Thera is the ancient name for both the island of Santorini in the Greek Cyclades (Greek: Θήρα [ˈθira]), is an island in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km (120 mi) southeast of Greece's mainland. It is the largest island of a small, circular archipelago which bears the same name and is the remnant of a volcanic caldera. It forms the southernmost member of the Cyclades group of islands, with an area of approximately 73 km2 (28 sq mi) and a 2011 census population of 15,550. The municipality of Santorini comprises the inhabited islands of Santorini and Therasia and the uninhabited islands of Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni, Aspronisi, and Christiana. The total land area is 90.623 km2 (34.990 sq mi). Santorini is part of the Thira regional unit.

Therean History (German)
by Christian Michlits: Die Geschichte Theras in hellenistischer und römischer Zeit. diploma thesis, University of Vienna, 2008

In archaic times the city was an unimportant settlement at the southern periphery of the Cyclades. It was founded by Doric colonists from Sparta, who recognized the strategic value of its location on a rocky ridge. Herodotus and Pausanias give accounts of the mythical ruler, Theras, a descendent of the Phoenician ruler Cadmus and son of the king of Thebes, Autesion, who ruled over Sparta and Laconia on behalf of his underage nephews Eurysthenes and Procles. After they came of age he founded a new settlement on the island of Kalliste (old Greek: Καλλίστῃ), which was subsequently named Thera after him (modern Greek: Thira, Θήρα). This name was also given to the city, of which there is archaeological evidence dating from the 9th century BC. Herodotus goes on to write of a seven-year drought around the year 630 BC which forced the inhabitants of Thera to send colonists to Cyrenaica in today's Libya.
This settlement was so successful that Thera long enjoyed a good reputation as the mother city of Cyrene despite its own relative unimportance. A collection of 760 coins were found dating from the 6th century BC, which give evidence of a modest amount of trade links to Athens and Corinth to the west and Ionia and Rhodes to the east.
The Cyclades
The role of the city changed in the second half of the 3rd century BC when the Ptolemaic wartime fleet for the entire Aegean Sea was stationed in the city's harbor in Hellenistic times. The city was completely rebuilt for the officers; the former layout was replaced by a regular street grid, and imposing buildings in the form of peristyle houses were erected. The fleet was withdrawn around 145 BC, and historic records from the city are completely lacking until about the year 0.
In Roman times starting in the middle of the 1st century BC the island and city were part of the Roman province of Asia, and although no high officials resided on the island Thera was relatively prosperous and significant, thanks to elaborate construction projects and the fact that Therans managed to attain high positions, including twice the office of provincial high priest.
In the first third of the 3rd century the dissolution of the Roman Empire was also reflected by the absence of reports about the island. During Byzantine times, Thera as a diocesan town was again more frequently mentioned; up into the 5th century it was the only urban settlement on the island of Santorini. As was the case with the entire region, it subsequently lost importance. In the year 726 it was covered by a layer of pumice after a relatively small eruption of the volcano of Santorini and shortly thereafter the city was given up. Information about the destruction comes from the reports of Theophanes, a Byzantine chronicler.
As there are only slight traces of the earlier settlement, descriptions of the city primarily relate to its Hellenistic golden age and later developments.

Minoan eruption 
The Minoan eruption of Thera, also referred to as the Thera eruption or Santorini eruption, was a major catastrophic volcanic eruption with a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 6 or 7 and a dense-rock equivalent (DRE) of 60 km3 (14 cu mi), which is estimated to have occurred in the mid-second millennium BCE. The eruption was one of the largest volcanic events on Earth in recorded history. The eruption devastated the island of Thera (also called Santorini), including the Minoan settlement at Akrotiri, as well as communities and agricultural areas on nearby islands and on the coast of Crete.
There are no clear ancient records of the eruption, which seems to have inspired certain Greek myths,  may have caused turmoil in Egypt,  and may be alluded to in a Chinese chronicle.

The eruption devastated the nearby Minoan settlement at Akrotiri on Santorini, which was entombed in a layer of pumice.  It is believed that the eruption also severely affected the Minoan population on Crete, although the extent of the impact is debated. Early theories proposed that ashfall from Thera on the eastern half of Crete choked off plant life, causing starvation of the local population. However, after more thorough field examinations, this theory has lost credibility, as it has been determined that no more than 5 mm (0.20 in) of ash fell anywhere on Crete. Other theories have been proposed based on archeological evidence found on Crete indicating that a tsunami, likely associated with the eruption, impacted the coastal areas of Crete and may have devastated the Minoan coastal settlements.  Another theory is that much of the damage done to Minoan sites resulted from a large earthquake, and the fires it caused, that preceded the Thera Eruption.
Significant Minoan remains have been found above the Late Minoan I era Thera ash layer and tsunami level, and it is unclear whether these effects were enough to trigger the downfall of the Minoan civilization. Some sites were abandoned or settlement systems significantly interrupted in the immediate aftermath of the eruption.  Significant Minoan remains have been found above the Late Minoan I era Thera ash layer, implying that the Thera eruption did not cause the immediate downfall of the Minoans. As the Minoans were a sea power and depended on naval and merchant ships for their livelihood, the Thera eruption likely caused significant economic hardship to the Minoans. Whether these effects were enough to trigger the downfall of the civilization is intensely debated. The Mycenaean conquest of the Minoans occurred in Late Minoan II period. The Mycenaeans were a military civilization. Using their functional navy and a well-equipped army they were capable of an invasion. Mycenaean weaponry has been found in burials on Crete. This demonstrates Mycenaean military influence not many years after the eruption.  Many archaeologists speculate that the eruption caused a crisis in Minoan civilization, making them vulnerable to conquest by the Mycenaeans.

The mysteries of Thera: Pompeii of the Bronze Age Aegean 
Sometimes referred to as the mythical Atlantis, Thera (modern day Santorini) was buried by a volcanic eruption over 1600 years before Pompeii, preserving some of the most startling and exquisite artworks of the ancient world.

Prominent expert on the archaeology of the east Mediterranean, Associate Professor Louise Hitchcock, and Dr Brent Davis, specialist in Minoan culture and script, explore the artworks and frescos of Thera, giving us a surprising and little-known picture of the complex religion and culture of this Bronze Age Aegean site.

To view the full program, click here.

Archaeological remains are sparse; before the city was abandoned it had lost importance and only a few relics of its golden age survived. Inscriptions from the city's beginnings found at the sanctuary on the spur of the mountain ridge are noteworthy. They date from the transition from the 9th to the 8th century BC and are thus among the oldest known examples of the use of the Greek alphabet, which evolved from the Phoenician alphabet. In some cases a precursor form of Greek letters was still in use. The inscriptions include dedications of altar stones to a wide variety of gods from Greek mythology. These include Zeus in four cases, Koures in two cases (which may be another kind of invocation for Zeus), and one each for Apollo, Lochaia, Damia, Castor and Pollux, Chiron, Deuteros, and the North wind (Boreas). Then, at a slight distance, there are inscriptions relating to the Erinyes, Athanaia, Biris, the Charites, Hermes and Persephone (Core). Both the wide variety as well as the references to many gods who are not otherwise prominent are conspicuous features. Also noteworthy is the frequency of lesser gods connected with the family, birth, children and the rearing of children.
The second common type of inscription was also found on the spur of the ridge, but in this case on the rock walls around the forecourt of the gymnasium, where, according to the texts, competitions and sacred acts took place already before the construction of the sports ground. These inscriptions survived thanks to the underlying limestone, which is coated with a dark, grayish blue crust which can be easily knocked off to expose the white stone underneath. Inscriptions could thus be produced by anybody, not only specialized stonemasons. Some of the texts relate directly to competitions. On one heavy stone the name of the contestant who could throw it the farthest was engraved. In other cases the inscriptions refer to sexual acts which probably describe pederastic relationships of elder erastes with young sportsmen and dancers. The texts are in a very early form of Greek and thus sometimes difficult to interpret. It is uncertain whether they are a form of boasting or whether the sexual acts had a cultic background.
Ceramic relics were found which followed both the 8th century geometric style and the 7th century orientalizing style. They resemble models from the island of Naxos, but the design was late in arriving on Santorini. Several, mostly heavily damaged figures called "Daedalic idols" date from the second half of the 7th century and were grave goods. Only one of these idols survived relatively intact. It represents a woman with raised arms, her gestures being interpreted as a lamentation for the dead.
The most famous relics from Ancient Thera are several larger-than-life statues of youths, known as kouroi, also sculpted in the second half of the 7th century BC. Since the island had no marble quarries, no unique stylistic tradition emerged. Both the marble as well as the artistic style came from the island of Naxos. The finest statue of this type dates from the beginning of the 6th century BC and is known as the Apollo of Thera. All statues were found in the burial grounds below the city.

There are two caves in the vicinity of Ancient Thera, one of which appears to be an additional antique sanctuary and the other either a place of cult worship or simply a garbage pit, depending on how the many remains of bones and traces of food preparation are interpreted.

Site Monuments

Church of Agios Stefanos ? Early Christian Basilica
The church, which survives today and is dedicated to Agios Stefanos (Saint Stephan), is built on the ruins of an Early Christian basilica, probably dated to the mid 6th c. A.D. The basilica was three-aisled, with a double narthex and an apse at its middle aisle. Along its northern side, there was an oblong adjacent structure with a small apse. After its destruction, probably due to an earthquake, the church of Agios Stefanos with two vaulted aisles was built on its ruined middle aisle. Constructed with ancient architectural members, mainly from the basilica, the church is dated to the 8th or 9th c. A.D., when the inhabitants of Thera, as well as of the other islands, suffered from the invasions of Arabs and their constructions were rough and modest, contrary to those belonging to the Early Christian centuries. The two Christian monuments are eloquent witnesses of the inhabitation of the city even after the ancient times.

Temenos of Artemidoros
The temenos was founded in the mid 3rd c. B.C. Its founder and priest Artemidoros of Apollonios from Perge of Pamphylia, driven by a dream that he saw, settled in his old age in Thera. For the activity he developed, founding sanctuaries and embellishing the city, he was honoured twice with an olive wreath and was granted the right of the citizen of Thera. The open-air sanctuary was chiseled out of the rock by Artemidoros himself: altars, relief decorations and numerous inscriptions, mainly epigrams for the honoured gods and for Artemidoros, cover the front side of the rock, whereas statues decorated the place; this is also where the resolutions of the demos of Thera in honour of Artemidoros were placed. From the right to the left, three steps with inscriptions in honour of Hecate and Priapos are carved, as well as the altars of the Dioskouroi, Omonoia and the gods of Samothrace, the eagle of Zeus Olympios, the lion of Apollo Stephanephoros -the throne of the goddess Tyche in the front- and the dolphin of Poseidon Pelagios. The set is completed by the portrait of Artemidoros depicted wearing a wreath; in the surrounding inscription he expresses his wish that his name remains immortal in eternity.
Basilike Stoa
The imposing oblong structure with the Doric colonnade on the long axis that dominates the south αgora served official and civic purposes and was undoubtedly the administrative centre of the city. Its erection dates to the early 3rd c. B.C., however, in the course of time, the building underwent repairs. Two slabs of stone, which were built-in opposite the entrance, refer to an extended repair that took place in the mid 2nd c. A.D. On one of them is inscribed the public promise (eisaggelia) of the citizen T. Flavius Kleitosthenes Claudianus that he would take upon him the cost of repairing the building and on the other a resolution adopted by the assembly of the citizens (ekklesia of demos) and the council (boule) in his honour for his benefactions offered to the city. During this repair, the north part of the building was transformed into a special area with a pedestal for the erection of statues, which appears to have been dedicated to the worship of the Roman Emperor and his relatives. Moreover, the building was embellished with a rich sculpted decoration. According to the inscriptions, the "Basilike Stoa" or "the Stoa at the agora", as it is called, was an old and distinguishable building, an ornament to the city.
Built near the agora, in the densely structured centre of the city, the theatre was also used, according to epigraphic testimonies, as a bouleuterion. Despite its small size and its simple architectural form, it belonged to the most imposing buildings of the Hellenistic ? Roman city. At its place probably pre-existed a simpler construction used for assemblies. The theatre appears to have been constructed in parts in the 2nd c. B.C. On its north side, the only one with no adjoining buildings, there were two entrances, the one on the higher part towards the auditorium and the other towards the orchestra. Six stairways in radial order divided the auditorium, which had a capacity of about 1.500 persons, in five wedge-shaped seating sections. The scene building, with a stone proscenium, left the circular space of the orchestra free. In the 1st c. A.D was constructed a Roman type scene building with proscenium, decorated with statues of the imperial family, which occupied part of the orchestra. Under the auditorium, a big cistern collected rain water. The oblong building in the west of the theatre was built at the same time with the auditorium, but still remains unknown whether it was linked to the theatre from the inside or had some other public use.

Sanctuary of Apollo Karneios
The south end of the crest where the central street ended, away from the noisy centre of the city, constituted, from the time of its foundation, an important cult centre. Apollo Karneios held a prominent position in the area, with a sanctuary and a big artificial terrace for his annual festival, the Karneia.

The cult of Apollo Karneios, God of the Dorians, dominated the religious life of the inhabitants of Thera throughout antiquity. The sanctuary in honour of the God was erected at a conspicuous place in the city, probably in the 7th c. B.C. The area of the sanctuary was defined by an impressive enclosure with an entrance from the sacred way decorated with a small propylon. Today only the traces of the propylon remain on the rocky ground. The areas of the sanctuary are developed in a line. The entrance opens at the central court; two footprints, engraved on the threshold of the entrance, witness until today the passing of a worshipper. On the right side of the courtyard, there is a building of undetermined use, while on the left side, in a higher level, there is the temple with its forecourt. Two magnificent entrance gates led from the court to the forecourt of the temple, which was decorated with a mosaic floor in the 3rd-2nd c. B.C. The temple, a simple oikos with a flat roof, comprised the pronaos, the cella and two side rooms, probably adyta. Among the four columns that supported the roof of the cella must have been placed the god?s acrolithic cult statue.

Water supply methods in Ancient Thera: The case of the sanctuary of Apollo Karneios
The sanctuary of Apollo Karneios in Ancient Thera
by Ioannis Bitis
Request PDF HERE

Gymnasium of the Ephebes
A great number of inscriptions of the 2nd c. B.C. to the 2nd c. A.D. indicate the use of the building, however, the small number of construction remains do not allow an interpretation or accurate chronology of its different areas constructed gradually. The natural cave ?place of cult since the Archaic times? which was transformed into a sanctuary dedicated to Hermes and Hercules, patron divinities of the gymnasium, constituted the core of the facility. The areas of the gymnasium were organized around a big courtyard, where led a stone-paved stepped street. Building remains survive only on the north and east side of the courtyard, as its south part has crumbled to a large extent down the steep slope. Its north side consists of two spacious rectangular rooms that open at the courtyard, while the east side consists of smaller rooms and a circular structure, probably the aleipterion, mentioned on an inscription, that is, a heated structure, where the ephebes bathed and anointed their bodies with oil before and after the exercise. The gymnasiarch was responsible for the running of the gymnasium, assisted by the hypogymnasiarch. According to epigraphic evidence, contests in the nude were carried out, which comprised the events of wrestling and pankration. On the exposed sections of bedrock near the gymnasium multiple inscriptions with names of the ephebes are found.

Sanctuary of Egyptian gods
During the Hellenistic times, a period of great receptivity to new gods and cults, the worship of eastern and Egyptian deities is spread across the Greek territory. In Thera, the Egyptian gods Serapis, Isis and Anubis become accepted in the early 3rd c. B.C. and their cult is quickly integrated into the public and private religious life of the inhabitants of the island. The cult of the Egyptian triad of gods in Thera, which, in this period, belongs to the possessions of the Ptolemies is closely associated with the presence and activity on the island of a large Ptolemaic Garrison. A sanctuary in honour of the Egyptian gods is founded in the first half of the 3rd c. B.C. The sanctuary consisted of an unusual outdoor construction, that is, a terrace, constructed mainly with artificial earth fill, the two sides of which were defined by the rocky land. Today survives mainly the rock-cut part of the sanctuary, with niches for votive offerings on one side and a bench for the placement of cult statues on the other.

Sources / Bibliography / Photos

Friedrich Hiller
Edward Brongersma: The Thera Inscriptions Ritual or Slander?, in: Journal of Homosexuality, 1990
Christian Michlits: Die Geschichte Theras in hellenistischer und römischer Zeit. diploma thesis, University of Vienna, 2008
Warren PM (2006). "The date of the Thera eruption". In Czerny E, Hein I, Hunger H, Melman D, Schwab A. Timelines: Studies in Honour of Manfred Bietak (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 149). Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium: Peeters. pp. 2: 305–321. ISBN 90-429-1730-X.
Maya Efstathiou, archaeologist  
Courtesy MacGillivray Freeman Films
Callender, G (1999). The Minoans and the Mycenaeans: Aegean Society in the Bronze Age. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-551028-3.
Forsyth, PY (1997). Thera in the Bronze Age. Peter Lang Publishing. ISBN 0-8204-4889-3.

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