The island was both in ancient and medieval times closely connected with Rhodes. Its current name is mentioned, with a slight shift of one letter, in Homer's Iliad as Krapathos (οἳ δ' ἄρα Νίσυρόν τ' εἶχον Κράπαθόν τε Κάσον τε). Besides, the island is mentioned by Virgil, Pliny the Elder and Strabo. Karpathians fought with Sparta in the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC and lost their independence to Rhodes in 400 BC. In 42 BC the island fell to Rome. After the division of the roman Empire the island joined the Byzantine Empire. By 1304 Karpathos was given as fief by the Emperor to the Genoese corsairs Andrea and Lodovico Moresco, but in 1306 it fell under Andrea Cornaro, a member of the noble Venetian Cornaro family.[4] The Cornaro controlled Karpathos until 1538, when it finally passed into the possession of the Ottoman Turks. Under the Ottomans the island decayed deeply.[4]

In the years 1821-22, during the Greek War of Independence, the island could free itself, but afterward it fell again under the Ottoman rule.[4] In 1835 Sultan Mahmud IIconceded to the island the privilege of the Maktu tax system, that is its tax burden was calculated as an annual lump sum, and not on an household basis.[4] The Ottoman rule ended on May 12, 1912, when the Italians conquered the island, together with the whole Dodecanese, during the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-12. On that day sailors of theRegia Marina ship Vittorio Emanuele and the destroyer Alpino landed in Karpathos.[4] With the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 Karpathos joined the other islands of the Dodecanese in the Italian possession of the Isole Italiane dell'Egeo,[4] and was ceded by Italy to Greece with the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947. The island formally joined theGreek State on 7 March 1948, together with the other Dodecanese islands.

Despite such a scattered past, the last half century has been pivotal in the development of the island's character. A war-ravaged economy sent many a Karpathian to the U.S. eastern seaboard cities; Karpathos today has a significant Greek-American constituency who have returned to their beloved island and invested heavily. As a result, Pigadia and other towns successfully infuse modern elements into a traditional setting. In the mountains to the north, a world unto itself, residents preserve tradition almost religiously.