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Samos and Athens


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Relations between Samos and Athens

Friday 18th June 2004
Peter Eyland

A critical examination of the available literary and epigraphical evidence for the history of Athenian relations with Samos during the period 477 to 404 BCE. A reconstruction of an outline history of Athenian relations with Samos for the period. Including general history of the period of Persian expansion into the Greek world, noting anything that affected relations between Athens and Samos. Describing the nature of Athenian relations with Samos during the period (generalizations and conclusions).

map of samos

Map of Samos and Athens


Cartledge (1982:260) wrote of Samian politics from 479 to 404 BCE: “the sources – numismatic as well as literary and epigraphical - do not in any case permit such a history to be written”.  Despite these inauspicious words, this essay will give an outline of the history and nature of Athenian relations with Samos[1]
First, there will be a general history involving Samos in the period of the Persia expansion in the Greek world, and how this led to the first Ionian revolt against Persia. 
Secondly, how relations between Athens and Samos led to Samos joining Athens in the Delian League after the second revolt against Persia. 
Thirdly, how relations with the Athenian archê led to the Samian revolt over Priene.
Fourthly, how oligarchic movements in Athens and Samos led to Samian civil war. 
Finally, how Athens responded to the loss of Samos to Lysander.


1. Samos in the period of Persia expansion into the Greek world (545 – 478 BCE)

Plutarch (“Greek Question 57”, Moralia 303E-304C)[2] described the Samian aristocracy c.600 BCE as ‘Landsharers’ ( γεωμόροι ) but gave no description of the form of government.  Because of the later numbers of ships mentioned some kind of Samian maritime empire (or “thassalocracy”) probably emerged by the mid sixth Century BCE

After Cyrus defeated the Lydian Empire, Herodotus wrote that the Ionian islanders surrendered to Cyrus (Herodotus, 1.169).  This would have included Samos if it actually happened.  Thucydides (1.13) wrote that at this time “the Ionians were a great naval power” and “were for some time masters of all the sea in their region”.  White (1954:40) and Austin (1990:297, n.29) suggest that, if anything, this was probably just a “token surrender” and did not affect any change in government.  Accordingly, when Polycrates became tyrant of Samos (Herodotus, 3.39), he probably did not overthrow a Persian government.

Polycrates (c.535-522 BCE)[3]

Cartledge described Polycrates’ accession as a coup against the “aristocratic-oligarchic régime of the Geômoroi” (Cartledge, 1982:246 n.15).  However, the régime was more likely to be a previous form of tyranny with an oligarchic structure close around him.  It followed the kind of tradition that created the huge temple to Hera.  Alexis in his Samian Annals described the luxury of his court (Fornara, 2003:33).  Samos, under Polycrates, flourished through his aggressive policy of war and indiscriminate piracy (Herodotus, 3:39) by which and he created a large maritime empire (Ehrenberg, 1975:104). Austin (1990:298) wrote that the Persians would have especially noticed the powerful tyrant Polycrates, and he did seem to have more relationships with the Persians than with the Greeks.

Polycrates and Amasis of Egypt formed a guest friendship ( ξεινίη ) but later abandoned it (Herodotus, 3:43).  It was probably Polycrates, who instigated the break, even though Herodotus said it was due to Amasis’ anxiety about Polycrates’ lost-and-found ring.  Polycrates looked towards Persia.  Cambyses (Herodotus, 3:44) apparently looked the better ally and so Polycrates dispatched some disaffected Samians in 40 ships to actively support Cambyses in his war against Egypt.  The intent of this decision is hard to fathom but may have just been a way of giving a favour by getting rid of a problem.  Herodotus does not attempt to reconcile the different stories about these disaffected Samians. 

Herodotus did record that these Samians made representations to Sparta and Corinth and in 524 BCE this led to an unsuccessful intervention by Sparta and Corinth against Polycrates (Herodotus, 3.47,48,56).  This intervention was apparently the first political encounter between mainland Greeks and Samos.  Although in a different context, Herodotus’ comment might be appropriate here – “for the Greeks … as far as they knew, Samos was as distant as the Pillars of Hercules” (Herodotus, 8.132). According to Herodotus, the intervention was about reciprocity and revenge for piracy (3:47), but this does not seem to be sufficient cause. 

How and Wells (1928:269) have expressed the view that Herodotus had a “tendency to confuse occasions with real causes”[4]and that might be appropriate here. Cartledge enumerated five reasons why the Spartans chose to intervene: awareness of Persian expansion (espoused by Ehrenberg, 1975:48), principled hostility to tyranny, desire to expand, interruption of trade, and a special relation between Samos and Sparta (Cartledge, 1982:256-8).

Starting with the second reason: the Spartans may not have experienced a tyranny (Herodotus, 5.92) but they were on good terms with Athenian tyrants (Cartledge, 1982:257).  Since the Spartan’s defeat meant that there was no expansion, the third reason cannot be established.  The fourth reason fails because there were no wars then primarily about trade.  The fifth reason about a special relationship seems unlikely because Cartledge only demonstrates a general relationship.

Coming back to the first reason: a friendly relationship was demonstrably developing between Samos and Persia.  J.P. Barron has pointed out that Samos held the balance of naval power during the time between Persia’s acquisition of the Phoenician fleet and her conquest of Egypt (cited in Ehrenberg, 1975:397 n.53).  Having Samos’ navy on the Spartan side would have swung the balance against the Persians. 

Despite isolationism, the Spartans had involved themselves with the other side of the Aegean Sea.  There was the anti-Persian alliance with Lydia (Herodotus, 1.69).  It did not ultimately result in any action by the Spartans, but through subsequent events, the Samians were branded with piracy (Herodotus, 1.70).  It may well be that the ostensible cause for their action was reciprocity and revenge, but the underlying cause was an awareness of danger from the Persian Empire.

For Samos, an awareness of danger from Persia probably crystalised with Oroetes.  Oroetes was the Persian who Cyrus appointed as governor of Sardis (Herodotus, 3.120).  Oroetes’ scheme to bring about Polycrates’ death involved a proposed alliance against Cambyses (Herodotus, 3.122).  von Reden (1997:171) thought that Herodotus’ incredible tale about Polycrates gilded lead coinage was mentioned simply because it “somewhat confirms” that Polycrates was in turn deceived by fake treasure (Herodotus, 3.56 and 121-3).

However, Oroetes’ attack, in the end, seems to have been a personal one without expansionist motives, because it was Darius who eventually captured the Ionian islands “with the aid of the Phoenician navy” (Thucydides, 1.16)[5] .   Mitchell (1975:86) dated the capture of Samos to 518/7 BCE and the Samians move into the Persian sphere of influence does not seem to have harmed their economy.

Austin (1990:298) drew attention to the way Herodotus represented Darius as being a person who focused on individuals.  Darius’ involvement with Samos ends up being attributed to the motives of one individual, viz the physician Democedes (who used to be at Polycrates’ court) scheming to return to Croton (3.130, 134, 136)[6]It is more likely that it was due to Darius finding out “that Oroetes was very strong” (3.127) and securing his Western front against threats by such people and any putative alliances with those further to the West.

There may also have been a technology aspect to Darius’ interest in Samos.  There were famous constructions on Samos.  Rhoecus, Theodorus and Telekles were the reputed architects of the huge temple of Hera c.570 BCE (Ross Holloway, 1969:281-290[7]There was the 1 km long aquaduct tunnel through a mountain that was tunneled out by Eupalinos (White, 1954:36)[8], and the mole that was constructed to enclose the harbour (Herodotus, 3:60).  Pythagoras the geometrician was associated with Samos.  Darius needed some new technology to conquer the Scythians, which is perhaps how Mandrokles of Samos became the engineer of Darius’ bridge in 512 BCE (Herodotus, 4:87).

There has been a divergence of translation regarding Herodotus 3.139.1: μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα Σάμον βασιλεὺς Δαρεῖος αἱρέει, πολίων πασέων πρώτην  Ἑλληνίδων καὶ βαρβάρων.

The question is whether Samos was the first, i.e. the greatest of the Greek and Barbarian cities captured by Darius, or just the first in temporal order.  How and Wells in commenting on this passage prefer to interpret πρώτην chronologically, and this does seem more natural.



The First Ionian Revolt against the Persians (500 – 491 BCE)

The initiative for the Ionian revolt against Darius came from Aristagoras and Miletos (Herodotus, 5.97-100).  The battle near Lade in 494 BCE (Herodotus, 6.13-14) between the Greeks and the Persian’s Phoenician fleet was lost by the Greeks.  The loss was partially attributed to some Samians deserters.  Mitchell (1975:87) pointed out that Herodotus tried to give some kind of justification ( πρόϕασις ) for the partial Samian desertion (Herodotus, 6.12-13).  He pointed to Dionysius’ pointless exercises and that Aeaces the tyrant of Samos had asked the Samians to leave the Ionian alliance.  Those who did not desert were rewarded with a stele on Samos.  The mixed reactions of the Samians seem to indicate that they were not fully committed to either the Greeks or the Persians.  The Persians do not seem to have levied a punitive tribute on the Samians (Herodotus, 6.42) as they were re-integrated into the Persian Empire.



The Persian War and the Second Ionian Revolt against the Persians (490 – 478 BCE)

The Samians fought well for the Persians during their war against the Greeks (Mitchell, 1975:88).  Theomestor was one Samian who was recognised by the Persians for his services at Salamis (Herodotus, 8.85).  In 480 BCE, the Persians made Theomestor tyrant of Samos, so apparently there was no Samian tyrant in power when the battle of Salamis was fought (Mitchell, 1975:88).

Theomestor would not have been in power long because, after Plataea and Mycale, Herodotus has some Samians approaching Leotychidas of Lacedaemonia at Delos with news that the Ionians in general, and the Samians in particular, were prepared for a second revolt against the Persians (Herodotus, 9.90).  This was probably a pro-Samian exaggeration (Mitchell, 1975:90) because the Greek fleet after Salamis pursued the Persians as far as Andros and a move further into Ionia would have been under discussion – as after Mycale.  This kind of exaggeration is also evident in Herodotus’ account of the Samians at Mycale being disarmed and inactive but setting an example (Herodotus, 9.99,103).

When the Greek fleet approached Samos, the Persians withdrew to the mainland (Herodotus, 9.96).  Presumably, the delegation to Delos then took on a leadership role in Samos and it seems likely that (with Legon, 1972:146 and against Barron 1966:82-92) that they formed an oligarchic government that lasted until c.441 BCE.



2. Samos joining Athens in the Delian League: 477 – 441 BCE

The Samians joined the “Hellenic League” at the Council of Samos in 479 BCE (Herodotus, 9:106; Meiggs, 1972:33,34)[9] and the “Delian League” in 478/7 BCE (Thucydides 1:94-5; Meiggs, 1972:43).  The Delian league had a particular commitment to Athens.  Thucydides commented that the original purpose of the Delian League was for revenge on Persia but it became a “pretext” ( πρόσχημα ) for “raising money and centralising power” (Usher 1969:38). 

Samos was a “key member” (Legon, 1972:145) throughout the seventy-five years that the Delian League existed.  A marble block at Samos ( Fornara, 2003:77.3) that honoured a Samian fighting in Egypt has been attributed to the Athenian campaign of 464-454 BCE (but the association is not certain).  The Samians do not appear in the tribute lists, so it is a reasonable assumption that they contributed ships rather than money (Legon, 1972:145).  As an ally, they would have contributed offerings such as cows and sets of armour (Osbourne, 1999:319) representing food and protection. 

Plutarch (Aristeides 25:2-3) wrote that in 454 BCE (after the Egyptian defeat) the Samians actively proposed the relocation of the Delian treasury to Athens.  Since they were not contributing money to the treasury, it would not have particularly mattered to Samos where it was, except that it was secure.

Samos does not seemed to have suffered in any way under Athenian hegemony and continued to have a sizable navy throughout the period.  For example, Samos provided sixty ships at Lade in 494 BCE (Herodotus, 6.8), would have provided ships for the Egyptian campaign, and had seventy ships at the time of the rebellion against Athens (Thucydides 1.115.5).  Osbourne (1999:331) has argued that the lack of monumental building in the fifth century indicated the popularity of Athens and her cults at places such as Samos, and not impoverishment as Cook[10] argued. 

There is epigraphical evidence from a series of boundary stones (horoi) on Samos that mark various sanctuaries (temene).  They are dedicated to “Athêna Queen of Athens” ( Ἀθηνᾶ Ἀθηνῶν μεδέουσα ), to Ion, and also to the (four) Eponymous Heroes.  Athêna was identified with Athêna Polias according to Meiggs, (1972:295)[11]Barron (1964:35-48) has dated these as earlier than 446 BCE by the three barred sigmas (which now seems to be disavowed as a dating method).  Despite this, Barron’s arguments for a native Samian Athena cult in this early period are more convincing, than an Athenian imposition after 439 BCE[12]

Meiggs objections (1972:296-7), which are based on the title given to Athena and the type of script used in the inscriptions, are not significant in the face of the persistent loyalty of the Samians to Athens.  Barron’s particular dating to the time of the transfer of the treasury (1964:48) is arbitrary, but some time between the founding of the Delian League and the revolt of 441 BCE seems appropriate.


3 The Samian Revolt over Priene and subsequent relations with Athens (442-439 BCE)

There is no record of Samian disloyalty for forty years, that is, until after the “Peace of Kallias” (c. 449 BCE)[13].  The “Peace of Kallias” seemed to have marked a change from “hot” war between Persia and the Greeks to a period of “cold” war (Phillips, 1999:80). 

Coincidently with this reduction in tension with Persia, Meiggs noted that, from 445 to 443 BCE, the quota lists did not show any Milesian payment and the Milesian tribute was reduced after 442 BCE (Meiggs 1972:188, 540 l.4 of table).  He inferred from this, that Miletos had taken the occasion to rebel against Athens and that Athens had subdued the revolt, with a consequent change from oligarchic to democratic government. The outcome would have been a weakening of Milesian power in the region, especially with the loss of their ships (Legon, 1972:148).

Priene was a major city on the nearby mainland peninsular and Samos had an interest in the peninsular.  The Samian oligarchy seems to have decided that the combination of a decreased Persian threat and Milesian weakness created an opportunity.  Samos set out to expand its influence in the peninsular and coerce Priene in some way (Thucydides, 1.115; Kagan, 1969:170-8; Meiggs, 1972:188).

Miletos, when it attempted to defend Priene seems to have found that its forces were not sufficient and subsequently appealed to Athens for arbitration.  Athens decided in Miletos’ favour.  Plutarch (Perikles, 24 has added a note to the effect that Aspasia (Perikles’ Milesian mistress) interceded with Perikles on behalf of her city.  Thucydides also reported that: “various private individuals from Samos itself … wished to set up there a different form of government” (Thucydides, 1.115).  This appears to mean that the current Samian government was oligarchical and faced opposition from internal democratic opponents (Legon, 1972:148).

Powell (2002:83) has proposed a five-fold division of the population: pro-Athenian democrats, luke-warm democrats, neutrals, luke-warm oligarchs and pro-Spartan oligarchs.  In describing a civil war in 427 BCE on Corcyra, Thucydides (3.82) wrote of the extremes and the moderates (neutrals) but wrote that it was the moderates who were destroyed.   Powell then argued that in peace-time, the five groups naturally coexisted, but in war-time, the “luke-warms” were forced into the extremes.

Samos did not accept the arbitration.  It may have been that the oligarchical government objected to Athenian imposition of democracy on other cities, or to the use of League funds for Athenian buildings (Legon, 1972:148; Barron, 1966:86-7).  More likely, it was brought about by encouragement from the Persians to be more independent of Athens as shown by Pissuthnes actions below.

Athens thus went to war against Samos and Thucydides has dated this war in the sixth year (1.115.2 ἕκτῳ ἔτει ) of the thirty years peace.  The Scholiast (as cited by Fornara and Lewis, 1979:7) dated it to 441/0, 440/39 ( ιθ' ἔτει ). Perikles and other generals (Fornara, 2003:110) successfully imposed Athens’ decision by force, and some Samians fled to the mainland (Thucydides, 1.115), probably to Anaia on the nearby coast.  The Athenians took Samian hostages to Lemnos and installed a garrison of Athenian troops on Samos. 

Perikles now installed democracy as the form of government.  Samos was now under Athenian control, however not with tributary status but still as an ally with an intact navy and fortifications.  Diodorus[14] recorded an eighty-talent fine that presumably was to defray Athenian war expenses (Diodorus 12.27.2).  Pissuthnes, (the Persian satrap at Sardis), was said to have offered a very large bribe to Perikles (according to Plutarch, Perikles, 25).  The apparent intention was to keep a friendly oligarchic government on Samos.  If so, it failed in its objective.

After the main Athenian forces had withdrawn, Thucydides has the Samian exiles forming an alliance with Pissuthnes and securing Persian mercenaries from him (Thucydides, 1.115).  These Persians overcame the Athenian garrison, and took away Athenian troops and officials.  Plutarch (Perikles, 25) also has Pissuthnes secretly freeing the hostages.  The continuing close relationships that Pissuthnes had with the Samian oligarchs may have been a significant factor in the initial Athenian decision to invade Samos (Legon, 1972:150). 

Diodorus (12.27.3) has the oligarchs ( τῶν δὲ βουλομένων τὴν ἀριστοκρατίαν ἐῖναι ) entering and taking the city easily ( ῥᾳδίως ) and expelling their opponents.  The impression from Diodorus was that there was widespread support for the oligarchs ( τῶν πολιτῶν συνεργούντων ).  Thucydides also has the Samian exiles forming an alliance with the leading oligarchs still in the city (Thucydides, 1.115).   With Samos again in control of the neighbouring seas and under the control of the oligarchs, they sent their fleet of seventy ships towards Miletos (Thucydides, 1.115). 

The naval base at Samos was vital for Athenian control of the sea (Thucydides, 8.76) because triremes could not remain at sea for very long (Westlake, 1979:28) so Perikles fleet returned.  The Samian navy was defeated and this enabled Perikles to blockade Samos.  A short time later, Perikles had to leave in order to counter an apparent Persian threat of using the Phoenician fleet against them (Thucydides, 1.116).


Photo of a reproduction Trireme taken on the Mediterranean

Samos took this opportunity to lift the blockade (Thucydides, 1.116).  von Reden (1997:174) wrote that Plutarch’s story (Perikles 26.4) of the Samians branding Athenian captives with an owl (the emblem of Athenian currency) showed the captives were stamped like coins to mark them as property and “as their own medium of exchange”.

The Samians now probably tried to gain as much support as possible from as many allies as possible.  Byzantion seems to have thought that prospects were then right for rebellion and declared independence (Fornara and Lewis, 1979:8).  The involvement of Byzantion in a rebellion directly threatened Athens Black Sea grain supplies (Cartledge, 1982:261).  Legon suggested that Carian, Thracian and Chalcidic cities might also have been involved (Legon, 1972:151)[15].

Perikles and other generals returned with a fleet and forced the Samians back into the city.  After about nine months, Samos surrendered (Thucydides, 1.117). Plutarch is unconvinced about Douris’ charges of cruelty by Perikles.  The Athenians forced the dismantling of fortifications and payment of huge war reparations (Plutarch, Perikles, 28).

Isocrates (15.11), Diodorus (12.28.3-4), and Cornelius Nepos[16] (Timotheus, 1.2) all mentioned 1200 talents as reparations[17].  Fornara and Lewis, (1979:9-10) have argued that the inscription IG i2 293  shows the yearly costs  of the Samian war and the total (in talents), as shown in the table.  The difference was probably due to accounting method.


Amount expended







Total »

1400 + [4?]

The cost of the war in talents

The Athenian peace treaty with Samos (Fornara, 2003:115) in 440/39 or 439/8 BCE seems to have “Peloponnese” in line 7.  Now Thucydides (1.40.5) wrote a speech for some Corinthians in the Corcyra debate at Athens (c.431 BCE) that mentioned as a flashback, the Peloponnese debate about sending help to Samos when it revolted against Athens (Legon, 1972:151; Cartledge, 1982:262).  These two data make it plausible that some Samians had attempted to involve the Peloponnesians in the revolt[18]

Some ten years later in the first phase of the Peloponnesian War (i.e. the Archidamian War of 431 – 421 BCE) Thucydides has Samian exiles in Anaia helping the Peloponnesians against Athens and creating disturbances in Samos (Thucydides, 4.75).  The extreme groups in Samos and Anaia continued to be the pro-Athenian Democrats and the pro-Spartan Persian-friendly Oligarchs.

The Samian revolt had thus upset “the whole military and diplomatic balance” (Cartledge, 1982:262) between the Greeks.  However, Athens was insistent on keeping Samos as an ally and not a subject.  Although Samos and Thera were recorded on a marble stele in connection with the appointment of Tribute collectors in 426 BCE, (Fornara, 2003:133) the money paid seems to have been war reparations rather than tribute.  The reference to Samos in the 418/7 – 417/6 payments (Fornara, 2003:144) is a conjecture and the payment in 410/09 seems to be reparations also (Fornara, 2003:154).

Samos issued a series of Silver coins marked by letters, which probably denote fifteen consecutive years.  Barron (1966:59-67,80-93) has argued for the dates 454–440 BCE i.e. before the revolt.  Mattingly (1981:85) has argued cogently for the dates between 439 to 425 BCE, i.e. after the revolt.

Neither dating is now in conflict with the date of the Athenian Decree that directed the Allies to use Athenian Silver Coins, Weights and Measures (Fornara 2003:97).  The Coinage decree was first “universally dated” to c.420 BCE (Mattingly 1961:88).  It was then argued to c.449 BCE, principally through dating by letter forms[19].  Since then Clinton (1996) has written: “Mattingly … discussing a fragment of the Standards Decree from Hamaxitos, has proved conclusively that the date of the Standards Decree was the year 425/4” BCE. 

The decree (which seems to have changed the Samian coinage) was probably not an imposition of imperialism but a “form of political and economic propaganda” (Powell 2002:71).  Martin (1985:199-206) has well argued that the minting of coins was not associated with political autonomy.  The issuing of the coin series then coincides with the period when the pro-Athenian democrats were in control of Samos, and ceased when the Samian civil war broke out.


coins from Samos

Photo taken by Peter Eyland of Silver coins July 2009

Photocopy of Silver coins from Samos

4. Samian civil war during the Ionian/Dekelian War (412-404 BCE)

Diodorus (13.34.2) wrote that when the Samians heard of the Sicilian disaster in 413/2 BCE, Samos changed allegiance from Athens to Sparta.  A fragment of an Athenian decree referred to “the Samians who brought in the Spartans” (IG i2 101 with Lewis BSA. xlix 1954, pp.29-31 cited by Meiggs, 1972:457).  This change of policy would presumably have put the oligarchs back in power. 

However, Thucydides account is to be preferred.  Thucydides wrote (8.2) that Athenian subjects felt that the time was right for to revolt because they did not believe that Athens would survive the coming Summer[20] ( ὡς τό γ' ἐπιὸν θέρος ὁῖοί τ' ἔσονται περιγενέσκαι ). Yet, Samos specifically was in the grip of civil war (8.21) with an uprising of the demos against the “ruling classes” ( ἐπανάστασις ὑπὸ τοῦ δήμου τοῖς δυνατοῖς ). Later Thucydides wrote (8.63) “the Samians had just had an anti-oligarchical revolution”[21] ( ἵνα μὴ ὀλιγαρξῶνται). Additionally, three Athenian ships co-operated in the stasis (8.21) which showed that the winning Samians remained committed to Athens and democracy.  

Thucydides (8.73) also wrote that about the time of the oligarchic revolution in Athens (411 BCE) some 300 Samians regarded the others as being “the demos” ( τοῖς ἔλλοις ὡς δήμῳ ὄντι ) and set out to attack them.  This was presumably a power play to keep in line with changed sentiments at Athens (Legon, 1972:156).  The attack was unsuccessful because the actions of pro-democracy Athenians.  Thrasybulus and Thrasylus wanted it clear that Samos was to be a democracy and made all the soldiers swear an oath against the Peloponnesians and the 400 (Thucydides, History, 8.75).

5. Lysander and Samos (406-4 BCE).

The Athenian generals Thrasyllus, Alcibiades and Conon used Samos as a naval base in their attacks against the Spartan generals Lysander and Callicratidas (Xenophon 1.2.1; 1.4.8,11; 1.4.23; 1.5.15,17; 1.6.16,25; 2.1.12,16).  Westlake (1979:28) wrote that before the battle of Arginusae, ten Samian ships joined the Athenian fleet apparently without the compulsion other ships required (Xenophon, 1.6.25).

Lysander completely defeated the Athenians at Aegos Potami.  Plutarch (Lysander 18.1) noted that at Delphi, Lysander erected statues of all his naval commanders in that battle.  Pausanias (10.9.10) in describing this monument named Cleomedes of Samos as one of the commanders.  Westlake (1979:27) concluded from this that he must have been from the exiles at Anaia.

Only Samos had held out against Lysander.  Fornara (2003:166) records a marble stele from Athens in 405 BCE.  It has an inscription describing the complete Athenian acceptance of Samians as Athenians.  That is, it gave equal Athenian citizenship ( ἰσοπολιτεία ) to Samos and independence ( αὐτονομίαν).  Cawkwell (1997:99) wrote: “No other state, as far as is known, received a reward so striking”, but went on the add that Thucydides (8.21) had already written that the demos had killed 200 citizens in the recent anti-oligarchical purge and exiled 400 others.  Cawkwell (1997:99) concluded “those in power had no option but to stay loyal to Athens”.

In 404 BCE Samos finally capitulated.  Xenophon wrote that every free man was allowed to leave with just one cloak (2.3.6).  Plutarch, (Moralia 233D) has Athens pleading with the Spartans for Athens to be allowed to keep ties with Samos[22]Lysander recalled the exiles to Samos and imposed an oligarchic government of ten men (Xenophon, 2.3.7).  Kagan (1991:413) noted that with Lysander’s imposition of oligarchies in many cities “so ended Sparta’s crusade to bring freedom and autonomy to the Greeks”.

Plutarch referred to Douris’ history[23] where he wrote that the Samian cities raised altars and sacrificed to Lysander as one of the immortals ( βωμοὺς αἱ πόλεις ἀνέστησαν ὡς θεῷ καῚ θυσίας ἔθυσαν ) and renamed the Heraia as the Lysandreia.  The luke-warm oligarchs had thus moved to a position of advantage.

By 366 BCE there was a Persian garrison on Samos (Hornblower 2002:253).  Timotheus expelled the garrison and made Samos a cleruchy by evicting the inhabitants (Diodorus, 18.18).


During the period of Persia expansion into the Greek world, Samos probably had a tyrant with a close oligarchy around him.  With wealth and naval power, Samos was initially an imperialist power and friendly towards the Persians.  After the Persians annexed Samos, the government style probably remained the same.  However, the people seemed to have been divided in their loyalties, between the Persians and the Greeks.  Some Samians fought well for the Persians and others initiated revolt against them.

After the defeat of the Persians by the Greeks at Plataea and Mycale, Samos joined the Delian league.  An oligarchic government ruled Samos from 479 to 440 BCE but Samos seemed to have remained an ardent supporter of Athens and probably took over some of its cult.  As an ally, Samos did not seem to suffer in any way under Athenian hegemony.  The numbers of Samos’ ships remained high, so the dues paid to the Athenian archê did not encroach on her wealth.  By providing a naval base in the East, Samos was a vital defence against both Persia and Sparta.  For Samos, Cawkwell’s comment (1997:93) seems appropriate:
“As empires go, the Athenian Empire was a good empire. All empires seek to secure peace, and Athens certainly did that.”

The “peace of Kallias” marked a change in relations between the Greeks and Persia, and it seems that the oligarchs on Samos attempted to expand and embrace Persian overtures.  The Athenians had to react quickly and decisively to re-establish the balance of power, and the outcome was a new democracy at Samos.  This democratic government stayed remarkably loyal to Athens and the ideals of democracy until the very end of the league.  The oligarchic exiles at Anaia worked just as hard on the other side in attempting to re-instate oligarchy.

After defeat, Athens responded to Lysander with pleas to keep links with Samos.  This clearly shows the value that Athens placed on the relationship with Samos and its two-way nature.  It would have been a feature that was present all through the time of their relationship.



Primary sources

Diodorus Siculus, Library, Translation by Oldfather, C. H., Harvard University Press, London, 1989.
Herodotus, The Histories, Translation by Waterfield, R. and notes by Dewald, C., Oxford University Press, St Ives, 1998
Pausanias, Guide to Greece, Volume 2, Translation by Levi, P., Penguin, Bungay, 1979
Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, Translation by Dryden, Encyclopaedia Britannica Great Books, Chicago, 1952
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Translation by Warner, R. and notes by Finley, M.I., Penguin, St Ives, 1972
Xenophon, Anabasis (The Persian Expedition), Translation by Warner, R.., Penguin, Edinburgh, 1952
_________, Hellenica (A History of My Times), Translation by Warner, R. and notes by Cawkwell, G., Penguin, St Ives, 1979

Secondary sources


Austin, M.M., “Greek Tyrants and the Persians, 546-479 B.C.”, Classical Quarterly, 40, 1990
Barron, J. P., The Silver Coins of Samos, Athlone Press, London, 1966
Burkert, W., Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, English copyright 1985, reprinted 2001
Cartledge, P., “Sparta and Samos: A Special Relationship?”, Classical Quarterly, 32, 1982
Cawkwell, G., Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War, Routledge, London, 1997.
Clinton, K., “Carol L. Lawton, Attic Document Reliefs: Art and Politics in Ancient Athens” - reviewed by Kevin Clinton, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, online at
Cook, R.M., “The Francis-Vickers Chronology”, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 109, 1989
Cowper, H.S., “Three Bronze Figures for Asia Minor”, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 29, 1909
Ehrenberg, V., From Solon to Socrates, Methuen, London, 1975
Fornara, C.W., Archaic Times to the end of the Peloponnesian War, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003
Fornara, C.W., and Lewis, D.M., “On the Chronology of the Samian War”, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 99, 1979
Hammond, N.G.L., “The Origins and the Nature of the Athenian Alliance of 478/7 B.C.”, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 87, 1967
Hornblower, S., “The Religious Dimension to the Peloponnesian War, or, What Thucydides Does Not Tell Us”, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 94, 1992
____________, The Greek World 479 – 323 BC, Routledge, King’s Lynn, 2002
How, W.W., and Wells, J., A Commentary of Herodotus, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1928
Kagan, D., The Fall of the Athenian Empire, Cornell University Press, Ithica, 1991
Legon, R.P., “Samos in the Delian League”, Historia, 21, 1972
Levi P, Atlas of the Greek World, Andromeda Oxford, Vitoria, 1994
Martin, T.R., Sovereignty and Coinage in Classical Greece, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1985
Mattingly, H., "The Athenian Coinage Decree", Historia, 105, 1961
__________, "Coins and Amphoras – Chios, Samos and Thasos in the Fifth Century B.C.", Journal of Hellenic Studies, 101, 1981
__________, "New Light on the Athenian Standards Decree (ATL II, D 14)," Klio, 75, 1993
Mitchell, B.M., “Herodotus and Samos”, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 95, 1975
Osbourne, R., “Archaeology and the Athenian Empire”, Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), 129, 1999
Phillips, D.J., “The Delian League”, Professional Development Conference, Macquarie University, 1999
Powell, A., Athens and Sparta, Constructing Greek Political and Social History from 478 BC, Routledge, Padstow, 2002
Ross Holloway, R. “Architect and Engineer in Archaic Greece”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 73, 1969, pp. 281-290.
Usher, S., The Historians of Greece and Rome, Bristol Classical Press, Exeter, 1969
von Reden, S., “Money, Law and Exchange: Coinage in the Greek Polis”, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 117, 1997
Westlake, H.D., Individuals in Thucydides, Cambridge University Press, London, 1968
____________, “Ionians in the Ionian War”, Classical Quarterly, 29, 1979
White, M., “The Duration of the Samian Tyranny”, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 74, 1954

Appendix 1: Herodotus and Samos

Herodotus was born in Dorian Halicarnassus “about the time of the Persian Wars” according to Dewald (in Herodotus, Introduction p.x).  Usher (1969:4) opted for a more precise 484 BCE.  Herodotus seems to have personal knowledge of neighbouring Samos (Mitchell, 1975:75; Dewald in Herodotus, Introduction p.x) as he describes it extensively (Herodotus, 3:60).  Though Douris’ claim[24] that Herodotus was a Samian citizen does not seem likely, the 10th century CE Suda lexicon may have preserved some genuine tradition when it has Herodotus staying on Samos for a while[25]Many of the events Herodotus wrote about, which concerned Samos, could have been in the living memory of both Herodotus and/or his oral sources. 

Herodotus was a story teller.  He did not expect his readers to believe everything that he recorded, because his method was to record what his sources told him: even when they differed, or he did not believe them (Herodotus, 2.123).  Of course, the oral sources themselves had their own particular biases, and they did not discern things in terms of economic and social pressures but explained them as being the result of individual motivations.  For example, Dewald (in Herodotus, Introduction: xxxii) commented on Herodotus, 5.83-9, that trade relations between Athens, Aegina and Epidaurus were probably more significant than the theft of the two wooden statues mentioned.  However, Herodotus ventured his own opinion from time to time, e.g. Scyllias did not swim underwater for 80 stades but used a boat (Herodotus, 8.8).  Herodotus looked for rational explanations (how one thing led to another in the grand scheme) but left the irrational in the hands of the gods, (e.g. the Trojans in 2.120).  He was probably collecting material and writing “The Histories” at Athens both before 448 BCE and down to the Ionian/Dekelian War (Hammond, N.G.L., 1967:41).  He also had public records available to him on inscriptions etc and other unmentioned literary sources.

Herodotus’ sympathies were pro-Athenian, as seen for example from the meeting at Samos just after the battles of Plataea and Mycale.  In discussing the admittance of the Ionians to the Alliance, Herodotus wrote: “eventually the Peloponnesians conceded” (9.106).  This implied that the Athenians had a victory.   Herodotus was also pro-Samian.

Appendix 2: Thucydides as a History writer

Thucydides was an Athenian.  He was born possibly c.460 BCE because he had to be about thirty to be strategos in 424 BCE (Finlay in Thucydides, Introduction, p.10).  He probably collected material “before of soon after 431 B.C.” (Hammond, N.G.L., 1967:41)[26]Thucydides wrote that he “lived through the whole of [the war]” at an age to understand it (Thucydides, 5.26) and attempted to find the truth of what happened by questioning and checking (Thucydides, 1.22).  He admitted that even in the recall of events at which he was present, there were problems remembering the “precise words” (Thucydides, 1.22) and he concluded that it was not possible to have a precise knowledge of the distant past or even the preceding generation (Thucydides, 1.1).  Despite this, Thucydides was as accurate as he could be and criticised Herodotus (though not by name) for getting some details wrong (Thucydides, 1.20-2).

As regards the Athenians, Thucydides wrote that they loved liberty, which for them meant the exercise of power over others (Thucydides, 8.67).  Such comments indicate that Thucydides saw beyond “immediate” causes to “true” causes.  For example, on the Peloponnesian war he wrote: “the true cause of the war … was the growing strength of Athens” with the consequent alarm of the Spartans (Thucydides, 1.23).  Thucydides also gave the Corcyran and Potidean incidents as the immediate cause.

Westlake (1968) has argued that Thucydides changed his mind on causation between the two halves of his work.  He reasoned that Thucydides moved from simply establishing “general principles about human behaviour” towards accepting that the “personality of leading individuals” was a factor that was just as important in determining the course of events (Westlake 1968:319).

Thucydides does not mention the gods.  This introduced a bias through his silence on events that were integral to his times.  For example, there is no mention of the Olympic games of 432 BCE, the moving of the bones of Theseus, or Eleusis etc (Hornblower, 1992:169-197).

Appendix 3: Thucydides on Chronology

In the modern world, the time of a historical event can be determined by its position on a fixed-point linear temporal scale.  Even though fixed points vary between cultures, the division between the current Common Era (CE) and the one before it (BCE) is a universal convention.  This expectation was not in the consciousness of most people during the period of the Athenian Archê, because cycles tended to dominate.  There was the cycle of the daylight hours, the cycle of available moonlight, and the cycle of the stars in relation to sunrise etc. 

The first major problem was that the cycles have no simple relationship, and the second was that there was a poor knowledge of fractions and their representation.  The period between recurring Moon phases (“lunations”) is currently 29.53 days (where each day is 24 hours long) and the Solar year is 365.2422 days in length.  Since 12 lunations are about 11 days short of a year, the lunar cycle is out of step by about a third of a lunation in each succeeding year.  The ratio of these periods is very close to image description, which means that every 19 years has almost exactly 235 lunar months.  The Athenian Meton (fl 432 BCE[27] ) made this fraction famous, but it was not generally used in year determinations.  When the next year started was often decided locally and arbitrarily, and so varied from place to place. 

Cultures seem to have made a decision between the Moon and the Sun cycles as the major determiners of time, either by abandoning regular year lengths or regular month lengths.  This sometimes led to the simultaneous use of different types of year.  (Cultures with Lunar calendars tended to start the day at evening and vice versa).

Implicitly, the cycles suggested no fixed point for time.  Even the count from the beginning of a king’s rule (regnal years) restarted with each succeeding ruler.  However, the short-term archons of Athens gave the possibility of a reportable sequence and the Olympic games implied a fixed point in principle, even though it was not precisely determined. 

Thucydides seems to have considered the archon sequence, (5.20) but since it was not universally known, he decided to use Solar years from a fixed point.  His fixed point was the beginning of the Peloponnesian war (Warner in Thucydide, 1972:22; Usher, 1969:24, etc). He also divided the Solar years into two seasons i.e. Summer and Winter (Thucydides, 5.20) because month names varied from city to city.  This was an innovation - a unique system, and Thucydides was proud of its accuracy.


Appendix 4: Xenophon as a History Writer

Xenophon was born near Athens c. 430 BCE.  He was about 25 years old in 402 BCE when he received a letter about the Persian expedition (Usher 1969:68; Anabasis 3.1, p.97).  He wrote a history of Greece from 411 to 365 BCE as a kind of continuation of Thucydides (Usher 1969:84).

He described events from an Athenian viewpoint with a hatred of Thebes (Cawkwell in Xenophon, Introduction p.16).  Cawkwell considered his “judgements were superficial”, his interests were “narrow” and his omissions were “astounding”.  He took little interest in the political situation (Usher 1969:86) and was more concerned with personalities than subterfuge (Usher 1969:87).  He tended to use dramatic scenes rather than speeches to present strategic or political situations (Usher 1969:88).


[1] The Greek island of Samos is located in the South-East of the Aegean Sea, close to the coast of Turkey. Within 25 km of Samos, were the mainland historical cities of Teos (N), Ephesus (NE), Priene (E) and Miletos (SE). It was also about 110 km by sea from Halikarnassos, the home of Herodotus. It was a centre of Ionian culture, traditionally connected to Athens (e.g. Thucydides 7.57) and possibly named for Saô, (the daughter of Nereus and Doris in Hesiod’s Theogony, l.243). It was famous for its sanctuary to Hera (Burkert, 2001:131 and White, 1954:41). Samian names included Aesop (c 620 to 560 BCE) who was the slave of Iadmon of Samos; Rhoecus, Theodorus and Telekles who were said to have invented casting statues in bronze (Cowper, 1909,195) and were reputed architects of the temple of Hera c.570 BCE (Ross Holloway, 1969:281-290); Anaximandros; Pythagoras (c. 569 – c 475 BCE); Ibycos and Anakreon (from Teos) who were poets in Polycrates’ court (Levi, 1994:108,109; and later there was Epicurus (c.341 – 270 BCE).

[2] Cited in White, 1954:38. Generally, Plutarch may have used Ephorus as a source (Hammond, 1967:43). He attacked Herodotus for "malice" (Laws, 1.1.5).

[3] Dewald’s notes in Waterfield’s translation of Herodotus’ Histories, p.635. White, (1954:36) gives 522 BCE for his accession

[4] Also cited in Cartledge,(1982:248)

[5] Samos is not explicitly mentioned among Darius’ subjects but would be among the "Ionians ­ across the sea" (Fornara, 2003:34)

[6] Similarly, Syloson was made tyrant of Samos by Darius (Herodotus, 3.140). Austin (1990:304) has suggested the complicated circumstances of his rise to power indicate that Herodotus used Samian sources. Theomestor and Phylakos were also singled out for benefactions (Herodotus, 8.85)

[7] The revised chronology of Francis and Vicks is not accepted. See Cook, (1989:164-70)

[8] As well as bringing water into the city during sieges, it served as an escape tunnel for Maiandrios when Darius captured the city and made Syloson tyrant

[9] Meiggs (1972:413-4) has argued cogently that Diodorus account (9:37) was dependent on Herodotus and Thucydides

[10] Osbourne has cited Cook, J.M., "The Problem of Classical Ionia" PCPhS 7:9-18, 1961 and The Greeks in Ionia and the East, London, 1962, p.122

[11] Meiggs cited Barron, J.P., "Religious Propaganda of the Delian League", Journal of Hellenic Studies, 84, 1964, pp.35-48

[12] Hornblower, (1992:183) accepts 440 BCE as the date for the "expropriation" of the sanctuary land.

[13] Fornara, 2003 (ATEPW), 91

[14] Diodorus used Ephorus in Books 12 and 13 (Hammond, N.G.L., 1967:43).

[15] Legon cited Busolt, G., Griechishe Geschichte 31, Gotha, 1897, pp.544-5

[16] Cornelius Nepos may have used Ephorus (Hammond, N.G.L., 1967:43).

[17] Cited in Fornara and Lewis, (1979:11)

[18] Cartledge, (1982:262) has argued the debate shows that even though Sparta had not agreed to help Samos at the time, the very act of calling the Congress had committed then to eventual war with Athens.

[19] The proposition that if a three barred-sigma was in an inscription then it had to be dated prior to 447 BCE.

[20] Westlake, (1979:10-11 ) argued that when the war dragged on and Tissaphernes worked for Persian subjugation of Ionian cities, the "second rank" Ionian cities did not want to support either Sparta or Athens but only survive

[21] Warner’s translation

[22] Cited in Legon, 1972:157

[23] Jacoby, F.,Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, Berlin, 1923, 76F26,71

[24] Jacoby, F.,Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, Berlin, 1923, 76F64. Cited by Cartledge (1982:245). Douris of Samos c.340-c.260 BC covered the period 371-c.281 BCE. See Droysen, J. G., ‘Zu Duris und Hieronymos’, Hermes 11 (1876) 458-65 and Kebric, Robert B., In the Shadow of Macedon. Duris of Samos, Historia Einzelschriften, Heft 29 (Wiesbaden 1977).

[25] "in Samos he practiced the Ionian dialect and wrote a history in nine books"

[26] Hammond cited his paper "The Composition of Thucydides History, Classical Quarterly, 34, 1940, p.150 and Adcock, F.E., "Thucydides in Book I", Journal of Hellenic Studies, 71, 1951, p.12


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