History of Samos

A synopsis (though rather a long one!) of information gathered from various sources in Samos. Samos has a dramatic history, covering various foreign occupation, rebellions, fight for independence and even a period of a 100 years when it was totally unoccupied and it is difficult to condense it too much without missing out relevant details so here goes…

Pre-history Times

It is not known exactly when Samos was first inhabited. Historians say that the first colonists of the island were Phoenicians, Leleges alld Carians and also mention the Pelasgians, who brought to the island the worship of the goddess Here. Excavations have disclosed that Samos was inhabited as far back as the Neolithic years (3rd millennium BC). The first colonists from Asia Minor were followed in later years by a wave of Myceneans arriving from various parts of Greece. The first Mycenean colonists are traditionally supposed to have been the companions of the mythical King Angaeus (1360BC) a monarch who called Samos, supposedly after whom the island was named (although there are other theories. By the year 900BC a nation of Ionians was domiciled on the island. 

The Classical Period

The next information shows that in 670, shortly before 20th Olympiad, the King of the island was called Amphicrates. During the sixth and seventh centuries Samos made alliances with Lesbos, Dardanos, Erythrai, Klazomenai, Kybrene and Abydos. Various historical events can be verified from scenes depicted on a series of amber Samiot coins. The issue of these coins seems to have begun about 700 BC and ceased at the beginning of the 5th century. During these years, Samos grew into a major center of Ionian strength and tradition and was one of the areas least affected by raids and invasions from Asia. Among the many talents of the Samiots at that time were wine making, agriculture, stock breeding and mining. Their main successes however were in shipping, commerce and industry. It was in the shipyards of Samos that the most advances in Greek shipbuilding were made. A new type of ship, the “Samaina”, was introduced and quickly became famous throughout the Mediterranean world. It was notable for its clever combination of storage space in the holds and its high speed.

Polycrates and his age

In 590 BC the first tyrant of Samos was Syloson. The island was later ruled by another leader of the same name, with his two brothers Pantagnotus and Polycrates. Pantagnotus was soon killed and Syloson exiled (Polycrates is blamed for both), leaving Polycrates on the throne by himself. His reign begun in 532 BC and during his time Samos was at the height of its well-being and fame. He was undoubtedly a great man, but was also a contradictory character. He managed to maintain the independence of Samos at a time when Chios, Lesbos and other neighboring areas had been enslaved by the Persians. On Samos, Polycrates built a mighty harbor, supplied the town with ample water) using the aqueduct built by Efpalinos still to be found in Pythagorion and inaugurated and decorated the temple of Hera. A mutiny broke out in the Samian fleet and mutineers requested help from the Spartans and the Corinthians. Although Polycrates successfully defended his territory, his power was weakened. The alliance with Egypt broke down and the Persian court seizes the opportunity, a trap was set and Polycrates was arrested and crucified on a wooden cross in 522 BC.

After suffering a few more tyrants in power the Samiots had had enough and turned to Greeks in other areas for friendship, protection and help in 479 BC the Persian fleet was defeated in the battle of Salamis.

The age of Athenians and Spartans

Samos was now fee of the Persian yoke and became a free Greek state, ruled by oligarchic rules. The Athenians were also greedy for the riches of the land and Samos was obligated to make large contributions to the allied treasure of Delos. The Athenians successfully overcame a Samos uprising and ruled the island, internal changes gradually changed oligarchy ruling to democracy. During the Peloponnesian Wars, the Samiots proved faithful allies to Athens and in recognition of their loyalty were given their independence and the right to rebuilt the city walls.

The Hellenistic Period

As Samos continued to support Athens, the Spartans besieged the island and from 402 BC Samos was ruled by a council of ten local dignitaries under the supervision of a Spartan Commissioned. Spartan control lasted about 10 years before Konon helped return it Athenian influence. Samos became independent again until the Persians attacked once more and managed to take the island. In 352 BC Timotheos won Samos back and put it once again under Athenian control.

During the rise of the Macedonians, Samos followed the fate of Athens. Alexander the Great regarded it as a dependency of Athens. After his death, Samos was included in the areas disputed by his heirs, who knew it was of key importance for the control of the east and south-east shores of the Mediterranean, and the island became the scene of much fighting for control. However, the rise of Rome was beginning to create problems and when Romans had won their great victory at Cynoscephalae, they declared Samos independent, along with all the other Greek city-states. In 198 BC Samos became a protectorate of the kingdom of Pergamus and then the whole area was brought under complete Roman control in 131 BC.

Roman Rule

Under the Romans, life on Samos continued to be uncertain as the island followed the fates of the empire. The real legacy of the Romans was looting and destruction, including the removal of the treasures of Heraion. The fleets of Anthony and Cleopatra arrived in 40 BC. The two famous lovers organized a series of lavish feasts in celebration of their relationship. Emperor Octavius spent the winter of 29 BC on the island and was so impressed by its beauty and the warmth of its inhabitants that he bestowed privileges which continued to be recognized by the Emperors Tiberius and Caligula.

The Early Christian Years

In 58 AD, the Apostle Paul visited Samos and preached the Christian religion here. Nero respected rights granted to the island but Vespasian abolished its independence and Samos, Rhodes and other neighboring island formed a separate province known as the Province of the Islands, the capital which was Phodes. This state continued, under various Roman governors, until 292, when the Roman Empire was split into four sections.

The Byzantine Era

Samos became part of the Byzantine State. Various ups and downs continued and when the Crusaders took Constantinople in 1204, power over Samos briefly passed once more out of Greek hands. The fall of the Byzantine Empire meant new trials and tribulations for the people of Samos. The disasters brought about by man who were crowned by earthquakes in 1476, which completed the destruction. The Guistianin of Genoa, who had established themselves in Chios, suggested to the few remaining inhabitants that they move to Chios and so the island was completely deserted for nearly 100 years.

New Colonists

Although the island was deserted in geographical position continued to prove of interest to the greater powers and in 1501 uninhabited Samos was brought back under the rule of the Sultan. In 1562 the Sultan’s admiral Kiliz Pasha, was forced to anchor off Samos during a storm. He was deeply impressed by the emptiness of the land, the greenery and imposing remains of its ancient majesty and attained the Sultan’s permission to repopulate the island. An order from Sultan gave the island special privileges and placed a strict ban on any Turkish settlements on the island. The original Samiots, who had scattered to the four winds, were the first to return. They were followed by people from Asia Minor, the Peloponnese and other islands. Each group gave its Samos village the name of the place from which it had come. Thus, today we have, for example, the village of Mytillini, Vourliotes (from Vourla in Asia Minor), Pyrgos (settlers from Pyrgos in the Peloponnese) and Pagondas (from Pagondas in Euboea). The population of Samos grew again and villages, towns, ports and trade increased, bringing cultural advances and material wealth.

During the Russ – Turkish war of1771, the Samiots rose in rebellion and called upon the Russians to liberate them. The island was occupied by the Russians for about three years and then passed back to Turkish hands in 1774.

Revolutionary ideas took root in the hearts of the Samiots, further encouraged by the French Revolution. When news came of the first battles against the Turks in mainland Greece, the island prepared to throw itself into battle and on 18 April 1821 the Samiots raised the flag of the Greek Revolution near Vathy (now known more commonly as Samos Town). On 8 May the victory of the revolution was officially announced and Lycourgos Logothetis was appointed the first governor. This news infuriated the Sultan and he gave orders that the population be put to death. Thousands of Turkish troops gathered and bombarded Samos, but all Turkish attacks were repulsed. On 5 July the Turks did manage to land some soldiers near Pythagorion, which was almost completely undefended. A mere handful Samiots, under Captain Stamatis, beat back the Turks (Captain Stamatis was born in Marathokampos and there is memorial bust of him in the village). For some years the central administration of the New Greek State included Samos. The island became part of the state in 1828 and scent representatives to the Greek Parliament. But in 1830 the Great Power of Britain, France and Russia, decreed by the Treaty of London that Samos must be given back to the Sultan. The island was to receive special treatment, however, and was to be a privileged Turkish province, as a protectorate of the Sultan. 

The Protectorate and Liberation

Samos acquired its own Christian prince, appointed by the Sultan. It also had its own flag, police force, customs service and judiciary. The prince was assisted by four advisors, who were elected by the Samian Parliament. 

There followed a period of reconstruction, in which the bitterness of defeat was somewhat compensated for by the privileges which had been granted. The capital was moved from Chora to Vathy. Roads were built, education organized, health care began and the arts and athletics were revitalized. In a few short years Vathy became an important shipping, commercial and industrial center. 

However, during the 80 years that this situation lasted, the Samiots never forgot their passion to be united with free Greece. The revolutionary movement gathered momentum after 1908. Under the leadership of Themistocles Sophoulis, a group of Samiot freedom fighters began attacks on Turkish forces. Although Sophoulis was forced by Turkish to leave the island the Samiot freedom movement was entering its final and most successful phase. On 2 March 1912 the Macedonian patriot Stavros Baretis killed the pro-Turkish prince Kopais outside the palace in Samos and on 7 September Sophoulis landed at Marathokampos with a small force of volunteers, to be joined by other revolutionary groups and this time the clash with the Turks brought only victory. The last Turks left Samos on 23 September 1912. The official union of Samos with Greece was celebrated on 2 March 1913.

Recent Years

The process of development took on a new life which has continued to the present. In recent years, Samos has shared the fate of Greece as a whole. Freedom came at last in October 1944 and the post-war period of reconstruction brought the island steadily forward. Although many Samiots have been forced by circumstances to emigrate to find their fortunes, and although as a consequence a large number of villages have seen their populations dwindle almost to disappearance, attempts have been made in recent years to inject new life into the island’s economy.

Samos suffered a lot of bomb damage from Germany during the second world war and much of Vathy (as Samos Town was then called) and Pythagorion were destroyed. It took the island a long time to recover and life was hard well into the 60s. nowadays Samos flourishes and although it has become a popular tourist resort, it remains unspoilt with many traditional villages and crafts still in existence. Germans have also put something back into island, including paying for the excavation of the archaeological site at Hireon.

Scientists, artists and other famous Samiots

The period of economic well-being of Samos led to many advances in the sciences and arts. Its scientists and artists were famed throughout the Greek world and some even throughout the whole of the world. Here are some of the more famous personalities:

  • Aristarchus was the astronomer and mathematician who studied the movement of the earth and was the first to proclaim that it moved around its own axis and round the sun.
  • Callistratus was responsible for founding the 24 letter Greek alphabet.
  • The philosopher Melisson (5th century BC)
  • The doctor Erasistratus (305 – 240 BC)
  • Pythagoras the sculptor (no relation to his more famous namesake) specialised in statues of Olympic victors and mythological subjects. The famous Chariotee of Delphi is usually regarded as being his.

Apart from local figures, Samos was also a place in which scientists and artists from other lands made their homes and this was especially true in the case of the tyrant Polycrates. Among those known to have been invited to Samos are the architect Efpalinow from Megara (who was famous for the inspiration and effectiveness of his hydraulics, especially the Samos aqueduct which went down in history as ‘Efpalinos Waterway’ + previously mentioned and based in Pythagorion.

Pythagoras (580 – 500 BC)

The most famous of all these figures of course is Pythagoras – philosopher, mathematician and musician. Never a man to take things for granted, he sought in the sciences, the arts and in travel, knowledge and experience which would allow him to assume his place in the intellectual area of his time. His genius, combined with deep study and asceticism, allowed him to develop his knowledge to a point which is still of fundamental importance to mathematical theory. Countless philosophers and artists have been brought up on the teaching and principles of the Pythagorean School.

Pythagoras was only a young man when he left the island, in search of worthy teachers. The information on his life and background is very limited, often verging on myth and legend. Some say that he traced his origin back to the mythical king Angaeus, while one Samiot poet claimed that he was descended from Apollo himself.

Armed with letters of introduction from the tyrant Polycrates, Pythagoras was received at the court of Pharaoh Amasis. He spent 22 years in Egypt, talking with the wise and learning the mysteries of Egyptian civilisation. He spent 12 years as a prisoner in Babylon although continued his studies during this time. He returned to his native land at the age of 56, to find that he could no longer bear the tyrannical ways of Polycrates by whom he was indeed persecuted and went into hiding in various locations (hence Pythagoras Cave) and eventually left again to wander throughout Greece and then to Kroton in Italy where he established his school of philosophy.

Ancient, mediaeval and modern art owes a considerable debt to this sage of Samos, including even word ‘cosmos’ which Pythagoras gave to the universe on the basis of the ideas of order and harmony which govern all things which exist.