of human presence in the island date from the fourth millenium BC.
The name “Samos” is probably of Phoenician origin and means altitude near the coast. In written
text, the word “Samos” appears for the first time in a Homeric
Hymn to Apollo.
However, the island had other names, too: Anthemis,
Doryssa, Dryoussa, Kyparissia, Imvrassia, Melamphyllos, Parthenia.
The Pelasghi are considered the island’s older inhabitants. They
were followed by the clans of Carians and Lelegians. The first
king of Samos was the legendary king Ancaeus, one of the heroes of
the argonautic expedition, who built the first wooden temple of
the goddess Hera, the island’s protector, near the mouth of the
river Imvrasos, where, according to mythology, the goddess was
In the 11th century approximately, inhabitants of Ionia
settled here with Tembrion and Procles who, being their leaders,
spread their domination over the island.
| They divided Samos into
two parts, Astipalaia and Chesia and they built the city of Samos
in the place where the contemporary Pythagorio is located.
antiquity, Samos enjoys its greatest prosperity in the 6th
century, under the leadership of the tyrant Polycrates. The
ancient historian Herodotus calls the island the first
among all cities, both Greek and barbaric. Its navigation and
trade flourish. Samian ships travel in the East and the West,
bringing wealth and knowledge to the island. With its warships,
the so-called samainas, it dominates over the Aegean Sea for a
long time. The economic prosperity was parallel to the cultural
It was in that century that the greatest figures in
the realms of culture and the Arts had distinguished themselves.
Among the most well-known ones were the mathematician and
philosopher Pythagoras, and the architects of Heraion, as well as
pioneers of sculpture, Rhoecus and Theodorus. The island attracts
artists such as Ibycus and Anacreon. It establishes colonies in
Ephessus nearby and in Amorgos, in Samothrace and in Thrace, in
distant Sicily, too. One is impressed by four ancient edifices,
built during the same century; the Polycratean walls, the Tunnel
of Eupalinus, the harbour mole and the temple of Hera, with her
The four miles long Polycratean walls, protected the ancient city
of Samos, encircling an area of 1,3 square yards. Even today the
visitors are impressed by the very few parts of the walls that are
The Tunnel of Eupalinus constitutes a major technical achievement
in an age of minimal means and knowledge. It was constructed in
the mid 6th century by the architect Eupalinus, from Megara, in
order to supply water to the city. It is a construction of about
one mile long, which is driven through the mountain and makes a
great impression today for the excellent precision in the
opening-up of the tunnel, considering that the simplest tools,
such as hammer and chisel, had been used for clearing the ground
from the rocks. That water-supplying system had been working until
the 7th century AC; in the following years its entrances were
covered up and it was not discovered until 1882, from the monk
Cyrillus Monina. The first cleaning operations at the tunnel began
in that period. The Tunnel of Eupalinus was finally cleaned out
and studied by German archaeologists in 1971-1973.
The third important construction of the Polycrates’ reign was
the harbour mole. The natural harbour in front of the city was
divided, with the help of two breakwaters and other constructions,
into two separate harbours: the outer harbour, which was used for
the trade, and the inner harbour, which was used as a dockyard.
The most significant work in the harbour was the “soil in the
sea”, a mole, that is, about 393 yards long, where the modern
constructions of the Pythagorio port were founded. When G.
Konemenos became the prince of Samos (1851-1854), initiated the
port’s expansion, while later on, the prince Miltiades
Aristarches (1859-1865) called the civil engineer Uman to make the
plans for the construction of a new port in Tegani (the former
name of Pythagorio).
of Hera, the largest among those that Herodotus had seen, was
located 3 miles westward of the city. A paved road, 13 feet wide,
with statues and other offerings at both sides, linked the city
with the temple of the goddess. This was 356 feet long, 180 feet
wide and 82 feet high. It was built by the architect Theodorus,
son of Rhoecus, and had 133 columns.Today only one column is
preserved, thus, the surrounding area is called not only Heraion,
but Colona (column), too.
Other gods were also worshipped in
ancient Samos and temples had been built to honour them, but the grandeur of Heraion outshone them
all. Neptune was worshipped at the cape towards the Samos Strait,
in contemporary Posidhonio, as well as Dionysus, Athena, Apollo
and Venus. The greatest celebrations were dedicated to Hera,
honouring the birth of the goddess and her marriage to Zeus. These
festivities, the so-called Heraia, were celebrated with splendour
and a grandiose procession started out from the city and, through
the paved road, ended in the temple of Hera.
celebration was the Tonaia, during which a miracle that the
goddess had made was being represented. According to the myth,
people from Argos stole the goddess’s sacred statue in order to
bring it to their homeland. But no matter how hard they rowed
away, their ship, instead of sailing in the open sea, returned to
the shore and they managed to sail off only when did they
disembark the statue on the shores of Samos.
At the Samos Strait, in Mykali, the sea between Samos and Asia
Minor, the last great conflict between the Greeks and the Persians
took place, in 479 BC. The Greeks won over the Persians in naval
and in infantry battle, putting an end to their efforts to expand
towards the West and to dominate the Mediterranean. After the
Persian wars Samos participated with other city-states in the
Athenian alliance, which never managed to abandon, even when the
alliance became a powerful hegemony. The efforts of the people of
Samos to lead their own independent way was met with a powerful
rejection on the part of the alliance, which, under the leadership
of Pericles, in 439 BC, besieged and after three months conquered
and destroyed the city of Samos. Since then, Samos was loyal to
the Athenian alliance and followed, inevitably, its decline.