History of Sifnos

While Sifnos was an affluent island in archaic times as evident by the elaborate “Syphnian Treasury”, which the island’s inhabitants dedicated at Delphi, recent excavations have unearthed very little of its ancient past.

Sifnos was first inhabited by Carrians and Phoenicians who called the island Akis and Meropie. The later inhabitants came from Ionia and they named the island Siphnos around 1000 BCE. The island prospered in Archaic times thanks to its gold and silver mines.

 “The Samians who had fought against Polucrates, seeing that the Lacedaemonians were about to leave them in the lurch, also abandoned the campaign and sailed to Siphnos. They were in need of money, and the Siphnians at the time were at the height of their prosperity; they were richer than any other of the island peoples, having gold and silver mines so productive that a tenth part of their output was enough to furnish a treasury at Delphi not inferior in value to the most splendid to be found there. The remainder of the yield was shared out each year amongst the islanders themselves. When they began depositing money in their treasury at Delphi, they asked the oracle if it was possible that their present prosperity could last for any length of time, and the Priestess gave them the following answer:
‘When the council-chamber in Siphnos shines white,
And white too is the forehead of the market-place,
Then is there heed of a man of foresight to beware,
Danger threatens from a wooden host and a scarlet messenger.’”
(Herodotus, “The Histories”, translated by Aubrey De Selincourt, Penguin Books, 1954, 1972, 2003, Book 3, pp. 195, 196)

As Herodotus tells the story, the Syphnians found out what the oracle meant at a later time when the Samians arrived and demanded payment. When the Syphnians refused, the Samians ravaged the island and killed many until they were paid 100 talents. With the money, the Samians bought the island of Hydrea and gave it to the people of Troezen before they sailed to Crete where they found the town of Cydonia (near modern Chania).

According to Herodotus, later yet in history, Sifnos, along with Seriphus, and Melos fought with the Athenians at the naval battle of Salamis.

The island enjoyed relative prosperity long after its gold and silver mines were flooded, all the way up to the Byzantine years when it suffered mightily from pirate attacks. Subsequently it became the subject of the Duchy of Naxos after the crusaders captured Constantinople in the 13th century, and later it came under the control of the Despotic Da Coronia. Later, Sifnos was captured and held by the Turks until 1821 when it joined the Greek revolution against the Ottoman occupation.

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