Samos is blessed with a rich history and culture. From the first inhabitants in the 3rd millennium BC, to the great Tyrant Polykrates, all Samian civilisations left their footprints on the island. Many of which can still be visited and admired today and even have a place on UNESO’s World Heritage list.
Under the rule of Polykrates, Samos flourished and became an important naval power around 550 BC. Also arts and sciences thrived in that period. It was then that the famous Sanctuary of Hera, the first technical harbour and the Eupalinos Tunnel – an ancient aquaduct – were built.
Legend has it that Samos emerged from the union of the sea nymph, Parthenope, and the river god, Imvrasos. A divine love affair that gave birth to the beautiful island. The name Samos is thought to have originated from the ancient Greek word “sama,” meaning rising” or “elevated, which refers to the diverse topography, encompassing both mountainous and coastal regions.
Samos in the Ancient World: A Powerhouse
In the 6th century BC, Samos was flexing its muscles as a maritime powerhouse and cultural hub of the ancient world. The Island ruled the seas and traded with other strong empires such as Egypt and Persia.
Under the reign of the infamous tyrant Polycrates, a ruler with a penchant for bling and an island-sized ego, Samos became a force to be reckoned with. Polycrates was so audacious that he threw his gold signet ring into the sea, only for it to miraculously reappear in the belly of a fish.
In this period the Heraion of Samos was constructed, a temple dedicated to Hera, the queen of the gods and Zeus’s better half. The temple, often hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, stood as a testament to the islanders’ devotion to the goddess of marriage.
Before the Hellenistic period, Samos became a strategic military outpost of Alexander the Great. Legend has it that Alexander, mesmerized by Samos’s beauty, declared it a free city, much to the delight of the islanders! The Hellenistic period spanned about 300 years, from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE to the emergence of the Roman Empire in the late 1st century BCE.
The Hellenistic period on Samos was characterized by a blend of cultural, scientific, and political influences. The island’s association with prominent thinkers and its strategic location contributed to its significance during this transformative era in ancient history.
The Hellenistic period was marked by a flourishing of culture and learning. The island became a center for intellectual pursuits, attracting scholars, philosophers, and artists. The philosopher Epicurus, who founded the Epicurean school of philosophy, established his renowned philosophical community, the “Garden,” on Samos during this time. The philosophy focused on the pursuit of pleasure, the avoidance of pain, and the importance of friendship.
Samos was known for its contributions to science during the Hellenistic period. The mathematician Pythagoras, although primarily associated with an earlier era, had a lasting influence on the island’s intellectual climate. The renowned mathematician and astronomer Aristarchus of Samos, a Hellenistic figure, proposed the heliocentric model of the solar system, challenging the prevailing geocentric view.
During the Hellenistic Period Samos came under Seleucid and Ptolemaic Influence and the maritime power Rhodes. Towards the end of the Hellenistic period, the Roman Republic began asserting its dominance in the eastern Mediterranean. Samos, like many Greek territories, gradually came under Roman influence, setting the stage for its eventual incorporation into the Roman Empire.
A Rollercoaster of Empires and Eccentrics
As the tides of time rolled on, Samos witnessed the rise and fall of empires, from the Romans to the Byzantines and the Ottomans. Each conqueror left its mark on the island, turning it into a cultural melting pot.
Samos came under Ottoman rule in the early 16th century, after the Ottoman Empire expanded its territories into the eastern Mediterranean.
In 1828, as a result of the successful Maniatis Rebellion, the Ottomans granted Samos a degree of autonomy. The island became a semi-independent principality under Ottoman suzerainty, with Lykourgos Logothetis appointed as its governor and he served as its leader during this period. However, internal conflicts and power struggles arose, leading to tensions among the island’s inhabitants. The autonomous status of Samos proved short-lived. In 1834, following a series of disputes and struggles for control, the Ottomans revoked the island’s autonomy, reintegrating it into the Ottoman Empire.
In the 19th century, Samos played a crucial role in the struggle for Greek independence, with locals fighting tooth and nail against their Ottoman overlords. Samos emerged victorious and joining the ranks of the newly formed Greek state in 1912.
Today, Samos continues to be a – kind of hidden – haven for explorers, sunseekers, history buffs, marine biologists, and anyone with a taste for the good life.
As the sun sets over the horizon, casting a golden glow on the island’s ancient stones, you might just feel a whisper of the myths and legends that have shaped this Greek gem.