Aegina is the biggest island of the Saronic Gulf. During ancient times its population was occupied with commerce and naval activities and the state of Aegina soon became so rich and strong, that functioned periodically as a rival of neighbouring Athens, the great sea power of the era.
Finds dated to the 2nd millennium BC, as the famous Aegina treasure,aegina fig1now in the British Museum, show a prosperous community living already in prehistoric times on the island, closely interconnected with the major cultural centers of the Aegean.Early in the 1st millennium BC the island was colonised by Epidauros and became one of the most powerful members of the earliest league of Greek states, the Amphictyony of Calauria (so called because its religious center was the sanctuary of Poseidon on the island of Calauria, the modern Poros). Athens, Epidaurus, Aegina, Troezen, Hermione and Prasiae in East Attica joined this League in the early 7th c. at the latest, in order to attain security in sea routes and to promote export and transit trade.
aeginaAround 650 BC the Aeginetans struck silver coins for the needs of their commercial transactions, depicting a turtle on the one side, symbol of the sea, which played such an important role in the life of the island. Aegina built a commercial and a military harbour (vestiges near the modern port) and around 500 BC it exercised almost exclusively the trade in East Mediterranean and the Black Sea. We know that in the 6th c. BC Aegina had already courts and public doctors.
The prosperity of the island lasted until 459 BC. Hostilities and rivalries between Aegina and Athens occurred at times already in the early years. But fatal for Aegina was after the Persian Wars its choice to cooperate with the Spartan League against the interests of Athens. The Athenians defeated in 459 BC the Aeginetan fleet, occupied the island and forced the Aeginetans to surrender their ships, to demolish the walls of their city and to pay tribute to Athens. The island never recovered its early importance after these events.
Witnesses of the periods of prosperity of the island, in prehistoric as well as in Classical times are mainly two archaeological sites:
In Kolona, on a promontory 500 m northwest of the modern city, the ruins of ten levels of occupation of the late 3rd and the 2nd millennium BC are unearthed, intermingled with Classical and later ruins. More intelligible to the layman are the strong walls of the prehistoric settlement, as well as the foundations and a lone standing column from the opisthodomos of a late archaic Temple of Apollo, which crowned the city’s acropolis. Highlights in the local museum are the large Bronze Age storage jars (1900-1800 BC), a marble Sphinx from the temple of Aphaia, fragmented pedimental sculptures from the temple of Apollo at Kolona. aegina fig2Highly interesting is also a delightful jar dating to the 7th c BC, with a depiction of Odysseus escaping the cave of the Cyclops under a large ram.
The second site of interest, much more intelligible by the layman, is the Sanctuary of Aphaia, on the heights in the northwestern part of the island. Ancient writers identify this faintly known mythical person with the Cretan divinity Britomartis-Diktynna, an opinion shared by modern scholars. The cult started in this place already in the 2nd millennium BC and went on to the end of Antiquity. Remnants of a temple dated to ca 570 BC were found on the site and are now housed in a local museum, which can be visited on demand.
The early Classical temple of Aphaia (500-490 BC) is well preserved and stands to the height of its entablature. Most of its sculptural decoration is also preserved and is now exhibited in the Glyptothek in Munich. The pedimental sculptures depicted two mythical combats before Troy (east the early expedition of Herakles against the Trojan king, Laomedon, west the later expedition by Agamemnon against Priam) in the presence of Athena; heroes from Aegina participated in both. The temple of Aphaia is the building on which the Classical proportions of the Doric Greek temple appear.
It is noteworthy that in modern times Aegina became the first capital city of the Modern Greek State. It was there that Kapodistria disembarked in 1928 and gave the oath as Governor of Greece in the local Cathedral.

aegina fig3