History of Samothrace

Photo by Alpiega

Samothrace was not a state of any political significance in Ancient Greece, since it has no natural harbor and most of the island is too mountainous for cultivation: Oros Fengari (Mount Moon) rises to 1,611 m (5,285 ft). It was, however, the home of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, site of important Hellenic and pre-Hellenic religious ceremonies. Among those who visited this shrine to be initiated into the island cult were King Lysander of Sparta, Philip II of Macedon and Cornelius Piso, father-in-law of Julius Caesar.

The ancient city, the ruins of which are called Palaeopoli ("old city"), was situated on the north coast. Considerable remains still exist of the ancient walls, which were built in massive Cyclopean style, as well as of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, where mysterious rites took place that were open to both slaves and free people (in contrast to the Eleusinian Mysteries).

Samothrace was first inhabited by Pelasgians and Carians, and later the Thracians. At the end of the 8th century BCE the island was colonized by Greeks from Samos, from which came the name Samos of Thrace, which later became Samothrace. Taken by the Persians in 508 BCE, it later passed under Athenian control, becoming a member of the Delian League in the 5th century BCE. It was subjected by Philip II, and from then until 168 BCE it was under Macedonian suzerainty. With the battle of Pydna, Samothrace became independent, a condition that ended when Vespasian absorbed the island in the Roman Empire in 70 CE.

Post-Roman Era

The Byzantines ruled until 1204, when Venetians took their place, only to be dislodged by a Genoan family in 1355, the Gattilusi. The Ottoman Empire conquered it in 1457. The island returned to Greek rule in 1913 following the Balkan War. It was shortly occupied by Bulgaria during the Second World War.

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