AskDefine | Define melos

Extensive Definition

Milos (in Greek, Μήλος — not related to the modern word μήλο – milo = "apple", which has the same spelling excluding the trailing sigma), formerly Melos, and before the Athenian massacre and recolonization in 416 BC, Malos, is a volcanic Greek island in the Aegean Sea.
The island is famous for the statue of Aphrodite (now in the Louvre), and also for statues of the Greek god Asclepius (now in the British Museum) and the Poseidon and an archaic Apollo in Athens. The Municipality of Milos also includes the uninhabited offshore islands of Antimilos and Ananes. The combined land area is 160.147 km² and the 2001 census population was 4,771 inhabitants.


The position of Milos, between Greece and Crete, and its possession of obsidian, made it an important centre of early Aegean civilization. At the well-known Bronze Age site of Phylakopi (the chief settlement) on the north-east coast, excavations of the British school revealed a town wall and a Minoan palace with some important and very interesting wall paintings. "The famous fresco of the flying fish found in the ruins of the principal house or palace at Phylakopi, with its delicate coloring and graphic observation of nature in the graceful movement of the fish, seems to be the work of a Cretan artist, who probably was summoned to Milos for the purpose." Part of the site has been washed away by the sea.
The antiquities found were of three main periods, all preceding the Mycenaean age of Greece. Much pottery was found, including examples of a peculiar style, with decorative designs, mostly floral, and also considerable deposits of obsidian. There are some traditions of a Phoenician occupation of Milos.
In historical times, the island was occupied by Dorians from Laconia. In the 6th century BC, it again produced a remarkable series of vases, of large size, with mythological subjects and orientalizing ornamentation, and also a series of terra-cotta reliefs.
Though the Melians sent a contingent to the Greek fleet at Salamis, it held aloof from the Delian League, and sought to remain neutral during the Peloponnesian War. But in 415 BC the Athenians launched an attack to the island and compelled the Melians to surrender, slew all the men capable of bearing arms, made slaves of the women and children, and introduced 500 Athenian colonists. Thucydides made this event the occasion of one of the most impressive of the "speeches" in his history. Written like the others in more complex and difficult Greek than his pellucid narrative, this passage, known as the Melian Dialogue, is a locus classicus for the contest between raison d'état and ethical action, and is the fulcrum at which the state of Athens in his history abandoned the noble ideals with which it had entered the war and began to pursue simply its own self-interest. Lysander restored the island to its Dorian possessors, but it never recovered its former prosperity.
There were many Jewish settlers in Milos in the beginning of the Christian era, and Christianity was introduced early. During the "Frankish" period the island formed part of the Duchy of Naxos, except for the few years (1341-1383) when it was a separate lordship under Marco Sanudo and his daughter. Today's population, about 4700, is considerably less than it was in 1907 (then 4,864 in the commune, 12,774 in the province).


Milos is the southwesternmost island in the Cyclades group, 120 km (75 miles) due east from the coast of Laconia. From east to west it measures about 23 km (14 mi), from north to south 13 km (8 mi), and its area is estimated at 151 km² (58.3 mi²). The greater portion is rugged and hilly, culminating in Mount Profitis Elias 748 m (2454 ft) in the west. Like the rest of the cluster, the island is of volcanic origin, with tuff, trachyte and obsidian among its ordinary rocks. The natural harbour is the hollow of the principal crater, which, with a depth diminishing from 70 to 30 fathoms (130 to 55 m), strikes in from the northwest so as to separate the island into two fairly equal portions (see photo), with an isthmus not more than 18 km (11 miles) broad. In one of the caves on the south coast, the heat from the volcano is still great, and on the eastern shore of the harbour, there are hot sulphurous springs.
Antimelos or Antimilos, 13 miles (20 km) north-west of Milos, is an uninhabited mass of trachyte, often called Erimomilos (Desert Milos). Kimolos, or Argentiera, 1.6 km (1 mi) to the north-east, was famous in antiquity for its figs and fuller's earth, and contained a considerable city, the remains of which cover the cliff of St. Andrew's. Polyaigos (also called Polinos, Polybos or Polivo - alternative spelling Polyaegos) lies 2 km south-east of Kimolos. It was the subject of dispute between the Milians and Kimolians. It is now uninhabited.

Natural resources

Bentonite, perlite, pozzolana and small quantities of kaolin are mined in Milos and sold all over the world. In the past, baryte, sulfur, millstones and gypsum were also mined. In ancient times the alum of Milos was reckoned next to that of Egypt (Pliny xxxv. 15 [52]). The Melian earth was employed as a pigment by ancient artists. Milos was a source of obsidian during the Neolithic ages for the Aegean and Mediterranean. Orange, olive, cypress, tamarisk, juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus) and arbutus trees grow throughout the island, which, however, is too dry to have any profusion of vegetation. Vines, cotton and barley are the main crops.


The harbour town is Adamas; from this there is an ascent to the plateau above the harbour, on which are situated Plaka, the chief town, and Kastro, rising on a hill above it, and other villages. The ancient town of Milos was nearer to the entrance of the harbour than Adamas, and occupied the slope between the village of Tripiti and the landing-place at Klima. Here is a theatre of Roman date and some remains of town walls and other buildings, one with a fine mosaic excavated by the British school at Athens in 1896. Numerous fine works of art have been found on this site, notably the Aphrodite in Paris, the Asclepius in London, and the Poseidon and the archaic Apollo in Athens. Other villages include Triovasalos, Pera Triovasalos, Pollonia and Zefyria (Kampos).

Historical population

Notable people



  • I.F. Stone, 1988, The trial of Socrates, Anthos.
  • Cambridge Ancient History, Vol.II, 1924, New York, MacMillan
  • Colin Renfrew and Malcolm Wagstaff (editors), 1982, An Island Polity, the Archaeology of Exploitation in Melos, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Colin Renfrew (editor), 1985, The Archaeology of Cult, the Sanctuary at Phylakopi, London, British School at Athens and Thames & Hudson.
  • Leycester, "The Volcanic Group of Milo, Anti-Milo, &c.," in Jour. Roy. Geog. Soc. (1852).
  • Tournefort, Voyage.
  • Leake, Northern Greece, iii.
  • Prokesch von Osten, Denkwiirdigkeiten, &c.
  • Bursian, Geog. von Griechenland, ii.; Journ. Hell. Stud, xvi., xviL, xviii., Excavations at Phylakopi; Inscr. grace, xii. iii. 197 sqq.;
  • on coins found in 1909, see Jameson in Rev. Num. 1909; 188 sqq.
melos in Breton: Melos
melos in Catalan: Melos
melos in German: Milos
melos in Modern Greek (1453-): Μήλος
melos in Spanish: Milo
melos in Esperanto: Meloso
melos in French: Milo
melos in Galician: Milos - Μήλος
melos in Italian: Milo (Grecia)
melos in Hebrew: מילוס
melos in Luxembourgish: Mílos
melos in Dutch: Melos
melos in Norwegian: Milos
melos in Norwegian Nynorsk: Mílos
melos in Polish: Melos
melos in Portuguese: Milos
melos in Russian: Милос
melos in Finnish: Melos
melos in Swedish: Milos
melos in Chinese: 米洛斯岛
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