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Icaria (Municipality, Greece)


Last modified: 2014-10-25 by ivan sache
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Presentation of Icaria

Icaria (in the past, Icarius) is an island member of the Anatolian Sporades, aka as Southern Sporades or Dodekanesis, as opposed to the Northern Sporades located closer to mainland Greece. Homer (Iliad 2, 145) writes that the Icarian Sea is the most turbulent part of the Aegean Sea.
The pre-Greek settlers in Icaria are known as Pelasgians and Carians, but very few is known on them. The Greeks entered the Aegean islands 1500 BC and by 1200 BC had taken most of them. However, the first Greek remains in Icaria are much more recent: the lack of harbours and of arable lands probably postponed the colonization of the island. Ikaria was colonized around 750 BC by Greeks from Miletus (Asia Minor), who probably set up a station on the maritime road to their northern colonies in the Propontis. Random historical references to Icaria can be found in the Greek classical literature; an Icarian named Eparchides wrote the history of the island in 350 BC, but his history was mostly an advertising campaign for the local wine.
In the 6th century BC, Icaria was absorbed by the neighbouring city of
Samos and was incorporated into Polycrates' maritime empire. In 490 BC, the Persian army touched upon Icarian shore. After the Greek victory, Icaria joined the Delian League and became renowned for the Pramnian wine. Icaria paid a tribute to Athens, who set up a military colony on the island to watch Samos, which was prone to rebellion. The two main cities of the island, the rich, wine-producing Oenoe and the poor Therma did not seem to have had much contact. The island had then c. 13,000 inhabitants. Its decline started during the Peloponneses War, when the fleet from Sparta landed twice on Icaria. The island was later threatened by pirates, until the two cities of Oenoe and Therma joined the Second Athenian League in 387.

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323, Icaria became a military base; the Drakano tower and the adjacent fortress are among the best preserved military remains from the Hellenistic period in the Aegean. The Romans took the control of Icaria, which was probably incorporated in 129 BC with Samos into the Asian province; however, the Romans neglected the area and all coastal settlements in Icaria were looted by pirates. Emperor August pacified the Aegean and ordered Samos to develop Icaria. Strabo and later Pliny the Younger visited Icaria and did not notice any significant development.
During the Byzantine period, Samos maintained a local fleet, which protected Icaria. In 1081, Emperor Alexius Comnenus founded the St. John monastery in the neighbouring island of Patmos. At the end of the 12th century, the Byzantine navy collapsed and the islands had to defend themselves against the pirates; the fortresses of Paliokastro and Koskino were built on Icaria.
In the 14th century, Icaria was incorporated into the Genoese Aegean empire, along with Chios. The Genoese were expelled by the Ottomans; the Knights of St. John, based in Rhodes, exerted some control on Icaria until its incorporation to the Ottoman Empire in 1521.
Icaria was then the poorest island of the Aegean, inhabited by c. 1,000 and without any permanent Ottoman administration. In 1827, the island broke away from the Ottoman Empire for a short period. On 17 July 1912, the small Turkish garrison was expelled and the independence of the island was proclaimed. Icaria could not join Greece, which was involved into the Balkan Wars. The independence lasted five months, with shortage of food, transportation and postage service. The two sections of the islands almost went to a civil war to determine the site of the capital.

Icaria remained for a long time among the most backwards regions in Greece. The islanders were mostly helped by natives who had started to emigrate to America in the 1890s. The island suffered great loss in property and lives because of the Italian and German occupation during the Second World War. After the War, the island was used as a place of exile for 13,000 Communists from 1945 to 1949. In the 1960s, the situation of Icaria improved when the Greek government started to develop local infrastructures and promoted tourism.

Source: Icarian Enterprises website, using material from Anthony J. Papalas' book Ancient Ikaria (1992).

Ivan Sache, 2 December 2004

Free State of Icaria (1912)

[Flag of independent Ikaria]

Flag of independent Icaria - Image by Ivan Sache, 28 June 2003

The island of Icaria declared its independence from Turkey as a free state at the end of July 1912, and stamps were issued on 8 October 1912. The island was occupied by Greece in support of the new state on 4 November 1912 and overprinted Greek stamps were issued in 1913. The island united with Greece in June 1913 and Greek stamps were used thereafter. On 14 August 1912 the neighboring islands of Fournoi were also liberated and became part of the free state.

The flag of the free state was very similar to the then flag of Greece but the cross was smaller, it didn't extend across the whole field. A couple of flag books published these last years in Greece have failed to include any mention at all for this short-lived state and its symbols.

Ben Cahoon, 28 June 2003

A plate forwarded by A.N. Kollias shows the name of the state, its dates (17-7-1912 to 4-11-1912), flag, arms, President's photo, anthem (music by K. Psachos and verse by Fr. Karrer) and five postage stamps. As the source is not stated I don't know how reliable the information about the flag is.
The flag is blue with a white cross not reaching the edges of the flag.

Jaume Ollé, 30 June 2003

A photo taken during those few months of Ikaria's autonomy shows a group of people displaying a large flag of autonomy exactly as described above.

Parren Plytra, 30 June 2003

The Icaria website quoted in the first section of this page is illustrated with a picture entitled "The Icarian battle for independence", showing the Greek plain cross flag and the Turkish flag, as well as a steamboat flying a flag similar to the one described above.

Ivan Sache, 2 December 2004