Patmos – which in ancient inscriptions is often mentioned as Patnos – owes, according to some historians, its name to the word “Patna” = manger and by others to the neighbouring mount Latmos of Asia Minor, which in ancient times was a worship place for goddess Artemis and hunting hero Endymion and from which arrived the first inhabitants of the island, bringing with them the worship of the goddess.
According to ancient mythology, the island was first named Litois, in honour of the Goddess Artemis who was also called Litoida because she was the daughter of Lito.
Legend mentions that the island sunk into the sea and that Artemis, with the help of Apollo, managed to persuade Zeus to bring the island back to the surface and, as a proof of devotion, the inhabitants of the island named it Litois.
According to the myth, Patmos was a present from Zeus to his daughter Artemis, goddess of hunting and young women and certain historians believe that she was worshipped here in antiquity, and the monastery of St. John was built on her temple.
Deer-huntress Artemis frequently paid visits to Caria, the mainland across the shore from Patmos, where she had a shrine on Mount Latmos and there, she used to meet up with the moon goddess Selene, who cast her light on the ocean, revealing the sunken island of Patmos.
Selene was always trying to get Artemis to bring the sunken island to the surface and, hence, to life and she finally convinced Artemis, who, in turn, elicited her brother Apollo’s help, in order to persuade Zeus to allow the island to arise from the sea.
Zeus agreed, and the island emerged from the water, the Sun dried up the land and brought life to it. Gradually, inhabitants from the surrounding areas, including Mount Latmos, settled on the island and named it “Letois” in honour of Artemis.
Patmos is also connected to another legend, the one of Orestes. It is said that he fled to the island after murdering his mother Clytemnestra, and was hunted by the Erynies.
The island of Patmos has been inhabited since 3,000 BC, but the identity of its first inhabitants is still unknown. The earliest remains of human settlements in Patmos date to the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000 BC) and consist of pottery shards from Kastelli, the most important archaeological site so far identified.
Patmos is seldom mentioned by ancient writers and, therefore, very little can be conjectured about the earliest inhabitants.
Some believe that the Kares, the Leleges and the Pelasgoi were the first settlers while others claim that the Dorians were the first inhabitants, followed by the Ionians.
In the Classical period, the Patmians prefer to identify themselves as Dorians descending from the families of Argos, Sparta and Epidaurus, further mixing with people of Ionian ancestry.
Finds have excavated various buildings, cemeteries, fortresses and evidence of an ancient acropolis, testifying the existence of a densely populated area in the past. During the Peloponnesian Wars, the Lacedemonians came to the island to escape from the Athenians and ruins testify about the flourishing of the island during this period.
Judging from archaeological finds, Kastelli continued to play an important role on the island throughout the Ancient Greek period (c. 750 BC-323 BC) and during the 3rd century BC, the Hellenistic period, the settlement of Patmos acquired the form of an acropolis with an improved defense through a fortification wall and towers.
So, essentially, as the rest of the Dodecanese islands, it paid tribute to Athens in the 5th century BC, belonged to the Macedonians in the 4th century BC, and was taken by the Romans in the 2nd century BC.
The island of Patmos declined when the Romans conquered it. It was used as a place of exile for convicts and this is how Apostle John came to Patmos, exiled by the Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus in 95 AC. The prophet was ostracized from Miletus by the Roman governor for preaching the Christian faith and stayed in Patmos for two years.
Once on the island, the Apostle conveyed the inhabitants to Christianity and wrote the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse. Patmos then became a place of worshipping and pilgrimage and actually the culture and history of Patmos is strongly connected to the Apocalypse of Saint John.
Patmos is mentioned in the Christian scriptural Book of Revelation. The book’s introduction states that its author, John, was on Patmos when he was given and recorded a vision from Jesus. Early Christian tradition identified this writer John of Patmos as John the Apostle. As such, Patmos is a destination for Christian pilgrimage and visitors can see the cave where John is beleived to have received his Revelation (the Cave of the Apocalypse), and several monasteries on the island are dedicated to Saint John.
After the death of John of Patmos, possibly around 100 and the division of the Roman Empire in 284 A.D. though, Christianity was officially recognized and the Byzantine Empire flourished.
During the Byzantine times, a number of Early Christian basilicas were erected on Patmos and among these was a Grand Royal Basilica in honor of Saint John, built c. 300-350 at the location where the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian stands today.
Early Christian life on Patmos barely survived Muslim raids from the 7th to the 9th century and during this period, the Grand Basilica of Saint John was destroyed.
In 1085, though, a zealous Byzantine monk, the Reverend Father Christodoulos was forced by the Turks to abandon his temple in Asia Minor and went to the island of Kos were he founded a monastery. There, he met the monk Arsenios Skinouris who asked him his help to build the Monastery of Saint John in Patmos.
The construction of the monastery started in 1101, after the permission of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komninos the 1st, who gave to Christodoulos the complete authority over the island of Patmos. As a result, the Monastery’s power was to extend over the island’s borders, to such a degree that the island was never occupied by neither Turks nor Venetians and the only attacks came from pirates there and then.
The fame of the monastery grew, a settlement started to expand around it and during the end of the 12th century, the island of Patmos was transformed into a large commercial center.
In 1207, the Venetians conquered Patmos and the reign was given to the Duke of Naxos. Supported by him, the island became a semi-autonomous monastic state and gained great wealth and influence.
In 1340, the Knights of Saint John who had seized Rhodes conquered the island of Patmos and, in the following centuries, population was expanded by infusions of Byzantine immigrants fleeing the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, and Cretan immigrants escaping the fall of Candia in 1669.
OTTOMAN EMPIRE TIMES
In 1522, the Turks came to the island and appointed a representative but, after a while, they left just forcing it to pay some taxes. Later, when the Turkish-Venetian Wars ended, tranquility returned to Patmos and the island flourished, becoming once again an important commercial center. Massive fortifications were built around the monastery as a protection from the pirates. In 1655, Patmos was in essence governed by the monks and prospered again but its growth stopped in 1659, when Francesco Morozini, the leader of the Venetians, conquered and destroyed the island.
Through shipping, commerce and the efforts of the inhabitants, Patmos soon regained its lost nobility, glamour and prosperity so that during the early 18th century, the island’s wealth was separated into secular and monastic entities. The Patmian School was founded by Makarios Kalogeras in 1713 near the cave of the Apocalypse but the Russians conquered the island in 1770, after the Turkish-Venetian War.
Generally, the island remained under Ottoman Empire influence for almost 300 years, but it enjoyed a certain degree of respect and certain privileges, mostly related to tax-free trade by the Monastery, as certified by Ottoman imperial documents held in its Library.
The Greek Revolution erupted in 1821 and managed to achieve independence for the new state by 1832. Nevertheless, the relevant treaty signed in London did not include the islands of the Dodecanese as part of the newly built Greek State, and all twelve islands fell again under Turkish occupation, even though one of the three founders of Filiki Etaireia which initiated the Greek Revolution was Emmanuel Xanthos, who descended from Patmos.
In 1912, in connection with the Italo-Turkish War, the Italians occupied all the islands of the Dodecanese, including Patmos and remained there until 1943, when Nazi Germany took over the island.
In 1945, the Germans left and the island of Patmos remained autonomous until 1948 when it joined the rest of independent Greece as part of the Dodecanese Islands.
The architecture of Patmos is strongly related to the foundation of the Monastery of Saint John, the most notable medieval architectural marvel in Greece. Its highlights can be seen in the beautiful settlement presenting a plethora of whitewashed mansions and Aegean style houses that embrace the fortified monastery in Chora.
Due to the constant pirates attacks, the Chora settlement was fortified, not with walls but according to the structural plan of the houses that allowed no openings and no special appearance.
In Patmos, there are no more white & blue villages (as in the Cyclades) but there are more white & brown, as they are built mainly in stone, though the walls keep the white color.
A typical Patmian house is divided in two parts, serving basic needs of the locals with a lovely flourishing garden and storage areas in the basement. The Byzantine structural elements which are often seen in the capital testify to the island’s historical importance, throughout the ages. Following the financial development of Patmos island, we see the appearance of two-story luxurious houses and mansions that very much resemble each other. Most of the later villas and lodgings have respected the traditional architecture.