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Aegina (ΑΙΓΙΝΑ in Greek), one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, 31 miles (50 km) from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina, the mother of Aeacus, who was born in and ruled the island. In shape Aegina is triangular, eight miles (13 km) long from northwest to southeast, and six miles (15 km) broad, with an area of about 41 square miles (106 km²). Two thirds of Aegina constitute an extinct volcano. The northern and western side consist of stony but fertile plains, which are well cultivated and produce luxuriant crops of grain, with some cotton, vines, almonds, olives and figs, but the most characteristic crop of today (1990s) Aegina is the pistachio. The southern volcanic part of the island is rugged and mountainous, and largely barren. Its highest rise is the conical Mount Oros in the south, and the Panhellenian ridge stretches northward with narrow fertile valleys on either side. From the absence of marshes the climate is the most healthy in Greece.

The island forms part of the modern Uomos of Attica and Boeotia, of which it forms an eparchy. The sponge fisheries are of considerable importance. The capital is the town of Aegina, situated at the northwestern end of the island, the summer residence of many Athenian merchants. Capo d'Istria (1776-1831) had a large building erected intended for a barracks, which was subsequently used as a museum, a library and a school. The museum was the first institution of its kind in Greece, but the collection was transferred to Athens in 1834. A statue in the principal square commemorates him. Aegina is also a great place for holidays, you will find many vacation rentals spread around the island, there are hotels, studios and apartments some of which you can book through our website.


Athena from the east pediment of the Aphaea temple in AeginaThe archaeological interest of Aegina is centred in the well-known temple on the ridge near the northern corner of the island. Excavations were made on its site in 1811 by Baron Haller von Hallerstein and the English architect C. R. Cockerell, who discovered a considerable number of the sculptures from the pediment, which was bought in 1812 by the crown prince Louis of Bavaria; the groups were set up in the Glyptothek at Munich after the figures had been restored by Bertel Thorvaldsen. His restoration was somewhat drastic, the ancient parts being cut away to allow of additions in marble, and the new parts treated in imitation of the ancient weathering.

Various conjectures were made as to the arrangement of the figures. That according to which they were set up at Munich was in the main suggested by Cockerell; in the middle of each pediment was a figure of Athena, set well back, and a fallen warrior at her feet; on each side were standing spearmen, kneel ing spearmen and bowmen, all facing towards the centre of the composition; the corners were filled with fallen warriors. In 1901 Professor Adolf Furtwangler began a more systematic excavation of the site, and the new discoveries he then made, together with a fresh and complete study of the figures and fragments in Munich, have led to a rearrangement of the whole, which, if not certain in all details, may be regarded as approaching finality. According to this the figures of combatants do not all face towards the centre, but are broken up, as in other early compositions, into a series of groups of two or three figures each.

A figure of Athena still occupies the centre of each pediment, but is set farther forward than in the old reconstruction. On each side of this, in the western pediment, is a group of two combatants over a fallen warrior; in the eastern pediment, a warrior whose opponent is falling into the arms of a supporting figure; other figures also – the bowmen especially – face towards the angles, and so give more variety to the composition. The western pediment, which is more conservative in type, represents the earlier expedition of Heracles and Telamon against Troy; the eastern, which is bolder and more advanced, probably refers to episodes in the Trojan war. There are also remains of a third pediment, which may have been produced in competition, but never placed on the temple. For the character of the sculptures see Greek Art. The plan of the temple is chiefly remarkable for the asymmetrically placed door leading from the back of the cella into the opisthodomus. This opisthodomus was completely fenced in with bronze gratings; and the excavators believe it to have been adapted for use as an adytum (shrine). It was disputed in earlier times whether the temple was dedicated to Zeus or Athena. Inscriptions found by the recent excavations seem to prove that it must be identified as the shrine of the local goddess Aphaea, identified by Pausanias with Britomartis and Dictynna.

These and further German-Greek excavations in the 1960's and 1970's have laid bare several other buildings, including an altar, early propylaea, houses for the priests and remains of two earlier temples. The present temple probably dates from the time of the Persian Wars. In the town of Aegina itself are the remains of another temple, dedicated to Aphrodite; one column of this still remains standing, and its foundations are fairly preserved. The fundaments of another two temples are known on the island, one of which is on the northern flank of Mt. Oros, today topped by a church.

Ancient History

Aegina, according to Herodotus (v. 83), was a colony of Epidaurus, to which state it was originally subject. The discovery in the island of a number of gold ornaments belonging to the latest period of Mycenaean art suggests the inference that the Mycenaean culture held its own in Aegina for some generations after the Dorian conquest of Argos and Lacedaemon (see A. J. Evans, in Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. xiii. p. 195). It is probable that the island was not dorized before the 9th century BC One of the earliest facts known to us in its history is its membership in the League of Calauria, which included, besides Aegina, Athens, the Minyan (Boeotian) Orchomenos, Troezen, Hermione, Nauplia and Prasiae, and was probably an organization of states which were still Mycenaean, for the oppression of the piracy which had sprung up in the Aegean as a result of the decay of the naval supremacy of the Mycenaean princes.

It follows, therefore, that the maritime importance of the island dates back to pre-Dorian times. It is usually stated on the authority of Ephorus, that Pheidon of Argos established a mint in Aegina. Though this statement is probably to be rejected, it may be regarded as certain that Aegina was the first state of European Greece to coin money. Thus it was the Aeginetes who, within thirty or forty years of the invention of coinage by the Lydians (c. 700 BC), introduced to the western world a system of such incalculable value to trade. The fact that the Aeginetan scale of coins, weights and measures was one of the two scales in general use in the Greek world is sufficient evidence of the early commercial importance of the island. It appears to have belonged to the Eretrian league during the Lelante War; hence, perhaps, we may explain the war with Samos, a leading member of the rival Chalcidian league in the reign of King Amphicrates (Herod. iii. 59), i.e. not later than the earlier half of the 7th century B.C. In the next century Aegina is one of the three principal states trading at the emporium of Naucratis, and it is the only state of European Greece that has a share in this factory (Herod. ii. 178). At the beginning of the 5th century it seems to have been an entrepot of the Pontic grain trade, at a later date an Athenian monopoly (Herod. vii. 147). Unlike the other commercial states of the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., e.g. Corinth, Chalcis, Eretria and Miletus, Aegina founded no colonies. The settlements to which Strabo refers (viii. 376) cannot be regarded as any real exceptions to this statement.

The history of Aegina, as it has come down to us, is almost exclusively a history of its relations with the neighbouring state of Athens. The history of these relations, as recorded by Herodotus (v. 79-89; vi. 49-51, 73, 85-94), involve critical problems of some difficulty and interest. He traces back the hostility of the two states to a dispute about the images of the goddesses Damia and Auxesia, which the Aeginetes had carried off from Epidauros, their parent state. The Epidaurians had been accustomed to make annual offerings to the Athenian deities Athena and Erechtheus in payment for the Athenian olive-wood of which the statues were made. Upon the refusal of the Aeginetes to continue these offerings, the Athenians endeavoured to carry away the images. Their design was miraculously frustrated – according to the Aeginetan version, the statues fell upon their knees – and only a single survivor returned to Athens, there to fall a victim to the fury of his comrades' widows, who pierced him with their brooch-pins. No date is assigned by Herodotus for this old feud; recent writers, e.g. J. B. Bury and R. W. Macan, suggest the period between Solon and Peisistratus, circa 570 BC. It may be questioned, however, whether the whole episode is not mythical. A critical analysis of the narrative seems to reveal little else than a series of aetiological traditions (explanatory of cults and customs, e.g. of the kneeling posture of the images of Damia and Auxesia, of the use of native ware instead of Athenian in their worship, and of the change in women's dress at Athens from the Dorian to the Ionian style.

The account which Herodotus gives of the hostilities between the two states in the early years of the 5th century BC is to the following effect. Thebes, after the defeat by Athens about 507 BC, appealed to Aegina for assistance. The Aeginetans at first contented themselves with sending the images of the Aeacidae, the tutelary heroes of their island. Subsequently, however, they entered into an alliance, and ravaged the sea-board of Attica. The Athenians were preparing to make reprisals, in spite of the advice of the Delphic oracle that they should desist from attacking Aegina for thirty years, and content themselves meanwhile with dedicating a precinct to Aeacus, when their projects were interrupted by the Spartan intrigues for the restoration of Hippias. In 401 BC Aegina was one of the states which gave the symbols of submission (earth and water) to Persia. Athens at once appealed to Sparta to punish this act of medism, and Cleomenes I, one of the Spartan kings, crossed over to the island, to arrest those who were responsible for it. His attempt was at first unsuccessful; but, after the deposition of Demaratus, he visited the island a second time, accompanied by his new colleague Leotychides, seized ten of the leading citizens and deposited them at Athens as hostages.

After the death of Cleomenes and the refusal of the Athenians to restore the hostages to Leotychides, the Aeginetans retaliated by seizing a number of Athenians at a festival at Sunium. Thereupon the Athenians concerted a plot with Nicodromus, the leader of the democratic party in the island, for the betrayal of Aegina. He was to seize the old city, and they were to come to his aid on the same day with seventy vessels. The plot failed owing to the late arrival of the Athenian force, when Nicodromus had already fled the island. An engagement followed in which the Aeginetans were defeated. Subsequently, however, they succeeded in winning a victory over the Athenian fleet. Alf the incidents subsequent to the appeal of Athens to Sparta are expressly referred by Herodotus to the interval between the sending of the heralds in 491 BC and the invasion of Datis and Artaphernes in 490 BC (cf. Herod. vi. 49 with 94). There are difficulties in this story, of which the following are the principal: – (i.) Herodotus nowhere states or implies that peace was concluded between the two states before 481 BC, nor does he distinguish between different wars during this period. Hence it would follow that the war lasted from shortly after 507 BC down to the congress at the Isthmus of Corinth in 481 BC (ii.) It is only for two years (490 and 491) out of the twenty-five that any details are given. It is the more remarkable that no incidents are recorded in the period between Marathon and Salamis, seeing that at the time of the Isthmian Congress the war is described as the most important one then being waged in Greece (Herod. vii. 145). (iii.) It is improbable that Athens would have sent twenty vessels to the aid of the Ionians in 499 BC if at the time she was at war with Aegina. (iv.) There is an incidental indication of time, which points to the period after Marathon as the true date for the events which are referred by Herodotus to the year before Marathon, viz. the thirty years that were to elapse between the dedication of the precinct to Aeacus and the final victory of Athens (Herod. v. 89).

As the final victory of Athens over Aegina was in 458 B.C., the thirty years of the oracle would carry us back to the year 488 BC as the date of the dedication of the precinct and the outbreak of hostilities. This inference is supported by the date of the building of the 200 triremes for the war against Aegina on the advice of Themistocles, which is given in the Constitutiom of Athens as 483-482 B.C. (Herod. vii. 144; Ath. Pol. r2. 7). It is probable, therefore, that Herodotus is in error both in tracing back the beginning of hostilities to an alliance between Thebes and Aegina (c. 507 BC) and in putting the episode of Nicodromus before Marathon. Overtures were unquestionably made by Thebes for an alliance with Aegina c. 507 BC, but they came to nothing. The refusal of Aegina was veiled under the diplomatic form of sending the Aeacidae. The real occasion of the outbreak of the war was the refusal of Athens to restore the hostages some twenty years later. There was but one war, and it lasted from 488 to 481. That Athens had the worst of it in this war is certain. Herodotus had no Athenian victories to record after the initial success, and the fact that Themistocles was able to carry his proposal to devote the surplus funds of the state to the building of so large a fleet seems to imply that the Athenians were themselves convinced that a supreme effort was necessary. It may be noted, in confirmation of this view, that the naval supremacy of Aegina is assigned by the ancient writers on chronology to precisely this period, i.e. the years 490-480 (Eusebius, Chron. Can. p. 337).

In the repulse of Xerxes I it is possible that the Aeginetans played a larger part than is conceded to them by Herodotus. The Athenian tradition, which he follows in the main, would naturally seek to obscure their services. It was to Aegina rather than Athens that the prize of valour at Salamis was awarded, and the destruction of the Persian fleet appears to have been as much the work of the Aeginetan contingent as of the Athenian (Herod. viii. 91). There are other indications, too, of the importance of the Aeginetan fleet in the Greek scheme of defence. In view of these considerations it becomes difficult to credit the number of the vessels that is assigned to them by Herodotus (30 as against 180 Athenian vessels, cf. Greek History, sect. Authorities). During the next twenty years the Philo-laconian policy of Cimon secured Aegina, as a member of the Spartan league, from attack. The change in Athenian foreign policy, which was consequent upon the ostracism of Cimon in 461, led to what is sometimes called the First Peloponnesian War, in which the brunt of the fighting fell upon Corinth and Aegina. The latter state was forced to surrender to Athens after a siege, and to accept the position of a subject-ally (c. 456 B.C.). The tribute was fixed at 30 talents.

By the terms of the Thirty Years' Truce (445 BC) Athens covenanted to restore to Aegina her autonomy, but the clause remained a dead letter. In the first winter of the Peloponnesian War (431 BC) Athens expelled the Aeginetans, and established a cleruchy in their island. The exiles were settled by Sparta in Thyreatis, on the frontiers of Laconia and Argolis. Even in their new home they were not safe from Athenian rancour.1 A force landed under Nicias in 424, and put most of them to the sword. At the end of the Peloponnesian War Lysander restored the scattered remnants of the old inhabitants to the island, which was used by the Spartans as a base for operations against Athens in the Corinthian War. Its greatness, however, was at an end. The part which it plays henceforward is insignificant.

It would be a mistake to attribute the fall of Aegina solely to the development of the Athenian navy. It is probable that the powor of Aegina had steadily declined during the twenty years after Sabamis, and that it had declined absolutely, as well as relatively, to that of Athens. Commerce was the source of Aegina's greatness, and her trade, which appears to have been principally with the Levant, must have suffered seriously from the war with Persia. Her medism in 491 is to be explained by her commercial relations with the Persian Empire. She was forced into patriotism in spite of herself, and the glory won by Salamis was paid for by the loss of her trade and the decay of her marine. The completeness of the ruin of so powerful a state – we should look in vain for an analogous case in the history of the modern world – finds an explanation in the economic conditions of the island, the prosperity of which rested upon a basis of slave-labour. It is impossible, indeed, to accept Aristotle's (cf. Athenaeus vi. 272) estimate of 470,000 as the number of the slave-population; it is clear, however, that the number must have been out of all proportion to that of the free inhabitants. In this respect the history of Aegina does but anticipate the history of Greece as a whole. The constitutional history of Aegina is unusually simple. So long as the island retained its independence the government was an oligarchy. There is no trace of the heroic monarchy and no tradition of a tyrannis. The story of Nicodromus, while it proves the existence of a democratic party, suggests, at the same time, that it could count upon little support.

Pericles called Aegina the eye-sore (leme) of the Peiraeus. The physician Paul of Aegina came from here, and was the most respected medical scholar of the Byzantine Empire for many years.

Modern History

Aegina passed with the rest of Greece under the successive dominations of Macedon, the Aetolians, Attalus of Pergamum and Rome. In 1537 the island, then a prosperous Venetian colony, was overrun and ruined by the pirate Barbarossa (Khair-ed-Din). One of the last Venetian strongholds in the Levant, it was ceded by the Treaty of Passarowitz (1718) to the Turks. In 1826-1828 the town became for two years (Jan. 1828 - Dec. 1829) the first capital of Modern Greece. Today Aegina is a famous tourist destination. It takes about 35 minutes to arrive in Aegina from the Piraus port.

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