The ancient names of the island given by literary sources are the following: Αἴγιλα, Αἰγιλία, Αἰγιαλίαν, Αἰγιαλῶν and Αἴγυλα and in Latin Aigila, Aigilia and Aeglia1.
The island is mentioned as Αἰγιλία on the inscriptions, while the adjective Αἴγιλιεῦς refers also to Αἰγιλία. Until recently the island maintained its medieval names, that originate from the ancient names, and these are Lioi in Kythera and the Peloponnese and Sigilio or Siglio in Crete. During the Venetian period, and after the conquest of Crete by the Ottomans, the official name of the island was Cerigotto or Cecerigo, from the Italian name of Kythera that was Cerigo. The present name “Antikythera”, that was established with the finding of the shipwreck in 1901, was due to the Cephalonian radicals who restored the name Kythera in the place of the Italian Cerigo and imposed the new name for the small island Antikythera which at that time was the most remote part of the British held Ionic State.
The island that covers an area of 22KM2 was (and still is) on a crossroad that controls the dangerous marine routes that connect the western Mediterranean Sea with the Aegean, and Laconia with Crete.
The strategic position the island had was recognized in antiquity and for that reason it was chosen as a military base and a pirates lairs in the end of the 4th century BC. The life of the fortified city was limited in the Hellenistic period and more particularly it is dated from the late 4th century BC until the first half of the 1st century BC.
It is noted that among the movable finds from the excavation, war items were found, such as arrow and spear heads (FIG.5),sling bullets (FIG.6), and also different size catapult stones (FIG.7). All these items indicate a society on continuous war activity. It should also be mentioned that according to coins found (FIG.8), to ceramic finds (FIG.9) and also to some sling bullets (FIG.10) the island belonged for the longer part of its “life”, to the territory of the Cretan city of Phalasarna.
The reading of the inscription found at Xeropotamos provided the answer about who and why the city on the island was fortified that was not used at all until the end of the 4th century BC. The dedicator mentioned on the inscription was an Aristomenes, son of Aristomedes, Thessalian from the city of Pherae, who is identified as the “admiral” of the Persian fleet in the Aegean Sea after the entrance of the Macedonians into Asia Minor. Aristomedes, his father, Thessalian from Pherae participated in the battle of Issus, as leader of 20,000 barbarians within the Persian army. It is assumed that the fortified city was build, judging also from similar contemporary fortifications in Crete, subsidized by the Persian Empire during their attempt to counter-attack the Macedonian army that had invaded Asia Minor.
Immediately after, with the disappearance of the Persian Empire, the equipped and fortified Cretan city of Phalasarna without many incomes and by exploiting the strategic position of the island, began to engage in piracy.
The “revolutionary” king of Sparta, Cleomenes III, fled to Antikythera after his defeat in the battle of Selasia in 223 BC, on his way to Egypt to his ally Ptolemy the Benefactor.
A few years after Cleomenes, Antikythera were in the midst of conflicts between the Cretan cities, and also between the powers that wished to control the area of the southern Aegean Sea and the passages to the West, where the power of Rome had already appeared.
Material remains of the attack of Nabis, the “king” of Sparta, are numerous inscribed sling bullets of Laconian type, found at the area of “Kastro”, with the inscription “of the king”, a title Nabis gave to himself during the last years of his power (FIG.11).
In the 2nd century BC the by the harbor sanctuary was constructed (or reconstructed), dedicated to Apollo and Artemis. The stratigraphy also of the fortifications indicates that during that period the city had a relative prosperity. Of course, the explanation lies in the piracy activities income practiced by the city of Phalasarna.
Aegilia suffered the vengeance of the Roman general Metellus who brutally suppressed the “Cretan Revolution” in 69-67 BC. The life at “Kastro”stopped exactly then. At the same time the city of Phalasarna was also destroyed by the Romans.
Human presence is testified again on the island after the 5th century AD (FIG.12)
, when life in the Aegean was normalized with the power of the byzantine fleet until almost the beginning of the 8th century AD, when the Arab attacks began and Antikythera lost its population again (FIG.13).
The inhabitants returned to the island in the middle-byzantine period, shortly after the expulsion of the Arabs from Crete. After the 4th Crusade and until the Napoleonic wars belonged, along with the rest Ionian Islands, to the possessions of Venice.
Today, the island is going through a new period of desolation from which there seems no easy recovery.