Thasos' economy relies on timber, marble quarries, olive oil and honey. Tourism has also become important since the 1960s, although not to the level of other Greek islands.
Lying close to the coast of Eastern Macedonia, Thasos was inhabited from the Palaeolithic period onwards, but the earliest settlement to have been explored in detail is that at Limenaria, where remains from the Middle and Late Neolithic relate closely to those found at the mainland's Drama plain. In contrast, Early Bronze Age remains on the island align it with the Aegean culture of the Cyclades and Sporades, to the south; at Skala Sotiros for example, a small settlement was encircled by a strongly built defensive wall. Even earlier activity is demonstrated by the presence of large pieces of 'megalithic' anthropomorphic stelai built into these walls, which, so far, have no parallels in the Aegean area.
There is then a gap in the archaeological record until the end of the Bronze Age c 1100 BC, when the first burials took place at the large cemetery of Kastri in the interior of the island. Here built tombs covered with small mound of earth were typical until the end of the Iron Age. In the earliest tombs were a small number of locally imitated Mycenaean pottery vessels, but the majority of the hand-made pottery with incised decoration reflects connections eastwards with Thrace and beyond.
The island was colonised at an early date by Phoenicians, attracted probably by its gold mines; they founded a temple to the god Melqart, whom the Greeks identified as "Tyrian Heracles", and whose cult was merged with Heracles in the course of the island's Hellenization. The temple still existed in the time of Herodotus. An eponymous Thasos or Thasus, son of Phoenix (or of Agenor, as Pausanias reported) was said to have been the leader of the Phoenicians, and to have given his name to the island.
Around 650 BC, or a little earlier, Greeks from Paros founded a colony on Thasos. A generation or so later, the poet Archilochus, a descendant of these colonists, wrote of casting away his shield during a minor war against an indigenous Thracian tribe, the Saians. Thasian power, and sources of its wealth, extended to the mainland, where the Thasians owned gold mines even more valuable than those of the island; their combined annual revenues amounted to between 200 and 300 talents. Herodotus says that the best mines on the island were those opened by the Phoenicians on the east side of the island, facing Samothrace. Archilochus described Thasos as "an ass's backbone crowned with wild wood." The island's capital, Thasos, had two harbours. Besides its gold mines, the wine, nuts and marble of Thasos were well known in antiquity. Thasian wine was quite famous. Thasian coins had the head of the wine god Dionysos on one side and bunches of grape of the other.
Thasos was important during the Ionian Revolt against Persia. After the capture of Miletus (494 BC) Histiaeus, the Ionian leader, laid siege. The attack failed, but, warned by the danger, the Thasians employed their revenues to build war ships and strengthen their fortifications. This excited the suspicions of the Persians, and Darius compelled them to surrender their ships and pull down their walls. After the defeat of Xerxes the Thasians joined the Delian League; but afterwards, on account of a difference about the mines and marts on the mainland, they revolted.
The Athenians defeated them by sea, and, after a siege that lasted more than two years, took the capital, Thasos, probably in 463 BC, and compelled the Thasians to destroy their walls, surrender their ships, pay an indemnity and an annual contribution (in 449 BC this was 21 talents, from 445 BC about 30 talents), and resign their possessions on the mainland. In 411 BC, at the time of the oligarchical revolution at Athens, Thasos again revolted from Athens and received a Lacedaemonian governor; but in 407 BC the partisans of Lacedaemon were expelled, and the Athenians under Thrasybulus were admitted.
After the Battle of Aegospotami (405 BC), Thasos again fell into the hands of the Lacedaemonians under Lysander who formed a decarchy there; but the Athenians must have recovered it, for it formed one of the subjects of dispute between them and Philip II of Macedonia. In the embroilment between Philip V of Macedonia and the Romans, Thasos submitted to Philip, but received its freedom at the hands of the Romans after the Battle of Cynoscephalae (197 BC), and it was still a "free" state in the time of Pliny.
Thasos was part of the Eastern Roman Empire, now known as the Byzantine Empire, from 395 on. According to the 6th century Synecdemus, it belonged to the province of Macedonia Prima, although the 10th century De thematibus claims that it was part of Thracia. The island was a major source of marble until the disruption of the Slavic invasions in the late 6th/7th centuries, and several churches from Late Antiquity have been found on it. The island remained in Byzantine hands for most of the Middle Ages. It functioned as a naval base in the 13th century, under its own doux, and came briefly under the rule of the Genoese Tedisio Zaccaria in 1307–13. Returning to Byzantine control, its bishopric was raised to an archdiocese by Manuel II Palaiologos. Thasos was captured by the Genoese Gattilusi family ca. 1434, who surrendered it to the Ottoman Empire in 1455. Following the Ottoman conquest of the Despotate of the Morea in 1460, the former Despot Demetrios Palaiologos received lands on the island.
It is related that the Byzantine Greek Saint Joannicius the Great (752–846) in one of his miracles freed the island of Thasos from a multitude of snakes.
Thasos was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1456. Under the Ottoman rule, the island was known as Ottoman Turkish: طاشوز Taşöz. Between 1770 and 1774, the island was briefly occupied by a Russian fleet. By this time the population of Thassos had gravitated to the inland villages as a protective measure. Nearly 50 years later, a revolt against Ottoman rule arose in 1821, at the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, led by Hatzigiorgis Metaxas, but it failed. The island was given by the Sultan Mahmud II to Muhammad Ali of Egypt as a personal fiefdom in the late 1820s, as a reward for Egyptian intervention in the War of Greek Independence (which failed to prevent the creation of the modern Greek state). Egyptian rule was relatively benign (by some accounts Muhammad Ali had either been born or spent his infancy on Thasos) and the island became prosperous, until 1908, when the New Turk regime asserted Turkish control. The island was a kaza (sub-province), lastly of the Sanjak of Drama in the Salonica Vilayet, until the Balkan Wars. On 20 October 1912 during the First Balkan War, a Greek naval detachment freed Thasos from the Ottomans and it became part of Greece. From the day it was reunited with Greece, it has remained so ever since.
On the 23 November 1902 issue of the New York Times (p. 5), it was reported that on the island of Thassos, archaeologist Theodore Bent discovered the tomb of Cassius, the one who slew himself after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. Cassius was buried by Brutus at Thassos, where the army of the patriots of the Republic had established its base of supplies.
The writer Vassilis Vassilikos, famous for his novel "Z", which was later adapted into an Academy Award-winning film was born in Thasos in 1934. He later became Director General of Greek Public Television, and Greece's ambassador to UNESCO.
During the Axis occupation (April 1941 – October 1944) Thasos, along with the region of East Macedonia and Thrace, was assigned by the Nazis to their Bulgarian allies. The Bulgarian government renamed the island "Tasos" and closed its schools. Thasos' mountainous terrain facilitated resistance activity against the occupation forces, mainly led by the left-wing National Liberation Front (EAM). After the end of the war and the withdrawal of Axis troops in 1944, the island was caught up in the Greek Civil War. The leader of the communist naval forces in the civil war, Sarantis Spintzos, was a native of Thasos. Skirmishes and communist guerilla attacks continued on Thasos until 1950, almost a year after the main hostilities were over on the mainland.
In the post-war decades, another native of Thasos, Costas Tsimas, was to attain national recognition; a friend of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, he was appointed Director of the National Intelligence Service, the first civilian to hold that post.
Thasos, the capital, is now informally known as Limenas, or "the port". It is served by a ferry route to and from Keramoti a port close to Kavala International Airport, and has the shortest possible crossing to the island. Scala Prinos 20 km south of Thassos town is served by a ferry route to and from Kavala.
Thasos is a separate regional unit of the East Macedonia and Thrace region, and the only municipality of the regional unit. As a part of the 2011 Kallikratis government reform, the regional unit Thasos was created out of part of the former Kavala Prefecture. The municipality, unchanged at the Kallikratis reform, includes a few uninhabited islets besides the main island Thasos and has an area of 380.097 km2. The province of Thasos (Greek: Επαρχία Θάσου) was one of the provinces of the Kavala Prefecture. It had the same territory as the present municipality. It was abolished in 2006.
Thasos island is located in the northern Aegean sea approximately 7 km (4 mi) from the northern mainland and 20 kilometres (12 miles) south-east of Kavala, and is of generally rounded shape, without deep bays or significant peninsulas. The terrain is mountainous but not particularly rugged, rising gradually from coast to centre. The highest peak is Ypsario (Ipsario), at 1,205 metres (3,953 feet), somewhat east of centre. Pine forest covers much of the island's eastern slopes.
Historically, the island's population was chiefly engaged in agriculture and stockbreeding, and established villages inland, some of them connected via stairways (known as skalas) to harbors at the shore. The local population gradually migrated towards these shoreline settlements as tourism began to develop as an important source of income. Thus, there are several "paired villages" such as Maries–Skala Maries, with the former inland and the latter on the coast.
The island is formed mainly by gneisses, schists and marbles of the Rhodope Massif. Marble sequences corresponding to the Falacron Marbles intercalated by schists and gneisses, are up to 500m thick and are separated from the underlying gneisses by a transition zone about 300 m thick termed the T-zone consisting of alternances of dolomitic and calcitic marbles intercalated by schists and gneisses.
The rocks have undergone several periods of regional metamorphism, to at least upper amphibolite facies, and there was a subsequent phase of retrograde metamorphism. At least three periods of regional deformation have been identified, the most important being large scale isoclinal folding with axes aligned north-west. The T-zone is deformed and is interpreted by some authors as a regional thrust of pre-major folding age. There are two major high angle fault systems aligned north-west and north-east respectively. A large low-angle thrust cuts the gneiss, schist and marble sequence at the south-west corner of the island, probably indicating an overthrusting of the Serbomacedonian Massif onto the Rodope Massif.
The Late Miocene oil-producing Nestos-Prinos basin is located between Thassos island and the mainland. The floor of the basin is around 1,500 m deep off the Thassos coast (South Kavala ridge; Proedrou, 1988) and up to 4.000–5.000 m in the axial sector between Thassos and the mainland. The basin is filled with Late Miocene-Pliocene sediments, including ubiquitously repeated evaporite layers of rock salt and anhydrite-dolomite that alternate with sandstones, conglomerates, black shales, and uraniferous coal measures (Proedrou, 1979, 1988; Taupitz, 1985). Stratigraphically equivalent rocks on the mainland are clastic sediments with coal beds, marine to brackish fluvial units and travertines.
The earliest mining on the island has been dated to around 13,000 BC, when paleolithic miners dug a shaft at the site of the modern-era Tzines iron mine for the extraction of limonitic ochre. Mining for base and precious metals started around the 7th century BC with the Phoenicians, followed in the 4th century by the Greeks, then the Romans. These later mines were both open-cast and underground, mostly to exploit the island's numerous karst hosted calamine deposits for their lead and silver. Gold, copper and iron were also found; the Byzantines quarried marble on the island.
In the early 20th century, mining companies exploited the island's Zinc-lead rich calamine ores, with a yield of around 2 million tonnes, and a processing plant at Limenaria produced zinc oxide. Iron ore was mined on a significant scale from 1954 to 1964, with a yield of around 3 million tonnes. Since 1964, surveys have established the existence of a deep-level zinc-lead deposit, but the only mining activity on the island has been marble quarrying.
By far the most important economic activity is tourism. The main agricultural products on the island are honey, almonds, walnuts, olives (famously Throuba olives), and olive oil, as well as wine, sheep, goat herding, and fishing. Other industries are lumber and mining which includes lead, zinc, and marble, especially in the Panagia area where one of the mountains near the Thracian Sea has a large marble quarry. The marble quarries in the south (in the area of Aliki), now abandoned, were mined during ancient times.
Towns and villages with over 100 inhabitants (2011 census) are: