According to mythology, the island of Lesvos was first inhabited by Pelasgians, who gave it the name Pelasgia. In prehistoric times the island was also known by other names, including Makaria, Lassia, Aeolis, Aethiope. The present-day name of the island came from Lesvos, the son of the mythological hero Lapithus, who was the ancestor of the semi-legendary and semi-historical tribe of the Lapiths, who lived in the region of Thessaly. Various toponyms related to the Greek mythology still survive today, including Mytilini, Kalloni, Antissa, Eressos, Methymna.
Lesvos has a rich history. Archaeological excavations have provided evidence that the island was inhabited as early as the Neolithic period.
Between 1393 and 1184 BC Lesvos was dominated by the Achaeans, while later, in the period 1110-1100 BC it came under the control of the Aeolians. Gradually, Lesvos developed into an important cultural centre of the Eastern Aegean.
The Archaic period (7th – 6th century BC) was a time of prosperity for Lesvos, during which its inhabitants were actively involved in commerce and colonization of territories. It was also a period of cultural florescence.
After a turbulent period of wars, during which Lesvos was repeatedly attacked and subdued by various invaders, the island was eventually conquered by the Romans in 88 BC. A period of partial autonomy of the island ensued from 62 BC until 70 AD. After the Roman Empire was divided into an eastern and a western part, Lesvos was incorporated into the Eastern Roman Empire (later known as the Byzantine Empire).
In Byzantine times (324 – 1453) Lesvos suffered many raids by Saracens, Venetians and Crusaders.
In 1354 Lesvos was given as dowry to the Genoese Francesco Gattilusio and remained under the rule of the Genoese until 1462, when it fell to the Ottoman Turks. A period of economic and cultural decline followed.
Lesvos remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912, when the Greek Navy liberated it and the island was incorporated into the Greek State.
In 1922 many Greek refugees, who were forced to leave their homes on the coast of Asia Minor, settled in Lesvos. This new population gave a boost to the island’s economy and cultural development.
During World War II, Greece was occupied by the German forces from 1941 until 1944. The island of Lesvos, in particular, was liberated by the German invaders in September 1944.
In the decades of the 1950s and 1960s many residents of Lesvos left the island, emigrating for economic reasons to western European countries and the United States.