Largest island of the Cyclades, E of Paros and S of Delos.
In the 3d and 2d millennia B.C. it was a center of
Cycladic culture and art. The graves of this period, which
are found all over the island, testify to a dense population, but very few remains of houses have been excavated. The graves indicate that Naxos was the chief center for the production of the marble Cycladic idols
which were the forerunners of Greece's great sculpture.
One of the local natural resources was emery, which was
used to smooth the surface of the large-grained Naxian
marble. Naxos was preeminent also in the Mycenaean
period (LH III). The tradition that Dionysos was born
in Naxos (his cult was transferred to Paros, according to
Archilochos), the story of Ariadne, the capture of the
island by the Thracians, the establishment there of the
cult of Otos and Ephialtes, all reflect the importance of
the island at that time.
The Protogeometric and Geometric periods (11th-8th
c. B.C.) are richly represented, but from the 7th c. on
we can follow the development of the island in literary
sources as well. It was a rival of Paros and joined the
Chalkidian forces during the Lelantine war (8th-7th c.
B.C.). With Chalkis, Naxos joined in the colonization of
Sicily, where Naxos (founded 735 B.C.) took its name
from the island. During the war with Paros, which may
be considered a part of the Lelantine war, a Naxian
killed Archilochos. The differing directions taken by their
art illustrate the lack of accord between the two islands,
as well as their respective fields of colonization: Paros
in the Aegean and Naxos in the W. The power of Naxos
during the 7th and 6th c. is witnessed by the number of
Naxian dedications at Delos, but Naxian hegemony over
the Cyclades is unlikely.
The tyrant Lygdamis (ca. 540-524 B.C.), a friend and
ally of the tyrants Peisistratos and Polykrates, put an end
to the aristocratic constitution of Naxos. The ten-year
naval supremacy of the island (thalassocracy) is attributed to him, but his tyranny was ended by the intervention of the Spartans.
Naxos was the first to resist the advance of the Persians, ca. 500 B.C. The Persians were helped by the island's old enemy, Miletos, in their attempted expansion to the W, but Naxos, with luck and strength (8000 hoplites, numerous ships, strong walls, and the betrayal of the Persian plans by Miletos, according to Hdt. 5.28f
) repulsed the attack. The island did not long escape subjection, however, and her city and shrines were destroyed
during the campaign of Datis and Artaphernes in 490
B.C. During Xerxes' campaign the four Naxian ships
joined the Greek fleet. A member of the Athenian Alliance, it was the first city which was subjugated by the Athenians (470) and later received Athenian cleruchies (ca. 450 B.C.).
After the Peloponnesian war, Naxos regained her independence, but had lost the power to pursue her own policies against successive domination by the great powers (Spartans, Athenians, the Hellenistic kings, etc.) in the
Aegean. The island, however, retained a measure of importance because of its situation and size.
The few monuments preserved are scattered throughout the island. The polis lay on a hill commanding the
harbor; the acropolis was probably under the modern
town, Kastro. On the shore to the N (Grotta) portions
of the Cycladic, Mycenaean (LH III) and Geometric
city (several successive layers, all below sea level) are
still being excavated. Inland a part of a square building
ca. 60 m on a side has been uncovered. It has four colonnades on the sides and bases for dedications in front of it. This was perhaps the agora for the city of the Early Hellenistic period. Across the torrent bed, which cuts
off the plain of the lower city, the hill of the Haplomata extends NE. On it is a necropolis notable for its finds, chiefly Cycladic and Mycenaean chamber tombs, in spite of destruction during expansion of the city in
the Late Hellenistic period. A little nearer the shore at
a site called Kaminaki, important finds have been made:
pottery, jewelry, and a part of an archaic kore, from an
unknown shrine. Its building has probably collapsed into
the sea. Finds have demonstrated the existence of a shrine
of Demeter behind and E of the present Gymnaseum of
A huge marble doorway (h. 7.9 m including the lintel,
w. ca. 6 m) has always been visible on the hill called
Palatia left of the modern harbor entrance. Excavation
has shown this to be the door to the cella of an archaic
Ionic temple from the time of Lygdamis (ca. 530 B.C.),
the foundations of which are preserved. It was a peripteral temple with a double colonnade on the short sides
(a form simpler than that of the great dipteral temples
of Ionia) with a pronaos, cella, and opisthodomos, and
it was never finished. During its conversion into an Early
Christian basilica the floor was lowered, and the ancient
flooring was destroyed along with the whole form of the
temple. There is a jamb under a garden wall near the
quarry of Phlerios which resembles those on the hill of
Palatia and was destined for the temple. Very few architectural fragments have been preserved. The temple may have been dedicated to Apollo.
Not far from the city, in the little valley of the
Phlerios near the village of Melanes, among the marble
rocks on the slope lies a kouros, ca. 5 m long, dating to
the early years of the 6th c. B.C., which was abandoned
shortly before the work was completed. There is another
without a face, from the same period, a little higher up.
From this point to Potamia there are numerous marble
At the quarry on the N end of the island, on the promontory of Apollo, there is a colossal archaic statue (h. 10.05 m) a little above the sea. It still occupies the spot where work on it was begun. It is a male, bearded,
clothed figure with right hand extended. It dates from
ca. 570 B.C. and may represent Dionysos. The area is
dedicated to Apollo, as is evident on a rock-cut inscription a short distance away: “Boundary of Apollo's sacred territory.”
At the site called Gyroulas or Marmara, near the village of Sangri, are the remains of a square temple (13 m on a side) which was transformed into an Early Christian basilica. It was lengthened by an apse at the E, the
entrance was moved from the S to the N side, the floor
was lowered, and the inner columns moved down from
the original stylobate into two rows of depressions cut
in the living rock (these depressions may have belonged
to an earlier building period). Three columns of each
row can be made out, and each row was terminated at
either end by a parastade of a simpler type than in the
doorway at Palatia. The column bases are preserved,
each with a two-banded scotia, also numerous fragments
of the superstructure (beams, geison, etc.). The temple
was square in plan, with a round bothros in front, and
numerous dedicatory inscriptions which indicate the temple should be interpreted as a Thesmophorion.
On a second acropolis at Epano Kastro is a Venetian
fortress; under its S side is a portion of an ancient wall.
This acropolis is probably connected with a series of
tombs of the Protogeometric and Geometric periods close
to the nearby town of Tsikalario. Beside the tombs are
huge, upright, unworked stones (marking stelai or stelai
About a three-hour drive SE of Philoti is the almost
completely preserved round tower of Cheimarros. Most
of the Cycladic tombs of the island have been found in
the now uninhabited SE area of Naxos, but only minimal
signs of Cycladic dwellings. There is a square granite
tower in the area of Plaka near Agiersani.
The museum of the city of Naxos has been much enriched by recent excavations, most notably its collection
of Cycladic, Mycenaean, and archaic remains (pottery
and plastic arts). A smaller museum at Apeiranthon
houses Cycladic idols and pottery of the area, curious
stones, and primitive carvings.
G. Colonna s.v. Nasso, EAA
R. Herbst s.v. Naxos, 5 RE
(1935); Temple on Palatia:
G. Gruben & W. Koenigs, AA
(1968) 693ff; (1970)
135ff; Unfinished Kouroi: C. Blümel, Bildhauerarbeit
(1927) 5f; V. Massow, AA
(1932) 264 (inscription to
Apollo); Sanctuary of Demeter at Sangri: Praktika
(1954) 330ff; Tower of Cheimarros: Γ. Δὴμητροκάλλης, Ὁ ἀρχαιοελληνικός πύργος τοῦ Χειμάρρου στή Ναξο, Τεχνικά Χρονικά
Archil. frag. 115 Anth. Lyr
. = PGL
II 388, 17; Hom.
Hymni I 44
; Herod. 1.61.64, 5.28-34, 6.95, 8.46.
N. M. KONTOLEON