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Ithaca or Ithaka (Greek: Ιθάκη, Ithakē) is an island located in the Ionian Sea, in Greece, with an area of 45 square miles (120 km2) and a little more than three thousand inhabitants. It is also a separate regional unit of the Ionian Islands region, and the only municipality of the regional unit. It lies off the northeast coast of Kefalonia and to the west and within sight of continental Greece. The municipality of Ithaca includes some islets as well. The capital, Vathy or Ithaki, has one of the world's largest natural harbours. Modern Ithaca is generally identified with Homer's Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, whose delayed return to the island is one of the elements of the Odyssey's plot.

Origin of name
Ithaca is the middle island in the image. The larger Kefalonia lies immediately to its west. The small island in the top-right is the uninhabited Atokos (NASA World Wind satellite picture).

The fact that classical Greek authors often used eponymous explanations to explain away names through folk etymology makes it more likely that Ithakos derives from Ithaca rather than vice versa.

The name Ithaca has remained unchanged since ancient times, but it has been noticed that in written documents of different periods, it has also been referred to by other names such as:

Val di Compare (Valley of the Bestman), Piccola (Small) Cephallonia, Anticephallonia (Middle Ages till the beginning of the Venetian period)
Ithaki nisos (Greek for island), Thrakoniso, Thakou, Thiakou (Byzantine period)
Thiaki (before the Venetian period, also called so by the sailors and has remained the name used by the inhabitants)
Teaki (Venetian period)
Fiaki (Turkish period)

Ithaca by Edward Dodwell (1821).

The island has been inhabited since the 2nd millennium BC. It may have been the capital of Cephalonia during the Mycenaean period, and the capital-state of the kingdom ruled by Odysseus. The Romans occupied the island in the 2nd century BC, and later it became part of the Byzantine Empire. The Normans ruled Ithaca in the 13th century, and after a short Turkish rule, it fell into Venetian hands.

Ithaca was then occupied by France under the 1797 Treaty of Campo Formio. It was liberated by a joint Russo-Turkish force in 1798, before becoming part of the Septinsular Republic. It became a French possession again in 1807, until it was liberated by the United Kingdom in 1809. Under the 1815 Treaty of Paris, Ithaca became a state of the United States of the Ionian Islands, an protectorate of the British Empire. From 1830 onwards, the local community had requested that union with rest of the newly restored nation-state of Greece take place. Under the 1864 Treaty of London, Ithaca, along with the remaining six Ionian islands, were ceded to Greece as a gesture of diplomatic friendship to Greece's new Anglophile king, George I. The U.K. kept its privileged use of the harbour at Corfu. [1]
First settlers

The origins of the first people to inhabit the island, which occurred during the last years of the Neolithic Period (4000–3000 BCE), are not clear. The traces of buildings, walls and a road from this time period prove that life existed and continued to do so during the Early Hellenic era (3000–2000 BCE). In the years (2000–1500 BCE) some of the population migrated to part of the island. The buildings and walls that were excavated showed the lifestyle of this period had remained primitive.
Mycenaean era
Further information: Mycenaean Greece

During the Mycenaean period (1500–1100 BCE), Ithaca rose to the highest level of its ancient history. Mostly based on the «Odyssey» and oral traditions, it is believed that the island became the capital of the Ionian Kingdom-State, which included the surrounding lands, and was referred to as one of the most powerful states of that time. The Ithacans were characterized as great navigators and explorers with daring expeditions reaching further than the Mediterranean Sea.

The epic poems of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, shed some light on Bronze-Age Ithaca. Those poems are generally thought to have been composed sometime in the 9th or 8th centuries BC, but may have made use of older mythological and poetic traditions; their depiction of the hero Odysseus, and his rule over Ithaca and the surrounding islands and mainland, preserve somes memories of the political geography, customs and society of the time.

After the end of the Mycenaean period, Ithaca's influence diminished, and it came under the jurisdiction of the nearest large island.
Hellenistic era
Further information: Hellenistic Greece

During the ancient Hellenic prime (800–180 BCE), independent organized life continued in the northern and southern part of the island. In the southern part, in the area of Aetos, the town Alalcomenae was founded. From this period, many objects of important historical value have been found during excavations. Among these objects are coins imprinted with the name Ithaca and the image of Odysseus which suggest that the island was self-governed.

According to the different periods, conquerors and circumstances, the population of the island kept changing. Although there is no definite numerical information until the Venetian period, it is believed that from the Mycenaean to the Byzantine period, the number of inhabitants was several thousand, who lived mainly in the northern part of Ithaca. During the Middle Ages, the population decreased due to the continuous invasions of pirates, forcing the people to establish settlements and live in the mountains.
Ottoman era
Further information: Ottoman Greece

In 1479, Turkish forces reached the islands and many of the people fled from the island out of fear of the new Turkish settlers. Those that remained hid in the mountains to avoid the pirates who controlled the channel between Cephallonia and Ithaca and the bays of the island. In the following five years, the Turks, Toques and Venetians laid claim to the islands diplomatically. Possession of the islands was finally taken by the Ottoman Empire from 1484 to 1499. During this period, the Venetians had strengthened into a major power with an organized fleet. The Venetians pursued their interest in the Ionian Islands, and in 1499 a war between the Venetians and the Turks began. The allied fleets of the Venetians and the Spanish besieged Ithaca, and the other islands. The fleets prevailed, and from 1500 onwards the Venetians controlled the islands. According to a treaty of 1503, Ithaca, Cephallonia and Zante would be ruled by the Venetians, and Lefkada by the Turks.
French era
View of Kioni bay.

A few years after the French Revolution, the Ionian area came under the rule of the First French Republic (1797–1798), and the island became the honorary capital of Cephallonia, Lefkada, and part of the Greek mainland, which formed the French département of Ithaque (the prefecture was at Argostoli on Kefalonia).

The population welcomed the French, who took care in the control of the administrative and judicial systems, but later the heavy taxation they demanded caused a feeling of indignation among the people. During this short historical period, the new ideas of system and social structure greatly influenced the inhabitants of the island. At the end of 1798, the French were succeeded by Russia and Turkey (1798–1807), which were allies at that time. Corfu became the capital of the Ionian States, and the form of government was democratic, with a fourteen-member senate in which Ithaca had one representative.

The Ithacan fleet flourished when it was allowed to carry cargo up to the ports of the Black Sea. In 1807, according to an agreement with Turkey, the Ionian Islands once again came under the French rule (1807–1809 AD). The French quickly began preparing to face the British fleet, which had become very powerful, by building a fort in Vathy.

Prominent citizens of Ithaki participated in the secret "Filiki Etairia" which was instrumental in organizing the Greek Revolution of 1821 against Turkish rule, and Greek fighters found refuge there. In addition, the participation of Ithacans during the siege of Messologi and the naval battles with Turkish ships at the Black Sea and Danube was significant.
Modern Ithaca

Many structures were destroyed in an earthquake in 1953. In the 1970s, Kalamos split from the province and became part of the prefecture of Lefkada, and the province of Ithaca became a non-provincial municipality.
Home of Odysseus
Main article: Homer's Ithaca
Odysseus at the court of Alcinous by Francesco Hayez (1813-1815).

Since antiquity, Ithaca has been identified as the home of the mythological hero Odysseus. In the Odyssey of Homer, Ithaca is described thus (13.21-27)

" dwell in shining Ithaca. There is a mountain there,
high Neriton, covered in forests. Many islands
lie around it, very close to each other,
Doulichion, Same, and wooded Zacynthos--
but low-lying Ithaca is farthest out to sea,
towards the sunset, and the others are apart, towards the dawn and sun.
It is rough, but it raises good men."

It has sometimes been argued that this description does not match the topography of modern Ithaca. Three features of the description have been seen as especially problematic. First, Ithaca is described as "low-lying" (χθαμαλὴ), but Ithaca is mountainous. Second, the words "farthest out to sea, towards the sunset" (πανυπερτάτη εἰν ἁλὶ ... πρὸς ζόφον) are usually interpreted to mean that Ithaca must be the island furthest to the west, but Kefalonia lies to the west of Ithaca. Lastly, it is unclear which modern islands correspond to Homer's Doulichion and Same.

The Greek geographer Strabo, writing in the 1st century AD, identified Homer's Ithaca with modern Ithaca. Following earlier commentators, he interpreted the word translated above as "low-lying" to mean "close to the mainland", and the phrase translated as "farthest out to sea, towards the sunset" as meaning "farthest of all towards the north." Strabo identified Same as modern Kefalonia, and believed that Homer's Doulichion was one of the islands now known as the Echinades. Ithaca lies farther north than Kefalonia, Zacynthos, and the island that Strabo identified as Doulichion, consistent with the interpretation of Ithaca as being "farthest of all towards the north."

Strabo's explanation has not won universal acceptance. In the last few centuries, some scholars have argued that Homer's Ithaca was not modern Ithaca, but a different island. Perhaps the best known proposal is that of Wilhelm Dörpfeld, who believed that the nearby island of Leukas was Homer's Ithaca.[2]

It has also been suggested that Paliki, the western peninsula of Kefalonia, is Homer's Ithaca. It has been argued that in Homeric times this western peninsula was separated from Kefalonia by a sea channel since closed up by earthquake-induced rockfalls.[3] However, no scientific review publications are available in support of this theory.

Despite any difficulties with Homer's description of the island, in classical and Roman times the island now called "Ithaca" was universally held to be the home of Odysseus; the Hellenistic identifications of Homeric sites, such as the identifications of Lipari as the island of Aeolus, are usually taken with a grain of salt, and attributed to the ancient tourist trade.

The island has been known as Ithaca from an early date, as coins and inscriptions show. Coins from Ithaca frequently portray Odysseus, and an inscription from the 3rd century BC refers to a local hero-shrine of Odysseus and games called the Odysseia.[4] The Archaeological site of "School of Homer" on modern Ithaca is the only place between Lefkas-Kefalonia-Ithaca Triangle where Linear B has been found, near royal remains. Modern scholars generally accept the identification of modern Ithaca with Homeric Ithaca, and explain discrepancies between the Odyssey's description and the actual topography as the product of lack of first-hand knowledge of the island, or as poetic license.[CN]
View of northern Ithaca.
Olive tree of Ithaca that is claimed to be at least 1500 years old.

There is a strait situated to the west of the island called the Strait of Ithaca. The capes in the island include Exogi, the westernmost but not in land, Melissa to the north, Mavronos and Agios Ilias to the east, Schinous, Sarakiniko and Agios Ioannis, the easternmost to the east and Agiou Andreou, the southernmost in the south. Bays include Afales Bay to the northwest, Frikes and Kioni Bays to the northeast and Ormos Gulf and Sarakiniko Bay to the southeast. The tallest mountain is Nirito (806 m), the second tallest is Merovigli (669 m).

Lazaretto Islet (or Island of The Saviour) guards the harbor. The church of The Saviour and the remains of an old gaol sit on the island.[5]
Notable people

Odysseus Androutsos (1788 – 1825), hero of the Greek War of Independence
Platon Drakoulis (1858 – 1934), philosopher, writer, politician
Panagis Lekatsas (1911 – 1970), writer, journalist
Lorentzos Mavilis (1860 – 1912), poet
Ioannis Metaxas (1871 – 1941), general and dictator of Greece
St. Joachim Papoulakis (1786 - 1868), Athonite monk and an Orthodox Saint


Ithaca is a separate regional unit of the Ionian Islands region, and the only municipality of the regional unit. As a part of the 2011 Kallikratis government reform, the regional unit Ithaca was created out of part of the former Kefalonia and Ithaca Prefecture.[6] The municipality, unchanged at the Kallikratis reform, includes islets other than Ithaca including two near Cape Melissa, Arkoudi and Atokos to the northeast and the numerous islets in the Echinades Island group (the larger ones being Drakonera, Makri, Oxeia, Petalas, and Vromonas) to the east near the mainland of Aitoloakarnania. Its largest towns are Itháki (pop. 1,816), Perachóri (354), Stavrós (325), Platreithiá (210), and Kióni (171).

Communities and villages

Aetos, Afales, Agios Ioannis, Agia Saranta, Anogi, Exogi, Frikes, Kalivia, Kathara, Kioni, Kolieri, Lachos, Lefki, Marmaka, Perachori, Piso Aetos, Platrithia, Rachi, Stavros, Vathy/Ithaki.

Further reading

Bittlestone, Robert; James Diggle and John Underhill (2005). Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer's Ithaca. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-85357-5.
Tzakos, Christos I.. Ithaca and Homer: The Truth, The Advocacy of the Case. Translator: Geoffrey Cox.

See also

List of traditional Greek place names


^ "Ionian Islands" (history), Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911 Edition.
^ Wilhelm Dörpfeld, Alt-Ithaka (1927).
^ Bittlestone, Robert; Diggle, James; Underhill, John (2005), Odysseus unbound: the search for Homer's Ithaca, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521853576
^ Frank H. Stubbings, "Ithaca", in Wace and Stubbings, eds., A Companion to Homer (New York 1962).
^ Kallikratis law Greece Ministry of Interior (Greek)

Municipalities and communities of the Kefalonia Prefecture

Argostoli | Eleios-Pronnoi | Erisos | Ithaca | Leivathos | Paliki | Pylaros | Sami


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Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire

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