Samos Island, Greece.
Graham Shipley, A History of Samos 800-188 BC (Oxford University Press, 1987); Hermann Kienast, The Aqueduct of Eupalinos (Greek Ministry of Culture, Athens, 2005).
Samos Travel Guide
Along the road from the port to the Heraion
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 dam age wrought by earthquakes in 47 ad. Continuing west along the main street, towards the junction with the road north to Vathi, you approach the area of the ancient agora 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 agora, 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 agora. A little further along the main road on the same side, and covered by a provisional roof for protection, is a nymphaeum. On the mountain side directly above can be seen the Cave of Spiliani, 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. It is probable that this would have been fed by the water brought into the city through the tunnel of Eupalinos, which— as recent archaeological excavations have revealed—was piped and distributed across the whole inhabited area.
Much of the water from the aqueduct would ultimate ly 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 aphesis, 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 pre existing 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—run ning 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.
Continuing west, past the grounds of the Doryssa Bay Hotel, you come to the double-lagoon of Megali and Mikri Glyphada—all that remains of the ancient city’s secondary harbour. The presence here of two beached, wooden boats is a reminder of the millennial tradition of boat building on Samos . Supremacy at sea, was not only a matter of building ports to protect valuable fleets, but also of designing more practical and ever-faster ships. One widely-used, military and commercial vessel in Antiquity was called the ‘samaina’, and was first developed in Poly crates’s Samos . In writing about it, Plutarch emphasises its most important qualities—speed and manoeuvrability:
“the samaina is a warship with a turned-up beak, like a boar’s snout; but it is broader than a trireme and has a paunch-like hull, which makes it a swift mover, which can also weather a high sea… It was first built on Samos … at the orders of Polycrates.” Life of Pericles, 26
The boat had sails and two banks of 25 oars on each side, and was generally covered, after the caulking, with a ruddle or red-lead paint.
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 head less Kouros, with a dedicatory inscription to Apollo, now in the museum in Vathi (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 in side the western walls.
To the west of the lakes of Glyphada, 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 necropo lises 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 metropo lis, 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.
Samos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.