Samos (Aegean) 867 Pythagoreio - Σάμος
Σάμος - Samos, important island polis, the modern Pythagoreion on Samos, Aegean
Place ID: 377269PSam
Time period: ACHR
Region: North Aegean
- IDAI gazetteer ID
Search for inscriptions mentioning Samos (Σαμο...) in the PHI Epigraphy database.
The low hill to the west of the port, referred to in Antiquity as Astypalaia and today known as ‘Kastro', served as an acropolis for the early city, and may have become traditionally the seat of later rulers' and governors' palaces. Today it is crowned by a restored Byzantine castle; the visible ancient ruins here are from the last phases of the site's development in Antiquity. These lie within the circuit of the castle walls, to the east of the modern church of the Metamorphosis; they comprise the foundations of two patrician, Hellenistic villas of the 2nd century BC, which appear to have been modified substantially in the course of the 1st century AD and united into one large Roman villa, looking south out to sea and north across the city.
The wealth and importance of the building are clear not only from the number of portrait busts and statues of the Imperial families found at this site, but also from the rich polychrome marbles used for decoration—especially the two exquisite, broken columns of *Iasos Jasper, framing an entrance of the north peristyle; other columns in Euboean ‘Cipollino' marble can be seen to the east. The villa comprises a series of colonnaded courts. Water, as often with Hellenistic and Roman villas, was an important feature: the peristyle court closest to the sea has a complex of water channels within its perimeter, and there is a cistern below an impluvium to east of the centre of the area. Samos was a favoured resort by the early Roman Imperial families, many of whom may have stayed here. Antony and Cleopatra are said to have chosen to honeymoon on Samos, perhaps in a conscious and propagandistic emulation of Zeus and Hera whose nuptials were celebrated on the island. Superimposed on the centre of the area are the roughstone walls of a small, apsed, 5th century, Early Christian church, whose entrance through the north side of its narthex is marked by a monolithic threshold of dark stone (cf. Aghios Ioannis at Melitsácha on Kalymnos); elements of its decorated stonework lie around. At the northern end of the site, sections of the Hellenistic walls are clearly visible; spolia from a temple-building of large dimensions are to be seen all around the site.
The largest and richest city of the Aegean in the 6th century BC, Samos was still able deeply to impress Herodotus when he visited 100 years later. On his own admission, he digressed at great length about Samian history in his writings, partly because he was so amazed by what he referred to as ‘three of the greatest building and engineering marvels in the Greek world' (Hist. III. 60), which he was shown during his visit. The modern harbour of Pythagóreio (c. 36,000 sq. m) is considerably smaller in area than the ancient port (c. 66,000 sq. m), owing to subsequent silting and sedimentation on the north and west sides. The original harbour walls on these two sides can be traced today, some way inland of the present water-front. In Antiquity, the wealth of any city in the Greek islands depended on its ability to manage or dominate sea-trade. Samos had a larger fleet of military and commercial ships than any island city, even Aegina, in the 6th century, and it needed to house them and protect them from the frequent and destructive south winds. Herodotus mentions ‘boat-sheds' at Samos (III. 45), and these were probably built by Polycrates in the decade between 535 and 525 BC during the same period in which he upgraded the port. But what caught the historian's attention most was the long artificial protecting mole, which ran out to sea across the south side of the harbour, for almost half of a kilometre from its back (west) wall, into a depth - he claims - of 20 fathoms of water. Laying foundations at such a depth, and building securely on top of them underwater, was an extraordinary feat for those times. It must have been the first example of an endeavour of this kind, on such a scale, and like the first colossal temple of Hera, it was a clear change in thinking from anything that preceded it. The present-day mole dating from 1862, where the ferries dock, is of considerable length; but the Polycratean one was longer and began from further west. It now lies under water, further south out to sea: it is a stone structure made of rubble and re-used architectural material, running for 480m. Only its base exists today, submerged at a depth of 3m near the shore, and at almost 14m at its eastern end, where it begins to turn north and goes beneath the modern mole shortly before its eastern terminus.
In addition, underneath the present north mole of the harbour (which runs north–south), lies a further 6th century BC structure: this was an extension of the land fortifications, and closed the harbour to the east. It is estimated it was about 175m long and 20m wide.
Today's breakwater, enlarged and extended in 1862, would seem to be based on a later (and less ambitious) Hellenistic mole. A 30m stretch of its neatly cut masonry, with compact surface and finely-edged borders and paving, is preserved in the space between the taverna, Várka, and the houses that front the west of the present harbour.
From this point it is possible to follow the projection of its line west for over 150m, past elements of it which are incorporated into recent buildings along the way, until it becomes no more than a cut line in the bedrock towards the end. It terminates in the base of a bastion to the west, where there is a deep hole, as big as a small gateway, cut down through the rock below. Interestingly, Herodotus mentions a secret passageway, leading from the citadel to the sea, in Book III, 147, of his Histories. From here the line of the west harbour walls runs inland to the north, parts of which are visible as far as Kanaris Street, beside the Stratos Hotel, in the third block back from the waterfront. Tracing these lines gives a vivid sense of the much greater area of the Archaic harbour by comparison with today's much smaller port.
At many points—especially on the mountain behind the town—these fortifications are clearly visible and traceable for much of their total length of 6.4km. Only the southern sea-walls are not in evidence. Two distinct campaigns can be distinguished: 1. the earliest walls, erected probably in the 530s BC under Polycrates's rule, were constructed at the lower levels in polygonal limestone blocks, and then raised above that level in fired brick and mud; they had few bastions, and mostly arched or corbelled gateways. Some of the stone for the western arm will have been provided by the contemporaneous excavation of the tunnel of Eupalinos; but most of it was obtained from the escarpments to the west of the Panaghia Spilianí, where evidence of ancient quarries can still be seen. The defeat of Samos in 439 BC by the Athenians under Pericles led to the forced dismantling of this enceinte under the terms of the armistice.
2. the Hellenistic walls, reconstructed using the foundations of the earlier walls, were built again around 300 BC, under the auspices of Demetrius ‘Poliorcetes' (the ‘Besieger of Cities'), this time in isodomic masonry composed of large rectangular blocks, often as much as 1.5m long. The enceinte was now endowed with over 30 towers or bastions (some square and some polygonal in section), which protected massive lintel-and-post gateways, which still preserve the deep slots for fixing the gates. In places these walls were later repaired during the 2nd century BC. Long sections of the enceinte can be walked—along the east, north and west sides over the hill behind the city.
The two periods of walls and gates can be clearly seen and compared in the eastern sector above the port (reached by taking the left turn for Mytilinií, one kilometre out of Pythagóreio, and continuing uphill for 400m until the road returns west to the line of walls). At the summit of the hill and down the western side (reached from opposite the Doryssa Bay Hotel) the Hellenistic work is relatively wellpreserved and displays more clearly the method of its construction: two parallel walls of massive isodomic masonry 3m apart, with stone and rubble in-filling. In the lowest reaches of the western wall, just above the old secondary port of Glyphada, which has now silted up and become an enclosed lake, a rock-cut ditch about 3–4m wide runs parallel to the walls 5m to their west (outside); this was left by the quarrying of the stone for the walls, and may have served coincidentally a defensive purpose thereafter.
Most impressive of all is the well-preserved 4th century BC watch-tower in the northwest corner which stands to a height of over 10m, with the apertures and precisely drafted corners typical of Hellenistic construction.
Three blocks in from the centre of the harbour front, and one block north of the main street, on Eupalinou Street, is a corner of the crepis and fragments of some of the fluted columns of the 4th century BC Temple of Dionysos. This has been identified from inscriptions which honour the Emperor Claudius for restructuring the temple after damage wrought by earthquakes in 47 AD. Continuing west along the main street, towards the junction with the road north to Vathý, you approach the area of the ancient agorá of the city. To the south of the street, by the junction, are the remains of what is referred to as the Temple of Aphrodite, which would have stood in a small courtyard bounded by stoas on three or four sides: the stone base of the colonnade (with visible insets for the columns) of the west stoa can be seen, facing the rear steps of the temple's platform at a distance of 5m; behind it are the lower courses of its back wall. The cult of Aphrodite is attested in this area by votive finds from as far back as the 6th century BC, but the temple whose base is visible today is a Roman construction. There is growing evidence that the Archaic Temple of Aphrodite is being uncovered in excavations just to the north of the main road here; this Roman building, therefore, may be a 1st century temple of Augustus and Roma, which is mentioned in epigraphic sources.
Fifty metres further west along the road and to the north, behind a first row of buildings, lies what has been uncovered so far of the ancient agorá, which would have extended further to the east. The visible remains are mostly of Roman date: a couple of unpolished column fragments in the grey and pink ‘Africano' marble from Teos, on the Asia Minor coast opposite Chios, give an intimation of the colourfulness of some of the buildings which faced the square of the agorá. A little further along the main road on the same side, and covered by a provisional roof for protection, is a nymphaeum. On the mountainside directly above can be seen the Cave of Spilianí, which was the principle Samian home in Antiquity of the cult of the Nymphs. The Nymphaeum here was probably a subsidiary shrine combined with a water fountain—a deep pool, with a hemicycle to the west, faced with sheets of marble, into which a flight of steps descends.
Much of the water from the aqueduct would ultimately have been destined for the area of an extensive ‘sports complex', which occupies a long stretch to the south of the road west of the nymphaeum, in the low-lying land between the Sacred Way and the shore. In this area, the few remaining inhabited houses all incorporate spolia and ancient fragments. The gymnasia, a xystos (covered exercise area) and the stadium, appear to have been laid out in the 4th century BC, in the same period that the Hellenistic walls were being built; little remains to be seen on the ground today, except some of the steps of the perimeter colonnade which enclosed the complex, close to the road, and the starting-grid, or áphesis, at the western end of the stadium which lay in the south of the area and ran parallel to the shore. In between the two peristyle courts for sports practice, the massive block of the well-preserved thermal baths (open daily except Mondays, 8.30–3) were added substantially later. The baths are constructed from a wide variety of building materials—large, clean-cut blocks of stone from preexisting Hellenistic structures, rubble stone walls, mortar, and brick-tiles; originally, this would all have been covered by a revetment in marble or plaster on the interior surfaces. The complex dates from Imperial Roman times, probably the late 2nd century AD; but the building was adapted for Christian use in the later 5th century AD. The northern area has been given over to storing and exhibiting a variety of objects brought here from sites around the town: ancient altars, statue plinths, capitals, sarcophagus lids and some fine stone jars of a kind similar in design to those adapted for later use as water-stoups in Haghia Sophia in Istanbul.
To the south of this, is the area where the Early Christian churches have been constructed over the atrium and apodyteria (changing rooms) of the Roman baths: first the plan of a large, apsed structure is seen to the left; then, further in, the foundations of two smaller chapels built over the octagonal pool in the centre of the main frigidarium of the baths. Masonry still with Roman decorative mosaic applied to it is visible to the left. The calidarium, or steam-room, lies just beyond its southwest corner, where a marble-lined pool has been consecrated with a cross and turned into the baptistery of the Early Christian complex. To the south of here are a succession of three rectangular halls—tepidaria—running from west to east, all raised above a sophisticated hypocaust system, and with their once marble-clad walls heated through cavities within their thickness, fed with hot air from the furnaces below. The westernmost of these halls, has two immersion pools to north and south, and three along its west side. In its southwestern corner is a marble block, immured upside down, bearing an inscription in Greek, to the ‘August Tiberius Caesar', suggesting later modification and repair to this part of the building. Further south, overlooking the shore, and running the width of the building, are the remains of the palaestra of the baths.
Dominating the sky-line immediately to the west are the imposing remains of a three-aisled, 5th century AD Christian basilica, sandwiched improbably between the swimming pools (west door and narthex) and recreation area (apse) of the Doryssa Bay Hotel, beneath whose foundations must lie further archaeological remains (access is free, either from the shore or through the grounds of the hotel).
The basilica was almost 30m in length and of considerable height, as is indicated by the three, soaring, south piers which still stand today, and which give the basilica its local name, ‘Tria Dontia', or ‘three teeth'. There is no clear evidence that these were mirrored on the north side, and their position outside of the south aisle suggests that they were reinforcing buttresses rather than piers from which sprang a vaulted roof. They are constructed in rough stone and faced with large blocks of Hellenistic masonry, dismantled from earlier buildings such as the Gymnasia to the east. A wide variety of different marbles—Proconnesian, Samian, Iasian—lie around which will probably have been taken from the adjacent Roman thermae. The high quality of masonry of the wall perpendicular to the north side of the basilica, constructed in clear-cut blocks of the 4th century BC, fastened together with bronze clips, stands out by comparison with the hastily realized, later structures above. A large, contemporaneous, covered drainage channel runs north/south across the west side of the whole site.
To the east side of the inner lake, can be seen the well preserved isodomic masonry of the 4th century BC defensive walls. To the west is the small church of the Koimisis tis Theotokou (The Dormition), assembled from, and surrounded by, a variety of Ancient and Early Christian spolia, taken from the previous Palaeochristian church on the site, which in turn, took pieces from its pagan predecessor. This is the site of the Archaic Sanctuary of Artemis, whose temple, which had a roof supported on wooden columns, was early on destroyed by the Persians in 522 BC. Excavation trenches in the marshy area below have yielded a wealth of finds—amongst them the headless kouros, with a dedicatory inscription to Apollo, now in the museum in Vathý (no. 16, mentioned above). Herodotus recounts (Hist. III. 48) how the Samians thwarted the attempt of the Corinthian tyrant Periander to send 300 boys of the nobility of Corcyra (Corfu) to Sardis to be made eunuchs, as an act of revenge against the Corcyrans: the party put in at Samos and when the Samians learned the nature of the mission, they were so appalled they confined the boys to the sacred refuge of this Sanctuary of Artemis, saved them from their Corinthian captors, and returned them later to their homes. A Sanctuary of Demeter has also been located higher up the hill, just inside the western walls.
To the west of the lakes of Glypháda, were the cemeteries of Ancient Samos, used continuously from Archaic times (on the hillside further to west) through to Early Christian times (the area immediately west of the Artemision), with the Hellenistic and Roman necropolises between the two. The Early Christian cemetery is the most rewarding of these to visit. Its nucleus is a late Hellenistic rock-cut tomb. Around this, a Christian catacomb seems to have developed early on; as the Christian community grew and began to take over the metropolis, this was then developed into a large urban, cemetery building, perhaps constituting the substructure beneath a chapel above. The way in which it has evolved around an early nucleus suggests a martyrium, with the burial place of an important Early Christian figure at its centre. Two levels of burial loculi with vaulted roofs or cupolas lead off from the principal arched entrance: traces of colour (principally reds) survive from the decorated plaster of the interiors.
Wikidata ID: Q13580795
Trismegistos Geo: 2081
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)