An aition explaining the name of Cephallenia and reinforcing its cultural connections with Athens associates the island with the mythological figure of Cephalus, who helped Amphitryon of Mycenae in a war against the Taphians and Teleboans.
He was rewarded with the island of Same, which thereafter came to be known as Cephallenia.
Cephalonia has also been suggested as the Homeric Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, rather than the smaller island bearing this name today. Robert Bittlestone, in his book Odysseus Unbound, has suggested that Paliki, now a peninsula of Cephalonia, was a separate island during the late Bronze Age, and it may be this which Homer was referring to when he described Ithaca. A project which started in the Summer of 2007 and lasted three years has examined this possibility. Cephalonia is also referenced in relation to the goddess Britomartis, as the location where she is said to have ‘received divine honours from the inhabitants under the name of Laphria’.
In the Southwest of the island, in the area of Leivathos, an ongoing archaeological field survey by the Irish Institute at Athens has discovered dozens of sites, with dates ranging from the Palaeolithic to the Venetian period.
From an archaeological point of view, Cephalonia is an extremely interesting island. Archaeological finds go back to 40,000 BP. Without doubt, the most important era for the island is the Mycenaean era, from approximately 1500-1100 B.C. The archaeological museum in Cephalonia’s capital Argostoli – although small – is regarded as the most important museum in Greece for its exhibits from this era. The Archaeological Museum of Argostoli in Kefalonia was founded in 1957 replacing the old building which was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1953. The new building was designed in 1955 by the architect Patroclus Karantinos (1903-1976), one of the most important representatives of the so-called “modern movement” in Greece.
The extensive work of Karantinos had international appeal, especially in the field of museum design, because he was interested in the typology of the building as a museum and the “conversation” of sculptures with natural light. The new building originally housed all of the archaeological treasures that survived the 1953 disaster, which were kept safely packed in different banks of the city. However, it gradually began to succumb to the ravages of time. In 2000 the museum was repaired and re-opened under the direction of the Honorary General Director of Antiquities in the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Dr. Lazaros Kolonas. The museum exhibits cover the entire chronological range from the Palaeolithic Era (50.000-10.000 BC) to the Late Roman period (5th-6th century AD.) . They come from archaeological excavations and surveys that began in the late 19th century and continue until today. The exhibition fills three halls and the findings are classified and organized chronologically, according to use and provenance. The exhibition is enriched with material that includes informative texts, drawings and photographs.
The lobby houses a small gift shop, operated by the Archaeological Receipts Fund. It sells books, cards, and small gifts, such as a silver copy of a sealstone and a fish shaped pendant, to name a few. A large map covers an entire wall of the Lobby, portraying all known archaeological sites in Kefalonia up to date. The Palaeolithic period (50.000 -10.000 BC): The island has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic Age. The first settlers arrived here probably during an ice age, when sea level was at least 100 meters lower than today’s, and thus the distance of the island from mainland Greece was much less.
Traces of habitation have been found in Sami, Fiskardo and Skala, where stone tools have been discovered. People did not live a sedentary life, but moved from place to place to ensure their food by hunting, fishing and gathering fruit from nature. They lived mostly in caves and wore animal skins. Primary material of the era was the stone, which was used to make tools for hunting, processing of wood and leather. All finds are made of chert, a very hard material, which is abundant on the island and they date to the Upper Palaeolithic period (40.000-10.000 BC); a time dominated by anatomically modern humans, the Homo Sapiens.
The Neolithic period (6.000-3.000 BC): The second showcase houses objects from the Neolithic period and more specifically from . The cave exhibits periodic human habitation from the Neolithic Period to the early phase of the Prehistoric Era (mid 6th millennium BC – 2.400 BC). After a long period of abandonment, the cave was used again in historic times. From the 6th century BC onwards, especially during the Hellenistic period, the cave served as a place of worship of the god Pan and the Nymphs. It was permanently abandoned in the late 3rd c. BC, or early 2nd c. BC.
The Prehistoric period (3.000-1.050 BC): The Prehistoric period (3000-1050 BC) is very well documented on the island with abundant traces of human habitation. The cist graves discovered in Kangelisses/Kokkolata (1.750 – 1.700/1.680 BC) date to the Middle Bronze Age (1.750 BC – 1550 BC). Characteristic vases from these tombs are exhibited in the third showcase, along with a number of finds from two Mycenaean tholos tombs (tholoi), that were subsequently built over the cist graves.
The entire central Hall of the museum is dedicated to a very important period for the island, the Late Helladic, or Mycenaean. Although in the early and middle period (LH I-II, 1700/1680-1435/05 BC) identified sites are scarce and the findings meager, the last phase (LH III, 1435-1050 BC) has very specific characteristics and has produced a wealth of finds.
The up to date archaeological record has shown that humans spread throughout the island and created a unified and unique culture, which is immediately recognizable by its homogeneous traits.
Nine showcases in the second Hall house the most representative objects, demonstrating all aspects of the Mycenaean civilization (1.550 – 1.050 BC) on the island. Most of them come from graves in Prokopata, Diakata, Mazarakata, Metaxata, Lakkithra, Tzannata, Mavrata and Kontogenada. The tombs are divided into two basic categories: chamber tombs and tholos tombs (vaulted tombs).
The chamber tombs are underground, dug into the soft sandstone, and consist of the dromos, the entrance and the burial chamber. The dromos leads to the entrance and into the chamber. The entrance is narrower than the dromos, not always regular in shape and is usually blocked after the burial with a stone wall. Inside the chambers there are several burial pits dug into the floor. Most of them are just big enough to contain the body, or slightly bigger. The pits vary greatly in depth and can reach up to 2.00 m. The dead were buried inside the pits in a contracted position, and each pit received multiple burials. The chamber tombs were used over and over again in the course of time, for both primary and secondary burials, since they also functioned as ossuaries.
The tholos tombs are monumental tombs of circular plan, roofed by a dome which is built with successive rows of stones, perfectly assembled, so that each one protrudes slightly from the lower one. At the top there is a small opening blocked by a single slab, called the “key”. This stone ensured the stability and cohesion of the entire dome.
This construction system is called “corbelled.”As far as local pottery is concerned, there is a preference towards certain shapes (such as bowls, stirrup jars, craters, conical kylikes, jugs, dippers, etc.) and decorative motifs (spirals, hatched and cross-hatched triangles, arcs, triglyphs, etc.).
Also, there are some special types of vessels, such as handmade coarseware with punctured and incised decoration, which are rather foreign to the usual Mycenaean techniques and repertoire of motifs. This category of pottery is very well documented throughout the island in all Mycenaean sites, and according to some scholars, it may be reflecting the survival of older, pre-Mycenaean techniques and habits. According to others, it may be a loan from more conservative neighboring regions, such as Epirus, where the Mycenaean infiltration was weaker and handmade coarseware was more popular.
Imported goods and raw materials, mainly metals and semi-precious stones, attest to sea communications with the rest of the known world. Such examples are the amber beads (electrum), a material which arrived in the Mycenaean world mainly from the Baltic Sea. The figure-of-eight fibula from Diakata, finds parallels in Italy and Central Europe; the pins, also from Diakata, show influence from Asia Minor, while Cypriot, or Cypriot inspired, vessels suggest contacts between the two islands.
An Egyptian scarab, dating back to the Egyptian Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (1.504 – 1.450 BC), is a surface find and cannot be safely attributed to contacts with Egypt. The scarab is now on display at the Archaeological Museum of Argostoli.
The Mycenaean exhibition is further enriched with bronze weapons (bronze daggers, knives, spearheads and a javelin head,) everyday tools, jewellery made of gold, precious and semiprecious stones, and superb sealstones with unique representations. The latter are objects of high aesthetic value and exquisite art, featuring geometric motifs and naturalistic depictions carved on a small, hard surface of 1-1.5cm in diameter. The sealstones were used as jewellery, amulets and as personal seals on unbaked clay.
Historical Period (1.050 BC – 3rd century AD)
Recent excavations have shown that human habitation continued during the Proto-Geometric and the Geometric period. Concentrations of finds in Sami, Pali and Krani have come to bridge the time from the end of the Mycenaean period (1.050 BC) to the end of the Geometric period (700 BC). The habitation sites that later on would lead to the emergence of the four city-states (Krani, Pali, Sami, Pronnoi), the so-called Thucydides (2.30.2), began to form from the 8th century BC onwards and especially during the Archaic period (700-500 BC).
Pali is located immediately north of Lixouri; Krani south of Argostoli, over the Koutavos bay; Pronnoi at the site of Palaiokastro, south of Poros and Sami immediately east of the present day town. Each city minted bronze and silver coins, with their monogram and symbols associated with religious beliefs and productive activities of their inhabitants. The cities were independent and autonomous, they followed their own policy and concluded separate political alliances. They often came into conflict with each other, except for times of external danger.• For this reason, they constructed defensive works along their borders, and strong, imposing fortification walls to protect the towns built on hilltops and the surrounding slopes.
The end of their independence and freedom came about in 189 BC. Krani, Pali and Pronnoi negotiated with the Romans and surrendered, but they were forced to give a guarantee of twenty men as hostages. The town of Sami put up a very strong resistance, but finally, in 188 BC, the town succumbed after a four-month siege. As a result, the Romans invaded and established their rule on the entire island.
The third Hall exhibits are associated with the “Kefalonian Tetrapolis” and the period of Roman domination. They reflect the thriving culture of the island at a crucial time in Greek history, ie. the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods (700 – 188 BC). Of particular interest are the collection of ceramic pots, the figurines, and the small finds, including very fine gold jewellery. Moreover, amongst the most impressive exhibits are the glass vases from graves in Sami and Fiskardo.
Finds from the cult cave of Melissani , which was dedicated to the worship of Pan and the Nymphs, are associated with their worship. The excavations in the early 60s revealed, among other finds, a clay figurine of Pan, a clay disc depicting a circular dance, a clay slab with a procession of Nymphs carrying jugs, and a small slab with a female head in relief, all dating to the end of 4th – early 3rd century BC.
Finally, the third Hall houses a number of grave stelai (tomb markers), part of a mosaic floor depicting dolphins, a decorated sima (outer part of a gutter) and marble sculptures. A rare example of bronze sculpture is the bronze bust of a male, dating back to the period of the Roman emperor Gallienus (253 – 268 AD).
THE THOLOS TOMB AT TZANATA
The most important archaeological discovery in Cephalonia (and indeed in Greece) of the past twenty years was the discoveryin 1991 of the Mycenaean tholos tomb at the outskirts of the village ofTzanata, near Poros in south-eastern Cephalonia (Municipality of Elios-Pronni) in a lovely setting of olive trees, cypresses and oaks. The largest known tholos tomb in the Ionian Islands, up to date, was discovered at Tzannata-Poros. It was unearthed in the course of an archaeological excavation that was conducted from 1992 to1994, by the Honorary General Director of Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Dr. Lazaros Kolonas.
The tomb is founded on sloping and rocky ground on the Borzi hill and has a south to north orientation. It is built in the locality of a previous, smaller tomb, which had collapsed for unknown reasons around 1.350 BC. The porous limestone of the older tomb was used in the construction of the tholos tomb. Access to the tomb was through a short dromos (road) that led to the stomion (entrance) and then the burial chamber. The stomion is long and covered (3.35 m long, 0.90m – 1.0 m wide and 1.90 m tall).
The chamber is circular, with a diameter of 6.80 m and a preserved height up to 3.95 m. It is roofed over by means of successive rows of stones, perfectly assembled, so that each one slightly protrudes from the lower one, thus creating a dome. The top of the dome has not been preserved at Tzannata, since it collapsed in the years of Venetian rule, when the tomb was used as accommodation. Had the dome been preserved, the small opening at the top would be blocked by a single slab, or stone, called the “key”.
That stone ensured the stability and cohesion of the entire dome. This construction system is called “corbelled.” The burials were placed inside stone built cist graves, pits and a large pithos (huge jar). The central cist grave held the remains of the local ruler, for whom the tholos tomb was erected. The tomb was robbed in antiquity, but based on the surviving grave goods it is presumed that it was used from the 14th c. to the mid 11th century BC. The two iron strigils (cleaning blades), which were deposited in the tomb during historical times, they may relate to possible practices of ancestral, or hero worship.
A built rectangular structure with a pebble floor was discovered a small distance from the tholos tomb. Apparently it was used as an ossuary, since it contained the skeletal remains of a total of 72 people. The Archaeological Museum of Argostoli houses finds from both the tholos tomb and the ossuary. These include pottery, clay figurines, miniature objects, the most significant being gold necklaces, beads, a small gold votive double axe, a pair of gold-covered bull’s horns from a ritual vase (rhyton) and sealstones engraved with unique representations.
THE ROMAN CEMETERY AT FISKARDO
In late 2006, a Roman grave complex was uncovered as excavations took place for the construction of a new hotel in Fiskardo. The remains here date to the period between the 2nd century BC and the4th century AD. Archaeologists described it as the most important find of its kind ever made in the Ionian Islands. Inside the complex, five burial sites were found, including a large vaulted tomb and a stone coffin, along with gold earrings and rings, gold leaves which may have been attached to ceremonial clothing, glass and clay pots, bronze artifacts decorated with masks, a bronze lock and bronze coins. The tomb had escaped the attentions of grave robbers and remained undisturbed for thousands of years. In a tribute to Roman craftsmanship, when the tomb was opened the stone door swung easily on its stone hinges.
Very near to the tomb a Roman theatre was discovered, so well preserved that the metal joints between the seats were still intact. A dissertation published in 1987 claims that in AD 59, St. Paul on his way from Palestine to Rome, was not shipwrecked and confined for three months to Malta, but rather, all this took place on Cephalonia.
Ancient Krani is located on the SE side of Koutavos bay, 1km. away from Argostoli. There is evidence of habitation dating back to prehistoric times. An interesting surface find from Krani is an Egyptian scarab, which dates back to the Egyptian Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 BC), but difficult to link with direct contacts with Egypt. The scarab is now on display at the Archaeological Museum of Argostoli.Krani was one of the four city-states of Kefalonia in the Classical and Hellenistic period (5th – early 2nd century BC) and controlled the entire western part of the island (Thucydides 2.30.2). Krani minted its own copper and silver currency, just like the other city-states, bearing the monogram of the city and symbols associated with religious beliefs and production activities of its inhabitants.
The citadel (acropolis) occupies the hill tops Kastelli and Pezoules, rising immediately above the Koutavos lagoon. It is protected by a fortification wall, enhanced towards the NE by a rectangular tower, and it has two gates, one of which fell out of use and was blocked by a stone wall during the Roman period. Beyond the citadel wall, there are three branches of fortifications, running from the hill tops, down the slopes, all the way to the foothills, incorporating a vast area.
A most impressive part of the fortifications is the Classical-Hellenistic peribolos NE of the citadel, which is detached from the other defensive works. It runs at a preserved length of 1,082m; it is 4m wide and it is reinforced externally with twenty three towers with small gates. There are two main gates, one of which is the central gate; not unlike the twin gates of Athens (Dipylon Gates). The enclosure wall is built with polygonal and trapezoidal masonry and it is preserved in excellent condition. It constitutes an important specimen of defensive architecture and a significant step in its evolution. The enormous size of the blocks was sufficient to establish the wall in the minds of the locals as “Cyclopean”; a term that is exclusively used to describe fortifications of the Mycenaean period (1550-1050 BC), such as those of Mycenae and Tiryns in the Argolid.
The city grows on the south and western slopes of the hill in an amphitheatric position. It bears a rudimentary town plan and it is crossed by a main road that continues towards the cemetery, in a position known as “Dracospilia”, and then follows a route parallel to the gorge leading north. Today this road may be visited up to a certain point.
On the SE end of the Acropolis, at “Pezoules”, we find the ruins of an unidentified temple in antis dating from the archaic/ early classical period (6th-5th century BC). Furthermore, on the south of the Acropolis there are the ruins of a roman stoa and a retaining wall.
Outside the fortification wall, on the north slope of Kasteli hill and near the ruins of the Christian church of the Holy Triad, we find fitted in the wall ancient building materials that seem to originate from a destroyed sanctuary devoted to goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone. The sanctuary has been identified due to an inscribed gradient podium that was discovered on site bearing the inscription “DAMATRI KAI KORAI” (DEMETER AND DAUGHTER). The podium is exhibited today in the Archaeological museum in Argostoli.
The end of the city-states on the island came in 189 BC, when Krani, Pali and Pronoi surrendered after negotiations to the Romans. Sami followed a few months later in 188 BC. The Roman consul Marcus Fulvius Nabilior demanded as a guarantee for the surrender of the city-states 20 hostages from each state. Yet, even after it surrendered to the Romans, Krani was not abandoned as it is concluded from the finds of the archaeological research that took place in 2008-9. On the SW of the Acropolis, and on the modern main road an extended building complex was discovered which possibly was related with port facilities.
Later on, during the Medieval period, Kasteli hill was used for defensive purposes thus the ancient fortification wall was repaired and a new one was built with small stones and mortar on the SE slope of the hill.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE OF SAMI
The earliest human habitation in Sami goes back to the Early Helladic period (3rd millennium BC), according to the results of rescue excavations within the present day city.
The earliest beginnings of the city-state of the Classical period (5th-4th century BC) can be traced to the Geometric and Geometric period (10th-8th century BC).
The classical-hellenistic (5th-2nd century BC) Sami was one of four city-states, according to Thucydides (2.30.2), which controlled the eastern part of the island. It was an independent and autonomous city, conducted its own foreign policy and minted bronze and silver currency, bearing its monogram and symbols relating to the religious beliefs and productive activities of its inhabitants; just like the city-states of Krani, Pali, and Pronnoi.
The two citadels, the extensive fortifications and the city occupy the hills of “Palaiokastro” and “Ayioi Fanendes”, to the east of the present day settlement. The ancient city is built with a regular grid plan employing large residential blocks. The fortification of Sami comprises an admirable example of defensive architecture. Its walls have five gates and preserve evidence of all types of masonry construction during the Classical and Hellenistic era, such as rectangular, trapezoidal and polygonal. Sections of the coastal city wall were discovered along the beach at the locality of “Loutro” and along Dihalion Street, where it laid buried for decades. The course of the city wall reveals the extent of the city during Classical and Hellenistic times.
The foundations of what appears to be a temple are clearly visible at “Alepovouni”. The port of Classical Sami extended towards the northwest and it has been located beneath Konstandatou square. A total of four cemeteries have come to light in the course of excavations and according to their position within present day Sami, are referred to as the north, south, east and west cemetery. The tombs are either found within enclosures, or in open space and show variation in their architectural form. The most common are the tile covered, the cist graves, the chamber tombs and pot burials (enhytrismoi). The offerings accompanying the dead vary according to gender, age, social status and activities of the individual when alive. These include figurines, pottery and glass vases, jewellery, coins, pins, loom weights, strigils, etc.
The freedom and autonomy of the city came to an end in 188 BC, after a four-month siege by the Roman forces, under the leadership of General Marcus Fulvius Nobilior.
During the Roman period the city witnessed a second period of flourishing and development, and extended beyond the fortification walls into the plains, where the current city lies.
The commercial center was transferred from the slopes of the hills “Palaiokastro” and “Agioi Fanendes” to the coast and more specifically to the locality of “Loutro”, where the Roman port was built. The jetty of the Roman port is still visible submerged under the sea. The city was supplied with public buildings (baths and stoas) and works for the common good (flood control works, aqueduct, fountain, etc.).
Private houses in Roman Sami are no less luxurious than homes and villas discovered in other major urban centers. Mosaic floors, marble linings, water tanks and water systems attest to the economic prosperity of its inhabitants. The ancient city of Sami offers remarkable insights into the creation and operation of the city-state, its town planning, architecture and defensive works.
The site is a remarkable example of cultural landscape, as it combines nature’s excellent work with human intervention.
The Mycenaean Cemetery Of Mazarakata
It is the largest Mycenaean (1390/70-1060/40 BC) cemetery discovered on the island so far, with the most distinct chamber tombs in the Ionian Sea.
The first finds came to light accidentally in 1813. The Swiss Colonel of the British Army, Charles Philippe de Bosset (governor of the islands of Kefalonia and Ithaca since March 1810) had ordered the opening of a new road in the area of Livathos. The need to mine limestone soil for the coating of the road, lead to the hills of Mazarakata, where the local sandstone was the most suitable rock for mining. The properties of the soft sandstone were well known to local residents of the Mycenaean era, three millennia earlier, where they carved the now well-known chamber tombs. During the accidental discovery of the cemetery, four tombs were disturbed. The Mycenaean civilization was totally unknown at the time. The tombs were described as “catacombs”, their contents were collected and came under the ownership of the governor. Colonel de Bosset later donated them to the Museum of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, where they lay forgotten for decades until they were identified much later. To this day, they remain in Switzerland.
In 1899 the cemetery was re-discovered by P. Kavadias, who excavated the site between 1908 and 1909. Between de Bosset and Kavadias a tolal of 16 chamber tombs were investigated, while a 17th tomb came to light much later, in 1951. The latter was located below the regional road and became visible after the road collapsed. It was investigated by Spyridon Marinatos and was subsequently covered up.
The tombs are subterranean, carved in the natural bedrock (sandstone), and consist of an elongated passage (dromos) leading to the entrance, the entrance (stomion) and the chamber.
There is considerable variation in the size of the passages, the shape and the dimensions of the chambers. The passages often have a length ranging from 4.00m to 6.00m, with the exception of one which is 15.00m long! The entrance is narrower than the dromos, not always regular in shape and was usually blocked after burial with a stone wall. The dimensions of the chambers vary: some are small (1.40m x 1.90m) with a few burials, while others are larger (5.50m x 4.80m.) and contain more burials. The shape of the chambers also varies, as they are rectangular, trapezoidal, or elliptical. Inside the chambers there are several burial pits dug into the floor. Most of them are just big enough to contain the body, or slightly bigger. The pits vary greatly in depth and can reach up to 2.00m. The deceased were buried inside the pits in a contracted position. Each pit could hold the remains of multiple individuals, since they also functioned as ossuaries, according to Mycenaean burial customs.
The most characteristic offerings from the cemetery of Mazarakata are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Argostoli. Special finds among them are a small handmade stirrup jar imitating the wheel made stirrup jars (a common find in Mycenaean tombs); a large nippled jug and a ring vase (a round tubular vase with spout and handle).
Roman Villa in Agia Efimia
A roman villa, dating to the first centuries of Christianity, was unearthed beneath dense vegetation and garbage accumulation, on the main road Ay. Euphemia – Fiskardo, within the present day village.
The villa had been discovered and partly explored by V. Kallipolitis, while the excavation was completed much later in 2000 by A. Sotiriou – A. Moschou of the 6th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. In 2008/9 the 35th Ephorate incorporated the monument in the Greece – Italy INTEREG III programme, under the auspices of which the following works took place: deforestation, removal of accumulated earth, construction of concrete and stone retaining walls, fencing, posting of informational signage , and lighting. Of the most important rescue works has been the structural restoration of the remains; the reconstruction and restoration of the well, the water channel and a deteriorated niche (a shallow recess); in addition to cleaning, detaching, conserving and reinstalling two of the mosaics.
The villa has a “Π” shaped ground plan with rooms built around a courtyard. These rooms unfortunately extend to adjacent properties and under the pavement of the regional road.
The courtyard (atrium) is paved with a floor mosaic made of large pieces of white stones, while on one side of the courtyard is a fountain for the collection and channeling of rain water into a duct.
A large area in contact with the courtyard is also covered with a floor mosaic bearing geometric motifs.
Finally, the lower part of a built-in basin was uncovered near the courtyard with an adjacent well.
The building was abandoned in the Late Roman period and it was used as a burial place, judging by the tile-covered graves that were found during excavation.
Roman Villa In Skala
The Roman villa is located near the modern village of Skala, a short distance from the sea. It was revealed in 1957 during an excavation by V.Kallipolitis. Small fragments of mosaic floors would occasionally surface during cultivation, so there had been indications for the existence of a building in the area, prior to the excavation.
This is one of the most famous monuments of Kefalonia and one of the finest examples of a Roman country house on the island. It was built during the 2nd AD and belongs to the type of rural villa. Of the six rooms that are preserved, four had mosaic floors, while the sixth room is an open courtyard. The villa has an East-West orientation. Its main entrance faces south and it was accessed by means of a wooden bridge over a winter torrent.
Of particular interest is the decoration of the mosaic floors. They impress the visitors with their polychromy (multiple colors), complex geometric patterns, and unique pictorial representations.
More particularly, the antechamber (entrance) has a mosaic floor with the depiction of “Phthonos” (Envy), in the form of a young man attacked by four beasts (tiger, lion, panther and leopard). In the lower part of the whole composition, there is an inscription with a reference to “Krateros”; the name of the artist who created the mosaic.
Another pictorial representation is found on the mosaic floor of the second chamber, which depicts a sacrificial ritual. On either side of an altar stand two “venerating” young men and below them stand the sacrificial animals. At the bottom of the composition is an inscription referring to the ritual of the sacrifice and the gods honored.
Both depictions befit a rich agricultural villa, since they appear to have had a dual purpose: both decorative and functional. The image of Envy, for example, which welcomed the visitor who entered the antechamber, he warned of the punishment which befalls those who are envious of the bliss and wealth of the house. On the other hand, the depiction of the Sacrifice, serves as a perpetual thanksgiving to the gods for the good harvest, livestock productivity and overall happiness of the resident family.
The villa appears to have been destroyed by fire in the 4th century AD and later on an Early Christian church was partly built over the villa; the church was in use until the 9th, or 10th century AD.
The Roman villa in Skala is nicely preserved and the archaeological site is now open to the public.
A permanent shelter was built over the villa in 1992 and interior corridors were created in 2008. In 2010 the shelter was extended, weatherproofing projects were undertaken and the mosaic floors of the third chamber became the object of meticulous conservation with remarkable results.
During the Middle Ages, the island was the center of the Byzantine theme of Cephallenia. After 1185 it became part of the County palatine of Kephalonia and Zakynthos under the Kingdom of Naples until its last Count Leonardo III Tocco was defeated by the Ottomans in 1479.
During the Roman Empire, the Ionian Islands (Corfu, Cephalonia, Zakynthos, Ithaca, Leucas and Cythera) were variously part of the provinces of Achaea and Epirus vetus. Except for Cythera, these formed the separate theme of Cephallenia. The islands remained largely unaffected by the Slavic invasion and settlement of the 7th century, and formed a base for the re-establishment of imperial control and the re-Hellenization of the mainland coast.
It is unknown when exactly the theme of Cephallenia was established. Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 913–959) affirms in his work, De administrando imperio, that it was originally a tourma (a division) of the theme of Longobardia in Southern Italy, and that it was raised to a strategis (a “generalship”), but not a full theme, by Emperor Leo VI the Wise (r. 886–912). This is, however, clearly an error, for several instances of generals (strategoi) of Cephallenia are known through sources before that date. Thus, theTaktikon Uspensky of 842/843 clearly mentions a strategos of Cephallenia, and the Latin chronicle Annales regni Francorum mentions one already in 809. A number of seals further push the establishment of the circumscription of Cephallenia, at least as a strategis if not as a theme, back to the middle or late 8th century.
Constantine VII’s confusion, however, reflects the close relation of Cephallenia with the imperial holdings in southern Italy: the Ionian Islands served as the main communication link with and staging base for operations in Italy, and defended the maritime approaches of the Ionian and Adriatic seas against Arab pirates. Contrary to Porphyrogennetos’s account, Longobardia was probably initially constituted as a tourma of Cephallenia after the Byzantine recapture of Bari in 876. Nevertheless, in several cases, the commands of Cephallenia and Longobardia (or, alternatively, of Nicopolis on the Epirus mainland) were thereafter held by the same person.
The theme’s strategos was probably based mostly at Cephallenia, but is also attested elsewhere, such as Corfu. In the De administrando imperio, the theme ranks seventh among the “Western”, or European themes; as with all the European themes, its strategos did not receive his salary, 12 pounds of gold, from the imperial treasury, but was paid from his theme’s tax revenue. Cephallenia was important chiefly in a maritime context, and had its own fleet, including a number of Mardaites as marines and rowers, under a tourmarches. Other tourmarchai and subordinate commanders headed the theme’s army garrison. The historian Warren Treadgold conjecturally estimates the theme’s military forces at some 2,000 men in the 9th century. The theme was also frequently used as a place of exile for political prisoners.
The Theme of Cephallenia is frequently mentioned in military operations in the 9th–11th centuries. In 809, the strategos Paul defeated a Venetian fleet off Dalmatia. In 880, the admiral Nasar heavily defeated an Arab pirate fleet that was plundering the theme’s islands, and troops from Cephallenia subsequently participated in the Byzantine offensive in Italy. Mardaites from Cephallenia are then recorded in the failed expedition of 949 against the Emirate of Crete. The last mention of a strategos of Cephallenia comes in 1011, when Kontoleon Tornikios was sent to Italy to quell a Lombard revolt. Following the collapse of Byzantine control in southern Italy in the mid-11th century, the theme’s importance declined, and it was headed by civilian governors, styled krites (“judges”).
From the late 11th century, the Ionian Islands became a battleground in the Byzantine–Norman Wars. The island of Corfu was held by the Normans in 1081–1085 and 1147–1149, while the Venetians unsuccessfully besieged it in 1122–1123. The island of Cephalonia was also unsuccessfully besieged in 1085, but was plundered in 1099 by the Pisans and in 1126 by the Venetians. Finally, Corfu and the rest of the theme except for Leucas were captured by the Normans under William II of Sicily in 1185. Although Corfu was recovered by the Byzantines by 1191, the other islands henceforth remained lost to Byzantium, and formed a County palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos under William’s Greek admiral Margaritus of Brindisi.
The County palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos existed from 1185 until 1479, as part of the Kingdom of Sicily.
The title and the right to rule the Ionian islands of Cephalonia and Zakynthos was originally given to Margaritus of Brindisi for his services to William II, king of Sicily, in 1185.
Following Margaritus, the county passed on to a branch of the family of Orsini until 1325, when it passed briefly to Angevins and then, from 1357, to the Tocco family. The Tocchi used the county as a springboard for their acquisition of lands in the Greek mainland, and were successful in gaining control over the Despotate of Epirus from 1411 on. However, facing the advance of the Ottoman Turks they successively lost their mainland territories and were once again reduced to the County Palatine, which they held until 1479, when it was divided between Venice and the Ottomans: Zakynthos was put under direct rule of Venice and Cephalonia came under Turkish rule for 21 years.
The beginning of the Frankish conquest in the islands of Cephalonia, Zakynthos and Ithaca was linked with the pirate and admiral of the Sicilian fleet Margaritus of Brindisi, known to the chroniclers of the late 12th century. He developed significant activity as the trustee of William II, Norman king of Sicily. In Latin documents of 1192 and 1193 he signed in Greek, as Margaritoni admiral count Melitios. Irrespective of Margaritus’ unclear descent, it is certain that William, after the Norman invasion of 1185 against the Byzantine provinces, granted him the new Norman acquisitions in the Ionian Sea, in exchange for the services he had offered to the Normans.
Ten years later, in 1195, Maio or Matthew Orsini, possibly offspring of a Sicilian branch of the family of the counts palatines of Rome succeeded Margaritus as the ruler of the Ionian Islands. In order to secure his position, Matthew recognized the dominion of Venice and of the pope and later of the prince of Achaea. That same period the Orthodox bishopric of the islands was abolished, the Episcopal thrones were occupied by Latins and the feudal system was put into force. The successor of Matthew, Richard, the “noblest count of the palace and lord of Cephalonia, Zakynthos and Ithaca”, authenticated in 1264 the estates of the Latin bishopric of Cephalonia. During the reign of the latter Frankish ruler, Cephalonia had become a refuge to pirates.
The Orsini family did not only rule the Ionian Islands, but it also conquered Epirus in early 14th century, thus acquiring the title of the despot as well. Certain members of the family embraced the Orthodox dogma and married Greek women. After the death of John II Orsini in 1335, the islands were occupied by the Anjou, who as rulers of Achaea had the islands under their suzerainty until then.
The Angevin occupation lasted until 1357, when the said Greek territory was ceded to the Italian family of the Tocchi, who remained in power for over a century and secured unity in the governance of those three Ionian Islands.
In 1357, Robert of Taranto ceded Cephalonia, Zakyn- thos and Ithaca to the governor of Corfu Leo-nardo I Tocco – as reward for the services he had provided when he was a captive of the king of Hungary.
After the expansion of his dominion to Leukas, Leonardo I Tocco attempted to reinforce his position against Venice, the pope, the Anjou, but mostly against the Albanians of Epirus, by entering into family relations with the Florentine family of the Acciaiuoli.
This policy gave the family of the Tocchi increased power, which reached its peak during the 15th century with its expansion to the continental coast, after Carlo I Tocco had conquered Ioannina (1411) and Arta (1416). He received the title of despot by the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and maintained the Byzantine tradition. Seated in the islands of the Ionian Sea or in the acquisitions in Central Greece, the dynasty of the Tocchi attempted to win over the populations by ceding to the seigneurs, according to the Chronicle of the Tocco, “inheritances”, “estates”, “kratimata” and “pronoias”. Following an analogous policy on the religious front, Leonardo III(1448-1481), the last of the Tocchi dynasty, reinstated the Orthodox episcopal throne of Cephalonia that had been abolished by the Orsini.
Venice was not pleased with the increased influence of the Tocchi. The downfall of the duchy of the Tocchi by the Turks (1479) gave the opportunity to the Serenissima to intervene resolutely in the Ionian Sea and succeeded, through the treaty of 1484, in annexing Zakynthos and later, in 1500, Cephalonia and Ithaca.
Ionian Islands under Venetian rule
The Ionian Islands were a maritime and overseas possession of the Republic of Venice from the mid-14th century until the late 18th century. The conquest of the islands took place gradually. The first to be acquired was Cythera and the neighboring islet of Anticythera, indirectly in 1238 and directly after 1363. In 1386, Corfu voluntarily became part of Venice’s colonies. Following a century, Venice captured Zante in 1485, Cephalonia in 1500 and Ithaca in 1503. The conquest was completed in 1718 with the capture of Lefkada. Each of the islands remained part of the Venetian Stato da Màr until Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the Republic of Venice in 1797. The Ionian Islands are situated in the Ionian Sea, off the west coast of Greece. Cythera, the southernmost, is just off the southern tip of the Peloponnese and Corfu, the northernmost, is located at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea. In modern Greek, the period of Venetian rule over Greek territory is known as Venetokratia or Enetokratia (Modern Greek: Βενετοκρατία or Ενετο- κρατία) and literally means “rule of the Venetians”. It is believed that the Venetian period on the Ionian Islands was agreeable, especially compared with the coinciding Turkish rule over other parts of present-day Greece.
The governor of the Ionian Islands during the Venetian period was the Provveditore generale da Mar, who resided on Corfu. Additionally, each island’s authorities were divided into the Venetian and the domestic authorities. The economy of the islands was based on exporting local goods, primarily raisins, olive oil and wine, whereas Venetian lira, the currency of Venice, was also the currency of the islands. Some features of the culture of Venice were incorporated in the culture of the Ionian Islands. The Italian language, for instance, which was introduced on the islands as the official language and was adopted by the upper class, is still popular today throughout the islands.
Relations between Venice and Byzantium
Venice was founded in 421 after the destruction of nearby communities by the Huns and the Lombards. In the shifting Italian borders of the following centuries, Venice benefited from remaining under the control of the Roman Empire – increasingly as the furtherest Northwestern outpost of the now Constantinople centered power. During Justinian I’s reconquest of Italy from the Visigoths, Venice was an increasingly important stronghold for the Empire’s Exarchate of Ravenna. The political centre of the exarchate, and the most senior military officials of the Empire, were situated in Ravenna. The subordinate military officials who were their representatives in the Venetian lagoons were called tribunes, and only in about AD 697 were the lagoons made a separate military command under a dux (doge). Notwithstanding the election of the first Doge, vassalic evidence such as honours and orders received by the doge from the Emperor implies that Venice was considered part of the Byzantine Empire even after the capture of Ravenna by the Lombards. Despite the Pax Nicephori (803), which recognised Venice as Byzantine territory, the influence of the Eastern Roman Emperor slowly faded away. By 814 Venice functioned as a fully independent republic. Even so, Venice became a partner of the Empire and trading privileges were granted to it by the Emperors via treaties, such as the Byzantine–Venetian Treaty of 1082.
The Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) was initially intended to invade Muslim-controlled areas; instead, the Crusaders attacked the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, resulting in the temporary dissolution of the empire and the sack of its capital. As Venice was one of the participants in the Crusade its relations with the Byzantine Empire were strained during this period. Moreover, by styling himself “Lord of one-quarter and one-eighth of the whole Empire of Romania” after the Crusade, the Doge of Venice at that time, Enrico Dandolo (who had masterminded the attack and personally led the final assault) contributed to the deterioration of the relations between the two states. Efforts to improve relations, for example through the Nicaean–Venetian Treaty of 1219, proved un- successful. A period of friendly relations only followed the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, when Venice, foreseeing the fall of Charles, the French King of Sicily, began forming closer relations with Byzantium. Venice had been bound by an alliance with Charles against Byzantium in 1281.
History of the Ionian Islands under Venetian rule
Roman and Byzantine period
During the Roman Empire, the Ionian Islands were variously part of the provinces of Achaea and Epirus vetus. These would form, with the exception of Cythera, the Byzantine theme of Cephallenia in the late 8th century. From the late 11th century, the Ionian Islands became a battleground in the Byzantine–Norman Wars. The island of Corfu was held by the Normans in 1081–1085 and 1147–1149, while the Venetians unsuccessfully besieged it in 1122–1123. The island of Cephalonia was also unsuccessfully besieged in 1085, but was plundered in 1099 by the Pisans and in 1126 by the Venetians. Finally, Corfu and the rest of the theme, except for Lefkada, were captured by the Normans under William II of Sicily in 1185. Although Corfu was recovered by the Byzantines by 1191, the other islands henceforth remained lost to Byzantium, and formed a County palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos under William’s Greek admiral Margaritus of Brindisi.
Following the Fourth Crusade and the signature of the Partitio terrarum imperii Romaniae, Corfu came under Venetian rule. In 1207 though, doge Pietro Ziani ceded the island as a feudum to ten Venetian nobles, provided that they demonstrate loyalty and devotion and that they pay taxes. Corfu passed in the hands of the Despotate of Epirus around 1214, and was captured in 1257 by Manfred of Sicily, who put his admiralPhilippe Chinard there in charge of his eastern possessions. Nonetheless, with the defeat of Manfred at Benevento and the signature of the Treaty of Viterbo on 27 May 1267, Corfu became a possession of the Angevin Kingdom of Naples. Meanwhile, the rest of the islands continued to form part of the County palatine, which throughout its existence was governed by three families: the Orsini family, the House of Anjou and theTocco family. The rule of the family of Tocco lasted for 122 years, up until 1479, when Ottomans captured Cephalonia, Zante, Lefkada and Ithaca.
The Venetian conquest
On 13 February 1386 Corfu became once more a Venetian possession and this time Venetian rule would last until the end of the Republic. This was accomplished voluntary by the people of Corfu. On 10 May, the Corfiotes appointed five ambassadors to submit to the Venetian senate. The Ottomans made several attempts to capture Corfu, the first of which was in 1537. This attack led Venice to an alliance with the Pope and Emperor Charles V., known as the Holy League, against the Ottoman Empire. Another major unsuccessful Ottoman attack was that of July 1716.
After the partition of the Byzantine Empire in 1204, Cythera fell into Venetian hands in 1238 through the marriage of Marco Venier with the daughter of the Greek lord of the island. Cythera and Anticythera constituted part of the Stato da Mar for the first time in 1363 followed by an interruption of a three-year Turkish rule, between 1715 and 1718. With the Treaty of Passarowitz Cythera and Anticythera passed to the Venetian Republic and remained under its control until its fall, in 1797.
The Turkish rule in the three islands of Cephalonia, Zante and Ithaca was short-lived. In 1481, two years after the beginning of the Turkish rule, Antonio Tocco invaded and briefly occupied Cephalonia and Zante but he was soon driven out by the Venetians. Zante was officially recovered by the Venetians in 1485. Then, Cephalonia, after sixteen years of Turkish occupation (1484–1500), became part of the Stato da Mar on 24 December 1500, with the Siege of the Castle of St. George. Finally, Ithaca, following the fate of Cephalonia, was conquered by Venice in 1503.
Lefkada, part of the Despotate of Epirus since the latter’s foundation in 1205, was incorporated by Leonardo I Tocco into the County of Cephalonia in 1362. The Despotate of Epirus was one of the three Byzantine Empires in exile created after the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Following the fate of the other central Ionian Islands, it was captured by the Turks in 1479 and then by the Venetians in 1502. However, Venetian rule did not last, as Lefkada was given back to the Ottoman Empire one year later. Turkish rule over Lefkada lasted for over 200 years, from 1479 to 1684, when Francesco Morosini attacked and subdued the island during the Morean War. Lefkada, however, did not become officially Venetian until 1718, with the signature of the Treaty of Passarowitz.
Dissolution of the Republic and aftermath Napoleon Bonaparte declared war against Venice on 3 May. The signing of the Treaty of Campo Formio, on 17 October 1797, marked the dissolution of the Republic of Venice and the sharing of its territories between France and Austria. The lands of the Terraferma up to the River Adige, the city itself and the possessions of the Balkan peninsula of Istria and Dalmatiawere yielded to Austria. The Ionian Islands, part of Venetian maritime territories, were ceded to France. Napoleon organized the islands into three departments: Corcyre, Ithaque, and Mer-Égée.
The first included the islands of Corfu and Paxos, as well as the former Venetian settlements of Butrint and Parga situated in Epirus. The second department was formed by the islands of Cephalonia, Ithaca and Lefkada and the cities of Preveza and Vonitsa, whereas Zante and Cerigo were part of the third department. The French rule, however, did not last as Russia allied with the Ottoman Empire in September 1798 and in 1799 a Russo-Ottoman naval expeditioncaptured the islands. With the signing of a treaty between Russia and the Porte on 21 March 1800, an independent island republic under the protection of both the empires was established. The name of the new state was agreed to be the “Septinsular Republic” and included all the territories of the three former French departments except for the continental possessions of Parga, Preveza, Vonitsa and Butrint. With the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, the seven islands were given back to France by Russia. In October 1809, Great Britain took possession of all the islands with the exception of Corfu and Paxos, which was only surrendered in 1814. In 1815, the Ionian Islands became a British protectorate under the name United States of the Ionian Islands.
Throughout Venice’s old possessions, but above all in the Ionian islands, the memory of the Republic is deeply rooted in the population, who recall it with a shade of nostalgia even after so much time and so many events. Because of the long Venetian period, the manners and traditions of the inhabitants of the Ionian Islands are a mixture of Greek and Italian. The Venetian influence is illustrated in all aspects of culture and everyday life. In 1800 the Septinsular Republic was established; its flag design was based on the flag of the Republic of Venice. In addition, Italian was the co-official language of both the Septinsular Republic and the United States of the Ionian Islands. Because of its status, Italian was also taught at schools along with Greek and English (Ionian Islands were a protectorate of the United Kingdom from 1815 until 1864). In the First Year of the secondary education, for instance, Greek was taught four times a week, Italian three times and English twice. In the Greek Census of 1907, 4,675 people from the Ionian Islands stated Catholicism as their denomination, about 1.8% of the total population (254,494), while 2,541 (1%) Ionians stated Italian as their mother tongue, making it the second language by number of speakers. The Italian language remains popular on the islands. The Hellenic Union of Eptanisians, a civil non-profit company working for the promotion of the Heptanesian Culture, objected to the decision of the Ministry to abolish the teaching of Italian in schools, saying that “especially for the Ionian Islands the selection of the Italian language has become a tradition for their schools, but also a necessary language because of the many tourists from Italy and other relations e.g. cultural, commercial, etc., of the islands with the country” and they propose “respect for the choice of the children and recognition of their right to learn the language they want and especially the Italian as it’s the language with the greatest preference on the Ionian Islands”.
These cultural remnants of the Venetian period were the pretext of Mussolini’s desire to incorporate the Ionian Islands into the Kingdom of Italy. Even before the outbreak of World War II and the Greek-Italian War, Mussolini had expressed his wish to annex the Ionian Islands as part of his wider plans for an Italian Empire centered around the Mediterranean Sea. On 15 October, in a meeting in the Palazzo Venezia, he made the final decision to invade Greece. His initial goal was the occupation of Corfu, Zante and Cephalonia. After the fall of Greece, in early April 1941, the invaders divided its lands into three occupation zones; the Italians occupied much of the country, including the Ionians. Mussolini informed General Carlo Geloso that the Ionian Islands would form a separate Italian province through a de facto annexation, but the Germans would not approve it. The Italian authorities nevertheless continued to prepare the ground for the annexation. Finally, on 22 April 1941, after discussions between the German and Italian rulers, German führer Adolf Hitler agreed that Italy could proceed with a de facto annexation of the islands. From then on, until the end of the war, the islands passed through a phase of Italianization in all areas, from their administration to their economy.
Venetian rule at Cephalonia
The Turkish rule lasted only until 1500, when it was captured by a Spanish-Venetian army, a rare Venetian success in the Second Ottoman–Venetian War. From then on Cephalonia and Ithaca remained overseas colonies of the Venetian Republic until its very end, following the fate of the Ionian islands, completed by the capture of Lefkas from the Turks in 1684. TheTreaty of Campoformio dismantling the Venetian Republic awarded the Ionian Islands to France, a French expeditionary force with boats captured in Venice taking control of the islands in June 1797.
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the island was one of the largest exporters of currants in the world with Zakynthos, and owned a large shipping fleet, even commissioning ships from the Danzig shipyard. Its towns and villages were mostly built high on hilltops, to prevent attacks from raiding parties of pirates that sailed the Ionian Sea during the 1820s.
French, Ionian state period and British Rule
Venice was conquered by France in 1797 and Cephalonia, along with the other Ionian Islands, became part of the French départment of Ithaque.
In the following year the French were forced to yield the Ionian Islands to a combined Russian and Turkish fleet. From 1799 to 1807, Cephalonia was part of the Septinsular Republic, nominally under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire, but protected by Russia.
By the Tilsit Treaty in 1807, the Ionian Islands were ceded back to France, which remained in control until 1809. Then Great Britain mounted a blockade on the Ionian Islands as part of the war against Napoleon, and in September of that year they hoisted the British flag above the castle of Zakynthos. Cephalonia and Ithaca soon surrendered, and the British installed provisional governments. The treaty of Paris in 1815 recognised the United States of the Ionian Islands and decreed that it become a British protectorate. Colonel Charles Philippe de Bosset became provisional governor between 1810 and 1814. During this period he was credited with achieving many public works, including the Drapano Bridge.
A few years later resistance groups started to form. Although their energy in the early years was directed to supporting the Greeks in the revolution against the Turks, it soon started to turn towards the British. By 1848 the resistance movement was gaining strength and there were skirmishes with the British Army in Argostoli and Lixouri, which led to some relaxation in the laws and to freedom of the press. Union with Greece was now a declared aim, and by 1850, a growing restlessness resulted in even more skirmishes. Cephalonia, along with the other islands, were transferred to Greece in 1864 as a gesture of goodwill when the British-backed Prince William of Denmark became King George the First of the Hellenes.
United States of the Ionian Islands
The United States of the Ionian Islands (Greek: Ἡνωμένον Κράτος τῶν Ἰονίων Νήσων, Inoménon- Krátos ton Ioníon Níson, literally “United State of the Ionian Islands”; Italian:Stati Uniti delle Isole Ionie) was a state and amical protectorate of the United Kingdom between 1815 and 1864. It was the successor state of the Septinsular Republic. It covered the territory of the Ionian Islands, located in modern Greece, to whom it was ceded as a gift of the United Kingdom to the newly enthroned King George I, at the end of the protectorate.
Prior to the French Revolutionary Wars, the Ionian Islands had been part of the Republic of Venice. With the dissolution of that polity by the 1797 Treaty of Campo Formio, it was annexed into the French Republic, created into the French departments of Greece. Between 1798 and 1799, the French were driven out by a joint Russo-Ottoman force. The occupying forces founded the Septinsular Republic, which enjoyed relative independence under nominal Ottoman suzerainty and Russian control from 1800 until 1807.
The Ionian Islands were then occupied by the French after the treaty of Tilsit. In 1809, the United Kingdom defeated the French fleet off the island Zakynthos on 2 October, and captured Kefalonia, Kythira, and Zakynthos. The British took Lefkada in 1810. The island of Corfu remained occupied by the French until 1814.
The Congress of Vienna agreed to place the Ionian Islands under the exclusive “amical protection” of the United Kingdom. Despite British military administration, the Austrian Empire was guaranteed commercial status equal to the UK. The arrangement was formalised with the ratification of the “Maitland constitution” on 26 August 1817, which created a federation of the seven islands, with Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Maitland its first “Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands”.
On 29 March 1864, representatives of the United Kingdom, Greece, France, and Russia signed the Treaty of London, pledging the transfer of sovereignty to Greece upon ratification; this was meant to bolster the reign of the newly installed King George I of the Hellenes. Thus, on 28 May, by proclamation of the Lord High Commissioner, the Ionian Islands were united with Greece.
According to the second constitution of the republic (1803), Greek was the primary official language, in contrast to the situation in the Septinsular Republic. Italian was still in use, though, mainly for official purposes since the Venetian Republic. The only island in which Italian (Venetian) had a wider spread was Cephalonia, where a great number of people had adopted Venetian Italian as their first language.
The government was organised under the direction of a Lord High Commissioner, appointed by the British monarch on the advice of the British government. In total, ten men served in this capacity, including William Gladstone as a Lord High Commissioner Extraordinary.
The Ionian Islands had a bicameral legislature, titled the ‘Parliament of the United States of the Ionian Islands’ and composed of a Legislative Assembly and a Senate.
The 1818 constitution also established a High Court of Appeal to be called the Supreme Council of Justice of the United States of the Ionian Islands, of which the president was to be known as the Chief Justice who would rank in precedence immediately after the President of the Senate.
The Revolution Of 1821 – English Occupation – UnionAlthough the island of Kefalonia remained under the English Occupation, the locals participated actively in the Greek Revolution against Turkish Rule. Some of the fighters from Kefalonia were Constantinos and Andreas Metaxas, Gerasimos and Dionissios Fokas, Demetrios Hoidas, Gerasimos Orfanos and Loukas Valsamakis. The most significant event in which Kefalonia participated was the battle of Lalas, in Helia. There, with the help of the Peloponnesian army, Andreas and Constantinos Metaxas defeated the Turks who invaded the village on 24 June 1821.
At that time, the Ionian Commissioner was Charles Napier, a democrat who supervised significant constructions in Kefalonia, one of them being the building “Markato” at Lixouri, which initially housed the island’s Court. On 14 September 1848, due to popular demand, Ionian Commissioner Seaton granted the people significant privileges. The next Commissioner, George Eward, wished to change the Constitution, yet he was prevented by the Conservatives. A new series of insurrections forced Queen Victoria to proclaim elections in 1850, after which the first Parliament was established. The Parliament’s duration was short, as it dissolved after the union of the Ionian Islands with the rest of Greece. The crisis of the English policy regarding Greece and the people’s insurrections forced England to secede from the dominion of the Ionian Islands and on 23 September 1863, the Parliament voted in favor of their union with the rest of Greece. On 21 May 1864, Thrasivoulos Zaimis officially received the Ionian Islands from Henry Storcks.
Union with Greece
In 1864, Cephalonia, together with all the other Ionian Islands, became a full member of the Greek state.
World War II
Axis occupation of Greece
The occupation of Greece by the Axis Powers began in April 1941 after Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany invaded Greece, and lasted until Germany and its satellite Bulgaria withdrew from the mainland of the country in October 1944. German garrisons remained in control of Crete and other Aegean islands until after the end of World War II, surrendering to the Allies in May and June 1945.
Fascist Italy had initially declared war and invaded Greece in October 1940 but the invasion was stopped, and the Hellenic Army was able initially to push the invaders back into neighboring Albania, then a protectorate of Italy. This forced Nazi Germany to shift its military focus from the preparation of “Operation Barbarossa” to an intervention on its ally’s behalf in southern Europe. While most of the Hellenic Army was dislocated on the Albanian front to fend off the Italian counter-attacks, a rapid German Blitzkrieg campaign commenced in April 1941, and by June Allied Greece was defeated and occupied by the Nazis. As result, the Greek government went into exile, and an Axis collaborationist puppet government was established in the country. Furthermore, Greece’s territory was divided into occupation zones run by the Axis powers, with the Nazi Germans proceeding to administer the most important regions of the country themselves, including Athens, Thessaloniki and the most strategic Aegean Islands. Other regions of the country were given to Germany’s Axis partners, Fascist Italy and Bulgaria.
The occupation ruined the Greek economy and brought about terrible hardships for the Greek civilian population. Much of Greece was subjected to enormous destruction of its industry (80% of which was destroyed), infrastructure (28% destroyed), ports, roads, railways and bridges (90%), forests and other natural resources (25%) and loss of civilian life (7.02% – 11.17% of its citizens). Over 40,000 civilians died in Athens alone from starvation, tens of thousands more died because of reprisals by Nazis and collaborators. At the same time the Greek Resistance, one of the most effective resistance movements in Occupied Europe was formed. These resistance groups launched guerrilla attacks against the occupying powers, fought against the collaborationist Security Battalions, and set up large espionage networks. They were opposed by the Communists at first, because of the Soviet Union’s orders to collaborate with the Nazis as part of the Nazi-Soviet pact. This changed after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, and the Communists then joined the resistance. By late 1943 the democratic and Communist resistance groups began to fight, as the Communists sought to control post-war Greece and liquidate all opposition. When liberation of the mainland came in October 1944, Greece was in a state of extreme political polarization, which soon led to the outbreak of civil war. The subsequent civil war gave the opportunity to some collaborators not only to escape punishment (because of their anti-communism), but to eventually join the democratic elements in ruling postwar Greece, after the communist defeat. This undermined Greek democracy.
Fall of Greece
In the early morning hours of 28 October 1940, Italian Ambassador Emmanuel Grazzi awoke Greek Premier Ioannis Metaxas and presented him an ultimatum. Metaxas rejected the ultimatum and Italian forces invaded Greek territory from Italian-occupied Albania less than three hours later. (The anniversary of Greece’s refusal is now a public holiday in Greece.) Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini launched the invasion partly to prove that Italians could match the military successes of the German Army and partly because Mussolini regarded southeastern Europe as lying within Italy’s sphere of influence.
The Hellenic Army proved to be a formidable opponent, and successfully exploited the mountainous terrain of Epirus. The Hellenic forces counterattacked and forced the Italians to retreat. By mid-December, the Greeks had occupied nearly one-quarter of Albania, before Italian reinforcements and the harsh winter stemmed the Greek advance.
In March 1941, a major Italian counterattack failed. The initial Greek defeat of the Italian invasion is considered the first Allied land victory of the Second World War, although due to German intervention, it eventually resulted in a victory for the Axis. Fifteen of the 21 Greek divisions were deployed against the Italians, so only six divisions were facing the attack from German troops in the Metaxas Line(near the border between Greece and Yugo-slavia/ Bulgaria) during the first days of April. Greece received help from British Commonwealth troops, moved from Libya on the orders ofWinston Churchill.
On 6 April 1941, Germany came to the aid of Italy and invaded Greece through Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Greek and British Commonwealth troops fought back but were overwhelmed. On 20 April, after Greek resistance in the north had ceased, the Bulgarian Army entered Greek Thrace, without having fired a shot, with the goal of regaining its Aegean Sea outlet in Western Thrace and Eastern Macedonia. The Bulgarians occupied territory between the Strymon River and a line of demarcation running through Alexandroupoli and Svilengrad west of the Evros River. The Greek capital Athens fell on 27 April, and by 1 June, after the capture of Crete, all of Greece was under Axis occupation. After the invasion King George II fled, first to Crete and then to Cairo. A nominally right-wing Greek government ruled from Athens, but it was a puppet of the occupiers.
The Triple Occupation
The occupation of Greece was divided among Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. German forces occupied the most strategically important areas, namely Athens, Thessaloniki with Central Macedonia and several Aegean Islands, including most of Crete. East Macedonia and Thrace came under Bulgarian occupation and was annexed to Bulgaria, which had long claimedthese territories. The remaining two thirds of Greece was occupied by Italy, with the Ionian Islands directly administered as Italian territories. After the Italian capitulation in September 1943, the Italian zone was taken over by the Germans, who often attacked the Italian garrisons. There was a failed attempt by the British to take advantage of the Italian surrender to reenter the Aegean, resulting in the Dodecanese Campaign.
The Greco-Italian War was a conflict between Italy and Greece, which lasted from 28 October 1940 to 23 April 1941. The conflict marked the beginning of the Balkans campaign ofWorld War II and the initial Greek counter-offensive, the first successful land campaign against the Axis powers in the war. The conflict known as the Battle of Greece began with the intervention of Nazi Germany on 6 April 1941. In Greece, the war against Italy is known as the “War of ’40”
Italy had invaded Albania in the spring of 1939 and attacked the British Empire in Africa, completing the conquest of British Somaliland and began an invasion of Egypt in the summer of 1940 but could not claim victories like those of Nazi Germany. Benito Mussolini wanted to reassert Italian interests in the Balkans, feeling threatened by German encroachments (the Kingdom of Romania in the supposed Italian sphere of influence, had accepted German protection for the Ploiești oil fields in mid-October) and secure bases from which British outposts in the eastern Mediterranean could be attacked.
On 28 October 1940, after Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas rejected an Italian ultimatum demanding the occupation of Greek territory, Italian forces invaded Greece from Albania. The Greek army counter-attacked and forced the Italians to retreat. By mid-December, the Greeks occupied nearly a quarter of Albania, tying down 530,000 Italian troops. In March 1941, Operation Spring (Operazione Primavera), an Italian counter-offensive failed and on 6 April, Nazi Germany invaded Greece through Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, beginning the Battle of Greece.
On 12 April, the Greek army retreated from Albania to avoid being cut off by the rapid German advance and on 20 April, the Greek Epirus Army Section surrendered to the Germans. On 23 April, the armistice with Germany was repeated with the Italians, ending the Greco-Italian war. By the end of April, the Axis occupation of Greece had been completed by Italian, German and Bulgarian forces, with Italy occupying nearly two thirds of the country. The Greek victory over the initial Italian offensive of October 1940 was the first Allied land victory of the Second World War and helped raise morale in occupied Europe.
Background – Italian imperialism
In the late 1920s, the Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini said that Italy needed Spazio vitale, an outlet for its surplus population and that it would be in the best interests of other countries to aid in this expansion. The regime wanted hegemony in the Mediterranean–Danubian–Balkan region and Mussolini imagined the conquest “of an empire stretching from theStrait of Gibraltar to the Strait of Hormuz”. There were designs for a protectorate over Albania and for the annexation of Dalmatia and economic and military control of Yugoslavia andGreece. The fascist regime also sought to establish protectorates over Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, which lay on the periphery of an Italian European sphere of influence.
In 1935, Italy began the Second Italo-Ethiopian War to expand the empire; a more aggressive Italian foreign policy which “exposed [the] vulnerabilities” of the British and French and created an opportunity for the Fascist regime needed to realize its imperial goals. In 1936, the Spanish Civil War began and Italy made a military contribution so vast that it played a decisive role in the victory of the rebel forces of Francisco Franco. “A full-scale external war” was fought for Spanish subservience to the Italian Empire, to place Italy on a war footing, and to create “a warrior culture”.
In September 1938, the Italian army had made plans to invade Albania, which began on 7 April and in three days had occupied most of the country. Albania was a territory that Italy could acquire for “living space to ease its overpopulation” as well as a foothold for expansion in the Balkans. During 1940, Italy invaded France and Egypt. A plan to invade Yugoslavia was drawn up, but postponed due to opposition from Nazi Germany and a lack of Italian army transport.
Greek–Italian relations in the interwar period
Italy had captured the predominantly Greek-inhabited Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean Sea from the Ottoman Empire in the Italo-Turkish War of 1912. It had occupied them since, after reneging on the 1919 Venizelos–Tittoni agreement to cede them to Greece. When the Italians found that Greece had been promised land in Anatolia at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, for aid in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, the Italian delegation withdrew from the conference for several months. Italy occupied parts of Anatolia which threatened the Greek occupation zone and the city of Smyrna. Greek troops were landed and the Greco-Turkish War (1919–22) began with Greek troops advanced into Anatolia. Turkish forces eventually defeated the Greeks and with Italian aid, recovered the lost territory, including Smyrna. In 1923, Mussolini used the murder of an Italian general on the Greco-Albanian border as a pretext to bombard and temporarily occupy Corfu, the most important of the Ionian Islands.
The Greek defeat in Anatolia and the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), ended the expansionist Megali Idea. Henceforth Greek foreign policy was largely aimed at preserving the status quo. Territorial claims to Northern Epirus (southern Albania), the Italian-ruled Dodecanese, and British-ruled Cyprus remained open but inactive in view of the country’s weakness and isolation. The main threat Greece faced was from Bulgaria, which claimed Greece’s northern territories. The years after 1923 were marked by almost complete diplomatic isolation and unresolved disputes with practically every neighbouring country. The dictatorship of Theodoros Pangalos in 1925–26 sought to revise the Treaty of Lausanne by a war with Turkey. To this end, Pangalos sought Italian diplomatic support, as Italy still had ambitions in Anatolia, but in the event, nothing came of his overtures to Mussolini. After the fall of Pangalos and the restoration of relative political stability in 1926, efforts were undertaken to normalize relations with Turkey, Yugoslavia, Albania and Romania, without much success at first. The same period saw Greece draw closer to Britain and away from France, exacerbated by a dispute over the two sides’ financial claims from World War I.
The Greek government put renewed emphasis on improving relations with Italy and in November 1926, a trade agreement was signed between the two states. Initiated and energetically pursued by Andreas Michalakopoulos, the Italian–Greek rapprochement had a positive impact on Greek relations with Romania and Turkey and after 1928 was continued by the new government of Eleftherios Venizelos. This policy culminated with the signing of a treaty of friendship on 23 September 1928.
Mussolini exploited this treaty, as it aided in his efforts to diplomatically isolate Yugoslavia from potential Balkan allies. An offer of alliance between the two countries was rebuffed by Venizelos but during the talks Mussolini personally offered “to guarantee Greek sovereignty” on Macedonia and assured Venizelos that in case of an external attack on Thessaloniki by Yugoslavia, Italy would join Greece.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Mussolini sought diplomatically to create “an Italian-dominated Balkan bloc that would link Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Hungary”. Venizelos countered the policy with diplomatic agreements among Greek neighbours and established an “annual Balkan conference … to study questions of common interest, particularly of an economic nature, with the ultimate aim of establishing some kind of regional union”. This increased diplomatic relations and by 1934 was resistant to “all forms of territorial revisionism”. Venizelos adroitly maintained a principle of “open diplomacy” and was careful not to alienate traditional Greek patrons in Britain and France. The Greco-Italian friendship agreement ended Greek diplomatic isolation and the beginning of a series of bilateral agreements, most notably the Greco-Turkish Friendship Convention in 1930. This process culminated in the signature of the Balkan Pact between Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey and Romania, which was a counter to Bulgarian revisionism.
The Second Italo-Ethiopian War marked a renewal of Italian expansionism, and began a period where Greece increasingly sought a firm British commitment for its security. Although Britain offered guarantees to Greece (as well as Turkey and Yugoslavia) for the duration of the Ethiopian crisis, it was unwilling to commit itself further so as to avoid limiting its freedom of manoeuvre vis-à-vis Italy. Furthermore, with the (British-backed) restoration of the Greek monarchy in 1935 in the person of the anglophile King George II, Britain had secured its dominant influence in the country. This did not change after the establishment of in August 1936 the dictatorial 4th of August Regime of Ioannis Metaxas. Although imitating the Fascist regime in Italy in its ideology and outward appearance, the regime lacked a mass popular base, and its main pillar was the King, who commanded the allegiance of the army. Greek foreign policy thus remained aligned with that of Britain, despite the parallel ever-growing economic penetration of the country by Nazi Germany. Metaxas himself, although an ardent Germanophile in World War I, followed this line, and after the Munich Conference in October 1938 suggested a British–Greek alliance to the British ambassador, arguing that Greece “should prepare for the eventuality of a war between Great Britain and Italy, which sooner or later Greece would find itself drawn into”. Loath to be embroiled in a possible Greek–Bulgarian war, dismissive of Greece’s military ability, and disliking the regime, the British rebuffed the offer.
Prelude to war, 1939–40
On 4 February 1939, Mussolini addressed the Fascist Grand Council on foreign policy. The speech outlined Mussolini’s belief that Italy was being imprisoned by France and the United Kingdom and what territory would be needed to break free. During this speech, Mussolini declared Greece to be a “vital [enemy] of Italy and its expansion.” On 18 March, as signs for an imminent Italian invasion of Albania as well as a possible attack on Corfu mounted, Metaxas wrote in his diary of his determination to resist any Italian attack.
Following the Italian annexation of Albania in April, relations between Italy and Greece deteriorated rapidly. While the Greeks began defensive preparations in case of an Italian attack, the Italians began improve the infrastructure in Albania to facilitate troop movements. Tensions mounted as a result of a continued anti-Greek campaign in the Italian press, combined with provocative Italian actions. Thus during Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano’s visit to Albania, posters supporting Albanian irredentism in Chameria were publicly displayed; the governor of the Italian Dodecanese,Cesare Maria De Vecchi, closed the remaining Greek communal schools in the province; and Italian troops were heard singing “Andremo nell’Egeo, prenderemo pure il Pireo. E, si tutto va bene, prenderemo anche Aténe.” (We go to the Aegean, and will take even Piraeus. And if all goes well, we will take Athens too.”). Four of the five Italian divisions in Albania moved towards the Greek border, and on 16 August, the Italian Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, received orders to begin planning for an attack on Greece. Already on 4 August, Metaxas ordered Greek forces to a state of readiness and a partial mobilization.
Although both Britain and France publicly guaranteed the independence of Greece and Romania on 13 April 1939, the British still refused to be drawn into concrete undertakings towards Greece as they hoped to entice Mussolini to remain neutral in the coming conflict with Germany and saw in a potential Greek alliance only a drain on their own resources. With British encouragement therefore, Metaxas made diplomatic ouvertures to Italy in August, and on 12 September Mussolini wrote to Metaxas assuring him that if it entered the war, Italy would respect Greece’s neutrality, and that Italian troops based in Albania would be pulled back about 20 miles (32 km) from the Greek border. The Italian dictator even instructed his ambassador to Athens, Emanuele Grazzi, to express his trust towards Metaxas and offer to sell Greece aircraft. On 20 September the Italians offered to formalize relations by renewing the 1928 treaty. Metaxas rejected this, as the British Foreign Office was categorically opposed to any formal commitment on the part of Greece towards Italy, and limited himself to a public declaration of friendship and good-will. The tension was defused and Greek–Italian relations entered a friendly phase that lasted until spring 1940.
In May, as Italy’s imminent entry into World War II became apparent, the Italian press began a coordinated anti-Greek propaganda campaign, accusing the country of being a foreign puppet and of tolerating the presence of British warships in its waters. Following the defeat of France, Greek–Italian tensions rose further. From 18 June, De Vecchi sent a series of protests to Rome reporting on the presence of British warships in Crete and other Greek islands, and that a British base had been established at Milos. These accusations were overblown, but not entirely unjustified: in January 1940, bowing to British pressure, Greece concluded a trade agreement with Britain limiting its exports to Germany and allowing Britain to use the large Greek merchant fleet for its war effort, effectively marking Greece’s adherence to the anti-Axis camp despite its official neutrality. In addition, British warships did indeed on occasion foray deep into the Aegean, leading the British ambassador to Athens on 17 August to recommend to his government that such actions cease.
Italian military forces harassed their Greek counterparts, with air attacks made on Greek naval vessels at sea. On 12 July, while attacking a British petrol carrier off Crete, Italian aircraft based in the Dodecanese went on to bombard Greek warships in harbour at Kissamos. On 31 July, Italian bombers attacked two Greek destroyers in the Gulf of Corinth and two submarines in Nafpaktos, and two days later a coastguard vessel at Aegina off Athens. On 11 August, orchestrated by Ciano and the Italian viceroy in Albania, Francesco Jacomoni, the Italian and Albanian press began a coordinated campaign against Greece on the pretext of the murder of the bandit Daut Hodja in June. Hodja was presented as a patriot fighting for the liberty of Chameria, and his murder the work of Greek agents. Although Greek “expansionism” was denounced and claims for the surrender of Chameria made, both Ciano and well-informed German sources regarded the press campaign as a means to intimidate Greece rather than a prelude to war.
On 15 August 1940 (the Dormition of the Theotokos, a Greek national religious holiday), the Greek light cruiser Elli was sunk by the submarine Delfino in Tinos harbour. The attack was a result of an order by Mussolini and Navy chief Domenico Cavagnari for a submarine to attack neutral shipping. This was taken up by De Vecchi, who ordered the Delfino ’s commander to “sink everything in sight in the vicinity of Tinos and Syros”, giving the impression that war was imminent. On the same day, another Greek steamship was bombarded by Italian planes in Crete. Despite evidence of Italian responsibility, the Greek government announced that the attack had been carried out by a submarine of unknown nationality. No-one was fooled, however, and the sinking of Elli outraged the Greek people. As ambassador Grazzi wrote in his memoirs, the attack only served to unite a people “deeply riven by unbridgeable political differences and old and deep-running political hatreds” and to imbue it with a firm resolve to resist. German intervention, urging Italy to focus on the defeat of Britain and avoid any Balkan complications, eventually led to the abandonment of Italian plans on Greece (and Yugoslavia) for the time being by 21 August.
On 7 October, German troops entered Romania, in preparation for Operation Barbarossa and to guard the Ploiești oil fields. Mussolini was not informed in advance, regarded it as an encroachment on the Italian sphere of influence and advanced plans for an invasion of Greece.
The Italian war aim was to establish a Greek puppet state, which would permit the Italian annexation of the Ionian Islands and the Sporades and the Cyclades islands in the Aegean sea, to be administered as a part of the Italian Aegean Islands. The islands were claimed on the basis that they had once belonged to the Venetian Republic and the Venetian client state of Naxos. The Epirus and Acarnania regions were to be separated from the rest of the Greek territory and the Italian-controlled Kingdom of Albania was to annex territory between the Greek north-western frontier and a line from Florina to Pindus, Arta and Preveza. The Italians intended partly to compensate Greece for its extensive territorial losses, by allowing it to annex the British Crown Colony of Cyprus after the war.
On 13 October, Mussolini finalized the decision for war when he informed Marshal Badoglio to start preparing an attack for 26 October. Badoglio then issued the order for the Italian military to begin preparations for executing the existing war plan, “Contingency G[reece]”, which envisioned the capture of Epirus as far as Arta but left the further pursuit of the campaign open. On the next day, Badoglio and acting Army Chief of Staff Mario Roatta met with Mussolini, who announced that his objective was the capture of the entire country and that he would contact Bulgaria for a joint operation. Roatta advised that an extension of the invasion beyond Epirus would require an additional ten divisions, which would take three months to arrive and suggested limiting the extent of the Italian demobilization. Both generals urged Mussolini to replace the local commander, Lieutenant-General Sebastiano Visconti Prasca, with someone more senior and greater experience. Mussolini seemingly agreed but also insisted on the attack going ahead at the determined date, provisionally under Prasca’s command. Badoglio and Roatta seemed unconvinced that the operation would take place, like similar projects against Greece and Yugoslavia.
Next day, Mussolini called another conference with Badoglio, Roatta, Visconti Prasca, Ciano, and Jacomoni. He reiterated his objectives and his determination that the attack takes place on 26 October and asked for the opinion of the assembled. Jacomoni agreed that the Albanians were enthusiastic but that the Greeks would fight, likely with British help, while Ciano suggested that the Greek people were apathetic and would not support the “plutocratic” ruling class. Prasca offered assurances that the operation was as perfectly planned as “humanly possible”, promised to finish of the Greek forces in Epirus, which he estimated at 30,000 men and capture the port of Preveza in ten to fifteen days. Prasca regarded the campaign as an opportunity to win fame and achieve the coveted rank of Marshal of Italy by conquering Athens. Prasca was relatively junior in his rank and if he demanded more troops for the Albanian front, it was likely that a more senior officer would be sent to command the operation, earning the accolades and promotions instead.
During the discussion only Badoglio voiced objections, pointing out that stopping after seizing Epirus—which he conceded would present little difficulty—would be an error and a force of at least twenty divisions was necessary to conquer the whole country, including Crete. Roatta suggested that the schedule of moving troops to Albania would have to be accelerated and called for two divisions to be sent against Thessaloniki as a diversion. Prasca pointed out the inadequacy of Albanian harbours for the rapid transfer of Italian divisions, the mountainous terrain and the poor state of the Greek transport network but remained confident that Athens could be captured after the fall of Epirus, with “five or six divisions”. The meeting ended with an outline plan, summed up by Mussolini as “offensive in Epirus; observation and pressure on Salonika, and, in a second phase, march on Athens”. The staging of incidents at the border to provide a suitable pretext (analogous to the Gleiwitz incident) was agreed for 24 October. Mussolini suggested that the expected advance of the 10th Army (Marshal Rodolfo Graziani) on Mersa Matruh, in Egypt, be brought forward to prevent the British from aiding Greece. Over the next couple of days Badoglio failed to elicit objections to the attack from the other service chiefs or to achieve its cancellation on technical grounds. Mussolini, enraged by the Marshal’s obstructionism, threatened to accept his resignation if offered. Badoglio backed down, managing only to secure a postponement of the attack until 28 October.
The front was roughly 150 kilometres (93 mi) wide in mountain terrain with very few roads. The Pindus mountains divided it into two theatres of operations, Epirus and western Macedonia. The Italian forces in Albania were organised accordingly: the XXV Ciamuria Corps (Lieutenant-General Carlo Rossi (it)) in the west was charged with the conquest of Epirus, while the XXVI Corizza Corps (Lieutenant-General Gabriele Nasci) in the east, around Korçë, would initially remain passive in the direction of western Macedonia.
On 18 October, Mussolini sent a letter to Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria, inviting him to take part in the coming action against Greece, but he refused citing his country’s unpreparedness and its encirclement by hostile neighbours. This was not regarded as a major setback, as the Italian leadership considered that the threat of Bulgarian intervention alone would compel the Greek High Command to commit most of its army in eastern Macedonia and Thrace. It was not until 24 October that Badoglio realized that not only were the Greeks already mobilizing, but that they were prepared to divert most of their forces to Epirus, leaving only six divisions against Bulgaria. Prasca would still have numerical superiority at the start of the campaign (some 150,000 men against 120,000) but concerns grew over the vulnerability of the left flank. As a result, the 29th Division Piemonte was diverted from the attack in Epirus to bolster XXVI Corps in the Korçë area, while the 19th Infantry Division Venezia was ordered south from its position along the Yugoslav border.
In 1936, General Alberto Pariani had been appointed Chief of Staff of the army and begun a reorganisation of divisions to fight wars of rapid decision, according to thinking that speed, mobility and new technology could revolutionise military operations. In 1937, three-regiment (triangular) divisions began to change to two-regiment (binary divisions), as part of a ten years plan to reorganise the standing army into 24 binary, 24 triangular, twelve mountain, three motorised and three armoured divisions. The effect of the change was to increase the administrative overhead of the army, with no corresponding increase in effectiveness as the new technology, tanks motor vehicles and wireless communications were slow to arrive and were inferior to those of potential enemies. The dilution of the officer class by the need for extra unit staffs, was made worse by the politicisation of the army and the addition of Blackshirt Militia. The reforms also promoted frontal assaults to the exclusion of other theories, dropping the previous emphasis on fast mobile warfare backed by artillery.
Prior to the invasion, Mussolini had let 300,000 troops and 600,000 reservists go home for the harvest. There were supposed to be 1,750 lorries used in the invasion but only 107 arrived. The possibility that Greek personalities, as well as Greek officials situated in the front area, could be corrupted or not react to an invasion, proved to be mostly internal propaganda used by Italian generals and personalities in favor of a military intervention; the same was true for an alleged revolt of the Albanian minority living in Chameria, located in the Greek territory immediately behind the boundary, which would break out after the beginning of the attack.
On the eve of 28 October 1940, Italy’s ambassador in Athens, Emanuele Grazzi, handed an ultimatum from Mussolini to Metaxas. It demanded free passage for his troops to occupy unspecified strategic points inside Greek territory. Greece had been friendly towards Nazi Germany, profiting from mutual trade relations but now Germany’s ally, Italy, intended to invade Greece. Metaxas rejected the ultimatum with the words “Alors, c’est la guerre”(French for “then it is war.”). In this, he echoed the will of the Greek people to resist, a will that was popularly expressed in one word: “ochi” (Όχι) (Greek for “no”). Within hours, Italy began attacking Greece from Albania.
World War II at Cephalonia
In World War II, the island was occupied by Axis powers. Until late 1943, the occupying force was predominantly Italian – the 33rd Infantry Division Acqui plus Navy personnel totalled 12,000 men – but about 2,000 troops from Germany were also present. The island was largely spared the fighting, until the armistice with Italy concluded by the Allies in September 1943. Confusion followed on the island, as the Italians were hoping to return home, but German forces did not want the Italians’ munitions to be used eventually against them; Italian forces were hesitant to turn over weapons for the same reason. As German reinforcements headed to the island the Italians dug in and, eventually, after a referendum among the soldiers as to surrender or battle, they fought against the new German invasion. The fighting came to a head at the siege of Argostoli, where the Italians held out. Ultimately the Germans prevailed, taking full control of the island. Approximately five thousand of the nine thousand surviving Italian soldiers were executed in reprisal by the German forces. The book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (which was later made into a film of the same name), is based on this story. While the war ended in central Europe in 1945, Cephalonia remained in a state of conflict due to the Greek Civil War. Peace returned to Greece and the island in 1949.
Massacre of the Acqui Division
The Massacre of the Acqui Division, also known as the Cephalonia Massacre, was the mass execution of the men of the Italian 33rd Acqui Infantry Division by the Germans on the island of Cephalonia, Greece, in September 1943, following the Italian armistice during the Second World War. About 5,000 soldiers were massacred and others drowned or were otherwise murdered. By November 1940, when the Italians were pushed back into Albania, the Germans had to come to their aid. But following the decision of the Italian government to negotiate a surrender to the Allies in 1943, the German Army tried to disarm the Italians in what they called Operation Achse. Between 13 and 22 September 1943, on the island of Cephalonia, the Germans fought the Italians of the 33rd “Aqui” Division. A total of 1315 were killed in battle, 3,000 were drowned when the German ships taking them to concentration camps were sunk and 5,155 were executed by 26 September. In general, the Germans did not battle or massacre the Italians in other areas. It was one of the largestprisoner of war massacres of the war, along with the Katyn massacre of approximately 22,000 Poles by Soviets, and it was one of many atrocities committed by the Gebirgs-Division.
Since the fall of Greece in April–May 1941, the country had been divided in occupation zones, with the Italians getting the bulk of the mainland and most islands. The Acqui Division had been the Italian garrison of Cephalonia since May 1943 and consisted of 11,500 soldiers and 525 officers. It was composed of two infantry regiments (the 17th and the 317th), the 33rd artillery regiment, the 27th Blackshirt Legion, the 19th Blackshirt Battalion and support units. Furthermore, its 18th Regiment was detached to garrison duties in Corfu. Acqui also had naval coastal batteries, torpedo boats and two aircraft. Since 18 June 1943, it was commanded by the 52-year-old General Antonio Gandin, a decorated veteran of the Russian Front where he earned the German Iron Cross.
On the other hand the Germans decided to reinforce their presence throughout the Balkans, following Allied successes and the possibility that Italy might seek accommodation with the Allies. On 5–6 July Lt Colonel Johannes Barge arrived with 2,000 men of the 966th Fortress Grenadier Regiment, including Fortress-Battalions 810 and 909 and a battery of self-propelled guns and nine tanks.
After Italy’s armistice with the Allies in September 1943, General Gandin found himself in a dilemma: one option was surrendering to the Germans – who were already prepared for the eventuality and had begun disarming Italian garrisons elsewhere – or trying to resist. Initially, Gandin requested instructions from his superiors and began negotiations with Barge.
On 8 September 1943, the day the armistice was made public, General Carlo Vecchiarelli, commander of the 170,000-strong Italian army occupying Greece, telegrammed Gandin his order, essentially a copy of General Ambrosio’s promemoria 2 from Headquarters. Vecchiarelli’s order instructed that if the Germans did not attack the Italians, the Italians should not attack the Germans. Ambrosio’s order stated that the Italians should not “make common cause” with the Greek partisans or even the Allies, should they arrive in Cephalonia.
In the case of a German attack, Vecchiarelli’s order was not very specific because it was based on Badoglio’s directive which stated that the Italians should respond with “maximum decision” to any threat from any side. The order implied that the Italians should defend themselves but did not explicitly state so. At 22:30 hours of the same day Gandin received an order directly from General Ambrosio to send most of his naval and merchant vessels to Brindisi immediately, as demanded by the terms of the armistice. Gandin complied, thus losing a possible means of escape.
To make matters even more complicated Badoglio had agreed, after the overthrow of Mussolini, to the unification of the two armies under German command, in order to appease the Germans. Therefore, technically, both Vecchiarelli and Gandin were under German command, even though Italy had implemented an armistice agreement with the Allies. That gave the Germans a sense of justification in treating any Italians disobeying their orders as mutineers or franc-tireurs.
At 9:00 hours on 9 September, Barge met with Gandin and misled him by stating that he had received no orders from the German command. The two men liked each other and they had things in common as Gandin was pro-German and liked Goethe. Indeed, Gandin’s pro-German attitude was the reason he had been sent by General Ambrosio to command the Acqui Division: fearing he might side with the Germans against the evolving plot to depose Mussolini, Ambrosio wanted Gandin out of Italy. Both men ended their meeting on good terms, agreeing to wait for orders and also that the situation should be resolved peacefully.
On 11 September, the Italian High Command sent two explicit instructions to Gandin, to the effect that “German troops have to be viewed as hostile” and that “disarmament attempts by German forces must be resisted with weapons”. That same day Barge handed Gandin an ultimatum, demanding a decision given the following three options:
- Continue fighting on the German side
- Fight against the Germans
- Hand over arms peacefully
Gandin brought Barge’s ultimatum to his senior officers and the seven chaplains of the Acqui for discussion. Six of the chaplains and all of his senior officers advised him to comply with the German demands while one of the chaplains suggested immediate surrender. However, Gandin could not agree to join the Germans because that would be against the King’s orders as relayed by Badoglio. He also did not want to fight them because, as he said, “they had fought with us and for us, side by side”. On the other hand surrendering the weapons would violate the spirit of the armistice. Despite the orders from the Italian GHQ, Gandin chose to continue negotiating with Barge.
Gandin finally agreed to withdraw his soldiers from their strategic location on Mount Kardakata, the island’s “nerve centre”,in return for a German promise not to bring reinforcements from the Greek mainland and on 12 September, he informed Barge that he was prepared to surrender the Acqui’s weapons, as Lt Colonel Barge reported to his superiors in the XXII Mountain Corps. However, Gandin was under pressure not to come to an agreement with the Germans from his junior officers who were threatening mutiny. The Acqui’s detached regiment on Corfu, not commanded by Gandin, also informed him at around midnight 12–13 September, by radio communication, that they had rejected an agreement with the Germans. Gandin also heard from credible sources that soldiers who had surrendered were being deported and not repatriated. On 13 September, a German convoy of five ships approached the island’s capital, Argostoli. Italian artillery officers, on their own initiative, ordered the remaining batteries to open fire, sinking two German landing craft and killing five Germans.
Under these circumstances, that same night, Gandin presented his troops with a poll, essentially containing the three options presented to him by Barge.
- Join the Germans
- Surrender and be repatriated
- Resist the German forces
The response from the Italian troops was in favour of the third option by a large majority but there is no available information as to the exact size of the majority and therefore on 14 September Gandin reneged on the agreement, refusing to surrender anything but the division’s heavy artillery and telling the Germans to leave the island, demanding a reply by 9:00 the next day. He discarded his Iron Cross ribbon, one of his most prized possessions.
Battle with the Germans
As the negotiations stalled, the Germans prepared to resolve the crisis by force and presented the Italians with an ultimatum which expired at 14:00 hours on 15 September.
On the morning of 15 September, the German Luftwaffe began bombarding the Italian positions with Stuka dive-bombers. On the ground, the Italians initially enjoyed superiority, and took about 400 Germans prisoner. On 17 September however, the Germans landed the “Battle Group Hirschfeld”, composed of the III./98 and the 54th Mountain Battalions of the German Army’s elite 1st Mountain Division, together with I./724 Battalion of the 104th Jäger Division, under the command of Major Harald von Hirschfeld. The 98th Gebirgsjäger Regiment, in particular, had been involved in several atrocities against civilians in Epirus in the months preceding the Acqui massacre.
At the same time, the Germans started dropping propaganda leaflets calling upon the Italians to surrender. The leaflets stated:
“Italian comrades, soldiers and officers, why fight against the Germans? You have been betrayed by your leaders! LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS!! THE ROAD BACK TO YOUR HOMELAND WILL BE OPENED UP FOR YOU BY YOUR GERMAN COMRADES”.
Gandin repeatedly requested help from the Ministry of War in Brindisi, but he did not get any reply. He even went so far as sending a Red Cross emissary to the Ministry, but the mission broke down off the coast of Apulia and when it arrived three days later at the Italian High Command in Brindisi, it was already too late. In addition, 300 planes loyal to Badoglio were located at Lecce, near the southernmost point of Italy, well within range of Cephalonia, and were ready to intervene. But the Allies would not let them go because they feared they could have defected to the German side. Furthermore, two Italian torpedo boats, already on their way to Cephalonia, were ordered back to port by the Allies for the same reasons.
Despite help for the Italians from the local population, including the island’s small ELAS partisan detachments, the Germans enjoyed complete air superiority and their troops had extensive combat experience, in contrast with the conscripts of Acqui, who were no match for the Germans. In addition, Gandin had withdrawn the Acqui from the elevated position on Mount Kardakata and that gave the Germans an additional strategic advantage. After several days of fighting, at 11:00 hours on 22 September, following Gandin’s orders, the last Italians surrendered, having run out of ammunition and having lost 1,315 men killed. According to German sources, the losses were 300 Germans and 1,200 Italians. 15 Greek partisans were also killed fighting alongside the Acqui.
The massacre started on 21 September, and lasted for one week. After the Italian surrender, Hitler had issued an order allowing the Germans to summarily execute any Italian officer who resisted “for treason”, and on 18 September, the German High Command issued an order stating that “because of the perfidious and treacherous behaviour [of the Italians] on Cephalonia, no prisoners are to be taken.” The Gebirgsjäger soldiers began executing their Italian prisoners in groups of four to ten. The Germans first killed the surrendering Italians, where they stood, using machine-guns. When a group of Bavarian soldiers objected to this practice they were threatened with summary execution themselves. After this stage was over, the Germans marched the remaining soldiers to the San Teodoro town hall and had the prisoners executed by eight member detachments.
General Gandin and 137 of his senior officers were summarily court-martialled on 24 September and executed, their bodies discarded at sea. Before the execution a sergeant informed each officer that he was being executed for treason, which, given Badoglio’s decision to permit unification of the German and Italian armies in Greece under German command, was technically true. General Gandin was shot first but just before his execution he threw his Iron Cross into the dirt. Romualdo Formato, one of Acqui’s seven chaplains and one of the few survivors, wrote that during the massacre, the Italian officers started to cry, pray and sing. Many were shouting the names of their mothers, wives and children. According to Formato’s account, three officers hugged and stated that they were comrades while alive and now in death they would go together to paradise, while others were digging through the grass as if trying to escape. In one place, Formato recalled, “the Germans went around loudly offering medical help to those wounded. When about 20 men crawled forward, a machine-gun salvo finished them off.”] Officers gave Formato their belongings to take with him and give to their families back in Italy. The Germans, however, confiscated the items and Formato could no longer account for the exact number of the officers killed.
The executions of the Italian officers were continuing when a German officer came and reprieved Italians who could prove they were from Trieste and Trento since these two South Tyrol regions had been annexed by Hitler as German provinces after 8 September. Seeing an opportunity, Formato begged the officer to stop the killings and save the few officers remaining. The German officer responded and told Formato that he would consult with his commanding officer. During the German officer’s absence Formato started praying and reciting Ave Maria. Chaplain Formato compared the massacre “to the early days of Christianity … as believers before they were thrown to the wild beasts to be devoured, gathered around the priest blessing.” When the officer returned, after half an hour, he informed Formato that the killings of the officers would stop. The number of Italian surviving officers, including Formato, totaled 37. After the reprieve the Germans congratulated the remaining Italians and offered them cigarettes. The situation remained unstable, however. Following the reprieve, the Germans forced twenty Italian sailors to load the bodies of the dead officers on rafts and take them out to sea. The Germans then blew up the rafts with the Italian sailors on board.
Alfred Richter, an Austrian, and one of the participants in the massacre recounted how a soldier who sang arias for the Germans in the local taverns was forced to sing while his comrades were being executed. The singing soldier’s fate remains unknown. Richter added that he and his regiment comrades felt “a delirium of omnipotence” during the events. Most of the soldiers of the German regiment were Austrians.
According to Richter the Italian soldiers were killed after surrendering to the soldiers of the 98th Regiment. He described that the fallen Italians were then thrown into heaps of bodies, all shot in the head. Soldiers of the 98th Regiment started removing the boots from the bodies of the fallen Italians for their own use. Richter mentioned that groups of Italians were taken into quarries and walled gardens near the village of Frangata and executed by machine gun fire. The killing lasted for two hours, during which time the sound of the machine guns and machine pistols and the screams of the victims could be heard inside the homes of the village.
The bodies of the ca. 5,000 men who were executed were disposed of in a variety of ways. Bodies were cremated in massive wood pyres, which made the air of the island thick with the smell of burning flesh, or moved to ships where they were buried at sea. Others, according to Amos Pampaloni, one of the survivors, were executed in full sight of the Greek population in Argostoli harbour on 23 September 1943 and their bodies were left to rot where they fell, while in smaller streets corpses were decomposing and the stench was insufferable to the point that he could not remain there long enough to take a picture of the carnage. Bodies were thrown into the sea, with rocks tied around them. In addition, the Germans had refused to allow the Acqui soldiers to bury their dead. A chaplain set out to find bodies, discovering bones scattered all over.
The few soldiers who were saved were assisted by locals and the ELAS organisation. One of the survivors was taken heavily wounded to a Cephalonian lady’s home by a taxi driver and survived the war to live in Lake Como. An additional three thousand of the survivors in German custody drowned, when the ships Sinfra and Ardena, transporting them to POW camps, were sunk in the Adriatic. These losses and similar ones from the Italian Dodecanese garrisons were also the result of German policy, as Hitler had instructed the local German commanders to forgo “all safety precautions” during the transport of prisoners, “regardless of losses”.
The events in Cephalonia were repeated, to a lesser extent, elsewhere. In Corfu, the 8,000-strong Italian garrison comprised elements of three divisions, including the Acqui’s 18th Regiment. On 24 September, the Germans landed a force on the island (characteristically codenamed “Operation Treason”), and by the next day they were able to induce the Italians to capitulation.
All 280 Italian officers on the island were executed during the next two days on the orders of General Lanz, in accordance with Hitler’s directives. The bodies were loaded onto a ship and disposed of in the sea. Similar executions of officers also occurred in the aftermath of the Battle of Kos, when the Italian commander and 90 of his officers were shot.
In October 1943, after Mussolini had been freed and established his new Fascist Republic in Northern Italy, the Germans gave the remaining Italian prisoners three choices:
Continue fighting on the German side
- Forced labouron the island
- Concentration camps in Germany
- Most Italians opted for the second choice.
In January 1944, a chaplain’s account reached Benito Mussolini after Aurelio Garobbio, a Swiss Fascist from the Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino informed him about the events. Mussolini became incensed that the Germans would do such a thing, although he considered the Acqui division’s officers, more so than its soldiers, as traitors. Nevertheless, in one of his exchanges with Garobbio, after Garobbio complained that the Germans showed no mercy, he said: “But our men defended themselves, you know. They hit several German landing craft sinking them. They fought how Italians know how to fight”
Major Harald von Hirschfeld was never tried for his role in the massacre: in December 1944, he became the Wehrmacht’s youngest general officer, and was killed while fighting at the Dukla Pass in Poland in 1945. Only Hirschfeld’s superior commander, General Hubert Lanz, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment at the so-called “Southeast Case” of the Nuremberg Trialsfor the Cephalonia massacre, as well as the participation of his men in other atrocities in Greece like the massacre of Kommeno on 16 August 1943. He was released in 1951 and died in 1982. Lt Colonel Barge was not on the island when the massacre was taking place. He was subsequently decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross for his service in Crete. He died in 2000. The reason for Lanz’s light sentence was that the court at Nuremberg was deceived by false evidence and did not believe that the massacre took place, despite a book about the massacre by padre Formato published in 1946, a year before the trial. Because there was doubt as to who issued what order, Lanz was only charged with the deaths of Gandin and the officers. Lanz lied in court by stating he had refused to obey Hitler’s orders to shoot the prisoners because he was revolted by them. He claimed that the report to Army Group E, claiming 5,000 soldiers were shot, was a ruse employed to deceive the army command in order to hide the fact that he had disobeyed the Führer’s orders. He added that fewer than a dozen officers were shot and the rest of the Acqui Division was transported to Piraeus through Patras.
In his testimony, Lanz was assisted by affidavits from other highly respectable Germans who led exemplary post-war lives, such as General von Butlar from Hitler’s personal staff who was involved in the Ardeatine massacre. The Germans were with Lanz in September 1943 and swore that the massacre had never taken place. In addition, for reasons unknown, the Italian side never presented any evidence for the massacre at the Nuremberg trials. It is speculated that the Italians, reeling from armistice terms highly unfavourable for their country, refused to cooperate with the trial process. Given the circumstances the court accepted Lanz’s position that he prevented the massacre and that the event never happened. Consequently, Lanz received a lighter sentence than General Rendulic for his misdeed in Yugoslavia, who was released in late 1951 nevertheless, after only three years of imprisonment.
Lanz’s defence emphasised that the prosecution had not presented any Italian evidence for the massacre and claimed that there was no evidence the Italian headquarters in Brindisi had ever instructed Gandin and his Division to fight. Therefore, according to the logic of the defence, Gandin and his men were either mutineers or franc-tireurs and did not qualify for POW status under the Geneva conventions.
The Germans justified their behaviour by claiming the Italians were negotiating the surrender of the island to the British. The German claim was not entirely unfounded: in the Greek mainland, an entire division went over to the Greek guerrillas, and in the Dodecanese, the Italians had joined forces with the British, resulting in a two-month German campaign to evict them.
An attempt to revisit the case by the Dortmund state prosecutor Johannes Obluda in 1964 came to naught, as the political climate in Germany at the time was in favour of “putting the war behind”. In 2002 Dortmund prosecutor Ultrich Maaos reopened a case against certain persons responsible for the massacre. In his office, along with a map of the world, Maaos displayed a map of Cephalonia with the dates and locations of the executions as well as the names of the victims. No indictments or arrests resulted from Maaos’ investigation. Ten ex-members of the 1st Gebirgs Division have been investigated, out of 300 still alive.
In the 1950s, the remains of about 3,000 soldiers, including 189 officers, were exhumed and transported back to Italy for burial in the Italian War Cemetery in Bari. The remains of General Gandin were never identified.
The subject of the massacre was largely ignored in Italy by the press and the educational system until 1980, when the Italian President Sandro Pertini, a former partisan, unveiled the memorial in Cephalonia. Despite the recognition of the event by Pertini, it was not until March 2001 that another Italian President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, visited the memorial again, and even then he was most likely influenced by the publicity generated by the impending release of the Hollywood film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
During the ceremony Ciampi, referring to the men of the Acqui Division, declared that their “conscious decision was the first act of resistance by an Italy freed from fascism” and that “they preferred to fight and die for their fatherland”. The massacre of the Acqui Division is emerging as a subject of ongoing research, and is regarded as a leading example of the Italian Resistance during World War II.
In 2002 the Italian post issued the commemorative stamp Eccidio della Divisione Aqui.
The Presidents of Greece and Italy periodically commemorate the event during ceremonies taking place in Cephalonia at the monument of the Acqui Division. An academic conference about the massacre was held on 2–3 March 2007 in Parma, Italy.
Cefalonia’s Greco-Italian society also maintains an exhibition called “The Mediterraneo Exhibition”, next to the Catholic church in Argostoli, where pictures, newspaper articles and documents showcasing the story of the massacre are displayed.
The 1953 Ionian earthquake
The 1953 Ionian earthquake (also known as the Great Kefalonia earthquake) struck the southern Ionian Islands in Greece on August 12. In mid-August there were over 113 recorded earthquakes in the region between Kefalonia and Zakynthos, and the most destructive was the August 12 earthquake. The event measured 7.2 on the surface wave magnitude scale, and it raised up the whole island of Kefalonia by 60 cm, and caused widespread damage throughout the islands of Kefalonia and Zakynthos.
The quake struck at 09:24 (UTC) or 11:24 (local time) and the Royal Navy vessels HMS Gambia and HMS Bermuda were among the first on the scene. In addition, four Israeli warships received calls for help coming from the island of Kefalonia and the ships headed to the island. The sailors provided emergency medical aid, food, and water. This was the first time Israel provided aid to a disaster-stricken area.
Although known as the “Great Kefalonia earthquake”, damage was very heavy in Zakynthos’ eponymous capital city. Only two buildings survived there; the rest of the island’s capital had to be rebuilt. Argostoli, the capital of Kefalonia, suffered substantial damage and all of Kefalonia’s buildings were flattened except for those in Fiskardo in the far north.
As well as causing major destruction on the two islands, the economic impact was far greater, and damage was estimated to have totaled billions of Drachmas. Many people fled the island: some people temporarily moved to the capital, however the majority emigrated out of Greece entirely to countries such as Canada, USA or the UK, leaving both the islands and their economy in ruins.
Earthquakes still regularly shake the islands of Zakynthos and Kefalonia, including several 2006 earthquakes at Zakynthos and others in 2003 and 2005. Lately there were two large earthquakes on January 26 and February 3, 2014, which were measured 6.1 and 6.0 on the Richter scale. The epicenters of both were in Kefalonia at very shallow depths and caused damage to the island.
The Great earthquake of 1953 on the island
Cephalonia lies just to the east of a major tectonic fault, where the European plate meets the Aegean plate at a slip boundary. This is similar to the more famous San Andreas Fault. There are regular earthquakes along this fault.
A series of four earthquakes hit the island in August 1953, and caused major destruction, with virtually every house on the island destroyed. The third and most destructive of the quakes took place on August 12, 1953 at 09:24 UTC (11:24 local time), with a magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale. Its epicentre was directly below the southern tip of Cephalonia, and caused the entire island to be raised 60 cm (24 in) higher, where it remains, with evidence in water marks on rocks around the coastline.
The 1953 Ionian earthquake disaster caused huge destruction, with only regions in the north escaping the heaviest tremors and houses there remaining intact. Damage was estimated to run into tens of millions of dollars, equivalent to billions of drachmas, but the real damage to the economy occurred when residents left the island. An estimated 100,000 of the population of 125,000 left the island soon after, seeking a new life elsewhere.
The forest fire of the 1990s caused damage to the island’s forests and bushes, especially a small scar north of Troianata, and a large area of damage extending from Kateleios north to west of Tzanata, ruining about 30 square kilometres (12 sq mi) of forest and bushes and resulting in the loss of some properties. The forest fire scar was visible for some years.
In mid-November 2003, an earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale caused minor damage to business, residential property, and other buildings in and near Argostoli. Damages were in the €1,000,000 range.
On the morning of Tuesday, September 20, 2005, an early-morning earthquake shook the south-western part of the island, especially near Lixouri and nearby villages. The earthquake measured 4.9 on the Richter scale, and its epicentre was located off the island at sea. Service vehicles took care of the area, and no damage was reported. From January 24-26, 2006, a major snowstorm blanketed the entire island, causing extensive blackouts. The island was recently struck yet again by another forest fire in the south of the island, beginning on Wednesday, July 18, 2007 during an unusual heatwave, and spreading slowly. Firefighters along with helicopters and planes battled the blaze for some days and the spectacle frightened residents on that area of the island.