The island’s proximity to Asia Minor, and its fertile ground have made Kos an important center of many historical periods.
Excavations at Aspripetra Cave near Kefalos have unearthed evidence of habitation since the Neolithic Era and its historical habitation can be traced back to Mycenaean era, when it was a powerful enough island to contribute a large number of ships to the Trojan War.
“And men who held Nisyrus, Casus and Crapathus, Cos, Eurypylus’ town, and the islands called Cylydnae—combat troops, and Antiphus and Phidippus led them on, the two sons fo the warlord Thessalus, Heracles’ son. In their command sailed thirty long curved ships.” (Homer, the Illiad, 2.772)
Later in the 7th century BCE Kos was allied with the island of Rhodes and its three cities Kamyros, Iallysos, and Lindos before it became a subject of the Persian Empire and fought under the Queen of Caria, Artemisia, on the losing side at the battle of Salamis . After the defeat of the Persians in the 5th c. BCE Kos joined the Delian league under the leadership of Athens and became an important center of the Classical era with considerable maritime power.
Kos’ best known contribution to humanity are the teachings of Hippocrates (460-370 BCE) whose philosophy of treating disease as a natural phenomenon of cause and effect, and not as the manifestation of divine will, has earned him the title “Father of Medicine”. This shift of focus from the metaphysical to the physical marks the foundation of modern medicine.
Hippocrates’ writings, very little of which has survived to our day, promoted a methodical study of clinical symptoms, treated disease with natural means, and prescribed ethical practices for physicians through the Hippocratic Oath that is still used today.
The Asclipieion, the ruins of which can be seen today on the outskits of Kos town, was a sanctuary dedicated to the god of healing and it was one of many that became very popular in ancient Greece around 300 BCE for their healing reputation. Another well-known Asclepieion is the sanctuary of Epidaurus in the Peloponnesus.
Kos became the subject of Alexander the Great in 336, and after his death it came under the influence of the Ptolemies. Later yet, during the Roman domination of the Mediterranean, Kos island was reknown for its fine wine and textiles that were admired by the Roman aristocracy.
The Byzantine Empire found Kos as an important Christian center as evident by the 5-6 C. basilicas that have been excavated in the island, and by 1315 the island came under the hegemony of the Knights of St. John who fortified the island against the attacking Ottoman forces.
After several attempts, the island was occupied by the Turks in 1522 to be liberated four centuries later in 1922 by the Italians and was reunited with Greece after WWII.