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The Dodecanese ( , Dodekánisa, , literally "twelve islands"; ) are a group of 12 larger plus 150 smaller Greekmarker islands in the Aegean Seamarker, off the southwest coast of Turkeymarker, southward of the island of Samosmarker and northeastward of the island of Cretemarker. They have a rich history, and many of even the smallest inhabited islands boast dozens of Byzantine churches and medieval castles.

The modern prefecture of the Dodecanese, a subdivision of the South Aegean periphery, consists of 163 islands in total, of which 26 are inhabited. Twelve of these are major, giving the chain its name. The most historically important and well-known is Rhodesmarker (Rodos), which for millennia has been the island from which the region is controlled. Of the others, Kosmarker and Patmosmarker are historically more important; the remaining nine are Astipaleamarker, Kalimnosmarker, Karpathosmarker, Kasosmarker, Lerosmarker, Nisyrosmarker, Symimarker, Tilosmarker and Kastelorizomarker (which actually lies in the eastern Mediterranean seamarker).

Other notable islands in the chain include Agathonisimarker, Chalkimarker, Lipsimarker, Pserimosmarker, and Telendos.


Pre-history and the Archaic Period

The Dodecanese have been inhabited since prehistoric times. In the Neopalatial period on Crete, the islands were heavily Minoanized (contact beginning in the second millennium BC). Following the downfall of the Minoans, the islands were ruled by the Achaeans from circa 1400 BC, until the arrival of the Dorians circa 1100 BC. It is in the Dorian period that they began to prosper as an independent entity, developing a thriving economy and culture through the following centuries. By the early Archaic Period Rhodes and Kos emerged as the major islands in the group, and in the 6th century BC the Dorians founded three major cities on Rhodes (Lindosmarker, Kameirosmarker and Ialyssosmarker). Together with the island of Kos and the cities of Knidosmarker and Halicarnassos on the mainland of Asia Minormarker, these made up the Dorian Hexapolis.

Classical Period

This development was interrupted around 499 BC by the Persian Wars, during which the islands were captured by the Persians for a brief period. Following the defeat of the Persians by the Atheniansmarker in 478 BC, the cities joined the Athenian-dominated Delian League. When the Peloponnesian War broke out in 431 BC, they remained largely neutral although they were still members of the League.

By the time the Peloponnesian War ended in 404 BC, the Dodecanese were mostly removed from the larger Aegean conflicts, and had begun a period of relative quiet and prosperity. In 408 BC, the three cities of Rhodes had united to form one state, which built a new capital on the northern end of the island, also named Rhodes; this united Rhodes was to dominate the region for the coming millennia. Other islands in the Dodecanese also developed into significant economic and cultural centers; most notably, Kos served as the site of the school of medicine founded by Hippocrates.

However, the Peloponnesian War had so weakened the entire Greek civilization's military strength that it lay open to invasion. In 357 BC, the islands were conquered by the king Mausolus of Caria, then in 340 BC by the Persiansmarker. But this second period of Persian rule proved to be nearly as short as the first, and the islands became part of the rapidly growing Macedonian Empire as Alexander the Great swept through and defeated the Persians in 332 BC, to the great relief of the islands' inhabitants.

Following the death of Alexander, the islands, and even Rhodes itself, were split up among the many generals who contended to succeed him. The islands formed strong commercial ties with the Ptolemies in Egyptmarker, and together they formed the Rhodo-Egyptian alliance which controlled trade throughout the Aegean in the 3rd century BC. Led by Rhodes, the islands developed into maritime, commercial and cultural centers: coins of Rhodes circulated almost everywhere in the Mediterranean, and the islands' schools of philosophy, literature and rhetoric were famous. The Colossus of Rhodesmarker, built in 304 BC, perhaps best symbolized their wealth and power.

In 164 BC, Rhodes signed a treaty with Romemarker, and the islands became aligned to greater or lesser extent with the Roman Empire while mostly maintaining their autonomy. Rhodes quickly became a major schooling center for Roman noble families, and, as the islands (and particularly Rhodes) were important allies of Rome, they enjoyed numerous privileges and generally friendly relations. These were eventually lost in 42 BC, in the turmoil following the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, after which Cassius invaded and sacked the islands. Thereafter, they became part of the Roman Empire proper. Titus made Rhodes capital of the Provincia Insularum, and eventually the islands were joined with Cretemarker as part of the 18th Province of the Roman Empire.

In the 1st century, Saint Paul visited the islands twice, and Saint John visited numerous times; they succeeded in converting the islands to Christianity, placing them among the first dominantly Christian regions. Saint John eventually came to reside among them, being exiled to Patmos, where he wrote his famous Revelation.

Middle Ages

As the Roman Empire split in 395 AD into Eastern and Western halves, the islands became part of the Eastern part, which later evolved into the Byzantine Empire. They would remain there for nearly a thousand years, though these were punctuated by numerous invasions. It was during this period that they began to re-emerge as an independent entity, and the term Dodecanese itself dates to around the 8th century. Copious evidence of the Byzantine period remains on the islands today, most notably in hundreds of churches from the period which can be seen in various states of preservation.

In the 13th century, with the Fourth Crusade, Italians began invading portions of the Dodecanese, which had remained under the nominal power of the Empire of Nicea; Venetiansmarker (Querini, Cornaro) and Genoesemarker families (Vignoli) each held some islands for brief periods, while Basilian monks ruled on Patmos and Leros. Finally, in the 14th century, the Byzantine era came to an end when the islands were taken by forces of the Knights Hospitaller (Knights of St. John): Rhodes was conquered in 1309, and the rest of the islands fell gradually over the next few decades. The Knights made Rhodes their stronghold, transforming its capital into a grandiose medieval city dominated by an impressive fortress, and scattered fortresses and citadels through the rest of the islands as well.

These massive fortifications proved sufficient to repel invasions by the Sultan of Egypt in 1444 and Mehmed II in 1480. Finally, however, the citadel at Rhodes fell to the large army of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1522, and the other islands were overrun within the year. The few remaining Knights fled to Maltamarker.

Ottoman rule

Thus began a period of several hundred years in the Ottoman Empire. The Dodecanese formed the Vilayet of the islands. The population was allowed to retain a number of privileges provided it submitted to Ottoman rule. By Suleiman's edict, they paid a special tax in return for a special autonomous status that prohibited Ottoman generals from interfering in their civil affairs or mistreating the population. These guarantees, combined with a strategic location at the crossroads of Mediterranean shipping, allowed the islands to prosper. Although sympathies of the overwhelmingly Greek population (only Rhodes and Kos had Turkish communities) leaned heavily towards Greece following its declaration of independence in 1822, the islanders did not join the Greek War of Independence, continuing instead a semi-autonomous existence as an archipelago of Greek merchants within the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, the 19th century turned out to be one of the islands' most prosperous, and a number of mansions date from this era.

Italian rule

After the outbreak of the Italian-Turkish war over nearby Libyamarker, the islands finally declared independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, proclaiming an independent state as the Federation of the Dodecanese Islands. This nascent state was quashed almost immediately by the invasion of Italymarker, which wanted the islands, and particularly the fortress of Rhodes, to control communication between Turkey and Libya. The Italians occupied all the Dodecanese except for Kastelorizomarker, which was later temporarily seized by Francemarker.

After the end of the war, according to the First Treaty of Lausanne, Italy maintained the occupation of the islands, as guarantee for the execution of the treaty. Following the declaration of War of Italy against the Ottoman Empire (21 August 1915), the war occupation of the islands started again.

During World War I, with Italy allied to Francemarker and Britainmarker, the islands became an important British and French naval base, used as a staging area for numerous campaigns, most famously the one at Gallipoli. During the war, some of the smaller islands were occupied by the French and British, with Rhodes continuing as Italian-occupied.

Following the war, the Tittoni - Venizelos agreement, signed on July 29, 1919 called for the smaller islands to join with Greece, with Rhodes remaining Italian. Italy should have got in exchange southwest Anatoliamarker with Antalyamarker. The Greek defeat in the Greco-Turkish War and the foundation of modern Turkey made this solution impossible. With the Treaty of Lausanne the Dodecanese was then formally annexed by Italy, as the Possedimenti Italiani dell'Egeo.

Mussolini embarked on a program of Italianization, hoping to make Rhodes a modern transportation hub that would serve as a focal point for the spread of Italian culture in the Levant. The islands were overwhelmingly Greek-speaking, punctuated only by a Turkish-speaking minority (nearly 10,000) and even smaller Ladino-speaking Jewish minority (with only a few immigrated Italian speakers).

The Palace of the Grand Master (of the Knights of St. John) in the city of Rhodes, rebuilt by the Italians in the 1930s

The Fascist program did have some positive effects in its attempts to modernize the islands, resulting in the eradication of malaria, the construction of hospitals, aqueducts, a power plant to provide Rhodes' capital with electric lighting and the establishment of the Dodecanese Cadastre. The main castle of the Knights of St. John was also rebuilt. The concrete-dominated Fascist architectural style detracted significantly from the islands' picturesque scenery (and also reminded the inhabitants of Italian rule), and has consequently been largely demolished or remodeled, apart from the famous example of the Lerosmarker town of Lakki, which remains a prime example of the architecture.

From 1936 to 1940 Cesare Maria De Vecchi acted as governor of the Italian Aegean Islands promoting the official use of the Italian language and favoring a process of italianization, interrupted by the beginning of WWII. In the 1936 Italian census of the Dodecanese islands, the total population was 129,135, of which 7,015 were Italians.

During World War II, Italy joined the Axis Powers, and used the Dodecanese as a naval staging area for its invasion of Cretemarker in 1940. After the surrender of Italy in September 1943, the islands briefly became a battleground between the Germans and Allied forces, including the Italians (see Battle of Leros). The Germans prevailed in the Dodecanese Campaign, and although they were driven out of mainland Greece in 1944, the Dodecanese remained occupied until the end of the war in 1945, during which time nearly the entire Jewish population of 6,000 was deported and killed. Only 1200 of these Ladino speaking Jews survived, thanks to their lucky escape to the nearby coast of Turkeymarker.

Post-World War II

Following the war, the islands became a British military protectorate, and were almost immediately allowed to run their own civil affairs, upon which the islands became informally united with Greece, though under separate sovereignty and military control. Despite objections from Turkeymarker, which desired the islands as well, they were formally united with Greece by the 1947 Peace Treaty with Italy, ending a seven-century long era of non-Greek rule over the islands. As a legacy of its former status as a jurisdiction separate from Greece, it is still considered a separate "entity" for amateur radio purposes, essentially maintaining its status as an independent country "on the air." Radio call signs in the Dodecanese begin with the prefix SV5.

Today, Rhodes and the Dodecanese are popular travel destinations.

Municipalities and communities

Municipality YPES code Seat (if different) Postal code Area code
Afantoumarker 1205 851 03 22410-50 through 53, 56, 57
Archangelos 1202 851 02 22440-2
Astypalaiamarker 1203 859 00 22430-4
Attavyrosmarker 1204 Empona 851 09 22460-5
Chalkimarker 1227 851 10 22460-45
Dikaiomarker 1206 Zipari 853 00
Ialysosmarker 1208 851 01 22410-90 through 98
Irakleidesmarker 1207 Antimacheia 853 02 22420-6
Kallitheamarker 1209 Kalythies 851 05 22410-6, 84 through 87
Kalymnosmarker 1210 852 00 22430-2, 50, 59
Kameirosmarker 1211 Soronimarker 851 06 22410-40 through 42
Karpathosmarker 1212 858 00 22450-2
Kasosmarker 1213 857 00 22450-4
Kosmarker 1214 853 00 22420-2
Leipsoimarker 1215 850 01 22470-4
Lerosmarker 1216 854 00 22470-2
Lindosmarker 1217 851 07 22440-2,3
Megisti/Kastelorizomarker 1218 851 11 22460-49
Nisyrosmarker 1219 853 03 22420-3
Patmosmarker 1222 855 00 22470-3
Petaloudesmarker 1223 Kremasti 851 04 22410-90 through 98
Rhodesmarker 1224 851 00 22410-2,3,4,6,7,8
South Rhodesmarker 1220 Gennadimarker 851 09 22440-4
Symimarker 1225 856 00 22460-70 through 72
Tilosmarker 1226 850 02 22460-44
Community YPES code Seat (if different) Postal code Area code
Agathonisimarker 1201 Agathonissimarker 850 01 22470
Olymposmarker 1221 857 00 22450


Note: Provinces no longer hold any legal status in Greecemarker.


  • Doumanis, Nicholas. "Italians as "Good" Colonizers: Speaking Subalterns and the Politics of Memory in the Dodecanese," in Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Mia Fuller, ed.s, Italian Colonialism. New York: Palgarve Macmillian. 2005. ISBN 0312236492.

See also

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