History of Sifnos

According to mythology, the island of Sifnos took its name from Sifnos, son of the Attican hero Sounios. There is another version which claims that the name Sifnos came from the Greek adjective “Sifnos” that means “empty”, originating from a time when the island was completely destroyed and therefore “empty”!

3000 BC In early Bronze Age it is believed that settlers from Asia Minor came to the island and fused with earlier Neolithic occupants, Carians and Phoenicians, to develop what is known as the Early Cycladic culture. However, due to the lack of proof on the subject, the prevailing theory is that the island was first inhabited by the Aegeans, who belonged to the Mediterranean race and the Cretans who joined them.

1600 BC During the Late Bronze Age Sifnos was under the cultural and commercial authority of the Minoans of Crete. It is believed that the Cretans founded a town named Minoa, the remains of which are as yet, undiscovered.

In 1400 BC the explosion of Santorini destroyed the major centres of Minoan civilization, the Mycenaeans became the dominant power in the area and used the islands as relay stations to the near east, replacing many of the indigenous people with Greeks.

At about 1100 BC during the dark days of the Dorian Invasion, Sifnos was colonized by Ionians from Attica, led by their chieftain Alkenor who became the islands first sovereign.

In the 8th century BC Greeks began to think of themselves as an ethnic unity. City States began to grow up on the mainland and the islands. Sifnos was under the domination of the neighbouring island of Milos. It was then that Gold was discovered on the island and the inhabitants became quite rich, paving the capital with marble from Paros and building an elaborate treasury in Delphi. It was said that every year the people of Sifnos would present a solid golden egg to the God Apollo. One year, having grown tired of the annual tithe they gave him an egg that was merely plated in Gold. Apollo’s displeasure was shown with the destruction of the Sifnos mines. It was also during this period that Samian pirates plundered the island, with the riches they took, they were able to acquire the island of Hydra for their home. When the mines of Sifnos brought forth no more precious metal the island was reduced to poverty.

In the fifth century BC, Sifnos was part of the Greek alliance of City states that defeated the Persians at Marathon, Salamis and Platea, and subsequently swore an oath of alliance with the Athenians and became a part of the “Delian League”.

Following the Peloponnesian Wars of 461 and 431 BC came a period of many changes in the control of Sifnos, first in 338 BC, Sifnos was ruled by Phillip of Macedonia followed by the Persians, until they were expelled by a squadron of Alexander the Greats’ troops. After the death of Alexander, his empire was divided among his generals; Sifnos came under the control of the Ptolemies of Egypt.

In 146 BC Sifnos fell to the Romans and the Cyclades became a Roman province with trade links to many parts of the Mediterranean, bringing prosperity to the islands. By 395 AD the Roman Empire was split into two entities, the eastern and the western, with Sifnos and the rest of the Cycladic islands coming under the influence of the eastern half with its capital in Constantinople.

Following the plunder and destruction of Constantinople in 1204, the Franks gave the Cyclades to Venice, which in turn parcelled the islands out to opportunistic aristocrats. The most powerful of these was Marco Sanudo, the self-styled Duke of Naxos and nephew of the chief magistrate of Venice, who in 1207 acquired Sifnos together with the islands of Naxos, Paros, Ios, Santorini, Anafi, Milos, Amorgos and Folegandros.

In 1261 Sifnos became part of the Greek empire of Nicea and in 1307 a Spaniard named Antonio da Corogna declared himself Lord of Sifnos and ruled it from the town of Kastro. Later, in 1456, the island was given as a dowry to Nicolas Gozzadino of Bologna, uniting two aristocratic families.

In 1537 Suleiman the Magnificent ordered Kapitan Pasha Khaireddin Barbarossa to fight the Venetians in the Aegean. He expelled the Gozzadini forcing the people of Sifnos to buy their safety with an annual tribute but the Cycladic islands became a backwater and Sifnos together with the other islands became prone to Arab, Venetian, Frank and Byzantine pirate raids leading to massive depopulation.

In 1568 the Gozzadini once again took possession of Sifnos.

In 1617 the Turks took back Sifnos once again and ruled until 1830 except for a short period, during the Russo-Turkish War (1768-74), when it was occupied by the Russian fleet.

During the rebellion of 1821 when the Greeks rose to free themselves of Turkish domination, the island sent a contingent of fighters under Nikolas Chrysogelas to join the rebellion. In response the Turkish Pasha moored his fleet in Sifnos. Greeks defeated the Turks with the help of the great powers in the Battle of Navarino.

In 1829 Greece became a sovereign state under the protection of the Great Powers.

Sifnos's History at a Glance