How much magma needs to be added to a shallow magma chamber to cause rupture, dyke injection, and a potential eruption? Models that yield reliable answers to this question are needed in order to facilitate eruption forecasting. Development of a long-lived shallow magma chamber requires periodic influx of magmas from a parental body at depth. This redistribution process does not necessarily cause an eruption but produces a net volume change that can be measured geodetically by inversion techniques. Using continuum-mechanics and fracture-mechanics principles, we calculate the amount of magma contained at shallow depth beneath Santorini volcano, Greece. We demonstrate through structural analysis of dykes exposed within the Santorini caldera, previously published data on the volume of recent eruptions, and geodetic measurements of the 2011–2012 unrest period, that the measured 0.02% increase in volume of Santorini’s shallow magma chamber was associated with magmatic excess pressure increase of around 1.1 MPa. This excess pressure was high enough to bring the chamber roof close to rupture and dyke injection. For volcanoes with known typical extrusion and intrusion (dyke) volumes, the new methodology presented here makes it possible to forecast the conditions for magma-chamber failure and dyke injection at any geodetically well-monitored volcano.