A brief introduction to the Stamps of the Aegean Islands

A brief introduction to the Stamps of the Aegean Islands



The Dodecanese Islands, Rhodes, and Castelrosso

By Giorgio Migliavacca ©


 “Dodecanese” is the Greek  word for “Twelve Islands”;  the term was used in ancient times  for a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, and was revived at the beginning of the 1900s.  The twelve islands concerned are: Casos, Karpathos, Kharki, Tilos, Symi, Nisiros, Atypalaia (Stampalia), Kos, Kalimnos, Leros, Lipsos and Patmos.


Italian interest in the Aegean region began to surface with the blockade of Crete (1897), followed by the opening of an Italian civilian post office at Canea in 1900.   During the Italo/Turkish conflict in Libya (1911)  it became apparent that  in order to win the war the Italians had to engage the Turks on the sea.  


Although the islands occupied by the Italians during the Italo/Turkish war in Libya  were originally 13 (12 named above plus Rhodes), and later on became 14 when Italy  acquired  Castellorizo from the French (January 1921), the name “Dodecanese” remained unchanged.  In May 1912 an Italian fleet occupied the archipelago. A decree  issued on 10 September 1912 by the Commissioner for Civilian Affairs attached  to the occupying forces  authorized the overprinting of two Italian definitive stamps (25c and 50c) with the inscription “EGEO”.


On 1 December 1912 a set of seven stamps  overprinted with the name of each individual island was issued for each of the 13 Aegean Islands occupied by Italian forces. Irrespective of the oveprint all these new stamps were valid for use throughout the Dodecanese. Between 1912 and 1924 these stamps were used concurrently with Italian stamps.

The Italian occupation ended on 24 July 1923, when the archipelago officially became an Italian colony. In 1929, a 9-value definitive series inscribed “RODI” was issued. The same series was utilised in 1930 for overprints saluting the 21st Hydrological Congress; and in 1931 seven values from the same definitive series were overprinted to salute the Italian Eucharistic Congress.  RHODES SCOTT 73 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF ITALY TAKE OVER OF THE AEGEAN ISLANDS

However, that was only the beginning of “RODI” inscribed stamps, and in 1932  the definitive series was re-issued on watermarked paper. It has been suggested that the reason for using the inscription “RODI” was because it was easily identified by collectors worldwide.

The 20th anniversary of the Italian take-over of the archipelago was commemorated with a 10-value set inscribed “RODI”. Other stamps featuring the same inscription were issued in 1934 (air mail; parcel post; and postage due stamps); 1935 (Holy Year); and 1936 (Special Delivery stamps).

In 1930 an omnibus series was created by overprinting the Italian stamps commemorating the Italian hero Ferrucci with the name of each islands. The same marketing strategy was adopted in 1932 by utilising the Garibaldi series issued by Italy.  AEGEAN EGEO SASSONE AEREA 21 LEONARDO DA VINCI

Beginning in 1930, many of the Italian commemorative stamps were overprinted with the words “ISOLE ITALIANE DELL’EGEO” (Italian Islands of the Aegean). Stamps expressly created for the entire archipelago with the “ISOLE ITALIANE DELL’EGEO” inscription were very few: the 1932 air mail 100 lire honouring Leonardo da Vinci; and the 1940 set commemorating the first edition of the Triennial Exhibition of the Overseas Territories.

In 1922, Castellorizo had become part of the Italian Dodecanese. It first issued a set of Italian definitive stamps overprinted “CASTELROSSO”, followed in 1923 by a 5-value pictorial set featuring the map of the island and the Italian flag. Additional Italian definitive stamps were overprinted diagonally in 1924. “CASTELROSSO” overprints were used on the Ferrucci (1930) and the Garibaldi (1932) sets issued by Italy.EGEO TRITTICI AEGEAN BABLBO MASS FLIGHT AIR MAIL

During the Second World War  the airfields of Rhodes, Cos and Leros became the main Axis bases for air raids against British forces in Egypt. In April 1941 Greece capitulated and during the following month Italian forces completed the occupation of the Cyclades islands.  At this time the population (140,000) was 80 per cent Greek, 10 per cent Turkish, and about 10 per cent Italian.

The ousting of Mussolini during the summer of 1943 was followed by Italy’s signing of an armistice with the Allies. On 8 September Germans began to take over  Rhodes; the operation was completed in a matter of days and the Italian Governor, Admiral Inigo Campioni, who was sent to Germany as a prisoner of war, was later on executed. 

The Ægean under German military rule was, however, administratively run by Italian civilians and between November 1943 and February 1945 several colonial stamps were issued despite the take-over. These stamps were mostly definitive stamps overprinted with surcharges in aid of refugees and victims of  the war. In the meantime Italian soldiers had been held in eight internment camps on Rhodes and   gradually sent to Germany.

In October 1944 German forces evacuated Greece and their counterparts in the Ægean were cut off from sea-route supplies and mail. Only air links were possible, thus impacting the influx of mail to and from German soldiers in the area severely. As a result rationed concessionary stamps for Field Post overprinted INSELPOST (Island Post) were issued.  On 22 December Italian Postal Authorities made quantities of the 5c. Rhodes definitive stamps available to the Germans who overprinted them with the inscription WEIHNACHTEN 1944 (Christmas 1944). 

In May 1945 the German capitulation in the Ægean was formally ratified in Berlin and a British Military Administration was established in Rhodes. British stamps overprinted M.E.F. (Middle East Forces) were placed in use. 

On 31 March 1947 the British Military Administration ended and the Ægean Islands were handed over to Greece. The following day a Greek stamp overprinted with the initials S D D (Stratiotiki Dioikisis Dodecanissou – meaning Military Administration of the Dodecanese Islands) was issued. Seven denominations with the same overprint were added on 21 September. On 20 November  these overprints were withdrawn and replaced by ordinary Greek stamps beginning with the “Restoration of the Dodecanese” definitive series. On 7 March 1948 the Ægean islands were officially annexed to the Kingdom of Greece.

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