According to archaeologists, humankind began to settle in the Cycladic islands at the start of the Late Neolithic Period, which began approximately 5,300 years ago. The oldest known settlement in the Cyclades has been found on the islet of Saliagos, which lies some 500 metres from the village of Antiparos. It has a length of 100 metres (north to south) and a width of 50 metres (east to west). However, because during the Neolithic Period the sea level was at least six metres lower than it is today, Saliagos was then a low peninsula on the isthmus linking Paros and Antiparos.
In 1961, Nikolaos Zafeiropoulos, superintendent of antiquities, became the first to discover traces of the settlement of Saliagos; more findings came to light following the work carried out by British archaeologists John Evans and Colin Renfrew in 1964. The settlement, which covers the entire island and dates to at least the end of the 5th millennium BC approximately, was composed of rectangular dwellings with stone foundations, surrounded by a wall. The task of constructing a defensive wall demands a coordinated collective effort—a fact that proves that in the Cyclades they had already initiated the process that would lead to the foundation of cities during the Early Bronze Age. The inhabitants of the island fashioned their tools and arrowheads from obsidian. It seems, in fact, that the processing of obsidian took place to a much greater extent than that which local needs could account for; based on this information, archaeologists have concluded that the settlement of Saliagos constituted a centre for the processing of and trade in obsidian from Milos. Its inhabitants were also involved in fishing, livestock-raising, the cultivation of cereals, pottery-making and basket-weaving. Spoons made out of mussels, several hoes and other tools made out of bones, vases and figurines have also been found on the islet. Most of the vases unearthed on Saliagos resemble fruit bowls. They are made of dark clay and have a white linear decoration, are open, with an outline that is straight, curved or angled, and have a flat base or, more often, a tall support. Among the figurines found at Saliagos is ‘The Fat Lady of Saliagos,’ the oldest marble figurine discovered to date in the Cyclades. Some of these artefacts can be admired at the Archaeological Museum of Paros. These findings indicate that, even though the Neolithic civilization of the Cyclades presents similarities with its contemporaries—especially that of the Peloponnese—, it exhibits a distinct character in its art.
Unfortunately, few other sites of the so-called ‘Saliagos Civilization’ have survived. Very little is known about both the society and the religious beliefs of these people, or about their origin.
Later, during Early Bronze Age, the Cycladic civilization acquired a much more intense insular character. The 3rd millennium BC witnessed the beginning of the great development of civilization on Paros, Antiparos, and also Despotiko. In 1883, the British archaeologist Bent and the Swann brothers were the first to discover graves on Antiparos, dating to the period 3000-2500 BC, in digs that took place in the areas of Apantima, Soros and Petalides. Findings from these excavations are on display in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Christos Tsountas also carried out digs on Despotiko, discovering two Protocycladic cemeteries in the areas of Livadi and Zoumbaria, and noting the remains of a prehistoric settlement in the area of Heiromyli. He argued that during the 3rd millennium BC, the inhabitants of these two islands lived in small settlements found relatively far from one other. The Greek Archaeological Service conducted more recent research on the islet, in 1959, under Nikolaos Zafeiropoulos, superintendent of antiquities. The research confirmed the size of the Protocycladic settlements and, in addition, brought to light archaeological remains of Archaic and Roman years. A Doric-order temple of white marble, dating to the Historic period, was discovered in the area of Mandra and studied in 1980. Despite all of this, to date the existing data concerning the inhabitation of Despotiko during the Historic period is minimal. For this reason, the discovered sections of a kouros and a half-completed marble head of a small statuette belonging to the third quarter of the 6th century BC—already on display at the Museum of Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art in Athens—are of great importance.
The first inhabitants of Antiparos in ancient times were Phoenicians from Sidon, who were succeeded by various conquerors.
There is a scarcity of information concerning the history of Antiparos during the Byzantine period and up to the beginning of the 13th century; however, what we do know is that throughout this entire period and until the Greek Revolution of 1821, the island suffered from raids by marauders from Algeria, Crete, Mani, Kefallinia and elsewhere. These frequent pirate raids are attested to by both the fluctuations in the local population—which reached the point of an almost complete depopulation of the island—and the remains of the defensive works that various rulers of Antiparos had carried out from time to time, aimed at protecting the inhabitants.
In 1207, Antiparos was occupied by Marco I Sanudo, a nephew of Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice. The former took part in the Fourth Crusade, and was one of the leaders of its diversion from its initial aim—a change that would lead to the disintegration of the Byzantine Empire. With the approval of Venice, Marco I Sanudo occupied the Cyclades, the Sporades and other Aegean islands, establishing the Duchy of the Archipelago, with Naxos as its seat. Antiparos remained under the rule of the House of Sanudo until the second half of the 14th century, at which time the island passed into the hands of the House of Sommaripa, through the marriage of Maria Sanudo—Lady of Andros, Naxos and Antiparos—and Gaspare Sommaripa. Antiparos was densely populated in the early 15th century; it is a well-known fact that it furnished the galleons of the Duke of Naxos with 30 sailors. Later, however, as a result of pirate raids, the island became completely deserted. Cristoforo Buondelmonti, a Florentine monk of the 15th century and among the first Hellenophile travellers to our country, noted in his work Liber insularum Archipelagi that Antiparos had very few inhabitants, and that they were involved in geological activities and livestock-raising. He also reported that the island was full of eagles and hawks.
In 1440, the Lord of Paros and Andros Crusino I Sommaripa gave Antiparos to his daughter Francesca as dowry for her marriage to Leonardo Loredano. Thus, Antiparos became detached from the dominion of the Duke of Naxos and found itself under the control of the powerful Loredano family of Venice. At his own expense, Leonardo Loredano relocated cultivators to Antiparos, and also constructed its famous castle. In 1480, the island passed into the hands of Domenico Pisani and, along with Anafi and Ios, constituted a possession of the Pisani family of Venice. In 1537, Antiparos, along with the rest of the Cyclades, fell into the hands of the Ottomans and the formidable pirate Hayreddin Barbarossa.
Antiparos remained under the Turkish yoke until 1770, when the Russian fleet of the Orlov brothers sailed to the island. During the period 1770-1774, Antiparos and Paros were held by the Russians, but following the Orlov Revolt they came again under the Turkish yoke, until the Greek Revolution of 1821.
During the period of Ottoman rule, Antiparos suffered much destruction, not only on account of raids carried by the conquerors themselves, but also by pirates.
The demise of the notorious French pirate Daniel, a Knight of the Order of Malta, and the dramatic events at Despotiko in 1675 are typical of the living conditions of that period. That year, a naval battle took place between Daniel and Turkish vessels off Despotiko, which the pirate had been using as a base for his operations. The defeated pirate set his vessel ablaze and disembarked at Despotiko along with his band, promising the inhabitants great sums if they were to save him. They, however, placed him in chains and surrendered him to the Turkish contingents. When other pirates including Orange, Honora and Hugo de Crevelier learned of the event, they sailed to the islet, and, after the Turkish vessels had departed, plundered it and slaughtered its inhabitants. The most destructive pirate raid of Antiparos was perhaps the one that took place in 1794, when Kefallonian and Maniot pirates plundered the island and slaughtered or captured most of its inhabitants, among whom was the daughter of the French vice-consul.
The taxation paid by the inhabitants during this period was also unbearable. In 1756, in order to pay their tax, Antipariots were forced to sell the islet of Diplo to Parian Petros Mavrogenis and Myconian Tzortzis Baos, for the sum of 100 rials.
However, during those dark years there was a school on Antiparos, where the children of the island learned to read and write. It was at this school that great men received their first enlightenment in education and religious studies, a list dominated by the likes of Neofytos Mavrommatis, Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Arta, and Ananias, the deacon who taught, in the mid-18th century, at the Patriarchal Academy [Phanar Greek Orthodox College], and is regarded as one of the wisest Teachers of the Great School of the Nation.
The inhabitants of Antiparos were among the first from the Cyclades to take part in the Greek Revolution. In 1823, there was a discussion—which was abandoned –to cede Antiparos, along with Paros, Naxos and Sifnos, to the Knights of St John, in exchange for money. The island officially became a part of the Greek state through the London Protocol of 3 February 1830 and the London Conference of 18 August 1832.
Antiparos also took active part in the Resistance against the Germans during World War Two. The island had been turned into a secret base for the Allies, and Operation Antiparos is a very well-known ‘chapter’ in the history of World War Two, with the arrests and executions of Greek patriots and Allied soldiers that followed in the wake of the operation.