The area of the island is , long and wide. It is one of the principal and most fertile of the islands of the Aegean Sea that closely adjoin Anatolia, from which it is separated by a strait of one mile in width. It is occupied at the greater part of its extent by the Kerketeus range of mountains, of which the highest summit is the peak Vigla, at above sea level, near its western extremity, called Mount Kerkis. The range is in fact a continuation of that of Mount Mycale on the mainland, of which the promontory of Trogilium, immediately opposite to the city of Samos, formed the extreme point. The island is remarkably fertile, and a great portion of it is covered with vineyards, the wine from the Vathy grapes enjoying an especially high reputation. The island's population is 33,814. The nearest airport is Samos International Airport. The Samian climate is typically Mediterranean.
In classical antiquity the island was a centre of Ionian culture and luxury, renowned for its Samian wines and its red pottery (called Samian ware by the Romans). Its most famous building, was the Ionic order archaic Temple of goddess Hera - the Heraion.
Concerning the earliest history of Samos, literary tradition is singularly defective. At the time of the great migrations it received an Ionian population which traced its origin to Epidaurus in Argolis: Samos became one of the twelve members of the Ionian League. By the 7th century BC it had become one of the leading commercial centres of Greece. This early prosperity of the Samians seems largely due to the islands position near trade-routes which facilitated the importation of textiles from inner Asia Minor. But the Samians also developed an extensive oversea commerce. They helped to open up trade with the Black Sea and with Pharaonic Egypt, and were credited with having been the first Greeks to reach the Straits of Gibraltar.
Their commerce brought them into close relations with Cyrene, and probably also with Corinth and Chalcis, but made them bitter rivals of their neighbor Miletus. The feud between these two states broke out into open strife during the Lelantine War (7th century BC), with which we may connect a Samian innovation in Greek naval warfare, the use of the trireme. The result of this conflict was to confirm the supremacy of the Milesians in eastern, waters for the time being; but in the 6th century the insular position of Samos preserved it from those aggressions at the hands of Asiatic kings to which Miletus was henceforth exposed. About 535 BC, when the existing oligarchy was overturned by the tyrant Polycrates, Samos reached the height of its prosperity. Its navy not only protected it from invasion, but ruled supreme in Aegean waters. The city was beautified with public works, and its school, of sculptors, metal-workers and engineers achieved high repute.
In the 6th century BC Samos was ruled by the famous tyrant Polycrates. During his reign, two working groups under the lead of the engineer Eupalinos dug a tunnel through Mount Kastro to build an aqueduct to supply the ancient capital of Samos with fresh water, as this was of utmost defensive importance (since -being underground- was not easily detected by an enemy who could otherwise cut off the supply). The method Eupalinos employed to make the two groups meet in the middle of the mountain, is documented by Hermann J. Kienast and other researchers. With a length of , today the Eupalino's subterranean aqueduct is famously regarded as one of the masterpieces of ancient engineering. The aqueduct is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pythagoreion.
During the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), Samos took the side of Athens against Sparta, providing their port to the Athenian fleet. In the Delian League they held a position of special privilege and remained actively loyal to Athens until 440 when a dispute with Miletus, which the Athenians had decided against them, induced them to secede. With a fleet of sixty ships they held their own for some time against a large Athenian fleet led by Pericles himself, but after a protracted siege were forced to capitulate. It was punished, but Thucydides tells us not as harshly as other states which rebelled against Athens. Most in the past had been forced to pay tribute but Samos was only told to repay the damages that the rebellion cost the Athenians: 1,300 talents, to pay back in installments of 50 talents per annum.
At the end of the Peloponnesian War, Samos appears as one of the most loyal dependencies of Athens, serving as a base for the naval war against the Peloponnesians and as a temporary home of the Athenian democracy during the revolution of the Four Hundred at Athens (411 BC), and in the last stage of the war was rewarded with the Athenian franchise. This friendly attitude towards Athens was the result of a series of political revolutions which ended in the establishment of a democracy. After the downfall of Athens, Samos was besieged by Lysander and again placed under an oligarchy.
In 394 the withdrawal of the Spartan navy induced the island to declare its independence and reestablish a democracy, but by the peace of Antalcidas (387) it fell again under Persian dominion. It was recovered by the Athenians in 366 after a siege of eleven months, and received a strong body of military settlers, the cleruchs which proved vital in the Social War (357-355 BC). After the Lamian War (322), when Athens was deprived of Samos, the vicissitudes of the island can no longer be followed.
Other notable personalities include the philosopher Epicurus, who was of Samian born. The astronomer Aristarchus of Samos, whom history credits with the first recorded heliocentric model of the solar system, also lived in Samos. The historian Herodotus, known by his Histories resided in Samos for a while.
It was also conspicuous in the history of art, having produced in early times a school of sculptors, commencing with Rhoecus, also the architect of the temple of Hera. Another Samian was the great sculptor and inventor Theodorus, who are said to have invented with Rhoecus the art of casting statues in bronze. Another famous Samian sculptor, also called Pythagoras, migrated to Rhegium.
The vases of Samos are among the most characteristic products of lonian pottery in the 6th century. The name Samian ware, derived from a passage in Pliny, N.H. xxxv. 160 sqq., often given to a kind of red pottery found wherever there are Roman settlements, has no scientific value.
For some time (about 275-270 B.C.) Samos served as a base for the Egyptian fleet of the Ptolemies, at other periods it recognized the overlordship of Seleucid Syria. In 189 B.C. it was transferred by the Romans to their vassal, the Attalid dynasty's Hellenistic kingdom of Pergamum, in Asia Minor.
Enrolled from 133 in the Roman province of Asia Minor, Samos sided with Aristonicus (132) and Mithridates (88) against its overlord, and consequently forfeited its autonomy, which it only temporarily recovered between the reigns of Augustus and Vespasian. Nevertheless, Samos remained comparatively flourishing, and was able to contest with Smyrna and Ephesus the title first city of lonia; it was chiefly noted as a health resort and for the manufacture of pottery. Since Emperor Diocletian's Tetrarchy it became part of the Provincia Insularum, in the diocese of Asiana in the eastern empire's pretorian prefecture of Oriens.
As part of the Byzantine Empire, Samos became the head of the Aegean theme (military district). After the 13th century it passed through much the same changes of government as Chios, and, like the latter island, became the property of the Genoese firm of Giustiniani (1346-1566; 1475 interrupted by an Ottoman period).
During the early years of the Ottoman Empire most Samians abandoned the island. Those remaining lived inland in small settlements up in the mountains, hiding from pirates and other invaders. Around the 17th century Samos was granted the status of a semi-independent state. Many Greeks of Samian decent as well as others from Greek speaking territories settled on the island. The village of Mytilinioi for example, was inhabited by people from the island of Mytilini. Other settlers followed from various provinces in mainland Greece and as far away as Albania. A substantial population came from Ipiros and therefore the accent of the Samians even till the present day resembles that of mainland Greece. Samos, (Ottoman Turkish: سيسام Sisam) belonged to the Ottoman Empire since 1533, as part of Elayet of Djeza'ir-i Bahr-i Sefid until the year 1832.
During the Greek War of Independence, Samos bore a conspicuous part, setting up a revolutionary government under the following heads of local government:
It was in the strait between the island and Mount Mycale that Canaris set fire to and blew up a Turkish frigate, in the presence of the army that had been assembled for the invasion of the island, a success that led to the abandonment of the enterprise, and Samos held its own to the very end of the war. On the conclusion of peace, the island was indeed again handed over to the Turks.
After repetitive rebellions, since 1835 it held an exceptionally advantageous position, being in fact self-governed, a semi-independent state tributary to Turkey, paying the annual sum of £2700, governed by a Christian governor of Greek nationality but nominated by the Porte, who bears the title of Prince (compare hospodar) of Samos. As chief of the executive power the prince was assisted by a senate of four members, chosen by him out of eight candidates nominated by the four districts of the island: Vathy, Chora, Marathokoumbo and Karlovasi. The legislative power belonged to a chamber of 36 deputies, presided over by the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan. The seat of the government was Vathy (6000).
The consecutive 'princely' governors were:
The prosperity of the island pleaded for this arrangement. The population in 1900 was about 54,830, not comprising 15,000 natives of Samos inhabiting the adjoining coasts. The predominant religion is the Orthodox Greek, the metropolitan district including Samos and Ikaria. In 1900 there were 634 foreigners on the island (523 Hellenes, 13 Germans, 29 French, 28 Austrians and 24 of other nationalities).
The modern capital of the island was, until the early 20th century, at a place called Khora, about 2 m. from the sea and from the site of the ancient city; but since the change in the political condition of Samos, the capital was transferred to Vathy, at the head of a deep bay on the North coast, which has become the residence of the prince and the seat of government. Here a new town has grown up, well built and paved, with a convenient harbour.
On August 3 1989, a Shorts 330 aircraft of the Olympic Airways (now Olympic Airlines) crashed near Samos Airport; thirty-one passengers died. In the summer of 2000 a fire burned about 30% of the island's forests.