‘Halkida' in demotic Greek, and ‘Negroponte' to the Venetians – is the capital of the nome of Euboea. Chalcis was throughout antiquity the chief city of Euboea. Its position, controlling the narrowest point of the Euripus channel and the principal crossing to the mainland (first bridged in 411 BC) with harbours both north and south of the city, destined it to considerable commercial importance. It is probable that the city's main economic resource was bronze-working and that the name Chalcis (from χαλκός, meaning copper) reflects the preeminence of that industry. Because of continuous subsequent occupation of the same site, little of the ancient city has survived: there are some remains from the Late Geometric period, but little is known of the exact whereabouts of the earlier Mycenaean city of the ‘big-hearted…Elephenor' and of his ‘swift Abantes' of which Homer speaks (Iliad II, 536-540). The city was a busy and influential commercial hub, handling and trading the raw materials produced in North and Eastern Greece and in the Black Sea area (timber, grain, salt-fish, precious metals etc.) which were headed to Athens, Corinth and the Peloponnese, against the finished products, pottery, and olive oil, which returned from those centres back up the same trade-routes. Chalcis did not just trade, however, it set about energetically securing the trade routes for itself by planting a wide diapora of colonies along them. Few Greek cities, in proportion to their size, could have given rise to a greater number of colonies than Chalcis – so many on the Macedonian peninsula between the Thermaic and Strymonic gulfs that the whole peninsula was called ‘Chalcidice' (mod. ‘[C]Halkidiki'). It also pushed far to the west in the Mediterranean, settling its inhabitants and interests in Sicily – at Naxos, and Messana (Messina) – and onto mainland Italy – at Rhegion (Reggio Calabria) and Cumae. Cities were often forced to colonise when their population became too great for the available resources or supply of fresh water at home; this can scarcely have been the case at Chalcis, and the instinct to colonise so extensively here must be put down to the remarkable ἐμπορικό πνεῦμα – the ‘entrepreneurial spirit' – of its citizens. Another defining element may have been the city's constant struggle with nearby Eretria (only 20 km away) for possession of the fertile Lelantine plain which lay between them. This was not just an idle local struggle but a bitter war which dragged on for decades in the second half of the 8th century BC, and involved a number of other Greek city-states as distant as Miletus (which supported Eretria) and Samos (which supported Chalcis). The outcome is not altogether clear, although Chalcis appears subsequently to have controlled the plain in the 7th century BC. The city's last king, Amphidamos, who was a contemporary of Hesiod, was killed in this struggle. Afterwards the government passed to the aristocracy (although Aristotle in his Politics cites a later tyrant named Phoxus, who is otherwise unknown.) After the city sided with Boeotia against Athens, in an attempt to reinstate the exiled tyrant Hippias, the Athenians overwhelmed the city in 506 BC, confiscated and settled clerurchs on their territory, dismantled their navy and took control of their Italian and Sicilian colonies. According to Herodotus, Chalcis contributed twenty ships in 480 BC to the Greek fleet at Salamis and its soldiers took part in the battle of Plataea. Demosthenes saw Chalcis as instrumental in extending Macedonian attempts to control Greece. The city was taken in 338 BC by Philip of Macedon, who settled a garrison on the mainland side of the Euripus. In the 2nd century BC it was largely under Roman control, and was attacked punitively in 146 BC (in the same year that Corinth was also razed by the Romans) for disloyalty during the struggle between Rome and the Achaean Confederacy.
In the 6th century AD, the Emperor Justinian had an innovative, movable bridge constructed on the Euripus so as to increase the ease of passage for commerce. The city appears to have maintained a discreet commercial importance throughout the Byzantine period, with the production and trade of silk becoming a new and increasinlgy important element of its economy. In 1210 Chalcis was seized by the Venetians, who fortified it with walls and made it the capital of their kingdom of Negroponte. The name ‘Negroponte' is an Italian variant on ‘Egripo' or ‘Evripo'. With considerable expense of military force the Turkish forces of Mehmet the Conqueror took the city in 1470, built their castle of Karababa over the Venetian fort, and Chalcis became the headquarters of the Kaptan Paşa. The Venetian admiral and doge, Francesco Morosini, tried to regain the city in 1688 but had to call off his siege after four thousand of his troops had died of malaria. The city was only freed of Turkish control in 1833 when the whole island of Euboea became part of the independent Greek state.
The mainland approach via the old road to the Euripus is guarded by the Karababa (‘black father') Castle, an Ottoman fortress of 1686; vestigial cuts in the rock suggest an ancient fortress on this site, possibly the Macedonian fort built in 334 BC. The walls give a comprehensive view of the strait and the whole town. The western shoulder of the hill of Vathrovoúni, overlooking the water south of the city, was the acropolis of ancient Chalcis.
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)