The military port of Samos

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The island of Samos is situated in the north Aegean at a short distance (~2.35 km) from the coast of Asia Minor.

The ancient city was built where now the modern village of Pythagorion (Tegani) stands, on the SE side of the island. The Hellenistic city is situated near the port, and on the slope of the hill the remnants of a theater can be seen. The roman city is located SW. At a small distance, 6klm, west of the city lays the great Sanctuary of Hera, where the wooden uniconic statue of the goddess was kept and the her marriage to Zeus was celebrated.

The port of the city lies in a well-protected bay at the foot of mount Ambelos. It is situated at the eastern end of the ancient city and belongs to the type of the closed harbour, which is formed by the extension of the city walls to the sea.


Historical Development

The first inhabitants settled on the island as early as the 4th millennium BC, most probably people from Anatolia, while round the beginning of the 1st millennium it was colonized by Ionians. Samos has been one of the first Greek cities which, taking advantage of its privileged geographical position – near the Cyclades and on the maritime route of the ships to and fro Ionia, have developed a wide network of communication not only in the Mediterranean, but also with important eastern centers such as Cyprus, Egypt, Syria etc. From the beginning of the 6th c BC Samos becomes a very important artistic and cultural center of the Greek world.

The island prospered greatly under the rule of Polycrates during the second half of the 6th c BC. During that period an extensive building program is adopted, which comprised public, defense as well as technical woks that are amongst the greatest technical achievements of the ancient world, the tunnel of Eupalinos from Megara and the breakwater of the harbour. Through the building of a strong fleet, mainly of penteconters and triremes, Samos rises into a great nautical power, which would also conduct piratical attacks against her neighbors.

During the classical period the island looses part of its renown and becomes an Athenian colony in 365 BC (after its being involved in the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War). In the Hellenistic times the island prospers anew, the city is fortified in a wider area with a wall that stands to the present day modified by later additions, with a circumference of approximately 6.220 km. Between the years 190-129 BC it falls under the rule of Pergamon and in the Roman times is incorporated in the Roman Province of Asia. Moreover there is archaeological evidence attesting to its being a rather remarkable city at the Early Christian Times.


Selected Written Sources

The important part that Polycrates played in the improvement of the technical harbour works and the enhancement of shipbuilding is reflected in the passages of Herodotus (III 39): «έκτητο δε πεντηκοντόρους τε εκατόν», (ΙΙΙ, 60): «…δεύτερον δε περί λιμένα χώμα εν θαλάσση, βάθος και είκοσι οργυιέων. Μήκος δε του χώματος μέζον δύο σταδίων», Pliny (ΗΝ 7.209), Thoucydites (VIII, 79). The harbour is also mentioned in Strabo (Γεωγραφικά XIV.I, 14): «Από δε της Τρωγιλίου στάδιοι τετταράκοντα εις την Σάμον: βλέπει δε προς νότον και αυτή και ο λιμήν». In Herodotus (ΙΙΙ, 45) mention is made to the ship sheds: «των δ’υπ’εωυτω εόντων πολιητέων τά τέκνα και τας γυναίκας ο Πολυκράτης ες τους νεωσοίκους συνειλήσας είχε ετοίμους, ην άρα προδιδώσι ουτοι προς τους κατιόντας, υποπρησαι αυτοισι τοισι νεωσοικοισι.»

Selected Written Sources


Excavation work in Pythagorion at Samos has been carried out at a small scale by the Greek Department of Underwater Antiquities instigated by the need for preservation works of the modern port in 1988and continued further for two consecutive campaigns in 1993-1994.



The ancient remains have been located mainly outside the modern port basin. However, at its southern part it is estimated that isolated traces of the ancient fortification are preserved underneath the remains of the Byzantine installations.



The breakwater was located outside the modern port basin and the city wall, south, on the outer side of the modern mole following a parallel direction. It is a stone structure made of rubble and architectural material in second use, 480m long. Its width has not been identified as it is covered by sediments and material fallen from the modern mole. The construction lies now submerged at a depth of 2.75-3.20m near the shore, 4.43m at the external side of its central part and up to 14m at its south end. At that point it turns slightly and is lost under the modern mole. This construction has been identified with the Polykrateian ‘choma’, which was constructed lasting the reign of Polycrates in 530 BC.

Another stone structure, with estimated dimensions 170-190m length and 20m width, was discovered at a depth of 2m underneath the northern modern mole. It is suggested that it could form part of the foundations of the marine wall/ mole, a continuation of the land fortification from N to S, which must have closed from the east the military port. This hypothesis has been strengthened by the presence of ancient blocks incorporated in the mole of the 19th



The military port was enclosed in ancient times within a marine wall, which formed part of the land wall. During the excavation a segment of the Byzantine wall was located 0.50m under the sea surface at the SE cove of the port. It was established that the foundation lies on top of the foundation fill of the ancient wall. Two segments were revealed, the first is made of three layers of transversal and horizontal limestone blocks, 4m wide, the second segment 1m underneath the foundation of the Byzantine wall is made of 17 transversal limestone blocks in two layers, 13m long. The second segment is thought to be the outer face of the marine wall that closed from the south the ancient military port.


Ship Sheds

There haven’t been found as yet any traces of the ship sheds of the military port of Samos. However, their existence is considered by scholars to be certain, as there is explicit mention of them in ancient sources and most importantly because they form an integral part of every military port, due to the need for the safekeeping of the vulnerable ancient warships.



The remains that have been located were at first dated from isolated finds and ceramics at a time span from the beginning of the Hellenistic period until the Late Antiquity. Under the light of new research it has been supported (Ageliki Simossi, Le port de guerre de Thasos D.E.A., Aix-En Provence, 1993) that this is the mole of Polycrates of the 6th c BC. The stone structure and the remains of the wall foundations on the SE side have not yielded evidence that could date these structures with certainty.

Aim of this research, which has not as yet been completed, is to locate the archaic port installations, the port of Polycrates, one of the most important ancient harbours. Due to excessive modern interventions the topography has been considerably altered. The reconstructions suggested at times by scholars (Kienast, J.H., 1978, Toelle, R., 1976) are based mainly on ancient sources and the plan of later fortifications, provided that they follow the plan of ancient ones. The continuation of modern research is expected to help in the understanding of the extant remains and to bring new evidence to light that would complement the topography of the port.



Μίχα Παρασκευή / Micha Paraskevi



Ζαφειροπούλου, Φ., 1987

Σάμος, Αθήνα.

(Zafiropoulou, F., 1987, Samos, Athens)

Jantsen, U. 1968

"Samos 1967", Arch.Anz. 21B, pp.148-151.

Jantsen, U. 1970

"Samos, Forschungen in der Stadt Samos (1965-68)." Archaiologikon Deltion, 24: 372 6.

Kienast, J.H., 1978

"Die Stadtmauer von Samos", Samos XV, Bonn. s.36-38.

Simossi A. 1988

"Underwater excavation research in the ancient harbor of Samos: September – October 1988", I.J.N.A. 20.4, pp.281-298.

Simossi A. 1993

”Σάμος, Αρχαίο λιμάνι Σάμου (δεύτερη περίοδος ανασκαφικής έρευνας)”, Αρχαιολογικόν Δελτίον 48 [1998] Χρονικά ’΄2 σελ. 592-595.

(1993, Samos, "Ancient port of Samos" (deuteri periodos anaskafikes ereunas), A.D. 48 [1998], Chronika B 2 pp. 592-595.)

Simossi A. 1994

”Σάμος, Πυθαγόρειο”, Αρχαιολογικόν Δελτίον 49 [1999], Χρονικά ’΄2 σελ. 858-862.

(1994, "Samos, Pythagorion", A.D. 49 [1999], Chronika B 2, pp. 858-862.)

Stillwell, R. (ed.), 1976

The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, pp.802-803.

Toelle, R., 1969

Die antike Stadt Samos, Mainz.

Toelle, R., 1976

"Mole und Hafen" στο Herodot und Samos.


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