Votive structures

One thing that impressed Herodotus about this sanctuary was the wealth and variety of its votive dedications. He mentions one piece in particular (Hist. IV.152): a bronze vessel, surrounded by ‘‘¦griffin’s heads at the rim, and supported by three kneeling figures in bronze, eleven and a half feet high’. This piece was made from the proceeds of a tithe on the profits of a trading mission undertaken by the Samian mariner, Colaios, and was dedicated by him in gratitude to Hera. Colaios’s journey was remarkable in that it had penetrated, in the early 7th century bc, into the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, and had reached as far as Tartessus, the area west of Seville—if not substantially further. He returned safely to Samos with a cargo, the profit on which alone was valued at 60 talents. His journey is symbolic of the marine skills, courage and commercial spirit of the 7th and 6th century bc Greeks. A series of stone bases found about 20m east of the south stoa, and directly south of the great altar, has generally been interpreted as the support for the votive dedication of a boat (a phenomenon encountered elsewhere, e.g on Delos and on Samothrace). Whether the boat were that of Colaios or not, is impossible to verify.

   The only other dedication in this southern area stands on its own, just 10m south of the Early Christian basilica, and is semi-circular in form. It supported the honorific monument erected, around 58 bc to the Cicero brothers—in gratitude to the great orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who had famously prosecuted Verres (the distinguished art-collector and thief, whose covetous attentions Samos had not escaped) and to his brother Quintus, who was an able and beneficent Governor of Asia from 61 to 58 bc

   . Most of the votive monuments, in the form of small temples, treasuries or shrines, however, occupied the northeastern area of the sanctuary. The lay-out of this area is revealing in the way in which the buildings fill the space randomly and are set at different angles to one an other, with constantly varying orientations. A sanctuary which develops ‘organically’ over time cannot necessarily have a master-plan: but the situation here seems to defy even the loosest concept of orderliness.

Samos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.

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