Obsidian from Milos was a commodity as early as 15,000 years ago. Natural glass from Milos was transported over long distances and used for razor-sharp "stone tools" well before farming began and later: "There is no early farming village in the Near East that doesn't get obsidian". The mining of obsidian did not lead to the development of permanent habitation or manufacturing on the island. Instead, those in search of obsidian arrived by boat, beaching it in a suitable cove and cutting pieces of the volcanic glass from the quarries.
The position of Milos, between mainland Greece and Crete, and its possession of obsidian, made it an important centre of early Aegean civilisation. Milos lost its arms-making importance when bronze became the preferred material for the manufacture of weapons.
The first settlement at Phylakopi (Greek Φυλακωπή) arose in the Bronze Age, flourishing as the extraction of obsidian was in the decline. The first settlers were tuna fishermen. Lying on the north-east coast, excavations by the British School of Archeology revealed a town wall and a Minoan-inspired structure, dubbed the Pillar room, which contained fragments of vivid wall paintings. The famous fresco of the flying fish was found in the ruins of the Pillar room and was executed with delicate colouring and graphic observation of nature in the graceful movement of a fish. Stylistic similarities to Minoan frescoes are suggested, and it could perhaps have been the work of a Cretan artist. Part of the site has been washed away by the sea.
The antiquities found at the site covered three major periods, from the Early Cycladic period to the Mycenaean period. At the site much pottery was excavated, with several changing styles and influences over the site's long occupation. In the early occupation of the site, there are many similarities and imports from other Cycladic islands and the settlement was very small. During the Middle Bronze Age however the site expanded significantly and the expansion of Minoan Crete saw an influx of Minoan pottery into the Cyclades, particularly at Akrotiri on Thera, though much found its way to Phylakopi. The quantities found at the Cycladic sites have been taken to suggest a Minoan control over the region, though it could also be the consumptive nature of the islanders adopting Cretan fashions. There is more than just pottery at Phylakopi however, the eruption of the Thera volcano saw a reduction in Minoan presence in the Cyclades and it is at this time that Mycenaean involvement on the islands increases. At Phylakopi (and unknown in the rest of the Cyclades) a Megaron structure, which is typically associated with the Mycenaean palaces, such as those at Tiryns, Pylos and Mycenae has been discovered. This has been taken to suggest that the Mycenaeans conquered the settlement and installed a seat of power for a governor. The evidence is not clear, though again it could be a legacy of the islanders adopting foreign elements into their culture. Particularly unexpected was the discovery in the 1970s of a shrine at the site, which contained many examples of Aegean figurines, including the famous "Lady of Phylakopi". The shrine is unprecedented in the Bronze Age Cyclades and has provided a valuable insight into the beliefs and rituals of the inhabitants of Phylakopi. The site was eventually abandoned and was never reoccupied.
The first Dorian settlement on Melos was established no earlier than the 1st millennium BC. Dorians are the ethnic group to which the Spartans belonged, but the Dorian settlers of Melos made themselves independent. They eventually established a city whose site lies on the eastern shore of the bay, just south-west of the present-day community of Trypiti.
From the 6th century BC up to the siege of 416 BC, Melos issued its own coinage, struck according to the Milesian weight standard: The base coin was the stater which weighed just over 14 grams. Melos was the only island in the Aegean Sea to use this standard. Most coins bore the image of an apple, which is a pun because the ancient Greek word for "apple" (mêlon) sounded similar to the name of the island. The coins also often bore the name of its people: ΜΑΛΙΟΝ (Malion) or some abbreviation thereof.
By the 6th century BC, the Melians had also learned to write, and they used an archaic variant of the ancient Greek script that exhibited Cretan and Theraic influences. It was discarded after the siege of 416 BC.
From at least as early as 470 BC and ending with the siege of 416 BC, the Melians exported terracotta reliefs, which were typically use as door or chest ornaments and depicted scenes from mythology.
During the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC, the Melians refused to submit to Persia and contributed two warships to the Greek war effort, which were used at the Battle of Salamis. After the battle, the Melians returned to their traditional isolationism.
During the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), a war fought between Athens and Sparta, the Melians remained largely neutral despite being of the same ethnicity as the Spartans. They made some small donations to the Spartan war effort but never actually fought alongside them. In 426 BC, an army from Athens raided the Melian countryside, and the following year Athens demanded tribute, but Melos resisted this coercion. In the summer of 416 BC, Athens invaded again with an army of over 3,400 men. Athens demanded that Melos ally with them against Sparta, or be destroyed. The Melians refused to surrender, so the Athenian army laid siege to the city and eventually captured it in the winter of 416 or 415 BC. The Athenians executed all the adult men they caught, and sold the women and children into slavery. They then settled 500 of their own colonists on the island. In 405 BC, with Athens losing the war, the Spartan general Lysander expelled the Athenian settlers from Melos and repatriated the survivors of the siege. Sparta annexed Melos and installed a military governor (a harmost).
The decimation of its population and the loss of its independence meant that the cultural distinctiveness of Melos faded away as it was absorbed into mainstream Greek culture. Their coinage switched to the Rhodian standard (tetradrachms weighing 15.3 g) and ceased bearing the word ΜΑΛΙΟΝ. The production of its terracotta reliefs also ceased.
In 338 BC, Philip II of Macedon defeated the Greeks at the Battle of Chaeroneia and became the overlord of Greece and the Cyclades. During this time, Melos and the nearby island Kimolos disputed each other over the ownership of the islands of Polyaigos, "Heterea", and "Libea" (the last two are probably Agios Efstathios and Agios Georgios). In the past, this dispute would have been settled by war, but the two communities took their dispute to Argos on the Greek mainland. The Argives decided the islands belonged to Kimolos.
In 197 BC, the Romans forced Philip V to withdraw from Greece, and Melos subsequently came under Roman influence.
During the early 9th century AD the Cyclades were harassed by Arab raiders, though how Milos fared at this time is unclear. Milos was mentioned in a Byzantine chrysobull of 1198, which shows it was still important to the Byzantines.
In the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade (1204), the Venetian Marco Sanudo seized control of Milos and a number of other islands in the Cyclades. Sanduo declared himself the Duke of Naxos, after the island where he established his capital. Sanudo did not make his duchy a vassal of Venice, but instead declared loyalty to the Latin Emperor. Sanudo's dynasty lasted nine generations, then was succeeded by the Crispos. Both families were Catholic. The majority of the population was (and still is) Greek Orthodox.
Up to this point, the population of Melos was overwhelmingly Greek Orthodox Christian, just like the rest of the archipelago. When the Venetians conquered the archipelago, they brought Catholicism with them. The first Catholic bishop of Milos was appointed in 1253.
In 1566 the Venetians handed over the Duchy of Naxos to the Ottoman Empire, and its last Catholic duke fled to Venice. The Ottoman sultan Selim II appointed a Jew named Joseph Nasi as its Duke. Upon Nasi's death in 1579, the Ottomans formally annexed the territory.
In the early 18th century, the population surpassed 6,000 and was almost entirely Greek and Christian. It was ruled by Turkish judge (a kadi) and a Turkish governor (a voivode). The voivode was responsible for collecting taxes and enforcing the decisions of the kadi. The day-to-day affairs of the island were managed by three elected magistrates (epitropi), although any of their decisions could be appealed to the kadi. The island had two bishops: one Greek Orthodox and one Latin Catholic. The Greek bishop was wealthier than his Latin counterpart, as he had a larger revenue base. Although the islanders enjoyed a great degree of autonomy, they chafed under the heavy taxation of their Ottoman overlords.
In 1771 the island was occupied by the Russian Empire for three years, then retaken by the Ottomans.
In the late 18th century, the population declined considerably for uncertain reasons. By 1798, it had fallen below 500 people. Visitors reported that up to two thirds of the buildings had fallen into ruin. It began growing again in the early 19th century, reaching 5,000 people by 1821. Reliable figures are hard to find as the Ottoman Empire never performed a census before 1881.
Melos was one of the first islands to join the Greek rebellion of 1821.
During the 19th century, Melos was a major rendezvous point for American and British ships fighting Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean.
The population peaked in 1928 at 6,562 people. In 2011 it was 4,977.
Milos is the southwesternmost island in the Cyclades, 120 kilometres (75 miles) due east from the coast of Laconia. From east to west it measures about 23 km (14 mi), from north to south 13 km (8.1 mi), and its area is estimated at 151 square kilometres (58 sq mi). The greater portion is rugged and hilly, culminating in Mount Profitis Elias 748 metres (2,454 feet) in the west. Like the rest of the cluster, the island is of volcanic origin, with tuff, trachyte and obsidian among its ordinary rocks. The natural harbour is the hollow of the principal crater, which, with a depth diminishing from 70 to 30 fathoms (130–55 m), strikes in from the northwest so as to separate the island into two fairly equal portions (see photo), with an isthmus not more than 18 km (11 mi) broad. In one of the caves on the south coast, the heat from the volcano is still great, and on the eastern shore of the harbour, there are hot sulfurous springs.
Antimelos or Antimilos, 13 miles (21 km) north-west of Milos, is an uninhabited mass of trachyte, often called Erimomilos (Desert Milos). Kimolos, or Argentiera, 1.6 km (0.99 mi) to the north-east, was famous in antiquity for its figs and fuller's earth, and contained a considerable city, the remains of which cover the cliff of St. Andrew's. Polyaigos (also called Polinos, Polybos or Polivo — alternative spelling Polyaegos) lies 2 km (1 mi) south-east of Kimolos. It was the subject of dispute between the Milians and Kimolians. It is now uninhabited.
The harbour town is Adamantas; from this there is an ascent to the plateau above the harbour, on which are situated Plaka, the chief town, and Kastro, rising on a hill above it, and other villages. The ancient town of Milos was nearer to the entrance of the harbour than Adamas, and occupied the slope between the village of Trypiti and the landing-place at Klima. Here is a theatre of Roman date and some remains of town walls and other buildings, one with a fine mosaic excavated by the British school at Athens in 1896. Numerous fine works of art have been found on this site, notably the Aphrodite in Paris, the Asclepius in London, and the Poseidon and the archaic Apollo in Athens. Other villages include Triovasalos, Peran Triovasalos, Pollonia and Zefyria (Kampos).
Milos has a Mediterranean climate (Köppen climate classification Csa) with mild, rainy winters and warm to hot dry summers.
There are only 70 beaches on Milos Island. Hivadolimni Beach is the longest at about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi). The rest of the beaches are starting from (North): Sarakiniko Beach, Papafragas, Kapros, Pachena, Alogomantra, Konstantinos, Mitakas, Mantrakia, Firopotamos, Nerodafni, Lakida, Plathiena, Fourkovouni, Areti, Pollonia, Gourado and Filakopi. (South): Firiplaka, Paliochori, Provatas, Tsigrado, Agia Kyriaki, Psaravolada, Kleftiko, Gerontas, Gerakas, Agios Sostis, Mouchlioti, Katergo, Spathi, Firligos, Pialothiafes, Kalamos, Krotiraki, Psathi, Svoronou and Sakelari. (West): Agios Ioannis, Cave of Sikia, Agathia, Triades and Ammoudaraki. (East): Voudia, Thalassa, Paliorema, Tria Pagidia and Thiafes. (In the Bay Area): Hivadolimni, Lagada, Papikinou, Fatourena, Klima, Skinopi and Patrikia. The North and South and bay beaches are tourist attractions. The east beaches are very quiet, and those to the west are also quiet beaches.Diagoras (5th century BC), a philosopher
Antonio Millo, captain and cartographer
Antonio Vassilacchi (1556–1629), a painter
Shōdo Island, Japan