History of Samos
Lush green island with beautiful beaches, traditional settlements, significant archaeological sites and famed wine. The island extends over a surface of 500 km2, its coastline is 150 km long, and it has 34,000 inhabitants.
From the evidence that has been found, derives that human beings have lived on Samos since the 3rd millenium BC, if not earlier. Its history, however, begins at the time of Polycrates, 6th century BC. Before that, history is vague and obscure, mythical folklore being the only existing reference.
In ancient times, Samos, although small, played a trully significant role in culture and politics, not only for the region of Ionia, but for the entire ancient Greece.
THE ANCIENT HISTORY
In the times of Polycrates, Samos became the center of the Ionian civilization. Various important monuments were constructed, such as the Eupalinion Tunnel, the temple of Hera, open-air theaters, as well as palaces, which Roman emperor Caligula tried to restore much later. In addition, Polycrates was the first to establish a library containing all significant texts produced by the human spirit up-till then.
His royal court used to be a spiritual center offering hospitality to the top intellectuals of the world of his time. He had created a very powerful navy and his fleet used to be the leading one in the Aegean Sea being comprised by fast war-ships called Samenas. According to Herodotus, the predominant city-states of the sea were three: Knossos of king Minos (15th century BC), Samos (6th century BC) and Athens (5th century BC). Therefore Polycrates had rendered Samos a leading city-state among the Greeks and the Barbarians. He was also the first who tried to unite all Greeks against the Persians.
Following Polycrates’ assasination in 522 BC, many wars took place and Samos was the focal point of the conflicts between the Greeks and the Persians. It was finally devastated by the Athenians under Pericles in 439 BC after a siege that lasted for several months.
In the time of Alexander the Great, and during the Roman period, no significant events took place that were important enough to be mentioned.
THE MIDDLE AGE
During the Byzantine period, Samos, just like all islands, suffered great catastrophes by various invaders and pirates. In the time of the Crusaders, it came under Venetian rule, later it came back to the Byzantines and it eventually fell to the Genovese in 1346. Since Samos was in the focal point of the pirate raids, its inhabitants started to abandon it and in 1476 the last inhabitants fled, along with the Genovese. So Samos became almost desolate with only a few inhabitants living on the mountains.
In 1549 the Turkish fleet came to Samos, commanded by Admiral Khilich Ali Pasha. He was a Frenchman and a former pirate, who after having been captured by the Turks, managed to become an admiral because of his abilities.
He admired the Samian environment and when he realized that the island was desolate, he requested the sultan to cede it to him as a present, a wish that the Sultan granted him. The pasha then intended to have the island repopulated by granting unprecedented privileges to the new inhabitants, who had to be Greek Orthodox Christians. Then new inhabitants started to come along from the nearby islands, Asia Minor and a little later from Peloponnese and Crete and thus the first villages were formed.
Following Khilich Ali’s death, the privileges began to gradually be abated and so a Turkish commander was established on the island, though the Samians kept being in a more advantageous position than the rest of the Greeks.
NEW GREEK HISTORY
In 1821 Samos was one of the places rising in revolt against the Turks. The few Turks that were, at the time, on the island just had the time to leave and despite many attempts of the Turkish fleet to reconquer the island, they never made it.
After the Greek State was established in 1827, the Great Powers of the time England, France and Russia did not include Samos as a part of it, even though it was at liberty. The Samians would not accept it, so in 1834 they were granted a form of political independence, under the patronage of the Great Powers, with the obligation of paying tribute to the Ottoman Empire. This regime remained until 1912, when Samos joined Greece. During this period, Samos experienced a significant economic prosperity.
At ancient times, Samos pushed forward numerous eminent men and women in all spiritual domains, the leading one being Pythagoras, the greatest philosopher and mathematician through the centuries.
Distinguished Samians include Aristarchus, who put forward the idea of an heliocentric system several centuries before Copernicus, Agatharchus, a great painter who was the first to deal with scenography and perspective, Theodore, an eminent artist and architect, Aesop, the famous myth-maker, Damo, philosopher, daughter of Pythagoras, Kolaeus, who was the first to travel to the Atlantic and many others.