In Greek mythology, Symi is reputed to be the birthplace of the Charites and to take its name from the nymph Syme (in antiquity the island was known as Aigli and Metapontis), though Pliny the Elder and some later writers claimed it came from the word scimmia meaning a monkey. In Homer's Iliad the island is mentioned as the domain of King Nireus, who fought in the Trojan War on the side of the Greeks. Thucydides writes that during the Peloponnesian War there was a Battle of Syme near the island in January, 411 BC, in which an unspecified number of Spartan ships defeated a squadron of Athenian vessels. Little is known of the island until the 14th century, but archaeological evidence indicates it was continuously inhabited, and ruins of citadels suggest it was an important location. It was first part of the Roman Empire and then the Byzantine Empire, until its conquest by the Knights of St. John in 1373
This conquest, fueled by the Knights' interest in shipping and commerce, launched what was to be a period of several centuries of prosperity for Symi, as its location amidst the Dodecanese made it an important waypoint for trade until the advent of steam-powered shipping in the 19th century. The island was conquered from the Knights by the Ottoman Empire in 1522 (along with nearby Rhodes) but it was allowed to retain many of its privileges, so its prosperity continued virtually uninterrupted. Under the Ottomans the island was called Sömbeki. Symi was noted for its sponges which provided much of its wealth. It attained the height of its prosperity in the mid 19th century, and many of the peculiarly colorful neoclassical mansions covering the slopes near the main city date from that period. Although Symiots took part in the Greek War of Independence of 1821–1829, it was left out of the new Greek state when its borders were drawn up and so remained under Ottoman rule.
This conquest, fueled by the