Kasos, the southernmost island in the Dodecanese and the closest to Crete, is essentially the last link in the insular chain between Asia Minor and Crete.
The earliest traces of human habitation on the island date from the Final Neolithic/Early Bronze Age (4th and 3rd millennia BC). There are indications of permanent settlement, with strong Minoan influences, at the southwest end of the island, around the safe Khelastros bay, during the Middle and Late Bronze Age (until circa 1450 BC). In Mycenaean times the centre of activity was transferred to the north part of Kasos, to the naturally fortified site of Poli.
Homer, in Rhapsody II of the lliad, mentions Kasos as participating, along with other Dodecanesian islands, in the Trojan War.
In historical times the ancient capital, also called Kasos according to Strabo, remained in the area of Poli, arround the hill of the Mycenaean citadel. Potsherds scattered over the hilltop date from the Final Neolithic/Early Bronze Age to the Early Christian period and attest to the continuous occupation of the site, which together with the strip of land linking it with the harbour at Emboreio constituted the principal settlement core on the island over the centuries.
Kassians are mentioned for the first time in the Athenian Tribute lists of the 5th century BC, while the ethnic Kasos, written in Hellenistic inscriptions from beyond the bounds of the Rhodian state, point to the island's independence in that period. Kassian emissaries (theoroi) are recorded on Delos in 275/4 BC and they are included in the list of independent cities, among which is Rhodes. Nonetheless, the presence of Late Hellenistic inscriptions with Rhodian deme-names indicates the eventual subjection of Kasos to the Rhodian state, which event must have taken place in the first half of the 2nd century BC. On present evidence, it seems that Kasos did not mint its own coinage but used the Rhodian. However, our knowledge of the history of Kasos during the period of incorporation into the Rhodian state, which is attested into Roman times, is limited.
During the Roman and Early Christian periods the main settlement on the island was apparently transferred to the coast around Emboreio bay, where there are traces of two Early Christian basilicas. Another two basilicas stood at Maritsa, to the east, while a fifth should be sought in the area of Panagia. The concentration of large public buildings of luxurious construction bears witness to the island's prosperity in Early Christian times.
With the division of the Roman empire into provinces, in the reign of Diocletian (AD 284-305), Kasos was assigned to the XXVIII Provincia, the governor of which was based in Rhodes, to which the Episcopal Sees were subject too. With the division of the Byzantine state into Themata, however, Kasos was detached from the XVIII Thema of Kibyrrhaiotoi and included in the Thema of Crete. Information about the island in Byzantine and Medieval times is scant.
In 1207 the island was captured by the Venetians occupying Crete. In 1311 it was taken by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, but following the intervention of the pope, Kasos and Karpathos were returned to the possession of Venice in 1315, so remaining until 1537, when they were conquered by the Ottomans.
Suleiman the Magnificent granted the Kasians self-government, in return for an annual tax (maktu) of 1,000 grossi. Kasos is referred to as a deserted island by travellers in the 16th century. Nonetheless, it was repopulated, as borne out by patriarchal documents of 1622, mentioning that it was removed from the Archbishopric of Karpathos and became a patriarchal eparchy, which was ceded to the patriarchal official Hyaleas. The new settlements of Arvanitochori and St. Marina were built inland, because of fear of raids by pirates, who from before the Sack of Constantinople (1204) and for the ensuing five centuries were the scourge of the islands. Throughout the centuries life continued in the settlement around the acropolis of Poli.
DESTRUCTION OF KASOS
Hussein after the crash of Greek revolution in Crete, plans on May 1824, the total destruction of Kasos, 20 miles far from Siteia and that because Kasian boats have caused serious damages to the Turkish-Egyptian navy and the heroic border island could become a base of operations and campaigns of exiled Cretans. Kasian navy has transferred 600 Cretans with chiefs Dimitris Kourmoulis and Astrinos at the proud rocky island.
Kasians from years of Napoleon came in touch with the charm of sea and the wealth it’s hiding at its guts. They became ship masters and dealt with trade in Alexandria. They made a lot of money. Kasos was very famous.
At the revolution of ’21 desolated Kasos has a navy which numbers 100 ships that outfits heavily. Magical air of Freedom come to Kasos and flutters the spirit of shipmen. They raise revolutionary flags.
They are making traps at the passages and confiscate English and French merchandises that have as destination the coast of Minor Asia. They are also crushing or capturing Turkish ships that dare to pull out in the open sea. They are warning that the Greek state will pay the foreclosings.
Nevertheless Turks allying with Mohamed Ali of Egypt due to their weakness of vanquishing revolutionized Greeks. Thus on 18th January 1824 squadron with 14 Egyptians ships pass out of the island and cannoning but Kasians reply with heavy fires. Heroic Kasians feel the danger and ask help from Greek government, without it doing something.
May with its perfumes makes the island smells sweetly. But the air comes silent and mystic. The island is out of money and the tremendous kasian navy can’t take action. The heroic Kasians are looking the sea during the day. They hope that Greek battleships from Hydra will bring good news but in vain. At night they are looking the sky and the stars. They are begging for mercy and their smooth light greatens their souls. Women and children are going to churches, but also Saint’s faces are silent. Their one and only hope is bravery. Men, teens and old people demand from themselves self-sacrifice. Freedom needs blood.
On 14th May 1824 birds stop singing and the light wave stops its erotic song. A squadron of Egyptian navy has appeared. Souls are steeled. The border island that is singing the song of freedom and is heard up to the edge of Mediterranean is in fever of war. Powerful firearms are placed at beaches and Cretans along with Kasians take their positions at bastions, while women and children go to the upper.
On 27th May the rest Egyptian navy appears. Chief is Ishmael Gibraltar with 25 battleships, up to 40 transports and 4.000 Albanians in his own. The flesh of sea trebles. The air remains silent. The yell of freedom cuts the sky and God blesses the heroic souls. For three days the heroic island sustains fire and steel but doesn’t give up. “Oh God, see how Greeks are fighting and bless the steps of their Freedom.”
But which nightmare guided at unguarded path Turks and Albanians? Was it scorner Zaharias? Thousands people of the enemy disembark at the back of heroic fighters. A lot of Cretans are helped to escape, souls are needed for other fights. Kasos, the proud border island is on fire and women with children are taken by Turks and Albanians.
Oh God, why this curse to our race. One thousand of Kasians died, but so many women and children have been killed. Fresh Kasian women have been captured. Kasos is a mass of burnings. Freedom goes around the island, at a timeless altar of sacrifice for its priceless name.
The recent history of Kasos is characterized by periods of prosperity as well as by major catastrophes. From early times the inhabitants of this barren island turned to the sea and succeeded in enhancing Kasos as a flourishing maritime and mercantile centre. In the second half of the 17th century Kasos had 80-100 sailing ships, whose activities brought home significant profits. By the early 19th century, the Kasiot fleet of trading vessels numbered some 700, which were later turned into warships for the needs of the Greek Struggle for Independence.
1818: Kasos becomes a member of the Philike Hetaireia (Friendly Society).
1821: Kasos has a population of about 8,000. In April, revolutionary activity commences. In July, the Kasiot fleet fights for the liberation of Crete, and Kasos become a refuge for many Cretan civilians. It is then that the Egyptians decide to destroy the island.
1824: The Destruction of Kasos. The Egyptians invade the island, which is looted, ravaged and left deserted for a long period of time.
1829: Kasos temporarily under Greek governance. Those Kasiots who survived the destruction begin gradually to return to the island, whose economy is based on the few ships that have remained.
1830: After the end of the Greek War of Independence, Kasos remains under Ottoman rule, under the terms of the London Protocol.
1843: The Kasiot merchant fleet numbers over 75 ships.
1859: Many Kasiots emigrate to Egypt, to work on the construction of the Suez Canal.
1866: A new wave of emigrants from Kasos to Egypt.
1890: The countdown begins for the Kasiot sailing ships, after the development of stream-powered ships.
1908: Greek labourers on the Suez Canal found the “Phoenix” Mutual Assistance Society, which operated with the participation of many Kasiots, until 1918.
1912: The Italians capture Kasos, which was until then under Ottoman Occupation.
1914: World War I. Thriving Kasiot shipping suffers great losses in ships and manpower.
1919: 27 July. Venizelos-Tittoni Accord. Italy resigns her rights in the Dodecanese. Only Rhodes remains under Italian Occupation.
1920: July. The new Italian government headed by Giolitti denounces the agreement. 10 August. Treaty of Sevres on the Dodecanese. This treaty was to come into force after Turkey’s ratification of the Peace Treaty of Serves, something which never happened.
1923: Second period of Italian Occupation.
1945: The British in provisional control of the Dodecanese.
1947: The Dodecanese are liberated from the Italians and incorporated in Greece. The liberation is due to the many years of activity of the Central Executive Committee of Dodecanesian Unions, which was founded in Alexandria in 1923. On 7 March the Unification of Kasos with Greece is celebrated.
2001: The population of Kasos, once 12,000 in its heyday, is now only about 1,080.