One of the principal islands of the Aegaean Sea, lying in that portion of it called the Icarian Sea, off the coast of Ionia, from which it is separated only by a narrow strait formed by the overlapping of its eastern promontory Posidium (now Cape Colonna) with the westernmost spur of Mount Mycalè, Promontorium Trogilium (now Cape S. Maria). This strait, which is little more than three-fourths of a mile wide, was the scene of the battle of Mycalè. The island is formed by a range of mountains extending from east to west, whence it derived its name; for Samos was an old Greek word signifying a mountain: and the same root is seen in Samè, the old name of Cephallenia, and Samothracè—i. e. the Thracian Samos. The circumference of the island is about eighty miles. It was and is very fertile; and some of its products are indicated by its ancient names, Dryusa, Anthemura, Melamphyllus, and Cyparissia. According to the earliest traditions, it was a chief seat of the Carians and Leleges, and the residence of their first king, Ancaeus; and was afterwards colonized by Aeolians from Lesbos, and by Ionians from Epidaurus.

In the earliest historical records, we find Samos decidedly Ionian, and a powerful member of the Ionic Confederacy. Thucydides tells us that the Samians were the first of the Greeks, after the Corinthians, who paid great attention to naval affairs. They early acquired such power at sea, that, besides obtaining possession of parts of the opposite coast of Asia, they founded many colonies, among which were Bisanthè and Perinthus, in Thrace; Celenderis and Nagidus, in Cilicia; Cydonia, in Crete; Dicaearchia (Puteoli), in Italy; and Zanclè (Messana), in Sicily. After a transition from the state of a monarchy, through an aristocracy, to a democracy, the island became subject to the most famous of the so-called "tyrants," Polycrates (B.C. 532), under whom its power and splendour reached their highest pitch, and Samos would probably have become the mistress of the Aegaean but for the murder of Polycrates. At this period the Samians had extensive commercial relations with Egypt, and they obtained from Amasis the privilege of a separate temple at Naucratis. Their commerce extended into the interior of Africa, partly through their relations with Cyrenè, and also by means of a settlement which they effected in one of the Oases, seven days' journey from Thebes. The Samians now became subject to the Persian Empire, under which they were governed by tyrants, with a brief interval at the time of the Ionian revolt, until the battle of Mycalé, which made them independent, B.C. 479. They now joined the Athenian Confederacy, of which they continued independent members until B.C. 440, when an opportunity arose for reducing them to entire subjection and depriving them of their fleet, which was effected by Pericles after an obstinate resistance of nine months' duration. In the Peloponnesian War (q.v.), Samos held firm to Athens to the last; and in the history of the latter part of that war, the island becomes extremely important as the headquarters of the exiled democratical party of the Athenians. Transferred to Sparta after the battle of Aegospotami (405), it was soon restored to Athens by that of Cnidus (394), but went over to Sparta again in 390. Soon after, it fell into the hands of the Persians, being conquered by the satrap Tigranes; but it was recovered by Timotheus for Athens. In the Social War, the Athenians successfully defended it against the attacks of the confederated Chians, Rhodians, and Byzantines, and placed in it a body of two thousand cleruchi (B.C. 352). After Alexander's death, it was taken from the Athenians by Perdiccas (323), but restored to them by Polysperchon (319). In the subsequent period, it seems to have been rather nominally than really a part of the Graeco-Syrian kingdom: we find it engaged in a long contest with Prienè on a question of boundary, which was referred to Antiochus II., and afterwards to the Roman Senate. In the Macedonian War, Samos was taken by the Rhodians again, B.C. 200. In the Syrian War, the Samians took part with Antiochus the Great against Rome.

Little further mention is made of Samos till the time of Mithridates, with whom it took part in his first war against Rome, on the conclusion of which it was finally united to the province of Asia, B.C. 84. [p. 1408] Meanwhile it had greatly declined, and during the war it had been wasted by the incursions of pirates. Its prosperity was partially restored under the propraetorship of Q. Cicero, B.C. 62, but still more by the residence in it of Antony and Cleopatra (32), and afterwards of Octavianus, who made Samos a free State. It was favoured by Caligula, but was deprived of its freedom by Vespasian, and it sank into insignificance as early as the second century, although its departed glory is found still recorded, under the emperor Decius, by the inscription on its coins, Samiùn prùtùn Iùnias.

Samos may be regarded as almost the chief centre of Ionian manners, energies, luxury, science, and art. In very early times there was a native school of statuary, at the head of which was Rhoecus, to whom tradition ascribed the invention of casting in metal. (See Statuaria Ars.) In the hands of the same school architecture flourished greatly; the Heraeum, one of the finest of Greek temples, was erected in a marsh, on the western side of the city of Samos; and the city itself, especially under the government of Polycrates, was furnished with other splendid works, among which was an aqueduct pierced through a mountain. Samain architects became famous also beyond their own island; as, for example, Mandrocles, who constructed Darius's bridge over the Bosporus. Samian pottery was well known, and was in vogue in Greece and Italy in the second century B.C., and was imitated by the potters of Gaul and Britain. It was of a reddish colour, with reliefs. The island was the birthplace of Pythagoras ( Herod. iv. 95), and of several minor poets and historians.

The capital of the island was the city Samos, on the southeastern coast. It had a magnificent harbour, and was adorned with many fine buildings, especially a temple of Herè (Heraeum), which in the time of Herodotus was the largest temple in existence ( Herod. iii. 60; Pausan. vii. 4). It was of the Ionic order. Excavations made in 1880 show that its façade was one of some 150 feet.

See Guérin, Patmos et Samos (Paris, 1856); Tozer, Islands of the Aegean (1890); Curtius, Geschichte von Samos (1877); Burchner, Das Ionische Samos (1892).

(Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1898.)