Book 37, chapter 22. Henry G. Bohn, London, 1850. At Perseus Digital Library.

6. Pliny on Megiste

"Further on we find Leucolla with its town, the Pactyae, Lasia, Nymphais, Macris, and Megista, the city on which last no longer exists. After these there are many that are not worthy of notice."

Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, Book 5, chapter 35. At Perseus Digital Library.
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See also
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photo essays and articles
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Athens 1 (street life)

Athens 2 (Aristotle's Lyceum)






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