Additionally, "Chios" is the name of the island's main town and administrative centre, although it is often referred to locally as Chora (Χώρα—literally meaning "Country" but is often the name given to the settlement at the highest point of a Greek island). Administratively, the island forms a separate prefecture (nomós- νομός) within the North Aegean Periphery.
While Chios is the earliest known name for the island dating back to prehistoric times, during the medieval age the island was ruled by a number of states and has been known by other names including Scio (Genoese), Chio (Italian), and Sakız (صاقيز—Ottoman Turkish). Chios town has been called Chora (Khora), and Castro (Kastron).
Chios island is approximately crescent or kidney shaped, 50km long from north to south, 29km at its widest, and covers an area of 842 km² (325 sq. miles). The terrain is principally mountainous and arid, with a ridge of mountains running through the spine of the island. The largest of these, "Pelineon" (1297 metres or 4260 ft) and "Oros" (1188 metres or 3900 ft), are situated in the north of the island. The centre of the island is divided between east and west by a range of smaller peaks, known as "Provatas".
Chios has a current resident population of 51,936 (2001 census). It is comprised of eight of the ten municipalities in Chios Prefecture (all excepting Oinousses and Psara, which are on separate islands) and has more than 97 percent of its population.
North of Chios Town lies the large suburb of Vrontados (population 4,500), which lays claim as the birthplace of Homer. The suburb lies in the Omiroupoli municipality, and its connection to the poet is supported by an archaeological site known traditionally as "Teacher's Rock" (Δασκαλóπετρα).
Directly south of Chios Town lies the island's airport and the region of Kambos (Κάμπος, "plain"), a large fertile plain noted for its stone mansions and walled orchards. At the southern edge of the Kambos plain lies the town of Thymiana (Θυμιανά). Thymiana is noted as the sole source of a beige-burgundy two-tone sandstone used both in the local mansions and much of the town itself. Inland lie a number of villages rising up into the central mountains culminating with the village of Ayios Georgios Sykoussis perched at the peak dividing east from west. Along the coast lies Karfas (Καρφάς), a large sandy beach, which along with the nearby village of Ayia Ermioni (Άγια Ερμιόνη) is now the main tourist centre with a number of large and small hotels.
The south coast is sparsely populated with only two populated areas; the modern bay of Komi and the ancient village of "Emporio", inhabited since 1800 BC, and the site of a the black volcanic beach of "Mavra Volia" believed to have been created by the explosion of Santorini island in 1600 BC.
Spartounda and Fyta are a few miles before Kambia. In the village of Fyta stands a watchtower dating back to the late 16th century, the time of the Genoese occupation.
The village of Kourounia lies north of Volissos in the northwestern part of the island. Next to Kourounia is the village of Egrigoros.
Directly in the centre of the island, between the villages of Avgonyma to the west and Karyes to the east, lies the 11th century monastery of Nea Moni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monastery was lavishly built with funds gifted by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX, after three monks, living in caves nearby, had petitioned him while he was in exile on the island of Mytilene. The monastery had substantial estates attached, with a thriving community until the massacre in 1822. It was further damaged during the 1881 earthquake. In 1952, due to the shortage of monks, Nea Moni was converted to a convent. It is said that when the last nun living in Nea Moni dies, the convent will once again be transformed into a monastery.
Further south is the verdant region of Kambochoria. This is a collection of medieval villages (Halkios, Vavili, Vassileoniko, Ververato, Dafnonas, and Zifias) with a combined population of about 3,000 and an agricultural economy. In this region grows four varieties of wild tulips.
West of the Kambochoria on the central ridge of the island lies the 16th century village of Agios Geórgios Sikousis. The village is situated 400 m above sea level, strategically overlooks both sides of the island, and was previously fortified with both wall and tower.
Rainfall while usually plentiful, varies greatly both throughout the year and between years. Rain is rare during the summer months, but the winters are changeable and wet. Sunshine is plentiful, as is typical of the Eastern Mediterranean, with almost no cloud cover in the summer months. Average humidity varies from 75% in winter to 60% in summer.
The island normally experiences steady breezes (average 3-5 m/s) throughout the year, with winds direction predominantly northerly ("Etesian" Wind—locally called the "Meltemi") or south westerly (Sirocco).
The British School of Athens excavated the Emporeio site from 1952–1955 and most of our current information comes from these digs. The Greek Archaeological Service (G.A.S.) has been excavating periodically on Chios since 1970, though much of their work on the island remains unpublished.
The noticeable uniformity in the size of houses at Emporeio is what primarily drives scholar's theory that there may have been no serious social distinction during the Neolithic on the island, the inhabitants instead all benefiting from agricultural and livestock farming.
It is also widely held by scholars that the island was not occupied by humans during the Middle Bronze Age (2300–1600), though researchers have suggested recently that the lack of evidence that exists during this period may only demonstrate the lack of excavations on Chios and the northern Aegean.
By at least the eleventh century BC the island was ruled by a kingdom/chiefdom, and the subsequent transition to aristocratic (or possibly tyrannic) rule occurred sometime over the next four centuries. Future excavations may reveal more information about this period.
Chios was one of the original twelve member states of the Ionian League. As a result, Chios, at the end of the 7th century BC, was one of the first cities to strike or mint coins, establishing the sphinx as its specific symbol. A tradition it maintained for almost 900 years.
By the fifth to fourth centuries BC, the island had grown to an estimated population of over 120,000 (two to three times the estimated population in 2005), and based on the huge necropoli at the main city of Chios, the asty, it is thought the majority lived in that area. Now a powerful Greek city-state, Chios was the last member of the Delian League to revolt.
In the decades immediately preceding Macedon's domination of the Greek city-states, Chios was home to a school of rhetoric which Isocrates had opened, as well as a faction aligned with Sparta. After the Battle of Leuctra, supporters of the Lacedaemonians were exiled. Among the exiled were Damasistratus and his son Theopompus, who had received instruction from the school and went on to study with Isocrates in Athens before becoming a historian.
Theopompus moved back to Chios with the other exiles in 333 BC after Alexander had invaded Asia Minor and decreed their return, as well as the exile or trial of Persian supporters on the island. Theopompus was exiled again sometime after Alexander's death and took refuge in Egypt. During this period, the island also had become the largest exporter of Greek wine, which was noted for being of relative high quality (see Chian wine). Chian amphoras, with a characteristic sphinx emblem and bunches of grape have been found in nearly every country that the ancient Greeks traded with from as far away as Gaul, Upper Egypt and Eastern Russia.
Leaving from Elaea, they were headed to Phanae, planning to disembark from there to Macedonia. However, Perseus's naval commander Antenor intercepted the fleet between Erythrae (on the Western coast of Turkey) and Chios.
According to Livy, they were caught completely off-guard by Antenor. Eumenes' officers at first thought the intercepting fleet were friendly Romans, but scattered upon realizing they were facing an attack by their Macedonian enemy, some choosing to abandon ship and swim to Erythrae. Others, crashing their ships into land on Chios, fled toward the city.
The Chians however closed their gates, startled at the calamity. And the Macedonians, who had docked closer to the city anyway, cut the rest of the fleet off outside the city gates, and on the road leading to the city. Of the 1,000 men, 800 were killed, 200 taken prisoner.'
After the Roman conquest Chios became part of the province of Asia.
After the permanent division of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, Chios was for six centuries under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. This came to an end when the island was briefly held (1090–97) by Çaka Bey, a Turkish emir in the region is Smyrna during the first expansion of the Turks to the Aegean coast. However the Turks were driven back from the Aegean coast by the First Crusade, and the island reverted to Byzantine rule.
This relative stability was ended by the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (1204) and during the turmoil of the 13th century the island ownership was constantly affected by the regional power struggles.
After the Fourth Crusade, the Byzantine empire was divided up by the Latin emperors of Constantinople, with Chios nominally becoming a possession of the Republic of Venice. However, defeats for the Latin empire resulted in the island reverting to Byzantine rule in 1225. The Byzantine rulers had little influence and through the treaty of Nymphaeum, authority was ceded to the Genoa (1261). At this time the island was frequently attacked by pirates and by 1302–1303 was a target for the renewed Turkish fleets. To prevent Turkish expansion, the island was reconquered and kept as a renewable concession, at the behest of the Byzantine emperor Andronicus II, by the Genovese Benedetto I Zaccaria (1304), then admiral to Philip of France. Zaccaria installed himself as ruler of the island, in the short-lived Lordship of Chios. His rule was benign and effective rule remained in the hands of the local Greek landowners. Beneto Zacharia was followed by his nephew (Benedetto II) and then son (Martino). They attempted to turn the island towards the Latin and Papal powers, and away from the predominant Byzantine influence. The locals, still loyal to the Byzantine Empire, responded to a letter from the emperor and, despite a standing army of a thousand infantrymen, a hundred cavalrymen and two galleys, expelled the Zacharia family from the island (1329) and dissolved the fiefdom.
Local rule was brief. In 1346, a Chartered company or Maona (the "Maona di Chio e di Focea") was set up in Genoa to reconquer and exploit Chios and the neighbouring town of Phocaea in Asia Minor. Although the islanders firmly rejected an initial offer of protection, the island was invaded by a Genoese Fleet, lead by Simone Vignoso, and the castle besieged. Again rule was transferred peacefully, as on 12 September the castle was surrendered and a treaty signed with no loss of privileges to the local landowners as long as the new authority was accepted.
The Genoese, being interested in profit rather than conquest, controlled the trade-posts and warehouses, in particular the trade of mastic, alum, salt and pitch. Other trades such as grain, wine oil and cloth and most professions were run jointly with the locals. After a failed uprising in 1347, and being heavily outnumbered (less that 10% of the population in 1395), the Latins maintained light control over the local population, remaining largely in the town and allowing full religious freedom. In this way the island remained under Genoese control for two centuries.
By the early 15th century, Asia Minor and the surrounding islands had fallen under Ottoman rule, however the Genoese families managed to maintain control over the island through the payment of a tribute to the Sultan. By the 16th century, as Genoese power waned, trade with Genoa had decreased and the local rulers become assimilated into the local population. This largely independent rule continued until 1566, when, with tensions rising, the Sultan decided that the island could potentially be used as a base for Western attacks on Constantinople. The island was invaded by Ottoman troops and absorbed without a battle into the Ottoman Empire.
As well as the Latin and Turkish influx, documents record a small Jewish population from at least 1049 AD. The original Greek (Romaniote) Jews, thought to have been brought over by the Romans, were later joined by Sephardic Jews welcomed by the Ottomans during the Iberian expulsions of the 15th century.
During the Ottoman rule, the government and tax gathering again remained in the hands of Greeks and the Turkish garrison was small and inconspicuous. Chios town itself however, was ethnically segregated, with the castle (Kastro) barred to the native Greeks and inhabited by Turkish and Jews.
The mainstay of the island's wealth was the mastic crop. Chios was able to make a substantial contribution to the imperial treasury while at the same time maintaining only a light level of taxation. The Ottoman government regarded it as one of the most valuable provinces of the Empire.
When the Greek War of Independence broke out, the island's leaders were reluctant to join the revolutionaries, fearing the loss of their security and prosperity. However, in March 1822, several hundred armed Greeks from the neighbouring island of Samos landed in Chios. They proclaimed the Revolution and launched attacks against the Turks, at which point islanders decided to join the struggle.
In revenge, the Sultan ordered a massacre of the islanders. The Ottoman massacre of Chios expelled, or killed, or enslaved 5/6 of the 120,000 Greek inhabitants of the island. Wiping out whole villages and affecting the valuable Mastichohoria, the mastic growing villages in the south of the island. It triggered negative public reaction in Western Europe, as can be seen in the art of Delacroix, and in the writing of Lord Byron and Victor Hugo.
Further misfortune struck the island in 1881, when an earthquake, estimated as 6.5 on the Richter scale, damaged a large portion of the island's buildings and resulted in great loss of life (reports of the time spoke of 5,500–10,000 fatalities).
Chios rejoined the rest of independent Greece after the First Balkan War (1912), however it was further affected by the population exchanges after the Greco–Turkish War of 1919–1922, the incoming Greek refugees settling in the, previously Turkish, Kastro and in new settlements hurriedly built south of Chios Town.
Chios was officially annexed from Turkey by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.
During World War II, the island was occupied by the Germans (1941–44), resulting in severe deprivation for the inhabitants and the deportation of the few remaining Jewish families. Most of the Jews had fled the island during the Turkish attack of 1822, and subsequent earthquake 1881. In 1944, there were no Jews living in Chios.
The island saw some local violence during the Greek Civil War setting neighbour against neighbour. This ended when a band of communist fighters was trapped and killed in the orchards of Kambos and their bodies driven through the main town on the back of a truck. In March 1948, the island was used as an internment camp for female political detainees (communists or relatives of guerillas) and their children, who were housed in military barracks near the town of Chios. Up to 1300 women and 50 children were housed in cramped and degrading conditions, until March 1949 when the camp was closed and the inhabitants moved to Trikeri.