1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lemnos
LEMNOS (mod. Limnos), an island in the northern part of the Aegean Sea. The Italian form of the name, Stalimene, i.e. ἐς τὴν Λῆμνον, is not used in the island itself, but is commonly employed in geographical works. The island, which belongs to Turkey, is of considerable size: Pliny says that the coast-line measured 11212 Roman miles, and the area has been estimated at 150 sq. m. Great part is mountainous, but some very fertile valleys exist, to cultivate which 2000 yoke of oxen are employed. The hill-sides afford pasture for 20,000 sheep. No forests exist on the island; all wood is brought from the coast of Rumelia or from Thasos. A few mulberry and fruit trees grow, but no olives. The population is estimated by some as high as 27,000, of whom 2000 are Turks and the rest Greeks, but other authorities doubt whether it reaches more than half this number. The chief towns are Kastro on the western coast, with a population of 4000 Greeks and 800 Turks, and Mudros on the southern coast. Kastro possesses an excellent harbour, and is the seat of all the trade carried on with the island. Greek, English and Dutch consuls or consular agents were formerly stationed there; but the whole trade is now in Greek hands. The archbishops of Lemnos and Ai Strati, a small neighbouring island with 2000 inhabitants, resides in Kastro. In ancient times the island was sacred to Hephaestus, who as the legend tells fell on Lemnos when his father Zeus hurled him headlong out of Olympus. This tale, as well as the name Aethaleia, sometimes applied to it, points to its volcanic character. It is said that fire occasionally blazed forth from Mosychlos, one of its mountains; and Pausanias (viii. 33) relates that a small island called Chryse, off the Lemnian coast, was swallowed up by the sea. All volcanic action is now extinct.
The most famous product of Lemnos is the medicinal earth, which is still used by the natives. At one time it was popular over western Europe under the name terra sigillata. This name, like the Gr. Λημνία σφραγίς, is derived from the stamp impressed on each piece of the earth; in ancient times the stamp was the head of Artemis. The Turks now believe that a vase of this earth destroys the effect of any poison drunk from it—a belief which the ancients attached rather to the earth from Cape Kolias in Attica. Galen went to see the digging up of this earth (see Kuhn, Medic. Gr. Opera, xii. 172 sq.); on one day in each year a priestess performed the due ceremonies, and a waggon-load of earth was dug out. At the present time the day selected is the 6th of August, the feast of Christ the Saviour. Both the Turkish hodja and the Greek priest are present to perform the necessary ceremonies; the whole process takes place before daybreak. The earth is sold by apothecaries in stamped cubical blocks. The hill from which the earth is dug is a dry mound, void of vegetation, beside the village of Kotschinos, and about two hours from the site of Hephaestia. The earth was considered in ancient times a cure for old festering wounds, and for the bite of poisonous snakes.
The name Lemnos is said by Hecataeus (ap. Steph. Byz.) to have been a title of Cybele among the Thracians, and the earliest inhabitants are said to have been a Thracian tribe, called by the Greeks Sinties, i.e. “the robbers.” According to a famous legend the women were all deserted by their husbands, and in revenge murdered every man on the island. From this barbarous act, the expression Lemnian deeds, Λήμνια ἔργα, became proverbial. The Argonauts landing soon after found only women in the island, ruled over by Hypsipyle, daughter of the old king Thoas. From the Argonauts and the Lemnian women were descended the race called Minyae, whose king Euneus, son of Jason and Hypsipyle, sent wine and provisions to the Greeks at Troy. The Minyae were expelled by a Pelasgian tribe who came from Attica. The historical element underlying these traditions is probably that the original Thracian people were gradually brought into communication with the Greeks as navigation began to unite the scattered islands of the Aegean (see Jason); the Thracian inhabitants were barbarians in comparison with the Greek mariners. The worship of Cybele was characteristic of Thrace, whither it spread from Asia Minor at a very early period, and it deserves notice that Hypsipyle and Myrina (the name of one of the chief towns) are Amazon names, which are always connected with Asiatic Cybele-worship. Coming down to a better authenticated period, we find that Lemnos was conquered by Otanes, one of the generals of Darius Hystaspis; but was soon reconquered by Miltiades, the tyrant of the Thracian Chersonese. Miltiades afterwards returned to Athens, and Lemnos continued an Athenian possession till the Macedonian empire absorbed it. On the vicissitudes of its history in the 3rd century B.C. see Köhler in Mittheil. Inst. Athen. i. 261. The Romans declared it free in 197 B.C., but gave it over in 166 to Athens, which retained nominal possession of it till the whole of Greece was made a Roman province. A colony of Attic cleruchs was established by Pericles, and many inscriptions on the island relate to Athenians. After the division of the empire, Lemnos passed under the Byzantine emperors; it shared in the vicissitudes of the eastern provinces, being alternately in the power of Greeks, Italians and Turks, till finally the Turkish sultans became supreme in the Aegean. In 1476 the Venetians successfully defended Kotschinos against a Turkish siege; but in 1657 Kastro was captured by the Turks from the Venetians after a siege of sixty-three days. Kastro was again besieged by the Russians in 1770.
Homer speaks as if there were one town in the island called Lemnos, but in historical times there was no such place. There were two towns, Myrina, now Kastro, and Hephaestia. The latter was the chief town; its coins are found in considerable number, the types being sometimes the Athenian goddess and her owl, sometimes native religious symbols, the caps of the Dioscuri, Apollo, &c. Few coins of Myrina are known. They belong to the period of Attic occupation, and bear Athenian types. A few coins are also known which bear the name, not of either city, but of the whole island. Conze was the first to discover the site of Hephaestia, at a deserted place named Palaeokastro on the east coast. It had once a splendid harbour, which is now filled up. Its situation on the east explains why Miltiades attacked it first when he came from the Chersonese. It surrendered at once, whereas Myrina, with its very strong citadel built on a perpendicular rock, sustained a siege. It is said that the shadow of Mount Athos fell at sunset on a bronze cow in the agora of Myrina. Pliny says that Athos was 87 m. to the north-west; but the real distance is about 40 English miles. One legend localized in Lemnos still requires notice. Philoctetes was left there by the Greeks on their way to Troy; and there he suffered ten years’ agony from his wounded foot, until Ulysses and Neoptolemus induced him to accompany them to Troy. He is said by Sophocles to have lived beside Mount Hermaeus, which Aeschylus (Agam. 262) makes one of the beacon points to flash the news of Troy’s downfall home to Argos.
See Rhode, Res Lemnicae; Conze, Reise auf den Inseln des Thrakischen Meeres (from which the above-mentioned facts about the present state of the island are taken); also Hunt in Walpole’s Travels; Belon du Mans, Observations de plusieurs singularitez, &c.; Finlay, Greece under the Romans; von Hammer, Gesch. des Osman. Reiches; Gött. Gel. Anz. (1837). The chief references in ancient writers are Iliad i. 593, v. 138, xiv. 229, &c.; Herod. iv. 145; Str. pp. 124, 330; Plin. iv. 23, xxxvi. 13.