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According to ancient mythology, the island of Patmos was first named Litois, in honor of the Goddess Artemis who was also called Litoida because she was the daughter of Lito. Legend says that the island sunk into the sea and that Artemis, with the help of Apollo, managed to persuade Zeus to bring the island back to the surface. As a proof of devotion, the inhabitants of the island named it Litois. Patmos is also linked to another legend, the one of Orestes. It is said that he fled to the island after murdering his mother Clytemnestra, and was hunted by the Erynies.
The island of Patmos is inhabited since 3,000 BC, but the identity of its first inhabitants is still unknown. Some believe that the Kares, the Leleges and the Pelasgous were the first settlers while some think that the Dorians were the first inhabitants, followed by the Ionians. Finds have excavated various buildings, cemeteries, fortresses, and evidence of an ancient acropolis, testifying the existence of a densely populated area in the past. During the Peloponnesian Wars, the Lacedemonians came to the island to escape from the Athenians. Ruins testify about the flourishing of the island during this period.
However, the island of Patmos declined when the Romans conquered it. It was used as a place of exile for convicts. This is how Apostle John came to Patmos, exiled by the Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus in 95 AC. In Patmos, Apostle John conveyed the inhabitants to Christianity and wrote the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse. Patmos then became a place of worshipping and pilgrimage and actually, the culture and history of Patmos are strongly connected to the Apocalypse of Saint John.
After the division of the Roman Empire in 284 AC, Christianity was officially recognized and the Byzantine Empire flourished. During the Byzantine times, the inhabitants of Patmos built a Grand Royal Basilica in honor of Saint John, where the monastery stands today. The island suffered from the Arab raids from the 6th to the 9th century AC, a period during which the Grand Basilica of Saint John was destroyed. In 1085, the Reverend Father Christodoulos was forced by the Turks to abandon its temple in Asia Minor and went to the island of Kos where he founded a monastery. There, he met the monk Arsenios Skinouris who asked him his help to build the Monastery of Saint John in Patmos.
The construction of the monastery started in 1101, after the permission of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komninos the 1st, who gave to Christodoulos the complete authority over the island of Patmos. The fame of the monastery grew and a settlement started to expend around it. During the end of the 12th century, the island of Patmos was transformed into a large commercial center. The monastery acquired a second commercial vessel.
In 1207, the Venetians conquered Patmos and the reign was given to the Duke of Naxos. Supported by the Duke of Naxos, the island became a semi-autonomous monastic state and gained great wealth and influence. In 1340, the Knights of Saint John who had seized Rhodes conquered the island of Patmos. In 1522, the Turks came to the island and appointed a representative on the island. After a while, they left the island, which they just forced to pay some taxes.
When the Turkish-Venetian Wars ended, tranquillity returned to Patmos and the island flourished, becoming once again an important commercial center. Massive fortifications were built around the monastery as a protection from the pirates. In 1655, Patmos was governed by the monks and prospered again. Its growth stopped in 1659, when Francesco Morosini, the leader of the Venetians, conquered and destroyed the island of Patmos. With shipping, commerce and the efforts of the inhabitants, Patmos regained its lost nobility, glamour and prosperity.
During the early 18th century, the island's wealth was separated into secular and monastic entities. The Patmian School was founded by Makarios Kalogeras in 1713 near the cave of the Apocalypse. The Russians conquered the island in 1770, after the Turkish-Venetian War. The Greek Revolution started in 1821 and managed to gain the independence of Greece in 1832. Nevertheless, the treaty signed in London did not include the islands of the Dodecanese as part of the newly built Greek State and therefore fell again under Turkish occupation. One of the founders of Filiki Etaireia which took part in the Greek Revolution was Emmanuel Xanthos who was from Patmos.
The Italians occupied all the islands of the Dodecanese in 1912, with of course Patmos, and remained there until 1943, when the Germans took over the island. In 1945, the Germans left and the island of Patmos remained autonomous until 1948 when it joined the rest of independent Greece with the rest of the Dodecanese Islands.