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SANTORINI ASK THE EXPERT The Aegean and its islands

The Aegean and its islands
By Prof. Christos Doumas

The Aegean Sea is not simply just one of the many seas on our planet. It was, and it continues to be, the geographical point at which one of the greatest civilizations on earth was born many thousands of years ago. The etymology of the name "Aegean" can be found in the Homeric verb "αϊσσω", meaning to jump. The word "αίξ" meaning goat, derives from this verb - of all of the animals than man has tamed, the goat is the one particular animal that jumps. The ancient Greeks metaphorically called large waves "αίγες". "Αιγαίον", therefore, means wavy.

The term Aegean (Αιγαίο) as a geographical point refers to the entire area that is washed by its waters and includes not only the islands, but also the mainland of the Greek peninsula as well as the coast of Minor Asia. This area combines a wide range of climate with a geographical environment that favours the development of unique ecosystems. Moreover, by joining three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa - the Aegean has become the meeting point of these cultures. In this way, the creation of the Aegean culture was greatly influenced by the liquid element: the sea, which cut off and protects from external invasion, but also unites those who have the means and dare to cross it. From its very early stages, the Aegean ceased to be simply salt water, "η αλς", as it was studded with islands. It became a "πόντος" (bridge) and "πόρος" (crossing). The fact that these words can be found in early ancient Greek texts means that the liquid element had come under man's control from a much earlier stage and served accordingly. Archaeological evidence confirms this hypothesis.

The Aegean islands, the majority of which are grouped together in small archipelagos, have in part formed societies with many characteristics in common. These characteristics may differ from archipelago to archipelago, or even from island to island according to the opportunities for communication with their neighbors. At the same time the islands act as a bridge of communication from the western to eastern Aegean, and from northern to southern Aegean.

The Cyclades, scattered as they are in the Aegean, make up a larger part than any other group of islands in the breakdown of large sea currents of the Aegean, therefore resulting in a large range of sea circulation. Given that, as is the case with all the islands, the land that is closest to the island exercises not only an economical but also a cultural impact upon it, and also given that the Cyclades are spread out over a large area in terms of the length of the mainland coastline, it is to be expected that the nature of their culture will differ to a certain extent according to the mainland area with which they maintain close relations.

Christos Doumas, Professor Emeritus University of Athens, Director of the Akrotiri Archaeological Excavation






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