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MELOS (Μῆλος: Eth. Μήλιος: Milo), an island in the Aegean sea, and the most south-westerly of the Cyclades, whence it was called Zephyria by Aristotle (ap. Plin. 4.12. s. 23; comp. Steph. B. sub voce and was even placed by Strabo in the Cretan sea (x. p. 484). The latter writer says (l.c.) that Melos was 700 stadia from the promontory Dictynnaeum in Crete, and the same distance from the promontory Scyllaeum in Argolis. The island is in reality 70 miles north of the coast of Crete, and 65 miles east of the coast of Peloponnesus. It is about 14 miles in length and 8 in breadth. Pliny and others describe it as perfectly round in shape ( “insularum rotundissima,” Plin. l.c.; Solin. 100.11; Isidor. Orig. 14.6); but it more resembles the form of a bow. On the northern side there is a deep bay, which forms an excellent harbour. The island is said to have borne several names in more ancient times. Besides that of Zephyria given to it by Aristotle, it was also called Memblis by Aristides, Mimallis by Callimachus, Siphis and Acyton by [p. 2.323]Heracleides (Plin. l.c.), and also Byblis by Stephanus B. (s. v. Μῆλος); the latter name is said to have been derived from its receiving a colony from the town of Bybls in Phoenicia. Other writers mention this Phoenician colony, and Festus derives the name of Melos from the founder of the colony. (Fest. s. v. Melos.) Some connect the name with μῆλον, an apple, on account of the round shape of the island. The Phoenician settlement is probable; but we know that it was colonised at an early period by the Lacedaemonians, and that it continued to be inhabited by Dorians down to the time of the Peloponnesian War. According to the Melians themselves, the Lacedaemonians settled in the island 700 years before this war. (Hdt. 8.48; Thuc. 5.84, 112.) In the Peloponnesian War, the Melians remained faithful to their mother city. In B.C. 426, the Athenians made an unsuccessful attempt upon the island; but in 416 they captured the principal town, put all the adult males to death, sold the women and children into slavery, and colonised the island afresh by 500 Athenians. (Thuc. 5.84-116; Diod. 12.80; Strab. l.c.

Melos is now called Milo. It is mountainous and of volcanic origin. Its warm springs, which are now used for bathing, are mentioned in ancient times. (Plin. Nat. 31.6. s. 23; Athen. 2.43.) Pliny says that the best sulphur was found in Melos (35.15. s. 50); and among other products of the island he enumerates alum (35.15. s. 52), pummice-stone (36.21. s. 42), and a bright colour, called Melinum pigments (35.6. s. 19; comp. Vitr. 7.7; Diosc. 5.180; Plaut. Most. 1.3. 107). The mines of alum are on the eastern side of the island, near a height which emits smoke, and has every appearance of having been a volcano. In the south-western half of the island, the mountains are more rugged and lofty; the highest summit bears the name of St. Elias. The island produces good wine and olives, but there is not much care taken in the cultivation of the vine. In antiquity Melos was celebrated for its kids. (Athen, i. p. 4.) One of its greatest deficiencies is want of water. The inhabitants of Kastron depend almost exclusively upon cisterns; and the only spring in the vicinity is to the westward of the ancient city, on the sea-side, where is a chapel of St. Nicolas.

In ancient times the chief town in the island was called Melos. It stood upon the great harbour. It is celebrated as the birthplace of Diagoras, surnamed the Atheist. [Dict. of Biogr. art. DIAGORAS.] The town appears to have been small, since it is called by Thucydides a χωρίον, not πόλις; and of the 3000 men who originally composed the Athenian expedition, the smaller half was sufficient to besiege the place. (Thuc. 5.84, 114.) The present capital of Melos is named Kastron, and is situated upon a steep hill above the harbour. The former capital was in the interior, and was deserted on account of its unhealthy situation. Between Kastron and the northern shore of the harbour are the ruins of the ancient town, extending down to the water-side. “On the highest part, which is immediately over-looked by the village, are some remains of polygonal walls, and others of regular masonry with round towers. The western wall of the city is traceable all the way down the hill from the summit to the sea: on the east it followed the ridge of some cliffs, but some foundations remain only in a few places” (Leake). Within the enclosure there is a small hill, on which stand a church of St. Elias and a small monastery, and which perhaps served in antiquity as a kind of acropolis. Here several architectural fragments have boon found. On the southeastern side of the hill are some seats cut out of the rock in a semi-circular form, of which only four remained uncovered when Ross visited the island in 1843. They appear to have been the upper seats of a small theatre or odeum, which was perhaps more ancient than the large theatre mentioned below. In front of these seats is a quadrangular foundation of regular masonry, of which in one part four or five courses remain. About 40 steps eastward of this foundation are the remains of a temple or some other public building, consisting of fragments of a Corinthian capital and part of a cornice. About a hundred steps SW. is the larger theatre, which was cleared from its rubbish in 1836 by the king of Bavaria, then Crown Prince. The nine lowest rows of seats, of white marble, are for the most part still remaining, but the theatre, when entire, extended far up the hill. From the character of its architecture, it may safely be ascribed to the Roman period. There are no other remains of the ancient town worthy of notice.

Eastward of the ancient city is a village named Τρυπητή, from the tombs with which the hill is pierced in every part. Eastward of Τρυπητή is a narrow valley sloping to the sea, which also contains several sepulchral excavations. Some of them consist of two chambers, and contain niches for several bodies. There are, also, tombs in other parts of the island. In these tombs many works of art and other objects have been discovered; painted vases, gold ornaments, arms, and utensils of various kinds. Some very interesting Christian catacombs have also been discovered at Melos, of which Ross has given a description. (Tournefort, Voyage, vol. i. p. 114, Engl. tr.; Tavernier, Voyage, vol. i. p. 435; Olivier, Voyage, vol. ii. p. 217; Leake, Northern Greece vol. iii. p. 77; Prokesch, Denkwürdigkeiten, vol. i. p. 531, vol. ii. p. 200; Fiedler, Reise, vol. ii. p. 369; Ross, Reisen auf den Griechischen Inseln, vol. iii. pp. 3, 145.)


hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.80
    • Herodotus, Histories, 8.48
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.114
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.116
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.112
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.84
    • Plautus, Mostellaria, 1.3
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 7.7
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 31.6
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 2.43
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