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PATMOS (Gr. Patmos). A tiny wind-swept island of the Sporades group, lying off the coast of Asia Minor in the Aegean Sea about twenty-eight miles (forty-seven km.) south of Samos. It is only ten miles (seventeen km.) long and six miles (ten km.) wide at the broadest point, and its coastline is so irregular that it is only twenty-five square miles (sixty-four sq. km.) in area. Being of volcanic origin, it is rocky and almost treeless, with many volcanic hills rising as high as 800 feet (250 m.). The harbor of Scala, the chief city, divides the islet, which is shaped like a horse’s head, into two parts.

Few people would know of the island if it were not mentioned in the Bible. It was one of the many isolated places to which the Romans banished their exiles, and according to tradition the Emperor Domitian banished the apostle John to this lonely place from Ephesus in a.d. 95 (Rev.1.9). During the estimated eighteen months spent there, he received the visions of the Lord now recorded in the Book of Revelation. The cave or grotto near Scala in which John lived is still pointed out to travelers, as well as the Monastery of St. John above the city. During the Middle Ages the island was all but deserted, but today it has a population of a little over two thousand. It was under Turkish rule until 1912, when it passed into the hands of the Italians. It was ceded to Greece in 1947.——LMP

An island of the Sporades group in the Dodecanese, lying some thirty-seven miles WSW of Miletus on the coast of Asia Minor. It has an area of about twenty-two square miles, some eight miles long and six miles in its maximum width. It is of volcanic origin, with rocky slopes rising in three peaks of about 900 feet. Such islands of the Aegean Sea were used for political banishment, and the reference to Patmos in Revelation 1:9 suggests such a condition of exile for John the Seer. Tradition has it (Irenaeus, Eusebius, Jerome, and others) that the apostle was exiled there during the fourteenth year of Domitian's reign (a.d. 95) and was released during the reign of Nerva (a.d. 96), some eighteen months later. Much of the imagery of the Book of Revelation is about the sea. The island is close enough to Asia Minor to have kept John in touch with events there, as underscored in his letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3).

PATMOS păt’ məs (Πάτμος, G4253). Island off the coast of Asia Minor, about thirty-five m. SW of Miletus.

Patmos is a mountainous island of irregular outline, measuring approximately six by ten m. There are contrasting views as to its character. On the one hand, it was described as being dry and desolate, and it served as a place of banishment during the Rom. empire. On the other hand, it is said that during the ascendancy of the Venetians it was so cultivated that the Italians of the Middle Ages called it Palmosa—island of palms. Ancient sources raise the possibility that the island originally was covered with terebinth. Was it, then, once rich in trees, which were cut down, leaving it bare and relatively waterless?

The early history of the island is obscure, in spite of some topographical remarks in ancient authors. Not until the Christian era did Patmos assume an important historical role, esp. in the religious sphere. Its privileged position has been compared with that of Delos in ancient times. It was to this place that John was banished by the emperor Domitian, and here he received his vision and wrote the Apocalypse (Rev 1:9-11). Because of this there rested upon the island a sort of religious aura throughout late Roman and Byzantine times, despite the fact that it was attacked and depopulated by pirates.

A new period in the history of Patmos began in 1088 when the monk Christodulos built St. John’s Cloister on the site of the old temple of Artemis. As time passed, monasteries and churches proliferated, and the monks were devoted to the cultivation of learning. A fine library was assembled. Patmos was a bulwark of Gr. orthodoxy, but after 1453 had to seek help from the papacy in Rome against the Turks. In the 16th cent. it came under Turkish rule, but enjoyed the freedom of self-administration under guarantee of the Sultan. In 1832 the island fell under Turkish dominion; after 1912 it belonged to the Italian Dodecanese; and in 1947 it was ceded to Greece.


Pauly-Wissova, Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, XVIII4, 2174-2191.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A Turkish island of the group Sporades, Southwest of Samos, mentioned once in the Bible, Re 1:9, "I, John .... was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (dia ton logon tou theou kai ten marturian Iesou). The island is 10 miles long, and about 6 broad along the northern coast. It is for the most part rocky. The highest part is Mount Elias, which rises to a height of over 800 ft. As in Greece, and in the adjacent mainland of Asia Minor, the land is treeless. Near the city of Patmos there is a good harbor. A famous monastery, Christodulos, was founded on the island in 1088. Near this is a thriving school, attended by students from all parts of the Archipelago. The population of the island numbers 3,000, almost entirely Greek. The ancient capital was on an isthmus between the inlets of La Scala and Merika. Many ruins can still be seen. The huge walls of Cyclopean masonry, similar to those at Tiryns, attest their great age. In Roman times Patmos was one of the many places to which Rome banished her exiles. In 95 AD, according to a tradition preserved by Irenaeus, Eusebius, Jerome and others, John was exiled here--in the 14th year of the reign of Domitian--whence he returned to Ephesus under Nerva (96 AD). The cave in which he is said to have seen his visions is still pointed out to the traveler. Only a small part of the once valuable library in the monastery of Christodulos is left. Just 100 years ago (1814) Mr. E.D. Clark purchased here the manuscript of Plato which is now in the Bodleian Library, the celebrated Clarkianus, a parchment written in the year 895, and admittedly the best of all for the 1st of the 2 volumes into which the works of Plato were divided for convenience. Patmos is mentioned by Thucydides (iii.33), by Pliny (NH, iv.23), and by Strabo (x.5).



Tozer, The Islands of the Aegean (1890), 178-95; Walpole, Turkey (London, 1820), II, 43; E.D. Clark, Travels (London, 1818), VI, 2; Ross, Reisen (Stuttgart, 1840), II; Guerin, Description de l’Ile de Patmos (Paris, 1856).