1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lesbos
LESBOS (Mytilene, Turk. Midullu), an island in the Aegean sea, off the coast of Mysia, N. of the entrance of the Gulf of Smyrna, forming the main part of a sanjak in the archipelago vilayet of European Turkey. It is divided into three districts, Mytilene or Kastro in the E., Molyvo in the N., and Calloni in the W. Since the middle ages it has been known as Mytilene, from the name of its principal town. Strabo estimated the circumference of the island at 1100 stadia, or about 138 m., and Scylax reckoned it seventh in size of the islands of the Mediterranean. The width of the channel between it and the mainland varies from 7 to 10 m. The island is roughly triangular in shape; the three points are Argennum on the N.E., Sigrium (Sigri) on the W., and Malea (Maria) on the S.E. The Euripus Pyrrhaeus (Calloni) is a deep gulf on the west between Sigrium and Malea. The country though mountainous is very fertile, Lesbos being celebrated in ancient times for its wine, oil and grain. Homer refers to its wealth. Its chief produce now is olives, which also form its principal export. Soap, skins and valonea are also exported, and mules and cattle are extensively bred. The sardine fishery is an important trade, and antimony, marble and coal are found on the island. The surface is rugged and mountainous, the highest point, Mount Olympus (Hagios Elias) being 3080 ft. The island has suffered from periodical earthquakes. The roads were remade in 1889, and there is telegraphic communication on the island, and to the mainland by cable. The ports are Sigri and Mytilene. The Gulf of Calloni and Hiera or Olivieri can only be entered by vessels of small draught.
The chief town, called Mytilene, is built in amphitheatre shape round a small hill crowned by remains of an ancient fortress. There are now 14 mosques and 7 churches, including a cathedral. It was originally built on an island close to the eastern coast of Lesbos, and afterwards when the town became too large for the island, it was joined to Lesbos by a causeway, and the city spread along the coast. There was a harbour on each side of the small island. Maloeis, by some surmised to be the northern of these, was not far away. Besides the five cities which gave the island the name of Pentapolis (Mytilene, Methymna, Antissa, Eresus, Pyrrha), there was a town called Arisba, destroyed by an earthquake in the time of Herodotus. Professor Conze thinks that this is the site now called Palaikastro, N.E. of Calloni. Pyrrha lay S.E. of Calloni, and is now also called Palaikastro. Antissa was on the N. coast near Sigri. It was destroyed by the Romans in 168 B.C. Eresus was also near Sigri on the S. coast. Methymna was on the N. coast, on the site of Molyvo, still the second city of the island. The name Methymna is derived from the wine (Gr. μέθυ) for which it was famous. Considerable remains of town walls and other buildings are to be seen on all these sites. (E. Gr.)
History.—Although the position of Lesbos near the old-established trade-route to the Hellespont marks it out as an important site even in pre-historic days, no evidence on the early condition of the island is as yet obtainable, beyond the Greek tradition which represented it at the time of the Trojan War as inhabited by an original stock of Pelasgi and an immigrant population of Ionians. In historic times it was peopled by an “Aeolian” race who reckoned Boeotia as their motherland and claimed to have migrated about 1050 B.C.; its principal nobles traced their pedigree to Orestes, son of Agamemnon. Lesbos was the most prominent of Aeolian settlements, and indeed played a large part in the early development of Greek life. Its commercial activity is attested by several colonies in Thrace and the Troad, and by the participation of its traders in the settlement of Naucratis in Egypt; hence also the town of Mytilene, by virtue of its good harbour, became the political capital of the island. The climax of its prosperity was reached about 600 B.C., when a citizen named Pittacus was appointed as aesymnetes (dictator) to adjust the balance between the governing nobility and the insurgent commons and by his wise administration and legislation won a place among the Seven Sages of Greece. These years also constitute the golden age of Lesbian culture. The lyric poetry of Greece, which owed much to two Lesbians of the 7th century, the musician Terpander and the dithyrambist Arion, attained the standard of classical excellence under Pittacus’ contemporaries Alcaeus and Sappho. In the 6th century the importance of the island declined, partly through a protracted and unsuccessful struggle with Athens for the possession of Sigeum near the Hellespont, partly through a crushing naval defeat inflicted by Polycrates of Samos (about 550). The Lesbians readily submitted to Persia after the fall of Croesus of Lydia, and although hatred of their tyrant Coës, a Persian protégé, drove them to take part in the Ionic revolt (499–493), they made little use of their large navy and displayed poor spirit at the decisive battle of Lade. In the 5th century Lesbos for a long time remained a privileged member of the Delian League (q.v.), with full rights of self-administration, and under the sole obligation of assisting Athens with naval contingents. Nevertheless at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War the ruling oligarchy of Mytilene forced on a revolt, which was ended after a two years’ siege of that town (429–427). The Athenians, who had intended to punish the rebels by a wholesale execution, contented themselves with killing the ringleaders, confiscating the land and establishing a garrison. In the later years of the war Lesbos was repeatedly attacked by the Peloponnesians, and in 405 the harbour of Mytilene was the scene of a battle between the admirals Callicratidas and Conon. In 389 most of the island was recovered for the Athenians by Thrasybulus; in 377 it joined the Second Delian League, and remained throughout a loyal member, although in the second half of the century the dominant democracy was for a while supplanted by a tyranny. In 334 Lesbos served as a base for the Persian admiral Memnon against Alexander the Great. During the Third Macedonian war the Lesbians sided with Perseus against Rome; similarly in 88 they became eager allies of Mithradates VI. of Pontus, and Mytilene stood a protracted siege on his behalf. This town, nevertheless, was raised by Pompey to the status of a free community, thanks no doubt to his confidant Theophanes, a native of Mytilene.
Of the other towns on the island, Antissa, Eresus and Pyrrha possess no separate history. Methymna in the 5th and 4th centuries sometimes figures as a rival of Mytilene, with an independent policy. Among the distinguished Lesbians, in addition to those cited, may be mentioned the cyclic poet Lesches, the historian Hellanicus and the philosophers Theophrastus and Cratippus.
During the Byzantine age the island, which now assumes the name of Mytilene, continued to flourish. In 1091 it fell for a while into the hands of the Seljuks, and in the following century was repeatedly occupied by the Venetians. In 1224 it was recovered by the Byzantine emperors, who in 1354 gave it as a dowry to the Genoese family Gattilusio. After prospering under their administration Mytilene passed in 1462 under Turkish control, and has since had an uneventful history. The present population is about 130,000 of whom 13,000 are Turks and Moslems and 117,000 Greeks.
See Strabo xiii. pp. 617-619; Herodotus ii. 178, iii. 39, vi. 8, 14; Thucydides iii. 2-50; Xenophon, Hellenica, i., ii.; S. Plehn, Lesbiacorum Liber (Berlin, 1828); C. T. Newton, Travels and Discoveries in the Levant (London, 1865); B. V. Head, Historia Numorum (Oxford, 1887), pp. 487-488; E. L. Hicks and G. F. Hill, Greek Historical Inscriptions (Oxford, 1901), Nos. 61, 94, 101, 139, 164; Conze, Reise auf der Insel Lesbos (1865); Koldewey, Antike Baureste auf Lesbos (Berlin, 1890). (M. O. B. C.)