The third largest Aegean island after Crete and Euboea, 10 km. (6 mi.) from NW Anatolia. Lesbos was usually divided between five competing poleis: Mytilene (the most powerful), Methymna, Pyrrha, Antissa, and Eresus. Some of the towns had land in Anatolia. Proximity to Anatolia and the Hellespont partly explains the distinctive early culture. The earliest Greek settlers (10th cent. bc ?) may have brought to the island its Aeolic dialect (see greek language, 3).
The importance of seafaring is shown by the harbour moles at several of the towns. Lesbian transport amphorae are found throughout the Greek world; amphora kilns have been located on the island. As élite wealth increased, a distinctive aristocratic culture grew up: Lesbos was the home of the poets Sappho, Alcaeus, Terpander, and Arion; the historian Hellanicus; and the philosopher Theophrastus. Lesbians founded colonies in the Hellespont and challenged Athens for control of Sigeum c.600 bc. The island came under Persian domination during the Persian Wars. The cities joined the Athenian alliance (see delian league), but their rivalries persisted: Methymna did not back Mytilene's revolt in 428, and was alone in not having an Athenian cleruchy imposed afterwards. Lesbos revolted again in 412.
Subjects: Classical studies