Samos is an island in the eastern Aegean Sea only 1.6 kilometres from what is now called Turkey and is only mentioned in the Bible once, in Acts 20:15, when Paul was travelling to Jerusalem.

The island itself is 43 kilometres long (east to west) and 13 kilometres wide (north to south) with the second largest mountain in the Aegean (Mount Kerkis) at 1424 metres high, offering magnificent views across the water. It is roughly 40 kilometres north-east from Patmos and 65 kilometres south-east from Chios and today is a popular tourist spot known for its pleasant beaches and impressive ruins.

Whilst there is little recorded about the origins of settlement on Samos, we know that trade and shipping had provided the city-state with great wealth and triggered a cultural awakening in the 6th century BC. Its most famous ruler was Polycrates who ruled from 538 to 522 BC and was known as both a fierce warrior and an enlightened tyrant.

He built the most powerful navy in the world and encouraged advances in engineering technology.

Herodotus says Polycrates of Samos was the first Greek ruler to understand the importance of sea power. His navy started with 100 penteconters (50-oared ships) and later had triremes (three rows of oars) which is the first historical reference to this kind of ship used in war.

Polycrates ordered the architect Eupalinos (pron. Ev-pa-linos) to direct water from the rich spring of Agiades on Mount Ambelos to the ancient city-state, now known as modern Pythagorion. Using simple measuring equipment, geometry, and complex mathematics, he decided to create a tunnel of just over one kilometre by starting from both sides of the mountain at the same time to speed up the process, a fact that impressed the well-travelled Herodotus. The two crews used hammers and chisels to carve the tunnel through the hard limestone and met in the middle with very little deviation.

The entire project was a significant drain on Samos’s treasury, requiring eight to ten years to complete, the excavation of 12,500 tonnes of rock, and 5000 sections of clay pipe. But once finally completed, abundant fresh water began to flow through the city’s fountains. The aqueduct continued to operate for 1100 years and has been recently restored.

Pythagoras, the famous philosopher and mathematician, was born on the island of Samos in 570 BC. His mother was a native of Samos and his father was a merchant from Tyre. He studied with the priest of Memphis in Egypt, who was famous for his wisdom; after Memphis, he studied at the temples of Tyre and Byblos in Phoenicia. It is most likely he was in Egypt when he came up with his geometric principles that would lead to his famous theorems taught in schools today.

It was said Pythagoras also founded a religious society which had very strict rules of conduct. The inner circle of the society was called Mathmetikoi. As a member of the society, you had to live at the school, have no personal possessions, and had to follow a vegetarian diet.

According to Greek mythology, the goddess Hera (Roman name: Juno) was born in Samos. She was the wife of Zeus and queen of the ancient Greek gods, representing the ideal woman because she constantly battled with her husband, Zeus’, infidelity! She became the goddess of marriage and the family. The temple of Hera, six kilometres from the city, was one of the biggest temples in the Greek world at the time, measuring 109 metres x 55 metres; although today only one pillar at half height is still standing.

One of the items found amongst the temple ruins was a frontal part of a bronze horse bridle with four goddesses on it and an Aramaic inscription on the back: “A gift of Hadad for our Lord Hazael”. It was dated to the 9th century BC and was most likely a donation to the temple of Hera. Hazael was the king of Syria that Elisha anointed. He smote Israel in the days of Jehu the grandson of Nimshi (2 Kings 10:32), smote Gath, and was paid by Jehoash not to come to Jerusalem (2 Kings 12:17-18).

What an amazing confirmation of Scriptural history! The item is on display in the Archaeological Museum of Samos in Vathy.

As indicated earlier, Samos is only mentioned in the Bible once in Acts 20:15 when Paul is travelling to Jerusalem: “And we sailed thence, and came the next day over against Chios; and the next day we arrived at Samos, and tarried at Trogyllium; and the next day we came to Miletus” (though in older texts Trogyllium is not mentioned). Rotherham’s says, “on the next day, we thrust aside into Samos, and, on the succeeding day, we came into Miletus”. The ESV says, “the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus”. So, it seems they stayed overnight in the harbour of what is now called Pythagoreio (previously Tigani; and in ancient times, Samos) on the south side of the island and continued on their journey the next day.

We can imagine the topics of discussion that night in Samos, where Paul and his companions might have commented on the futility of Hera worship, the similarity perhaps between the aqueduct on Samos and Hezekiah’s tunnel in Jerusalem, and maybe even the ineffectiveness of the school of Pythagoras to transform Greek society compared with the power of the gospel. With the impressive backdrop of the city behind him, Paul would have turned his thoughts towards Ephesus and made preparation to warn the ecclesia of the coming dangers that lay ahead.