1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Samothrace

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SAMOTHRACE (Turk. Semadrek), an island in the N. of the Aegean Sea, nearly opposite the mouth of the Hebrus, and lying N. of Imbros and N.E. of Lemnos. The island is a kaza of the Lemnos sanjak, and has a population of 3500, nearly all Greek. It is still called Samothraki, and though of small extent is, next to Mount Athos, by far the most important natural feature in this part of the Aegean, from its great elevation—the group of mountains which occupies almost the whole island rising to the height of 5240 ft. Its conspicuous character is attested by a well-known passage in the Iliad (xiii. 12), where the poet represents Poseidon as taking post on this lofty summit to survey the plain of Troy and the contest between the Greeks and the Trojans. This mountainous character and the absence of any tolerable harbor—Pliny, in enumerating the islands of the Aegean, calls it “ importuosissima omnium ”—prevented it from ever attaining to any political importance, but it enjoyed great celebrity from its connexion with the worship of the Cabeiri (q.v.), a mysterious triad of divinities, concerning whom very little is known, but who appear, like all the similar deities venerated in different parts of Greece, to have been a remnant of a previously existing Pelasgic mythology. Herodotus expressly tells us that the “ orgies ” which were celebrated at Samothrace were derived from the Pelasgians (ii. 51). The only occasion on which the island is mentioned in history is during the expedition of Xerxes (B.C. 480), when the Samothracians sent a contingent to the Persian fleet, one ship of which bore a conspicuous part in the battle of Salamis (Herod. viii. 90). But the island appears to have always enjoyed the advantage of autonomy, probably on account of its sacred character, and even in the time of Pliny it ranked as a free state. Such was still the reputation of its mysteries that Germanicus endeavoured to visit the island, but was driven off by adverse winds (Tac. Ann. ii. 54).

After visits by travellers, including Cyriac of Ancona (1444), Richter (1822), and Kiepert (1842), Samothrace was explored in 1857 by Conze, who published an account of it, as well as the larger neighbouring islands, in 1860. The “ Victory of Samothrace,” set up by Demetrius Poliorcetes c. 305 B.C., was discovered in the island in 1863, and is now in the Louvre. The ancient city, of which the ruins are called Palaeopoli, was situated on the N. side of the island close to the sea; its site is clearly marked, and considerable remains still exist of the ancient walls, which were built in massive Cyclopean style, as well as of the sanctuary of the Cabeiri, and other temples and edifices of Ptolemaic and later date. The modern village is on the hill above. A considerable sponge fishery is carried on round the coasts by traders from Smyrna. On the N. coast are much-frequented hot sulphur springs. In 1873 and 1875 excavations were carried out under the Austrian government.

Conze, Reise auf den Inseln des Thrakischen Meeres (Hanover, 1860); Conze, Hauser and Niemann, Archäologische Untersuchungen auf Samothrake (Vienna, 1875 and 1880); H. F. Tozer, Islands of the Aegean (London, 1890).