The Aegean and its islands,
by Professor Christos Doumas
The Aegean Sea, "Aegeon", is not just one of the many seas on our planet. It was, and still is, the geographical area within 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 "aisso", meaning to jump. The word "aix", meaning goat derives from this verb, as of all the animals that man has tamed, the goat is the animal that jumps par excellence. The ancient Greeks metaphorically called the large waves "aiges". "Aegeon", therefore, means wavy.
The term Aegean 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 climatic variation 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 their civilizations. In this way, the creation of the Aegean culture was greatly influenced by the liquid element: the sea, which cuts off and protects from external invasion, but also unites those who have the means and dare to cross it. From early on, the Aegean ceased to be just salt water, "the als", as it is studded with islands. It became the "pontos" (bridge) and the "poros" (crossing point). The fact that these words can be found in early ancient Greek texts means that the liquid element had been harnessed by man from a much earlier stage and served him 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 common characteristics. These characteristics may differ from archipelago to archipelago, or even from island to island depending on the opportunities of communicating with their neighbours in the opposite mainland. At the same time, the islands act as a bridge of communication between western and eastern Aegean, as well as between its northern and southern parts.
The Cyclades, scattered as they are in the Aegean, contribute more than any other group of islands in dividing the big sea currents of the Aegean into smaller ones, therefore resulting in a wide range of sea circulation. Considering the fact that, as it is with all the islands, the land that is closest to the island exercises not only an economic but also a cultural impact upon it, and taking also into consideration that the Cyclades are spread out over a large area along 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.
Professor Emeritus University of Athens,
Director of the Akrotiri Archaeological Excavations in Thera