1902 Encyclopedia > Samos, Asia Minor

Asia Minor

SAMOS, one of the principal and most fertile of the islands in the Aegean Sea that closely adjoin the mainland of Asia Minor, from which it is separated by a strait of only about a mile in width. It is about 27 miles in length, by about 14 in its greatest breadth, and is occupied throughout the greater part of its extent by a range of mountains, of which the highest summit, near its western extremity, called Mount Kerkis, attains to the height of 4725 feet. This 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. Various mythical legends were current to account for the original settlement of the city of Samos, and to connect its founders with the Greek heroic genealogies ; but the earliest record that has any claim to an historical character is that of the occupation of the island by a colony of Ionian settlers under a leader named Procles, at the time of the great Ionian emigration to Asia Minor (about 1050 B.C.). In the historical period Samos figures as a purely Ionic city, and was one of the most in-fluential members of the Ionic confederacy. In the five centuries that intervened from its first settlement to the reign of Polycrates, Samos had rapidly attained to a great height of power and prosperity, had founded colonies at Perinthus and other places on the Propontis, as well as at Nagidus and Celenderis in Cilicia, and possessed a powerful navy, including, according to Thucydides (i. 13), the first triremes that ever were constructed. It was a Samian named Cokeus also who was the first Greek that ventured to penetrate between the Pillars of Hercules into the ocean beyond, and brought back a vast amount of wealth from these previously unknown regions (Herod., iv. 152).

Samos was doubtless protected by its insular position from conquest by the Persian general Harpagus; nor did it follow the example of the two other great islands of Chios and Lesbos by voluntary submission to the Persian monarch. On the contrary, it not only preserved its independence for a period of more than twenty years longer, but it was precisely in this interval that it rose to the highest pitch of power and prosperity under the enlightened and able, though tyrannical, government of the despot POLYCRATES (q.v.). Under bis government Samos became "the first of all cities Hellenic or barbaric," and was adorned with three of the greatest public works that had ever been executed by Greeks—an aqueduct tunnelled through a mountain for a length of 7 stadia, a mole of more than 2 stadia in length for the protection of the harbour, and a temple (that of Hera) exceeding all others in size. How far these great works belong to the time of Polycrates cannot be determined with certainty; but there is little doubt that they were enlarged and com-pleted, if not commenced, under his government. He was also the first to lay claim to the sovereignty of the Aegean Sea, or thalassocraty, which at that time there was none to dispute with him.

After the death of Polycrates (522 B.C.) Samos fell under the power of his brother Syloson, who established himself in the sovereignty with the support of a Persian army, but this resolution was not accomplished without a massacre of the citizens, which must have given a heavy blow to the prosperity of the island. Henceforth it continued to be tributary to Persia till the great battle of Mycale (480), which not only freed the Samians from the Persian yoke, but became the beginning of a fresh era of great prosperity, during which they, like the neighbouring Chians and Lesbians, were admitted as members of the Athenian confederacy, on free and equal terms, without payment of tribute. An abrupt termination was, however, put to this state of things in 439, when, the Samians having given offence to the Athenians, their city was besieged and taken by Pericles, who compelled them to raze their fortifications, to give up their ships of war, to furnish hostages, and to pay the expenses of the war. From this time therefore Samos became a mere dependency of Athens, and continued in this subordinate condition throughout the Peloponnesian War; but after the victory of the Spartans at Aegospotami, the city was besieged and taken by Lysander (404), and as usual an oligarchy was set up under Spartan control. Other revolutions, however, quickly followed. The victory of Conon at Cnidus in 394 restored the democracy, but the peace of Antalcidas shortly afterwards (387) placed the island under the government of a Persian satrap, and thus exposed it to the attacks of the Athenians, who sent an expedition against it under Timotheus, one of their ablest generals, who after a siege of eleven months reduced the whole island and took the capital city. A large part of the inhabitants were expelled, and their place supplied by Athenian emigrants (366).

From this time we hear but little of Samos. It passed without resistance under the yoke of Alexander the Great, and retained a position of nominal autonomy under his successors, though practically dependent, sometimes on the kings of Egypt, sometimes on those of Syria. After the defeat of Antiochus the Great at the battle of Magnesia (190), it passed with the rest of Ionia to the kings of Pergamum, but, having in an evil hour espoused the cause of the pretender Aristonicus, it was deprived of its freedom, and was united with the Eoman province of Asia (129). Henceforth it .of course held only a subordinate position, but it seems to have always continued to be a flourishing and opulent city. We find it selected by Antony as the headquarters of his fleet, and the place where he spent his last winter with Cleopatra, and a few years later it became the winter quarters of Augustus (21-20), who in return restored its nominal freedom. Its autonomy, however, as in many other cases under the Roman empire, was of a very fluctuating and uncertain character, and after 70 A.D. it lapsed into the ordinary condition of a Roman provincial town. Its coins, however, attest its continued importance during more than two centuries, and it was even able to contest with Smyrna and Ephesus the proud title of the " first city of Ionia." It still figures prominently in the de-scription of the Byzantine empire by Constantine Porphyro-genitus, but little is known of it during the Middle Ages.

During the Greek War of Independence Samos bore a conspicu-ous part, and it was in the strait between the island and Mount Mycale that Canaris achieved one of his most celebrated exploits by setting fire to and blowing 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, but since 1835 has held an exceptionally advantageous position, being in fact self-governed, though tributary to the Turkish empire, and ruled by a Greek governor nominated by the Porte, who bears the title of "Prince of Samos," but is supported and controlled by a Greek council and assembly. The prosperity of the island bears witness to the wisdom of this arrangement. It now contains a popu-lation of above 40,000 inhabitants, and its trade has rapidly in-creased. Its principal article of export is its wine, which was celebrated in ancient times, and still enjoys a high reputation in the Levant. It exports also silk, oil, raisins, and other dried fruits.

The ancient capital, which bore the name of the island, was situated on the south coast, 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 occupied a wide extent, covering the slopes of Mount Ampelus down to the shore. From thence a road led direct to the far-famed temple of Hera (Juno), 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 miserable fragment, which has given to the neighbouring headland the name of Capo Colonna, is all that remains 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 that of Diana at Ephesus. But, like the Ephesian Artemis, the goddess worshipped at Samos was really a very different divinity from the one that presided over Argos and other purely Greek cities, and was unquestionably in the first instance a native Asiatic deity, who was identified, on what grounds we know not, with the Hera of the Olympic mythology. Her image, as we learn from coins, much resembled that of the Ephesian goddess, and was equally remote from any Greek conception of the beautiful and stately Hera. 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 tem-ples existing in his time, though it was afterwards surpassed by the later temple at Ephesus.

The modern capital of the island was, until a recent period, at a place called Khora, about two miles from the sea, and the same distance from the site of the ancient city ; but since the change in the political condition of Samos the capital has been transferred to Vathy, situated 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 con-venient harbour, and already numbers a population of 6000.

Samos was celebrated in ancient times as the birth-place of Pythagoras, who, however, spent the greater part of his life at a distance from his native country. His name and figure are found on coins of the city of imperial date. It was also conspicuous in the history of art, having produced in early times a school of sculptors, commencing with Rhajeus and Theodoras, who are said to have invented the art of casting statues in bronze, and to have introduced many other technical improvements. The architect Rhaecus also, who built the temple of Hera, was a native of the island. At a later period Samos was noted for the manufacture of a particular kind of red earthenware, so much valued by the Romans for domestic purposes that specimens of it generally occur wherever there are remains of Roman settlements.

All the particulars that are recorded concerning Samos in ancient times are collected by Panotka (Res Samiorum, Berlin, 1822). A full description of the island, as it existed in his time, will be found in Tournefort (Voyage du Levant, 4to, Paris, 1717), and more recent accounts in the works of Ross (Reisen auf den Griechischen Inseln, vol. ii., Stuttgart, 1843) and Guerin (Patmos et Samos, Paris, 1856). (E. H. B.)

The above article was written by: E. H. Bunbury.

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