Antikythera has had many names in its history. Its ancient name was "Aigila" or "Aigilia". Subsequently it became known as "Lioi" and "Sigilio", names that were used until the seventeenth century. From the eighteenth century on it was called "Cerigotto". (The larger island of Kythera was then called "Cerigo", thus Cerigotto meant "little Cerigo"). The name Antikythera came later. The island lies 22 nautical miles south of Kythera and 18 miles north of Crete, in a location that controls the passage from the Aegean towards the open sea of the western Mediterranean. Today the only useful anchorage of the island is in the Bay of Potamos, exposed to the prevailing northerly winds. In ancient Antikythera, however, the seashore seems to have been about two and a half meters higher than it is today. As a result, until the early Christian era, the small Bay of Xeropotamos extended deeper inland, and provided a small but relatively safe "secret" harbor. Archeological finds show that the oldest settlement on the island was established in the late Neolithic period and the early Bronze Age, or 4000-3000 BC. The Minoans left few traces on the island, but it is likely that it came under their control as they sought to secure navigation throughout the Aegean. No evidence has been found of settlement between the Minoan period and the end of the fourth century, though we know that the island, by virtue of its location, was always a useful hideout and base of operations for pirates.
After about 300 BC the island played an important part in piracy undertaken by nearby Cretan cities, each of which claimed the island for themselves. Each wanted it as a lookout post and lair for attacks on those ships that dared to pass through the surrounding seas. We also have evidence of expeditions undertaken from Rhodes against the Antikytherans (who are referred to as 'the Aegilian robbers'). Plutarch writes that the island was "occupied" by King Kleomenes the third of Sparta on his way to Egypt after his defeat in Sellasia in 222 BC. Plutarch recounts that Thirykion, a faithful follower of Kleomenes who as a Spartan could not bear to retreat, chose to commit suicide on Antikythera. From very early, the Cretan city of Falasarna seems to have taken control of the island. We know that settlements on the island and in Falasarna were destroyed between 69 and 67 BC, as part of the efforts by Rhodes to quell piracy in the Mediterranean basin. The island was again inhabited towards the end of the Roman Imperial Era, in the fourth and fifth century AD. Soon afterwards Arabian pirates occupied both Crete and Kythera and no doubt influenced life on the island of Antikythera as well. We know little of the island's subsequent history until the Third crusade
in 1204, when the island was granted to the Venetian Iakovos Viaros. Towards the end of the thirteenth century, the Venetians, who wanted the island in order to secure passage to and from the Aegean, stationed a small garrison on the island. Because the island was isolated, and repeatedly abandoned by its inhabitants, it served as a refuge for people wanted by the Turks in the neighbouring Turkish-held regions. Initially, most came from Crete, where there were frequent revolts under the Ottomans. By the end of the eighteenth century, fugitives from Crete had settled on the island. During the years of the Greek Revolution, Greek families fled from Turkish occupied areas of Peloponnesos and Crete to both Antikythera and Kythera. After the Revolution, since Crete was still under Ottoman occupation, some Cretan refugees chose to stay on the island.
Antikythera remained in Venetian hands until the Napoleonic wars. After the fall of Venetian democracy in 1797, in the midst of the general chaos, it was left with no government: no one was interested in the sovereignty of a small island.
In 1815, Antikythera, like the other Ionian Islands, passed into English sovereignty. During the English occupation, Antikythera became a place of exile for revolutionaries from the Ionian Islands, including Ilias Zervos-Iakovatos, Stamatelos Pilarinos, Gerasimos Metaksas Liseos, Fragiskos Domenegines, Dimitrios Kallinikos, and Stamatelos Bourstis. In 1864, together with the rest of the Ionian Islands, Antikythera became part of Greece, and for fifty years it was the southernmost point of Greek territory, since Crete remained under Ottoman rule until 1910.
The last wave of fugitives from Crete settled on the island in the second half of the 19th century after the series of Cretan uprisings against the Ottomans starting in 1864. During the Greek 'National Schism' between the King and the Prime Minister in 1916-1917, both Antikythera and Kythera took the side of the provisional government of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos and the Allies, perhaps partly because the French fleet was based in the islands. During the Second World War, the island initially came under Italian control. After Italy capitulated in 1943, it came under German rule. On May 7, 1944, the Germans deported all the residents of Antikythera to exile in Crete, probably because they were unable to control the locals' contacts both with the English fleet and with the Greek naval resistance (the ELAN).
After the Greek civil war, the island again became a place of exile, this time for political exiles sent there by the Greek government, an era that lasted until 1964. From the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, Antikythera had a population of roughly 800-1,000 people. After World War II, however, the hardships of Antikythera's way of life drove many residents of the island to emigrate. Some moved to cities and others to America and Australia. Today the island has only two or three dozen permanent residents, and most of them are elderly. The diaspora population, another thousand or so Antikythirians living elsewhere, maintains their strong connections with the island.
In the middle of the 1980s, investments greatly improved the infrastructure of the island. A harbour was built together with a shelter for fishermen to use during storms. The National Electric Company (DEI) installed an electric power generation facility. From 1999 onwards, a series of other public investment projects were completed: a heliport was built; electric and telephone lines were extended to all the island's settlements; the roads were paved; and parts of the island were provided with a water supply network. Despite this flurry of public works, the island's permanent population has continued its dramatic decline. The 2001 census showed only 45 permanent residents, who are joined during the summer by 300-400 others.