island name ancient
SAMOTHRACE was the ancient name of an island in the northern part of the JEgean Sea, nearly opposite to the mouth of the Hebrus, and lying north of Imbros and north-east of Lemnos. 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 )Egean, from its great elevation - the group of mountains which occupies almost the whole island rising to the height of 5240 feet. The highest summit, named by Pliny Saoce, is estimated by him at an elevation of 10 Roman miles. 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 from thence the plain of Troy and the contest between the Greeks and the Trojans. This mountainous character and the absence of auy tolerable harbour - Pliny, in enumerating the islands of the Agean, 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 CABIRI (q.v.), a mysterious triad of divinities, concerning whom very little is really 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, wholly distinct from that of the Greeks. Herodotus expressly tells us that the " orgies " which were celebrated at Samothraco were derived from the Pelasgians (ii. 51). These mysteries, and the other sacred rites connected therewith, appear to have attracted a large number of visitors, and thus imparted to the island a degree of importance which it would not otherwise have attained. The only occasion on which its name is mentioned in history is during the expedition of Xerxes (n.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).
No modern traveller appears to have visited Samothrace till the year 1858, when it was fully explored by Conze, who published an account of it, as well as the larger neighbouring islands, in 1860. The ancient city, of which the ruins are called Paleopoli, was situated on the north 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, but no vestiges are found of temples or other public buildings. The modern village is on the hill above. The island is at the present day very poor and thinly peopled, and has scarcely any trade ; but a considerable sponge fishery is carried on around its coasts by traders from Smyrna (Conze, .Reise au! den Inseln des Thralai-schen Meeres, Hanover, 1860).
The similarity of name naturally led to the supposition that Samothrace was peopled by a colony from Samos in Ionia, and this is stated as an historical fact by some Greek writers, but is rejected by Strabo, who considers that in both cases the name was derived from the physical conformation of the islands, Samos being an old word for any lofty height (Strabo, x. 2, p. 457). The same characteristic is found in Cephallenia, which was also called Samos in the time of Homer.