The builders

Herodotus gives the name of the engineer as Eupalinos, son of Naustrophos, from the city of Megara, between Athens and Corinth. ‘Eupalinos’ is suspiciously similar to the epithet ‘eupalamos’, meaning ‘ingenious’, ‘inventive’ or ‘skillful’, and may possibly be a sobriquet given to the architect after the completion of his remarkable works. Megara had a notable tradition of building and engineering: Pausanias admires a famous fountain of Theagenes there (Descrip. I. 40.1). It is suggested by Herodotus that the workforce of this endeavour consisted of prisoners of war captured by Polycrates from Mytilene, and perhaps settled to the north of the Aghiades spring, in a place which currently takes its name from them—Mytilinii­. But it should be recalled that this was not a Pharaonic project in scale: only two men could work on each cutting face at any one time, and the lack of space and of oxygen inside the tunnel, precluded the presence of more than the small number of workers needed to remove rubble and to ferry tools and water to and from. Estimates vary between 5 and 15 years for the time taken to complete the tunnel; the median of 10 years seems credible, based on the amount of progress possible per day. Eupalinos’s design, though perfectly logical, was nonetheless susceptible to human error and unforeseen natural difficulties; the spectre of failure, and its possibly dire personal consequences for him, must have haunted him until the two tunnels successfully met under the mountain.

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

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