Historians attempting to study populations of earlier times will be faced with certain problems regarding mostly the lack of reliable sources. Especially regarding the region we are studying here, centuries preceding the19th totally lack reliable attestations (e.g. conducting censes with modern techniques) while whatever sources are scarcer as we go deeper into the past. Available sources therefore supply estimations about population movements rather than accurate quantitative data. Besides, these sources were not created to serve the modern historian’s needs, but the needs of those in charge each time, which certainly differed from ours.
2. Factors that affected population movements in the Aegean
Population movements in the Aegean during later times were affected in a positive or negative way by a chain of factors that came up throughout this period.
To begin with, these are factors pertinent more or less to the forces of nature (e.g. epidemics, natural disasters). Certified poor nutrition combined with rather low standards of hygiene and little knowledge of medicine made populations more vulnerable to diseases. Especially in the Aegean, the fact that islands were on trade paths must also be counted in, because that means they were unprotected since they lacked relative seclusion in contrast with some rural regions. Therefore, the Aegean lied on the road epidemics followed on their way from the East to Western Europe. The following years are those when the Aegean islands were gravely plague-stricken: 1445, 1456-1457, 1522-1524, 1537, 1641, 1678-1679, 1687-1689, 1716, 1741, 1759-1760, 1781-1783, 1787-1789, 1812-1814 – and these are just a few of the more widespread epidemics on islands. The whole list of epidemics that struck –sometimes immensely– certain islands is much longer. Several natural disasters (mostly earthquakes, and Thera and Nisyros’s volcanic eruptions) also inflicted losses.
The second category includes purely man-related factors. With the Venetian-Ottoman wars (16th, 17th and early 18th century), the Russian interference in the Aegean (1769-1774), the 1821 Greek Revolution and the turbulent 1910-1922 period being the chief events, wars not only caused losses but also major population movements, thus affecting demographic equilibrium significantly.
To end with, all kinds of emigrations –a common phenomenon in the Aegean– are added to the chain of factors that affected population movements.
3. Population composition
The composition of the Aegean population is very interesting since it consists of six different national and cultural groups. Apart from Greek-speaking Christian orthodox, namely the most multitudinous group, we also find: 1) Muslims mostly on the northeastern Aegean islands and some of the Dodecanese (e.g. Kos, Rhodes), 2) Albanians, mostly on the Argosaronic gulf islands, the northeastern Aegean and on some Cycladic islands (e.g. Andros, Ios, Kea and Kythnos), 3) Jews on Rhodes, Kos and Lesvos, 4) Armenian communities with a few members on Rhodes, Lesbos and Naxos and 5) Catholics, mostly on the Cyclads, with their most significant communities being on Syros, Tinos, Naxos, Thera, Milos, Paros and Sifnos.
4. Population movements
Next, we will concentrate on all kinds of movements that affected these populations’ history, from the Frankish Rule Period up to the 1960’s.
4. 1. Refugee movements
For a long time, the Aegean had been a theatre of wars, which naturally led to more or less large population movements. After the Ottomans took over Constantinople and the nearby areas (e.g. Nafplio and the Dodecanese), much of the population moved to areas under Venetian rule, including Crete. New rulers tried to fill in the gap refugees left by colonizing these places. The Ottomans took over Crete in 1669 causing large population movements towards other Venetian dominions in the East and on a smaller scale toward Venice itself and some Aegean islands. In 1715, the Ottomans reoccupied the Peloponnese, forcing much of its population to seek refuge on the Ionian and Aegean islands. Finally, the Russo-Ottoman war (1769-1774) and the subsequent Russian domination over the Cyclads (1770-1774) made refugees move mostly from the Peloponnese to the Cyclads initially and next to the western coasts of Asia Minor.
The 1821 Revolution was the next major warfare, also causing large refugee movements. During that time, people from Asia Minor, Chios, Psara, Macedonia, Epirus, Crete and Kasos left their homes. These movements resulted to the formation of new settlements, with Ermoupolis on Syros, where mostly people from Chios, Psara and Asia Minor settled, being the most typical of all.
Last refugee movements in the Aegean date back to the turbulent 1911-1924 period. These movements were launched in 1911 by the Ottoman change of attitude towards the Greek-orthodox of Asia Minor. For instance, refugees from Ayvali settled on Naxos, while emigrants from Naxos returned to the island from Vourla of Asia Minor. After the Asia Minor Catastrophe and the persecution of the Greek-orthodox from their homes, refugees from Asia Minor came to Greece through the eastern Aegean islands and settled amongst others –according to the 1923 and 1928 censes– in the Euboea, Heraklion, Lasithi, Rethymnon, Chania, Lesbos, Samos and Chios districts.
4. 2. Colonizations
Already since the Frankish Rule period, rulers organized colonizations aiming to increase the population of the places where colonists settled, since achieving political and economical aims was otherwise impossible. Therefore, in 1413, people coming from Tinos and Mykonos colonized scarcely populated Astypalaia. Colonizations sometimes covered needs created by military rivalry. In 1450 and 1493, two groups from Chalki settled on Rhodes in order to overlook the sea area considering the Ottoman threat coming from the Asia Minor coasts opposite the island.
Compulsory movement of populations from several areas of the Ottoman Empire towards recently taken over Constantinople was the best-known example of a colonization organized by central power in order to increase the city’s population (sürgün). Populations from newly taken over Aegean islands (e.g. Thasos, Samothrace, Imbros, Limnos and Lesbos) were also moved towards the capital.
A series of measures aiming to increase population of some Aegean islands were adopted by the Ottoman administration though, which knew that growth of the islands’ sparse population was a necessary condition for its power to be stabilized. That is what happened on Rhodes when was taken over in 1522. The same happened after the battleship of Nafpaktos (1571), as the Ottoman systematically tried to re-colonize Samos, Agios Efstratios and Myconos and increase their population. At the same time, there was a gradual increase of the Northern Sporades and Psara population with others coming from Thessaly and Euboea.
The example of the Arvanites (Albanians that had lived in Greece for some centuries) is the last one of the colonization chapter. In 1402, Arvanites from Attica and Boeotia settled on Euboea after being invited by the island’s Venetian authorities. In 1418 Lord of Ios, Marco Crispo I, moved Arvanites from the Peloponnese to the island so that its up to then uninhabited part would be inhabited. In 1558, Ios was deserted again because of Muslim pirates’ incursions, and another colonization by Arvanites in 1575 was therefore launched again, this time by Ottoman rulers.Arvanites from Attica and the Peloponnese were used at the same time for the colonization of Kea and Kythnos, the Argosaronic gulf islands and finally Samos when the island was re-colonized.
4. 3. Emigration
Emigration was very common in the Aegean and served a twofold purpose: it allowed earning extra income that boosted family budget and also helped densely populated island communities with the movement of a part of their population. Besides, that was what local communal officials constantly worried about, at least throughout the Ottoman domination period: balancing emigrants and resident populations so that local communities could function properly.
Emigrants used to move towards other islands –e.g. residents of Anafi, Naxos, Astypalea, Kalymnos and Rhodes settled on Amorgos from the 16th to the 17th century– or the hinterland surrounding the Aegean Sea. The time they stayed in reception areas varied from a few months –in the cases of seasonal emigrants– to permanent settling.
A very common migratory pattern preserved up to the early 20th century was moving both men and women to major urban centers of the Asia Minor west coastline, especially Smyrna and Constantinople. Men worked in several jobs and usually specialized in a profession based on where they were from. Therefore, men from Naxos that settled at Vourla –settlement near Smyrna– used to make tuns for wine, while women worked mostly as maids. That was quite common on the Cyclads.
The Asia Minor coastline was a major center of attraction for eastern Aegean islanders. Short distance made these contacts easier, leading large island populations (Limnos, Lesbos, Samos, Rhodes, Kastellorizo, etc.) to migrate to the opposite coast either seasonally or for a longer time. Besides, not a few settlements were created there by such emigrants. The first inhabitants of Aivali – one of the major cities of the Asia Minor coast with a Greek-orthodox population– had come from nearby Lesbos.
The migratory wave towards the western Asia Minor coastline rose significantly during the 19th century. That rise was connected with the favorable political atmosphere created in the Ottoman Empire by the introduced from the 1830’s on, and with the significant development of western coast urban centers (e.g. Smyrna) mostly after the mid-19th century. It was that wave that radically changed the population composition of these areas favoring the Greek-orthodox.
The establishment of the Greek state and the increasing development of Athens and Piraeus attracted large populations from the rural hinterland affecting the Aegean islands too. That movement was particularly noticeable from the mid-19th century on. Other major reception areas for Aegean island migrants –as well as for those from other regions– were Ermoupolis on Syros –another major port until it was outdone by Piraeus– and Serifos. Mine operation (1829-1934) was connected with newcomers, attracting migrants from Anafi, Naxos, Crete, Samos, Syros and Chios, but also from mainland areas (e.g. the Peloponnese and even Athens).
From the 1830’s on, migrants from the Aegean headed for regions outside of both Greece and the Ottoman Empire. Egypt was a common destination both during the Suez Canal building (1859-1869) and later on. Many islanders worked there as unskilled workers. A typical example, although not the only one, is that of Kasian workers, who actually moved to Mozambique and worked at the construction of the local railway network. Emigrants from Rhodes, Kalymnos, Leros, Nisyros, Kastelorizo, Crete, Kythira, Karystos, Serifos, Sifnos, Amorgos, Imbros, Aghios Efstratios Chios, Samos, Symi and Lesbos settled in Egypt during the 19th century. Cretans, Dodecanesians, Samians, Lesbians and Limnians had settled at the same period in the part of Africa to the south of Egypt. Of course, many islanders moved toward overseas destinations (e.g. America, Australia). Typical examples were those of islanders from Ikaria and Kythira.
During the first three decades of the 20th century, the wave headed from the rural hinterland toward the urban centers rose even more. Islanders preferred settling in Athens and Piraeus. At the same time, they kept migrating to destinations abroad already familiar to them. In the late 1950’s, “hit” the next major migratory wave within Greece, which headed for large urban centers. Especially regarding the Aegean islands, the number of migrants during the 1956-1961 period outdid the equivalent number of newcomers by 108%. In 1960, 23% of Athens and Piraeus’s population came from islands: 4% from the Ionian Islands, 13.9% from the Aegean and 5.3% from Crete. People still migrated abroad, but they were significantly less than those migrating within Greece: of the overall percentage of migrants leaving Greece in 1955-1959, 6% came from the Aegean islands. That percentage was slightly reduced in 1960-1964. Following general trends defining Greek migrants’ decisions at that time, islanders now headed mostly for European destinations and also for overseas ones.This short retrospection shall now end with a remark. All kinds of population movements were a usual practice deeply rooted in the Aegean. It was within that extremely developed culture of migrating that islanders tried –most of the time succeeding– to keep in touch with their homelands. The numerous fraternities and associations they always founded at their new homes contributed to that. These institutions have never stopped creating cohesion in society and developing their members’ special cultural identity.