Samothraki is an island in the northern part of the Aegean Sea measuring 21km east-west and 13km north-south and is mentioned only once in Scripture, in Acts 16:11 where it is called Samothracia.

Samothracia and the famous monument Nike

Paul had received a vison at Troas in which a man from Macedonia had appealed to him to assist in the work and “loosing from Troas” writes Luke, “we came with a straight course to Samothracia and the next day to Neapolis (modern day Kavala)” (Acts 16:11).

Samothraki has the tallest mountain in the Aegean Islands, Mt Fengari at 1611m, and this is the place where mythical Poseidon was said to have watched the battle of Troy.

The island is one of natural beauty with abundant tree cover and copious streams owing from permanent springs high up in the mountain. The main city was on the north side of the island and was most likely where the apostle’s ship moored for the night.

The most significant part of the island’s history relates to the religious complex next to the ancient city, known as the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. These gods were considered to be much more powerful than the mainland Greek gods and the whole religious framework had become a secret religion in which only the initiated were permitted to understand. Many famous people were initiated into its membership, including Philip II who met his wife Olympias there (the parents of Alexander the Great)1.

This secretive cult was open to all ages, slave or free, men and women; indeed people from all nations. Initiates were promised hope of a good afterlife and a better current life. It is said people lived a more relaxed life after initiation because they no longer feared death.

During the initiation ceremony candidates dressed in white and were given a lamp to participate in a ritual washing, sacrifices and dances. The second stage is thought to have contained a confession of sins and a ritual cleansing in the holy of holies with its recited words and symbols.

The religion was active at least by the 7th century BC and continued until the closure of pagan temples in the 5th century AD. It was particularly active during the Greek and Roman periods with various Greek kings contributing buildings there.

The most famous monument from the island is the Nike (pronounced Nicky) of Samothraki which is now in the Louvre in Paris. Nike is the personi cation of victory portrayed as a winged woman and is shown in battle reliefs hovering above the victors in battle. This amazingly life-like marble statue in the Louvre was positioned overlooking the ancient temple complex standing on the prow of a ship. This figure was borrowed by Rolls Royce and is displayed on the bonnets of its cars today.

It must have been interesting for the apostle Paul to discuss with the surrounding people the religious beliefs and practices of the day and share with them the truth of God’s Word. Paul was tasked with the work of unveiling the mystery of God as he wrote to the Ephesians: “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph 3:3-6).The Greeks in Samothraki were all about hiding mythological secrets—Paul was all about revealing the truth of God’s secrets to any who would hear.

Reference

  1. Plutarch, Life of Alexander II, 2.