Saturday, January 23, 2021

Overview of the costumes of the Greek Islands, part 1 Ionian, North Aegean and Sporades


Hello all, 

Today I would like to start writing about the costumes of the Greeks. I will start with the costumes of various of the islands, as these are a strong portion of Greek culture, even though they show more outside influence than the mainland does. The islands fall into a few traditional groups. In this article I will cover the Ionian Islands, the North Aegean Islands, and the Sporades Islands. 

Ionian Islands - Ιόνια νησιά

These islands lie off the west coast of Greece, in the Ionian Sea. They have experienced much Venetian and Italian influence throughout history. They are sometimes called the Heptanese, or the Seven Islands. I will proceed north to south. 

Kerkyra Κέρκυρα

This island is usually called Corfu in English and Italian. This is the northernmost of the Ionian Islands. lying off the coast of Albania. In classical times, they had a navy that rivalled those of Athens or Corinth. The costume is roughly the same over all the island, differing in color and details from north to south. In the north the costume is more restrained and darker in color, with the apron being of solid material; in the south it is more colorful and the apron is covered with ribbons and ornament. The photo at the head of the article is from Corfu.

A dance from Kerkyra

Paxi  Παξοί

This actually consists of two main islands, Paxos and Antipaxos. The name is believed to be derived from Phoenician. According to the Ancient Greeks, Poseidon broke them off from Corfu so as to have a quiet place to relax with his wife. 

A video showing a solo male dancer from Paxos, unfortunately not in local costume.

Lefkada  Λευκάδα

This island is also called Lefkas or Leukas. This island is linked in ancient stories to Sappho, Aphrodite and Odysseus. The traditional costume resembles a medieval princess outfit. 

Dancers from Levkas

Ithaka  Ιθάκη

This island is normally considered to be the home of Odysseus. It is another quite small island, not much bigger than Paxi. I have only a couple of images from Ithaka, showing rather generic costumes.

Kefalonia   Κεφαλονιά

In English also spelled Cephalonia. Note that 'C' in greek words is derived from K, and is always pronounced hard. According to Greek myth, the island is named after a man called Kefalos [Cephalus], who helped Amphytrion of Mycenae against the Taphians and Teleboans. 

A dance from Kefalonia

Zakynthos   Ζάκυνθος

In English also spelled Zakinthos, or Zacinto in Italian. The name predates the arrival of Hellenes on the island, and is Pelasgian in origin [ ie. pre-Hellenic ]. The men of Zakynthos participated in the Trojan war, and several men from the island were among the suitors of Penelope, according to Homer. 

Zembekikos in a fire circle on Zakynthos.

Kythira Κύθηρα

This is the southernmost of the Ionian Islands and lies some distance from the rest, being found off the southern coast of Greece. It is the home of the famous dance Tsirighotikos, the name of which was taken from the name used for the island during Venetian occupation, Cerigo, or Tsirigo in Greek. 

Dance from Kythira

North Aegean Islands  
Νησιά του βορειοανατολικού Αιγαίου

These are islands in the northeast Aegean which do not fall into any traditional group. They are are grouped together for administrative purposes. 

Thasos Θάσος 

This island lies in the far north of the Aegean, off the coast of Greek Macedonia. The wine of Thasos has long held a reputation. Staphylos, one of Dionysius' lovers lived there, and the god blessed his wine as a token of his love. It is also known for its baths, built on natural hot springs. 

Dancing on Thasos

Samothraki  Σαμοθράκη

In English also spelled Samothrace. This island was settled by the Greeks fairly late, circa 6th to 8th cent BC. It was previously inhabited by the Pelasgians. It remained the center of a Mystery Cult at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods even after Hellenic occupation, and through the Roman Period. 

Samothraki dance

Imbros Ίμβρος

This island lies just south of Samothraki, It, together with its neighbor island just to the south, Tenedos, now belongs to Turkey, in spite of the fact that the population was traditionally all Greek. In Turkish it is called Gökçeada since 1970, after the Greek population had mostly been forced out. Thetis, the mother of Achilles, had her home just offshore of this island. When the rest of the Aegean Islands were made part of Greece, for some reason these two were made part of Turkey, even though no Turks lived on Imbros. The population was exempted from the population exchange, which was honored, at first. By the 1960s, the situation was so unbearable that most of the Greek inhabitants left. They still recall some of their traditions, however. 

Here are a couple of dances from Imbros, being performed on Lesbos.

Limnos  Λῆμνος

In English also spelled Lemnos. This island was sacred to Hephaistos, the god of metalworking, who landed there after being thrown out of Olympos. It was a center of his cult for many centuries. It is rich in agriculture, growing grains and many vegetables, as well as a dry Muscat wine. 

Dancers from Limnos in a more modern costume

Lesvos Λέσβος


In English also called Lesbos. The name of the Island and its capitol, Mitilene, seem to be Hittite. It was mentioned by Homer as part of the realm of Priam of Troy. It is also called 'Isle of Poets'. It is famous for being the home of the poet Sappho, who inspired the modern usage of the term 'lesbian' to which the actual Lesbians, i. e. the inhabitants of Lesbos, object. Perhaps ironically, the traditional costume of Lesbos features pants for the women. 

The most famous dance of Lesvos, Aptalikos, is usually done by pairs of men, as in this video.

but here is being done by women as well. 

Here is the video

Psara Ψαρά

Psara is a small island which is west and a little north of Chios. It is known for fishing, and in Ancient Greece was a byword for being poor and without wine. The current population is about 500. Nonetheless, they have their own costume. 

Here we see the costume of Psara on the left, and Hydra on the right. 

This is the older man's costume. Today they wear basically the same costume as other Greek men in the islands. 

A dance group performing on Psara.

Chios Χίος

This island has for thousands of years been known for the growing of Mastic Gum; for which reason it was much fought over by many foreign powers, including the Persians and Ottomans. The island has two surviving folk costumes. 

Pyrgi  Πυργί

This man's costume was worn specifically in the village of Pyrgi. In many other villages the men wore the standard Aegean costume.

Folk festival on Chios. Many different groups, but Chios leading procession at beginning, and dancing at the 127 mark. Video quality is poor. 

Kalamoti Kαλαμωτη

Grecian Oddyssey Dancers in homemade Kalamoti costumes. They completely misunderstood the men's costumes.

A Greek group doing dances from Chios.

Samos Σάμος

This island was home to Pythagoras, Epicurus, and the philosopher Melissus. They were a known center for trade and commerce with much of the east at an early date. 

Dance on Samos

Ikaria Ικαρία

This island is named after Ikaros, because it is believed that he ended his ill fated flight nearby. The island has no natural ports, and thus the population was rather isolated, but also safe from pirates.

Dances from Ikaria

Ikariotikos in more modern costume

The Sporades Σποράδες

This group of islands is found off the coast of Thessaly. This name means 'scattered', as opposed to being found in groups. Four of the islands are permanently inhabited. 

Skiathos Σκίαθος

This island is the westernmost of the 4. Part of the Persian fleet was damaged on the rocks of this island in their war with the Greeks in 480 BC. Shipbuilding was an important trade during the 19th cent but was halted by the advent of steam ships, allowing the forest to recover. 


In early history, this island was called Peparithos, and was originally settled by Minoans from Crete. According to myth, the population was founded by Staphylos, a son of Dionysios, and Ariadne, princess of Crete. The wine of this island was famous in the ancient world. The costume is unique, being of a tent like fullness of rich materials. 

Here we see a woman from Greek Thrace in the center.

In this exhibit we can see the Skyros costume in the background on the left.

Stage performance of a traditional wedding and dancing from Skopelos and Alonnisos. 


This is the next island to the east. From what little I have been able to find, they seem to wear the same costume as on Skopelos.

Skyros Σκύρος

This is the southernmost and easternmost of the Sporades. The Greek Air force keeps a base on the island because of its central location in the Aegean. According to myth, this island was where Theseus died, and the location from which Achilles set sail for Troy, after being discovered by Odysseus while hiding among the women in the court of Lycomedes. 


A short documentary on Skyros, showing music, dance, very authentic costumes and more. Beautifully shot.

The men of Skyros have a mumming tradition during Carneval, with one of their number cross dressing in a somewhat different costume. 

And that is enough for one article. 

Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative. 

Roman K