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THERA (Θήρα, Ion. Θήρη: Eth. Θηραῖος: Santorin), an island in the Aegaean sea, and the chief of the Sporades, is described by Strabo as 200 stadia in circumference, opposite the Cretan island of Dia, and 700 stadia from Crete itself. (Strab. x. p.484.) Pliny places Thera 25 Roman miles S. of Ios (4.12. s. 23). Thera is said to have been formed by a clod of earth thrown from the ship Argo, to have received the name of Calliste, when it first emerged from the sea, and to have been first inhabited by the Phoenicians, who were left there by Cadmus. Eight generations afterwards it was colonised by Lacedaemonians and Minyae under the guidance of the Spartan Theras,the son of Autesion, who gave his name to the island. (Hdt. 4.147, seq.; Pind. P. 4.457; Callin. ap. Strab. viii. p.347, x. p. 484; Apollon. 4.1762; Paus. 3.1.7, 3.15.6, 7.2.2.) Its only importance in history is owing to its being the mother-city of Cyrene in Africa, which was founded by Battus of Thera in B.C. 631. (Hdt. 4.150, seq.) At this time Thera contained seven districts [p. 2.1158]χῶροι, Hdt. 4.153.) Ptolemy (3.15.26) has preserved the names of two places, Eleusin or Eleusis, and Oea; and a third, called Melaenae, occurs in an inscription. (Böckh, Inscr, no 2448.) Like Melos, Thera sided with the Lacedaemonians at the commencement of the Peloponnesian War (Thuc. 2.9), but of its subsequent history we have no information.

Thera and the surrounding islands are remarkable as having been the scene of active volcanic operations in ancient as well as in modern times. In consequence of the survey made by command of the English Admiralty, we now possess precise information respecting these islands, the result of which, with additional particulars, is given by Lieutenant Leycester in a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, from which the following account is chiefly taken. Thera, now called Santorin, the largest of the group, has been likened in form to a horse-shoe; but a crescent with its two points elongated towards the west would be a more exact description. The distance round the inner curve is 12 miles, and round the outer 18, making the coast-line of the whole island 30 miles: its breadth is in no part more than 3 miles. Opposite to Thera westward is Therasia, which still bears the same name. (Strab. i. p.57, v. p. 484; Steph. B. sub voce Θηρασία; Ptol. 3.15.28; Plin. Nat. 2.87, s. 89, 4.12. s. 70.) Its circuit is 7 1/2 miles, its length from N. to S. about 2 1/2 miles, and its breadth a mile. About 1 3/4 mile S. of Therasia, lies Aspronisi, or White Island, only a mile in circuit, and so called from being capped with a deep layer of pozzolana; the name of this island is not mentioned by the ancient writers. These three islands, Thera, Therasia, and Aspronisi, enclose an expanse of water nearly 18 miles in circumference, which is in reality the crater of a great volcano. The islands were originally united, and were subsequently separated by the eruption of the crater. In the centre of this basin three volcanic mountains rise, known by the name of Kamméni or the Burnt, (καμμένη, i. e. καυμένη instead of κεκαύμενη), and distinguished as the Palaea or Old, the Nea or New, and the Mikra or Little. It was formerly asserted that the basin was unfathomable, but its depth and shape have been clearly ascertained by the soundings of the English Survey. Supposing the basin could be drained, a gigantic bowl-shaped cavity would appear, with walls 2449 feet high in some places, and nowhere less than 1200 feet high, while the Kamménis would be seen to form in the centre a huge mountain 5 1/2 miles in circumference with three summits, the Palaea Kamméni, the Nea Kamméni, and the Mikra Kamméni, rising severally from the bottom of the abyss to the height of 1606, 1629, and 1550 feet. The rim of the great crater thus exposed would appear in all parts unbroken, except at the northern point between Thera and Therasia, where there is a chasm or door into the crater about a mile in width, and 1170 feet in depth midway between the two islands. (See Map, B.) If we now suppose the waters of the Aegaean let in, the edges of the crater, forming the inner curve of Thera and Therasia, rise above the sea from the height of 500 to 1200 feet, and present frightful precipices, of the colour of iron dross, except where their summits are capped with a deep layer of pozzolana. The Palaea Kamméni is 328 feet above the water; the Nea Kamméni 351 feet; and the Mikra Kamméni 222 feet.

Thera, Therasia, and Aspronisi are all composed of volcanic matter, except the southern part of Thera, which contains Mount Elias, of limestone formation, the peak of which rises 1887 feet above the level of the sea, and is the highest land in the island. This mountain must have been originally a submarine eminence in the bed of the Mediterranean before the volcanic cone was formed (Lyell, Principles of Geology, p. 445, 9th ed.).

The first appearance of the three Kamménis belongs to historical times, and has been narrated by several writers. The Nea Kamméni, which is the largest of the group, did not emerge till the year 1707; but the other two were thrown up in ancient times. The exact time of their appearance, however, is differently related, and it is difficult, and in some cases impossible, to reconcile the conflicting statements of ancient writers upon the subject. It appears certain that the oldest of these islands is the most southerly one, still called the Palaea or Old Kamméni. It burst out of the sea in B.C. 197, and received the name of Hiera, a name frequently given in antiquity to volcanic mountains. This fact is stated by Eusebius, Justin, Strabo, and Plutarch. It is related by Strabo that flames burst out of the sea for four days, and that an island was formed 12 stadia or 1 1/2 English mile in circumference. (Euseb. Chron. p. 144, Olymp. 145. 4; Justin, 30.4; Strab. i. p.57; Plut. de Pyth. Or. 11. p. 399.) The unanimous statement of these four writers is, however, at variance with that of Pliny (2.87. s. 89), who says “that in the 4th year of the 135th Olympiad [B.C. 237] there arose Thera and Therasia; between these islands, 130 years later [B.C. 107], Hiera, also called Automate; and 2 stadia from the latter, 110 years [A.D. 3] afterwards, in the consulship of M. Junius Silanus and L. Balbus, on the 8th of July, Thia.” In another passage he says (4.12. s. 23): “Thera, when it first emerged from the sea, was called Calliste. Therasia was afterwards torn away from it; between the two there presently arose Automate, also called Hiera; and in our age Thia near Hiera.” Seneca refers apparently to the events mentioned by Pliny, when he states (Qu. Nat. 2.26), upon the authority of Posidonius, that an island arose in the Aegaean sea “in the memory of our ancestors” (majorum nostrorum memoria), and that the same thing happened a second time “in our memory” (nostra memoria) in the consulship of Valerius Asiaticus [A.D. 46]. (Comp. Qu. Nat. 6.21.)

According to the preceding statements there would have been five different eruptions of islands in the space of little more than 200 years. First Thera and Therasia themselves appeared in B.C. 237, according to Pliny; secondly Hiera, according to Eusebius, Justin, Strabo, and Plutarch, in B.C. 197; thirdly Hiera or Automate, according to Pliny, 130 years later than the first occurrence, consequently in B.C. 107; fourthly, according to Pliny, 110 years afterwards, Thia, that is in A.D. 3; fifthly, according to Seneca and other writers, who will be mentioned presently, an island in the reign of the emperor Claudius, A.D. 46.

Now it is evident that there is some gross error in the text of Pliny, or that he has made use of his authorities with a carelessness which is not unusual with him. The most surprising thing is, that he has omitted the eruptions of the islands in B.C. 197 and A.D. 46, which are guaranteed by several authorities. His statement that Thera and Therasia first appeared in the 4th year of the 135th Olympiad, [p. 2.1159]i. e. B.C. 237, is absurd, as they are mentioned by Callinus and Herodotus, and must have existed even long before the time of those writers; but if we suppose a slight error in the numerals in the text of Pliny (reading “Olympiadis cxxxxv anno quarto” instead of. “Olympiadis cxxxv anno quarto.” ), we have the very year (B.C. 197) in which Eusebius and Justin place the appearance of Hiera. There can be little doubt, therefore, that Pliny's authorities referred to this event, and that it was only through carelessness that he spoke of the appearance of Thera and Therasia in that year. Thus the first statement of Pliny may be reconciled with the accounts of Eusebius, Justin, and the other writers. The appearance of the second island, to which he falsely transfers the name of Hiera from the earlier occurrence, must be placed in B.C. 67, according to the corrected chronology. This. island no longer exists; and it must. therefore either have been thrown up and disappeared again immediately, as was the case in the eruption of 1650, or it was simply an addition to the ancient Hiera, of which there are some instances at a later period. It is apparently to this eruption that the statement of Posidonius, quoted by Seneca, refers. The last statement of Pliny that a new island, named Thia, was thrown up 2 stadia from Thia in the consulship of M. Junius Silanus and L. Balbus, on the 8th. of July, is so exact that it seems hardly possible to reject it; but here again is an error in the date. If we take the numbers as they stand, this event would have happened in A.D. 3, or, according to the corrected numbers, in A.D. 43, whereas we know that M. Junius Silanus and L. Balbus were consuls in A.D. 19. No other writer, however, speaks of an eruption of an island in this year, which, if it actually happened, must again have disappeared. Moreover, it is strange that Pliny should have passed over the eruption of the real Thia, or Mikra Kamméni, which occurred in his lifetime, in the consulship of Valerius Asiaticus, and in

MAP OF THERA AND THE SURROUNDING ISLANDS. MAP OF THERA AND THE SURROUNDING ISLANDS., A. Shoal formed by the submarine volcanic eruption in 1650.

B. Entrance to the crater.

C. Mount Elias.

D. Messa-Vouno and ruined city, probably Thera.

E. Submarine ruins at Kamari, probably Oea.

F. Ruins at Perissa.

G. C. Exomiti.

H. Ruins, probably of Eleusis.

I. Modern capital Thera or Phira.

K. Promontory of Skaro.

L. Merovouli.

M. Epanomeria.

N. C. Kolumbo.

[p. 2.1160]

the reign of Claudius, A.D. 46. This event, with the difference of only a single year, is mentioned by several writers. (Senec. Qu. Nat. 2.26, 6.21; D. C. 60.29; Aurel. Vict. Caes. 4, Epit. 4; Oros. 7.6; Amm. Marc. 17.7; Georg. Cedren. i. p. 197, ed. Par.) Moreover Pliny himself, in another passage (4.12. s. 23), says that Thia appeared in our age ( “in nostro aevo” ), which can hardly apply to the consulship of Silanus and Balbus, since he was not born till A.D. 23.

In A.D. 726, during the reign of Leo the Isaurian, Hiera, or the Palaea Kamméni, received an augmentation on the NE. side. (Theoph. Chronogr. p. 338, ed. Paris.; Cedren. i. p. 454, ed. Paris.; Nicephor. p. 37, ed. Par.) There have been several eruptions in modern times, of which a full account is given by Lieut. Leycester and Ross. Of these one of the most important was in 1573, when the Mikra Kamméni is said to have been formed. But as we have already seen from several authorities that an island was formed in the reign of Claudius, A.D. 46, we must suppose either that the last-mentioned island sunk into the sea at some unknown period, and made its appearance a second time as the Mikra Kamméni in 1573, or that there was only an augmentation of the Mikra Kamméni this year. The latter supposition is the more probable, especially since Father Richard, who records it, was not an eye-witness, but derived his information from old people in the island. There was another terrible eruption in 1650, which Father Richard himself saw. It broke out at an entirely different spot from all preceding eruptions, outside the gulf, off the NE. coast of Thera, about 3 1/2 miles from C. Kolumbo, in the direction of Ios and Anydros. This submarine outbreak lasted about three months, covering the sea with pumice, and giving rise to a shoal, which was found by the English Survey to have 10 fathoms water over it. (See map, A.) At the same time the island of Thera was violently shaken by earthquakes, in which many houses were overthrown, and a great number of persons and animals were killed by the pestilential vapours emitted from the volcano. The sea inundated the flat eastern coast of the island to the extent of two Italian miles inland. The ruins of two ancient towns at Perissa and Kamari were disinterred, the existence of which was previously unknown, and which must have been overwhelmed by some previous eruption of volcanic matter. The road also, which then existed round Cape Messa-Vouno, was sunk beneath the waters.

For the next 50 years, or a little longer, the volcanic fires slept, but in 1707 they burst forth with redoubled fury, and produced the largest of the three burnt islands, the Nea Kamméni. It originally consisted of two islands. The first which rose was called the White Island, composed of a mass of pumice extremely porous. A few days afterwards there appeared a large chain of dark rocks, composed of brown trachyte, to which the name of the Black Island was given. These two islands were gradually united; and in the course of the eruptions, the black rocks became the centre of the actual island, the Nea Kamméni. The White Island was first seen on the 23rd of May, 1707, and for a year the discharges of the volcano were incessant. After this time the eruptions were less frequent; but they continued to occur at intervals in 1710 and 1711; and it was not till 1712 that the fires of the volcano became extinct. The island is now about 2 1/2 miles in circuit, and has a perfect cone at its SE. side, which is 351 feet high. From 1712 down to the present day there has been no further eruption.

There are several thermal and mineral springs at Thera and the surrounding islands, of which Lieut. Leycester gives an account, and which are more fully described by Landerer in the treatise entitled Περὶ τῶν ἐν Θήρᾳ (Σαντορήνῃ) θερμῶν ὑδάτων, Athens, 1835. The most important are the iron springs in a bay on the SE. side of Nea Kamméni. There are springs on the NE. side of Palaea Kamméni, likewise near Cape Exomiti in the south of Thera, and at other places. Fresh water springs are very rare at Thera, and are only found round Mount Elias springing from the limestone. The inhabitants depend for their supply of water upon the rain which they catch in the tanks during the winter.

The principal modern town of the island is now called Thera, or Phira, and is situated in the centre of the curve of the gulf. When Tournefort visited Thera, the capital stood upon the promontory Skaro, a little to the N. of the present capital, and immediately under the town of Merovouli. The promontory Skaro projects about one third of a mile into the sea; and upon it are the remains of a castle built by the dukes of Naxos. The chief town in the island, after the capital, is Epanomeria, on the NW. promontory, and directly opposite to Therasia. As space is of the utmost value in this small island, all the principal towns are built upon the very edge of the cliffs, and present a very singular appearance, perched in some cases more than 900 feet above the sea. Wood being very scarce, the houses are excavated in the face of the vast beds of pozzolana. In order to make approaches to the towns upon the cliffs, the inhabitants have cut zig-zag stairs or roads in the sides of the precipices. The road upon the summit runs along the edge of the precipices, and, in many cases, over the habitations, which are built in the face of them. The population of the island in 1848 was about 14,000, and, including Therasia, about 14,380. In the time of Tournefort there were 10,000 inhabitants, so that the increase has been nearly a third in about 150 years. The island is carefully cultivated; and the chief production is wine, which is mostly exported to the Russian ports in the Black Sea.

The antiquities of the island have been explained at length by Ross and Lieut. Leycester. There are remains of an ancient city situated on the SE. point of the island, upon the summit of Messa-Vouno, a mountain about 1100 feet above the level of the sea, connected with Mount Elias by the ridge of the Sellada. The mountain of Messa-Vouno slopes suddenly off to the precipices on the NE. side, which rise perpendicularly 600 feet above the water and form the cape of the same name. The walls exhibit masonry of all ages, from the most ancient Cyclopean to the regular masonry of later times. The walls may still be traced, and enclose a circuit of only seven-tenths of a mile; but the houses appear to have been built terrace-fashion upon the side of the hill. Several inscriptions, fragments of sculpture, and other antiquities, have been discovered here. The name of this city has been a subject of some dispute. In an inscription found below Messa-Vouno, at Kamari, in the church of St. Nicholas, the name Oea occurs, which, as we have already seen, is one of the two towns mentioned by Ptolemy. But in an inscription upon some steps cut out of the rock of Messa-Vouno we find Θήρα πόλις. Ross, however, does not consider this to be a proof that [p. 2.1161]Thera was the name of tile city spposing that πόλις here signifies only the political community of the Theraeans. On the other hand, it was so usual for the islands of the Aegaean to possess a capital of the same name, that, taken in connection with the inscription last mentioned, it is probable, either that Ptolemy has accidentally omitted the name of the capital, or that in his time the Theraeans had removed from the lofty site at Messa-Vouno to Oea upon the sea-coast at Kamari, where submarine ruins still exist. Upon the other or S. side of the Cape Messa-Vouno, at Perissa, there are also so many ancient remains as to lead us to suppose that this was the site of an ancient city, but no inscription has been discovered to give a clue to its name. Upon either side of the mountain of Messa-Vouno there are numerous tombs.

South of Perissa is C. Exomiti, and a little to the N. of this cape there are the remains of an ancient city, which is probably the Eleusis of Ptolemy. Here are the ruins of a mole under water, and upon the side of the mountain many curious tombs. There are likewise some ruins and tombs at C. Kolumbo, in the NE. of the island, which Ross conjectures may be the site of Melaenae. The island of Therasia possessed a town of the same name (Ptol. 3.15.28), the ruins of which were discovered by Ross opposite Epunomeria in Thera. (Besides the earlier writers, such as Tournefort and others, the reader is particularly referred to Ross, Reisen auf den Griechischen Inseln, vol. i. pp. 53, seq., 86, seq., 180, seq.; and Lieut. Leycester, Some Account of the Volcanic Group of Santorin or Thera, in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, vol. xx. p. 1, seq.)

hide References (11 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (11):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.147
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.150
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.153
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.15.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.1.7
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7.2.2
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.9
    • Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 4.1762
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 2.87
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 2.4
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 17.7
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