Samos Island

Samos (Σάμος) is a Greek island in the North Aegean sea, south of Chios, north of Patmos and the Dodecanese, and off the Ionian coast of Turkey.


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.


Samian economy depends mainly on the tourist industry which has been growing steadily since the early 1980s. The main agricultural products include, grapes, honey, olives, olive oil, citrus fruit, dried figs and almonds and flowers. The Muscat grape is the main crop used for wine production. Samian wine, known primarily though the sweet Muscat type, is also exported in several other appellations. Samian wines have won prestigious international and domestic awards.


With the neighbouring islands of Icaria and Fourni, the island of Samos is administered as part of the Samos Prefecture. It consists of four of the eight municipalities in the prefecture. Together they constitute more than 77 percent of the prefecture's population (2001 census). The island's capital and main port is the city of Vathy, most commonly called Samos; other municipalities are Karlovasi and Pythagoreio, formerly called Tigani (see also Samos Prefecture). The smallest of the component municipalities is Marathokampos. The largest villages/towns are Sámos, Néo Karlovási, Mytilinioí, Vathý, Chóra, Marathókampos, Pythagóreio, and Kokkari.


Early and Classical Antiquity

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.

Eupalinian aqueduct

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.

Persian Wars and Persian rule

After Polycrates death Samos suffered a severe blow when the Persian Achaemenid Empire conquered and partly depopulated the island. It had regained much of its power when in 499 BC it joined the general revolt of the Ionian city-states against Persia; but owing to its long-standing jealousy of Miletus it rendered indifferent service, and at the decisive battle of Lade (494 BC) part of its contingent of sixty ships was guilty of outright treachery. In 479 BC the Samians led the revolt against Persia.

Peloponnesian War

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.

Famous Samians of Antiquity

Perhaps the most famous persons ever connected with classical Samos were Pythagoras, the Samian, and one slave who belonged to Iadmon, whose name was Aesop famous for his Aesop's Fables. His name and figure are found on coins of the city of imperial date. In 1955 the town of Tigani was renamed Pythagoreio in honour of the famous mathematician.

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.

Hellenistic & Roman Eras

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.

Byzantine & Genoese Eras

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).

Ottoman Rule

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:

  • 18 April 1821 - April 1821 Konstantinos Lachanas
  • April 1821 - April 1828 Lykourgos Logothetis (1st time)
  • April 1828 - February 1829 Ioannis Kolettis (1st time)
  • February 1829 - October 1829 Dimitrios Christides
  • October 1829 - July 1830 Ioannis Kolettis (2nd time)
  • July 1830 - 1833 Lykourgos Logothetis (2nd time)

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.

Modern Era

The popular sentiment for merger with the Greek state of Hellas was not satisfied until 1913 when it was included in Greece as a result of the Balkan Wars. Samos has a sister town called Samo which is located in Calabria Italy

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.


The island is the location of the joint UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Heraion of Samos and the Pythagoreion which were designated in 1992.

Samos city

The ancient capital, which bore the name of the island, was situated on the S. coast at the modern Tigani, directly opposite to the promontory of Mycale, the town itself adjoining the sea and having a large artificial port, the remains of which are still visible, as are the ancient walls that surrounded the summit of a hill which rises immediately above it, and now bears the name of Astypalaea. This formed the acropolis of the ancient city, which in its flourishing times covered the slopes of Mount Ampelus down to the shore. The aqueduct cut through the hill by Polycrates may still be seen. From this city a road led direct to the far famed temple of Hera, which was situated close to the shore, where its site is still marked by a single column, but even that bereft of its capital. This fragment, which has given to the neighboring headland the name of Capo Colonna, is all that remains standing of the temple that was extolled by Herodotus as the largest he had ever seen, and which vied in splendour as well as in celebrity with the temple of Diana at Ephesus. Though so little of the temple remains, the plan of it has been ascertained, and its dimensions found fully to verify the assertion of Herodotus, as compared with all other Greek temples existing in his time, though it was afterwards surpassed by the later temple at Ephesus.

Notable people



Classical authors:

Further reading

  • B. V. Head, Historia Numorum (Oxford, 1887), pp. 515-518.
  • C. Curtius, Urkunden zur Geschichte von Samos (Wesel, 1873).
  • G. Shipley, A History of Samos 800–188 BC (Oxford, 1987).
  • H. F. Tozer, Islands of the Aegean (London, 1890).
  • H. Kyrieleis, Führer durch das Heraion von Samos (Athen, 1981).
  • H. Walter, Das Heraion von Samos (München, 1976).
  • J. Boehlau, Aus ionischen and italischen Nekropolen (Leipzig, 1898). (E. H. B.; M. 0. B. C.; E. Ga.).
  • J. P. Barron, The Silver Coins of Samos (London, 1966).
  • K. Hallof and A. P. Matthaiou (eds), Inscriptiones Chii et Sami cum Corassiis Icariaque (Inscriptiones Graecae, xii. 6. 1–2). 2 vols. Berolini–Novi Eboraci: de Gruyter.
  • K. Tsakos, Samos: A Guide to the History and Archaeology (Athens, 2003).
  • L. E. Hicks and G. F. Hill, Greek Historical Inscriptions (Oxford, 1901), No. 81.
  • P. Gardner, Samos and Samian Coins (London, 1882).
  • R. Tölle-Kastenbein, Herodot und Samos (Bochum, 1976).
  • T. J. Quinn, Athens and Samos, Chios and Lesbos (Manchester, 1981).
  • T. Panofka, Res Samiorum (Berlin, 1822).
  • V. Guérin, Description de l'île de Patmos et de l'île de Samos (Paris, 1856).
  • Volumes of the Samos series of archaeological reports published by the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut.

External links

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