Welcome to Thera!

Photo by Jim Noran

 Who you’ll meet

Depending on what time of antiquity you decide to head to Thera, there are a variety of people you may meet. Dorians from Sparta, whose leader was Theras, originally settled the ‘most beautiful’ city. If you go during the time of the Ptolemaic Protectorate, you will meet many soldiers and the wartime fleet, as the island served as a naval base for some time for Ptolemaic Egypt. You could meet Greek soldiers from the mainland as well as Egyptian mercenaries[7].

 How you’ll get there

Thera is located in the southern periphery of the Cyclades, a group of islands in the Aegean Sea southeast of mainland Greece. Thera is pretty accessible from sea, as it has a harbor and two seaports, Oia and Elefsina [1]. It would take about 3 days from Athens if you travel by coastal sailing, which is the only way to get there and would cost around 66 denarii per person.  From Rome, it would take about 12 days and you would have to travel by road, river, open sea, and coast. From Roma the travel cost is about 319 denarii per passenger [2]. (1)

Cyclades Islands (Santorini)

Why you’d go there

The society of Thera is organized around craftsmanship as one of its major economic activities and there is a vast amount of pottery [4]. There are some trade links to Athens, Corinth, Ionia and Rhodes. If you have visited the very successful settlement of Cyrene in Libya, Thera would be a great place to visit to see its roots, as Thera is its mother city (2). Plato writes about Atlantis, and some believe the prehistoric city of Minoan Akrotiri that existed on Thera is Atlantis. The Dorians settles it as they recognized its strategic location on a rocky ridge. The island was named Kalliste before Thera, after Theras. (3) You would go to ancient Thera for a few reasons. The ancient Therans are extremely skilled craftsmen and their kuoroi, larger than life statues of youths, are not to miss [4]! Unless you are a soldier or a native Theran, there is not much travel to this island, but there are spectacular views especially from the houses of the officers. You could go for the Karneia, a festival for Apollo Karneios, god of the Dorians who dominates the religious life of the Therans [5].

What was Thera like

Thera is located on Mesa Vuono, 396 m above sea level [1]. The island is about 29 square miles and is the remaining half of an exploded volcano.  The ancient city consisted of a street almost 800 m long and especially wide for its time extending in a southeastern direction and containing several imposing buildings. Residential areas are grouped around an Agora which is across from a theater built into the lower slope. Facing the sea at the eastern tip of the plateau is a small sacred area with temple grounds and public facilities. At the base of the mountain stands a necropolis. When the Ptolemaic fleet arrived, the city was rebuilt for the officers in a regular street grid style with peristyle houses. Important building to visit include the Agora, the Basilike Stoa, the theater, the sacred area and the headquarter of the fleet commander [3]. The Basilike is an oblong structure that dominates the south agora is an ornament to the city that has been repaired many times as it is important. The theatre near the agora is also used as a bouleuterion with statues of the imperial famiy [5].

Photo by Stan Zurek


(1) Travel times and prices are assuming you take the fastest route and decide to travel in January during Roman times.

(2)”For seven years after this there was no rain in Thera; all the trees in the island except one withered. The Theraeans inquired at Delphi again, and the priestess mentioned the colony they should send to Libya. 4.151.2So, since there was no remedy for their ills, they sent messengers to Creteto find any Cretan or traveller there who had travelled to Libya. In their travels about the island, these came to the town of Itanus, where they met a murex fisherman named Corobius, who told them that he had once been driven off course by winds to Libya, to an island there calledPlatea.” Herodotus 4.151.

(3) Now, about this same time, Theras, a descendant of Polynices through Thersander, Tisamenus, and Autesion, was preparing to lead out colonists from Lacedaemon. This Theras was of the line of Cadmus and was an uncle on their mother’s side to Aristodemus’ sonsEurysthenes and Procles; and while these boys were yet children he held the royal power of Sparta as regent; but when his nephews grew up and became kings, then Theras could not endure to be a subject when he had had a taste of supreme power, and said he would no longer stay in Lacedaemon but would sail away to his family. On the island now called Thera, but then Calliste, there were descendants of Membliarusthe son of Poeciles, a Phoenician; for Cadmus son of Agenor had put in at the place now called Thera during his search for Europa; and having put in, either because the land pleased him, or because for some other reason he desired to do so, he left on this island his own relationMembliarus together with other Phoenicians. These dwelt on the island of Calliste for eight generations before Theras came fromLacedaemon. It was these that Theras was preparing to join, taking with him a company of people from the tribes; his intention was to settle among the people of Calliste and not drive them out but claim them as in fact his own people. So when the Minyae escaped from prison and camped onTeügetum, and the Lacedaemonians were planning to put them to death, Theras interceded for their lives, that there might be no killing, promising to lead them out of the country himself. The Lacedaemonians consented to this, and Theras sailed with three thirty-oared ships to join the descendants of Membliarus, taking with him not all the Minyae but only a few; for the greater part of them made their way to the lands of the Paroreatae and Caucones, and after having driven these out of their own country, they divided themselves into six companies and established the cities of Lepreum, Macistus, Phrixae, Pyrgus, Epium, and Nudium in the land they had won; most of these were in my time taken and sacked by the Eleans. As for the island Calliste, it was called Thera after its colonist. (Herodotus 4.147-4.1.48)


[1] Encyclopedia Britannica Online . “Thera” accessed May 1, 2013.
[3] Hiller von Gaertringen. “Die Gotterkulte von Thera” Klio 1, 1901. 212-227. Accessed through Wikipedia’s “Ancient Thera”
[4] Sali, Tessy. The Wall Paintings of Thera; Proceedings of the First International Symposium. Ancient Thira,
[5] Efstathiou, Maya. Description of Ancient Thera. Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
[6] Photo by Stan Zurek. Ruins of Ancient Thira.
[7] Visit Greece. Ancient Thera.

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