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
This part of the museum, converted from a neoclassical library building, exhibits mostly the votive material from the Heraion, as well as some much earlier, and some later, objects and sculptures. The groundfloor displays include good explanatory material.
The Hallway on the ground floor contains a number of large, headless statues from Hellenistic and Roman periods: quite apart from their style, the extensive use of the running drill to cut much deeper folds in the pleating of drapery dates them to this later period. The ground floor room to the left on entering, exhibits the prehistoric and early material. Many of the objects are practical in purpose, such as a wide variety of pots for domestic use, and tools made from Milos obsidian; but there are also unusual, tiny clay altars of the 3rd millennium bc. A variety of pieces and fragments come from what is always one of the richest sources of material for the archaeologist—the broken refuse invariably found at the bottom of a well. Amongst these are pieces even of marble, Cycladic figurines of the so-called ‘violin form’.
The ground-floor room to the right gives an overview of the astonishing richness of the Sanctuary of Hera and of the diversity of geographical origin of the votive offerings made to the goddess. The long case against the wall is a chronological display of offerings and casual finds: iron spits for grilling meat, and a bronze cheese-grater(?); a bronze dedicatory inscription, probably attached to a wooden ship; a great many small objects related symbolically to the goddess and her purview—small marble models of houses (domesticity); ivory poppy-heads and pomegranates, and bronze pine-cones (fertility). There are objects from Cyprus, Egypt (hippopotami), Assyria, Babylon, the Caucasus, Iberia, the Italian peninsular, and mainland Greece (a finely-worked bronze stag). All these objects date from between the 9th and the 6th centuries bc; in the 5th century, the island lost its former maritime pre-eminence and a perceptible decline set in. There is a brief reprise under the influence of Alexander’s liberation of the island in the late 4th century.
The landing of the first floor displays some of the most remarkable finds from the sanctuary, which have survived thanks to the muddy nature of the land at the Heraion: these are the -rare objects in wood and ivory. It is not often that such heads and figurines (from Mesopotamia), models of boats, or the lid of a box with its wooden hinge still intact, survive in wood from as long ago as the 7th and 8th centuries bc. Also, in the corner of this area is a particularly fine –funerary stele depict a nude youth carrying a box which is masterfully executed in perfect perspective (note, however, that the stele should be seen from a lower point of vantage than is afforded by its present position). The fluid movement of the fragmentary garlands and drapery of the seated figure partially visible to the left, is typically Ionic in style. This is one of surprisingly few Classical works to be seen on Samos , and dates from the late 5th century bc. Opposite is a case of Byzantine gold coins found by the sea in 1983 on the island’s east coast at Megali Lakka, probably hidden by their original owner against a sudden pirate attack.
The two rooms which lead off the landing, exhibit the vast range (and quantity) of votive objects dedicated to Hera from across the then-known world, and show once again how this sanctuary was a thorough fare—both commercial and stylistic—between east and west. The room to the right (south) contains the bronze artefacts, many of which were produced in smelting workshops actually at the Heraion. The Greeks learned bronze-casting from the Egyptians in the 8th century bc, but soon began to perfect and improve the technology. Show-cases on the far wall display objects of Egyptian origin, amongst them an engraved mirror, whose image shows an interesting syncretism of Hera with the Egyptian deity Mut. Political and commercial ties with Egypt were particularly important to Samos throughout her history.
There is an exceptional quantity of bronze ‘protomes’: these are the heads of griffons which were a common element of the decoration of libation-bowls dedicated to the goddess. The bowls, or ‘cauldrons’, stood on tripods, and the outward facing protomes, fixed onto them, possessed the power to avert evil, akin to the mediaeval use of gargoyles. It was perhaps this magical, ‘apotropaic’ power which saved them from being melted down in later times. Bronze domestic objects (along the wall of the entrance door) which were subsequently dedicated to the goddess for whatever reason, were pierced with a stick to render them useless and to signify their sacred dedication—an action akin to the smashing of a toast-glass today. In this section there are strainers for ritual wine, and even bronze bells which provide an unexpected reminder of the sounds which pervaded the sanctuary.
The room to the left (north) displays the pottery, ivory and glass objects. The collection of pots (around the walls) is interesting in the way it underscores some of the differences between Ionian ware, and comparable work from mainland Greece. The Corinthian pottery is confidently drawn in a high contrast of colours, as opposed to the less-defined Ionian ware or the fluid lines and lower contrast of the Samian ware. The Cypriot clay figures (on the short wall by the door) are recognisable by their characteristic, and strongly modelled, heads. The central cabinets display, jewellery, glass, fai―ence, and some rare and well-conserved pieces in carved ivory—finest among them, a springing lion made in Egypt in the 13th cen-tury bc and found at the Heraion, to which it had been brought by a visitor over 600 years later. The diversity and provenance of these gifts are impres sive: the significance of some of them is mystifying—in particular the 8th century terracotta circle, or kernos, for ritual libations, on whose surface stands a heterogeneous assemblage of cups, pomegranates, a panther, a ram’s head, and a toad, all realistically modelled in clay.
Next to the museum is the Demarcheion of Samos , with the music school behind, and the church of Aghios Spyri don to the south. This ensemble of neoclassical buildings, and the palmy garden in front, were laid out in the years of the city’s early prosperity in the last decades of the 19th century.
Samos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.