Samos. The ancient city. Topographical and historical information

Samos is one of the especially green islands of the southeastern Aegean. Dryousa, Doryssa, Melamphyllos, Phyllis, Melanthemos, Anthemis, Hydrele, Kyparissia, Parthenia are some of the epithets of the island recorded in the ancient texts.

Carians and Leleges were the first inhabitants of the island, which is enfolded in the blue embrace of the Aegean. The first settler is recorded as Angaios (Aggeus) from Arcadia, who had taken part in the expedition of the Argonauts. The name of the island comes from the son of Angaios, Samos, or from the Phoenician root sama which means a place with high mountains. This meaning is supported by the existence of two high mountains, Kerkis or Kerketeas, on the slopes of which are remains of a monastic establishment, and Ambelos or Karvounis, its name derived from the many vineyards cultivated on the slopes. The favourable location of the island at the crossing of sea-lanes connecting central Greece with the East and with Egypt and its closeness to the Ionian cities on the opposite coast, from which it is separated by a narrow channel 1500 m. wide, the seven-stades straits of the ancients, played a determining role in its development.

Ancient Samos occupied the site of the modern city Pythagorio, as excavations in the area have shown. Traces of the first establishment of people in the ancient city go back to the 5th millennium BC, that is to Neolithic times, and are located on the Kastro hill.

During the period of the migrations around 1100 BC Ionians from the region of Epidauros arrive in Samos bringing with them the cult of the Mother Goddess, Hera. With the island’s commercial connections with the lands of the East and with the western Mediterranean, during the Geometric period the island was to amass fabulous wealth, knowledge and experience that provided an impetus for development. Information from the excavations of recent years have provided incontrovertible evidence of the high cultural level in this place in geometric times. With the finding of deposits in the center of the ancient city and, especially, the Geometric cemetery of tumuli in the southwest section, it is evident that the city saw great development from the 10th to the 7th century BC.

During Archaic times the city reached an acme, specifically during the time of the tyranny of Polykrates, son of Aiakes. Important works of that time are the aqueduct of Eupalinos, the large mole and the great temple of Hera, known from Herodotus as the "double-ended tunnel", the "mole in the sea" and "the largest of all temples ever seen by us". Dated at this same time is the first phase of the city fortification with its walls built in the polygonal system for a length of 6,5 km. When the island was seized by the Athenians the fortification wall was demolished; it was rebuilt in the isodomic system around 300 BC when the exiled Samians returned to their homeland after 322 BC following an edict of Alexander the Great. The last, limited repair of the walls was in 200 BC when Samos was used as a naval station by the Ptolemaic fleet.

The architect Rhoikos, the artist Theodoros, the sculptor Geneleos, the poets Anakreon and Ibykos, are some of the important personalities who served brilliantly in the court of the tyrant. Born in the island at this same time was the great figure of philosophy and mathematics, Pythagoras.

The easy accessibility of wood in the island’s many forests, encouraged the construction of commercial and naval vessels and made Samos into a sea power. A new type of vessel was constructed at that time, known as the «Samian» (ÓÜěáéíá).

At the beginning of the 5th century BC, Samos joined the Ionian cities with her ships in the revolt against the Persians, but withdrew before the naval battle of Lade, which was catastrophic for the Ionians. In 478 BC she joined the first Delian League, providing ships rather than paying tribute. Her naval power, however, aroused the suspicions of the Athenians, who, taking advantage of the conflicts between Samos and Mytilene over the fields of Anaia, attacked the island and, after a nine month siege took the city in 439 BC. The hard terms enforced were catastrophic for the city.

During the 4th century, Samos was allied for a time with Sparta, but chiefly the island was under Athenian hegemony. After the island was taken by Timotheos in 365 BC, the Samians were sent into exile and Athenian cleruchs were settled in their stead. With the repatriation of the exiled Samians after 322 BC, a new floeruit is evident in the city. After this, the island was under the influence of the successors of Alexander the Great, Demetrios Poliorcetes, the Ptolemies of Egypt, the kings of Pergamon, of the Macedonians and so on.

From 129 BC Samos belonged to the Roman province of Asia. After the murder of Julius Caesar during the civil war that ensued, Samos turned up in the ranks of the conspirators Casius and Brutus. In 40/39 BC, Anthony spent the winter with Cleopatra in a luxurious villa on the hill of the Kastro. The winters of 30 BC after the battle of Actium (31 BC) and 19/18 BC were spent in the same place by Octavius Augustus. In these same luxurious villas several winters were spent as well by the Roman emperors Trajan, Tiberius, Claudius, Hadrian. Fine portraits or statues of some of these men adorn the Archaeological Museum of Pythagorio.

The ancient city and the Sanctuary of Hera suffered great destruction during the incursions of the Herulans in 267 AD.

In the 4th century AD, a Christian community was established in Samos.

The incursions of the Arabs in the 7th century AD created serious problems in the island and the inhabitants probably moved to the mountainous interior, since it is to this date that the establishments at Kastra of Lazaros and Loulouda belong.

The excavations

Excavation in the island began in 1902-1903 by the Archaeological Society at Athens, under the direction of P. Kavadias and Th. Sophoules. Extensive research was carried out beginning in 1910 by Wiegand and Schede under the aegis of the Koenigliche Museen of Berlin. In 1925, excavations undertaken by the German Archaeological Institute in collaboration with the Greek Archaeological Society. Between the years 1939-1951 excavations were stopped as a result of World War II. They were resumed after the war by German archaeologists (Jantzen, Issler, Martin, Kyrieleis etc), while systematic research has been carried out during the last 40 years by the Greek Antiquities Service at Pythagorio and in areas outside the city. The first results of research made clear the advantageous position of ancient Samos on the map of the Geek world with continuous habitation from the Neolithic period to Byzantine times.

Excavation in the area of the ancient city during recent years has revealed the remains of an organized fortified city with slab-paved streets, squares, agora, public buildings, shops, simple private houses and also villas with mosaic floors of high quality and wall-paintings, extensive athletic installations with gymnasium, stadium, palaistra, baths, excellent water supply and drainage network, theater, organized cemeteries, sanctuaries and temples dedicated to Artemis, Aphrodite, Dionysus, Cybele and eastern divinities such as Isis.

The development of the island led the historian Herodotus in the 5th century BC to write about the ancient city of Samos that it was the foremost of all cities, Greek and foreign. The poet Menander in the 4th century BC to characterizes the island as «the island of the blessed people»; the saying «Samos produces even birds’ milk» reflects the mild climate and plentiful produce.

The finds that day to day are brought to light bear witness to the existence of a city of vigorous presence, extensive commercial connections, enviable organization, high cultural level; a city that with its largest Sanctuary, the Heraion, deserved to be included in the UNESCO list of monuments of world cultural heritage.
Maria Viglaki-Sofianou, Archaeologist