The history of the island stretches back many centuries, where the legend meets the truth and they both become a fairy-tale. Serifos is well known for its myths and stories with fairies and local legends and pirates.
The most known myth from Antiquity is related to Perseus. His story starts when Akrissios, King of Argos, who had no male descendant, went to the oracle of Delphi. There, he was told that his daughter Danae would give birth to a son, who would become extremely famous and one day would rule the region and would kill his grandfather. Akrisios, being afraid and trying to prevent the realization of the prophecy, imprisoned his daughter in an underground chamber. However, as god Zeus was in love with Danae’s merits, turned into golden shower and entered the prison’s roof and found his way to her. The child born out of this union was named Perseus. Akrisios was unable to kill the baby and astonished from the miracle of this birth, put both his daughter and the baby in a box and threw it in the sea. This small vessel washed ashore Serifos, where two brothers ruled, Diktys and Polydektis. The former found Danae and the baby and offered them his hospitality. As years went by, Perseus was growing up and Polydektis, being in love with his mother, tried to put him out of the way and marry her. So, he announced his intention to get married and asked his servants and the leaders that were under his orders, to bring him the presents he deserved according to the tradition of that time. Perseus, who would not accept offering a common present, promised the king to bring him the head of Medusa, something that the king was thrilled to accept. Medusa was a mortal mermaid and around her hair she had writhing snakes, teeth like tusks, copper hands and golden leaves, while she could petrify anyone that would look her in the eyes.
Perseus, under the guidance of Hermes and goddess Athena managed to decapitate the mermaid. Out of her dead trunk Pegasus was born. After many adventures and stories, he managed to bring her head to Serifos and offer it to king Polydektis for a present and as he had promised. There, he found his mother and the king’s brother, Diktys, at the altars, where they had fled being afraid of the king’s threats. So, Perseus, in order to take revenge from king Polydektis, entered his palace and showed him the frightened head of Medusa. Thus, he petrified him and all of his companions, while at the same time the entire beauty of the island was petrified and the place was turned into an infertile rock.
Moreover, according to the myth, ingenious Odysseus passed from here during his journey back to Ithaca. Here, he met Cyclops Polyphemos, whom Odysseus blinded and in his attempt to kill Odysseus threw him a rock outside cove of Koutalas. Ruins of walls found in the region may justify this opinion.
Other scholars mention that Serifos did not participate in the crusade of the Achaeans against Troy, as Homer makes no reference to them at all. An opinion is that Serifos took side with the Trojans, thus pushing the Achaeans to destroy the island for revenge.
Beyond the myths and according to historical findings, the Thessalians are believed to have first inhabited the island, while in the mid 7th century BC the Ionians made it their colony, headed by Eteoklis. The island then developed significantly and blossomed mainly thanks to the systematic exploitation of the mines that produced silver, gold and iron.
In 650 BC the monarchy prevailing up to then was abolished and democracy was established. Serifos participated for a while in the Amphictyony of Delos. Later on, during the Persian wars it first allied with the Persians, but soon shifted sides and joined the war on the side of the Athenians. Actually, written references exist for the participation of Serifos in the battle of Salamis in 480 BC, assisting the Athenians. The participation in the war on the side of Athens brings the island opposite and then under the dominance of the Spartans. For many years the political status is unstable, at times under the occupation of the Spartans and at other times of the Athenians.
In the following centuries, Serifos followed the same course as the other Cycladic islands. It has been conquered by the Macedonians and later on passed on to the domination of the Ptolemys of Egypt. From 166 BC to 395 AD the island is ruled by the Romans and is also used as an exile, while at the same time the mines are operated again.
During the Byzantine period and up to 1200 the island lapsed into obscurity and was almost deserted, while it has been the exile place for the political opponents of the Byzantine Emperors. There are very few references for this period, save for the fact that during this time the island suffers multiple pirate attacks and raids.
In 1206 was enacted the famous decree that allowed noble people and fortune hunters to occupy the islands and acquire dominating rights thereof. This is what Markos Sanoudos did as he conquered approximately 18 of the Cycladic islands, founding the Duchy of Archipelago, appointing Naxos as the capital city. This decree forced the inhabitants of Serifos to become pirates in order to defend their land against the prospective conquerors. They resisted vigorously but at the end they did not manage to push away the Venetians that conquered the island in 1355, headed by Ermolao Minoto, who contributed in the economic development of Serifos, establishing laws and regulations that were favorable to the population, in exchange for the exploitation of the mines.
On the contrary, his successor, Nicolo Adoldo behaved to the people of Serifos with a cruel, devious and violent way aiming to entirely exploit them. The wealth that he made during his ruling was that large that the Catholic Church honored him as a benefactor for the immense wealth that he offered.
During the Frankish occupation, Serifos suffered numerous pirating attacks.
In 1538 Serifos was conquered by Hayreddin Barbarossa, who attached the island to the Turkish Empire, after looting and burning it. The Turkish occupation was heavy for the whole nation. Despite the fact that many islands received privileged treatment, this has not been the case of Serifos. The terrorism and suppression regime pushed many inhabitants of the island to leave and settle at the neighboring Folegandros.
In the decade from 1770-1779 the Russians dominated the Aegean Sea and their presence in Serifos was intense up to 1774.
During the second half of the 18th century, many locals immigrated to Iasio, Moldovlachia and many among them entered the Filiki Etaireia [“Friendly Society”], some of them being playing key roles. The flag of the Revolution is raised on May 21, 1821 and the island officially joins the national war of independence.
Liberation comes after a few years and Serifos is officially united to the rest of Greece in 1833. From then on, the island’s fate joined the history of Greece and it continues fighting for justice and the prosperity of the place.
In 1869 the mines are set back to operation by the Groman family, at a frantic and intensive exploitation that will leave behind plenty of wounds and ineffaceable traces on the rocky island. Galleries, stone stairs that reach to the coasts and bear huge metal constructions, the neoclassical building of the Commanding Offices at Megalo Livadi and many small settlements that were later abandoned. In August 1916 took place the first bloody working class uprising in the Greek territory, as the miners of Serifos revolted asking for better working conditions. This is where the first eight-hours work per day agreement was signed, actually long before Chicago’s May Day. It is the first labor vindication in Greece, headed by the island’s miners. Konstantinos Speras, originating from the island as well, helped them to found their union and start their fights.
After World War II and upon the opening of the international markets and the relatively low prices in the underdeveloped countries, the operation of the mines became profitless. This resulted in the final closing down of Serifos’ mines in 1963, thus many mining settlements that had been developed and flourished in the island were abandoned and depopulated.