How Many Islands Did Ancient Greece Have?

Ancient Greece was a civilization that thrived over 2000 years ago, and it is known for its contributions to the arts, philosophy, and sciences. However, another lesser-known feature of this civilization is the number of islands that were part of it.

The number of Greek islands has been a topic of debate among historians and geographers for centuries. So how many islands did Ancient Greece have?

The answer is not clear-cut

The answer to this question is not straightforward because there are different ways to define an island. For instance, some definitions consider only islands that are inhabited or have a certain size threshold. Others include any landmass surrounded by water, regardless of its size or inhabitability.

The number varies from source to source

According to different sources, there are between 1200 and 6000 islands in Greece. The actual number depends on the definition used and the criteria applied.

For example, the Greek government recognizes only 227 islands as “inhabited.” In contrast, some sources claim that there are over 6000 islands around Greece if we count even the tiniest ones.

Which criteria define an island?

The criteria used to define an island can vary depending on who you ask. Generally speaking, however, an island is a landmass surrounded by water that is smaller than a continent and bigger than a rock or a reef.

There are also different types of islands: volcanic islands (formed by volcanic activity), continental islands (part of a larger landmass), coral atolls (formed by coral reefs), and so on.

The largest Greek Islands

Regardless of how we define them, some Greek islands stand out due to their size or historical significance. Here are some examples:

  • Crete: With an area of over 8 thousand square kilometers and a population of over half a million, Crete is the largest Greek island. It is known for its Minoan civilization, which dates back to 2600 BCE.
  • Euboea: The second-largest Greek island is home to around 220 thousand people.

    It is located close to the mainland and has a long history of human habitation.

  • Lesbos: This northeastern Aegean island is known for its natural beauty and cultural heritage. It was the birthplace of the poet Sappho and has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

The Smaller Greek Islands

However, most Greek islands are much smaller than the ones mentioned above. In fact, many of them are uninhabited and have no significant landmarks or infrastructure.

These smaller islands often serve as vacation destinations for tourists who want to experience the pristine beaches, clear waters, and relaxed atmosphere of the Greek archipelago. Some popular examples include:

  • Santorini: This volcanic island in the Cyclades is famous for its white-and-blue houses, sunsets, and scenic views of the Aegean Sea.
  • Mykonos: Known for its vibrant nightlife, picturesque streets, and sandy beaches, Mykonos attracts visitors from all over the world.
  • Naxos: With an area of 429 square kilometers and a population of around 20 thousand people, Naxos is one of the largest Cycladic islands. It has a rich history that dates back to ancient times and offers various activities such as hiking, biking, and windsurfing.


In summary, there is no definitive answer to how many islands Ancient Greece had. The number varies depending on how we define an island and which criteria we apply.

However, it is safe to say that Greece has one of the richest and most diverse archipelagos in the world, with islands that range from tiny uninhabited rocks to large, historically significant landmasses. Whether you are interested in history, culture, or nature, there is always an island in Greece that will capture your imagination.