Lesbos

/lez"bos, -bohs/; Gk. /lez"vaws/, n.
Mytilene (def. 1).

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or Mytilene or Mitilíni

Third largest island (pop., 1991: 87,151) in the Aegean Sea.

It occupies an area of 630 sq mi (1,630 sq km), and with two other islands it forms a Greek department. Its main town is Mytilene. Lesbos was the birthplace of the poet Sappho and is the source of the term lesbian. Inhabited since с 3000 BC, it was settled in с 1050 BC by the Aetolians. After being under Persian rule (527–479 BC), it joined the Delian League. In the Peloponnesian War, it fell to Sparta (405 BC), but then it was recovered for Athens (389 BC). It later flourished under Byzantium. It was ruled by the Ottoman Empire (1462–1911) before being annexed by Greece. Fishing is important economically, as is the export of olives.

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Modern Greek  Lésvos , also called  Mitilíni 

      (after its capital), largest island after Crete and Euboea in the Aegean Sea, forming with Lemnos and Áyios Evstrátios islands the nomós (department) of Lesbos, Greece. The capital of the nomós is Mytilene (q.v.), chief town of the 629.5-square-mile (1,630.5-square-kilometre) island and seat of a Greek Orthodox bishop. Sometimes grouped with the Greek Southern Sporades, Lesbos (the name is pre-Hellenic) was among the earlier sites of Aegean settlement. Lesbos is separated from the Asia Minor coast, to which it is geologically related, by two shallow channels ranging from 6 to 14 miles (10 to 23 km) wide, the Muselim (north) and the Mitil-ini (east), which join at the apex of the triangular island, forming the entrance to the Turkish Gulf of Edremit.

      The irregular coast of Lesbos is penetrated by two narrow-mouthed bays, Géras (southeast) and the Gulf of Kallonís (southwest). The island is largely volcanic in the west, and numerous thermal springs indicate the unstable subterranean structure that has caused severe earthquakes throughout history. The principal peak, Mount Lepethymnus (Áyios Ilías), reaches 3,176 feet (968 m). The original vegetation is well preserved west of the town of Kalloní. The major population centre is around Mytilene.

      Mytilene, the port, was built on an island and later connected to Lesbos by causeway, forming the two harbours. Lesbos took its name “Pentapolis” from the five cities of Mytilene, Methymna, Antissa, Eresus, and Pyrrha. (Another important city was Arisba, northwest of Kalloní, which was destroyed by an earthquake in the 5th century BC.) Pyrrha, which lies in a small valley off the Gulf of Kallonís, suffered from an earthquake about 231 BC. Antissa, on the northwestern coast just north of the present Ándissa, was destroyed by the Romans in 168 BC. Eresus, on the southwest coast, is the birthplace of the 7th-century-BC poet Sappho and the 4th–3rd-century-BC philosopher Theophrastus, Aristotle's successor. Methymna, on the north coast, has given its pre-Greek name to a town and artists' colony (formerly Mólivos) and is the second largest city after Mytilene. Activities long attributed (if not proven) to Sappho and her circle gave the name of her island to female homosexuality, lesbianism.

      Lesbos, near the Hellespont trade routes (modern Dardanelles), long has had strategic and commercial importance. In 1929–33 the British School excavated Thérmi, north of Mytilene, and Antissa, both important early Bronze Age (c. 3000–2750 BC) towns. Thérmi apparently was settled by Troas, judging from its Troy I-like black pottery. Cycladic influences predominated in Lesbos until 2000 BC, when the island was depopulated.

      About 1050 Aetolians migrating to Lesbos made it their chief settlement and Mytilene their capital. The island prospered after Pittacus (c. 650–570) ended civil strife as aisymnētēs (“dictator”). The lyric poetry of Greece owed much to the 7th-century Lesbos-born musician Terpander and the dithyrambist Arion as well as Alcaeus and Sappho.

      After a protracted struggle with Athens for Sigeum on the Hellespont (Dardanelles) and a naval defeat, Lesbos in 527 submitted to Persia, being freed only in 479 with the defeat of Persian naval forces. Lesbos then joined the Delian League under Athenian leadership. Early in the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), the Mytilene oligarchy forced a revolt that ended (428–27) with Athenian reprisals. Thereafter, Lesbos was repeatedly attacked by the Peloponnesians, falling to Sparta in 405. In 389 Thrasybulus recovered most of the island for Athens; in 377 it joined the Second Athenian League but in 333 served as a base for the Persian admiral Memnon against Alexander the Great of Macedonia and subsequently for other invaders until the Roman Pompey made Mytilene a free city.

      As a Byzantine dominion the island flourished; in AD 809 the empress Irene was exiled there. In 821, 881, and 1055, it swayed before Saracen attacks and fell in 1091 to the Seljuq Turks. In 1224 the Byzantine emperors recovered it and in 1354 gave it to a Genoese trading family. After a prosperous century, it came under Turkish domination (1462–1911) and then joined the Greek kingdom.

      Lesbos' fertile plains and valleys produce grapes, cereals, and, the principal product and export, olives. Hides, soap, and tobacco are also produced; sardine fishery is important. Lesbos is handicapped by severe earthquakes such as that which destroyed Mytilene (1867), and this may partly account for the few ancient remains. Pop. (1981) 104,620.

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Universalium. 2010.

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