The island of Naxos is the largest of the Cycladic islands. Its coasts provide numerous shelters, while the inland comprises extensive fertile lands. Although of a lower quality than that of Paros, the Naxian marble was also sought after.
Human presence is attested from the Late Neolithic at the coastal settlement of Kokkinovrachos. Occupation of the cave of Zas is also attested to the same period and lasted at least until the Late Neolithic. The prosperous archaeological material found on these sites demonstrates significant contacts with the rest of the Aegean already at this time.
From the Bronze Age date several cemeteries scattered in the island as well in the valleys or mountainous regions. The burials are most often cists, though several chamber tombs were discovered at the site of Aplomata near Chora. It seems that the southern part of the island was more densely inhabited. Situated on promontories, settlements often shared a panoramic view of the small islands of Kouphonisia, Keros, Schinousa, Herakleia and where looking towards the sea route of Crete. To this period Naxos is also particularly known for the production of Cycladic figurines. Very few sites survive of the Middle Bronze Age; the few exceptions are located near the sea and bear the marks of the Minoan influence, such as Grotta, Kastro, Rizocastellia and Mikri Vigla. The latter was perhaps the most significant but had a relatively short life time and was overshadowed in the Late Bronze Age by Grotta. At that time the island was still inhabited at various places but Grotta was undoubtedly the major site, of Mycenaean character. The variety and the number of artifacts allow us to judge the importance of the contacts and exchanges with the Aegean world and even beyond.
After the destructions of the end of the Late Bronze Age Naxos revived and developed into one of the most important centers of the Cyclades. Particularly significant are the excavations in Chora which help us to understand the evolution of the community through the EIA. At this time, the population appears to have moved from the shore and settled on the heights of Kastro, a few hundred meters away. The older habitation area (Grotta) served now as a cemetery. In the ninth century some periboloi delimited family plots, and in some cases ancestor cults were founded. In the eighth century, in the area of Mitropolis Square, several periboloi were covered by a tumulus and the place developed into a common hero cult of the rising polis of Naxos. At the same time the Naxians participated in the colonization of the West. An additional witness of their importance is the distribution of fine local pottery production throughout the EIA Aegean. The inland was also inhabited by smaller rural pastoral communities. Tsikalario, for instance, allows us to observe this diversity betwenn the coast and the inland.
From the Archaic period onwards the island of Naxos formed one city-state. It was one of the most influential of the Greek world, especially between 650 and 550 BC. Its sculptures spread all over the Aegean and their presence suggest that the Naxians played an important role in the control of the sanctuary of Apollo on Delos. The "oikos of the Naxians" there was probably the first temple of Apollo; famous Naxian sculptures are the monumental kouros of Apollo, the kore of Nikandre, as well as the lions by the sacred way. These, among others, indicate a possible Naxian domination (or strong influence) over the sanctuary in its early period.
From the late 8th century and during all the Archaic period two important extra-urban rural sanctuaries were in use on the island, the sanctuary of Dionysos at Iria and that of Demeter at Gyroulas near Sangri (and a third one at Melanes). In the former a series of four temples was excavated, dated fom the eighth to the sixth c. BC, while there is evidence that the sanctuary was founded in the Mycenaean period. In the latter a marble Telesterion was built around 525 BC., perhaps under the tyranny of Lygdamis, who also undertook the construction of a monumental temple of Apollo on the Palatia peninsula, which was never finished. By that period, Paros, the rival of Naxos, was flourishing; in 490 BC the Persian sack of Naxos gave the final blow to the prosperity of the island. The shrines were burned down and from then Naxian swung between different hegemonies until the Roman times.
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