Temple of Hera (Heraion), Samos, Greece
Pythagoras, Samos, Greece Eupalinus Tunnel, Pithagorio, Samos, Greece Kouros, Samos, Greece Bireme, Samos, Greece

Although smaller than other famous Greek islands, Samos has had a significant role in Greek history.

The name Samos means “a place somewhere high.” and clearly refers to the Kerkis and Ambelos mountains that dominate the island. The island has also had other names including Parthenia, Imrasia, Anthemis, Doryssa and Phyllas - some of which you will see in use by businesses across the island.

The earliest archeological findings at the Hill of Castro provide evidence of human occupation as far back as the late Neolithic period (fourth millennium BC). The first known people on Samos were the Pelasgic tribes of Asia Minor, who spread the worship of the Goddess Hera. Hera, the wife and sister of Zeus, was of immeasurable importance to Samos. Her sacred bird, the peacock, frequently appeared on Samian currency.

The next significant people to make Samos home were the Myceneans, including, legend and myth has it, king Angaeus, one of the Argonauts, regarded in antiquity as the founder of the city of Samos where modern day Pithagorio now stands. During the 7th century BC Samos established outposts as far away as southern Spain, Italy and Egypt.

Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos

Samos reached the peak of its power and influence under the rule of Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos, from 540 to 522BC. He gained control of the island with the help of his two brothers but established himself as sole ruler by murdering one and expelling the other. Polycrates was an effective and popular ruler, fortifying the city of Samos (now Pithagorio) with a wall, protecting the port with a mole still in existence and having Eupalinus, a celebrated architect and engineer, construct a tunnel containing an aqueduct through Mount Ambelos to bring water to the ancient capital. Polycrates also commissioned the architects Rhoikos and Theodorus to build the great Hera temple, which brought so much wealth to Samos.

Samos was a major naval power under Polycrates, with a fleet of one hundred ships of a new kind called a Samaina. Not all of the Samian inhabitants agreed with Polycrates rule. Certain aristocrats were exiled to prevent possible conspiracies. Polycrates forged an alliance with Egypt, but reneged to support Persia – most probably under Spartan influence. The Persian governor lured him to what is now the Turkish mainland and murdered him. The most popular tale is that Polycrates was killed by impalement and his remains crucified with his body facing towards Samos.

Famous Samiots

The most notable resident of Samos was Pythagoras, the mathematician and philosopher. He lived a hermit's life in a cave on the south-west side of the island (near to the village of Kambos). The cave believed to be his residence can be visited today although a second cave has been discovered nearby which some archeologists now feel is the actual home of the man of the right-angled triangle theorem.

Many other people of genius flourished on Samos, including the astronomer Aristarchus, who proposed that the sun was the centre of the solar system centuries before Copernicus; Agatharchus, a great painter who was the first to deal with scenography and perspective; Theodorus and Rhoikos, eminent artists and architects who, as mentioned above, designed the famous temple of Hera ; Aesop, possibly a slave of African descent, responsible for the famous fables; Damo, daughter of Pythagoras and keeper of his secrets; Callistatus, founder of the 24-letter alphabet; and Kolaeus, the first navigator to travel to the Atlantic.

From Rome to tourism

Samos lost its influence in the ancient world after 440BC when the island staged an unsuccessful revolt against Athens and was subsequently forced to pay yearly tributes to the mainland city. Greece itself became a Roman Province in the 2nd century BC with Samos valued for its healthy climate during winter, becoming a resort for officials and a treasure chest to be ransacked for Rome. Anthony and Cleopatra built a palace on Samos, Tiberius proclaimed the temple of Hera a sanctuary and the infamous Caligula planned to renovate the palace of Polycrates.

After the decline of the Roman empire, Samos fell to Byzantine rule and thus, remained Greek and Christian. The population declined over the centuries as the inhabitants abandoned the island which was attacked by Germans, Syrians, Venetians and Turks amongst many others! During Turkish rule, starting from the 15th century, Samos was so depopulated that new settlers had to be brought in, largely from Albania. The Turks allowed Samos to remain mainly autonomous and the population slowly increased.

Being so close to Turkey, Samos was very active in the Greek War of Independence. A major leader was Lykourgos Logothetis, whose fortress still stands in Pithagorio. Despite seeming to gain freedom under his leadership, Samos was not recognised within the limits of Greece and remained under Turkish rule when the Greek state was recognised in 1830. A long line of Turkish appointed Greek governors followed. Finally, in 1912, Samos became fully Greek once more, following a brief bombardment by two Italian warships during the revolution of Themistoklis Sofoulis.

The second world war brought two new occupations; the Italians from 1941 and then the Germans in 1943 (following a brief period of freedom from September to November 1943).

The aftermath of the Greek civil war led to mass emigration, popular destinations being Australia, Canada, USA, South America and New Zealand. The recovery of the island’s economy since then has depended heavily on western European tourism.

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