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Samothrace

Samothrace (Turkish Semadrek), an island in the north of the Aegean Sea, nearly opposite the mouth of the Hebrus, and lying north of Imbros and northeast of Lemnos.

The island is a kaza[?] of the Lemnos sanjak[?], and has a population of 3,000, nearly all Greek. It is also called Samothraki. Though small, the island is, next to Mount Athos, by far the most important natural feature in this part of the Aegean, from its great elevation: the group of mountains which occupies almost the whole island rises to the height of 5240 feet (about 1,600 meters). 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 the plain of Troy and the contest between the Greeks and the Trojans.

This mountainous character and the absence of any tolerable harbour -- Pliny, in enumerating the islands of the Aegean, calls it "importuosissima omnium" -- prevented it from ever attaining to any political importance.

It did, however, enjoy great celebrity from its connection with the worship of the Cabeiri, a mysterious triad of divinities who appear to have been a remnant of a previously existing Pelasgic mythology.Herodotus expressly tells us that the "orgies" which were celebrated at Samothrace were derived from the Pelasgians (ii. 51). The only occasion on which the island is mentioned in history is during the expedition of Xerxes (480 BC), 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).

The eight foot tall marble statue of Nike now known as "Winged Victory of Samothrace" (created c. 190 BC), was discovered in pieces on the island in 1863 by French archaeologist Charles Champoiseau[?], and is now in the Louvre.

The ancient city, of which the ruins are called Palaeopoli, was situated on the north side of the island close to the sea. Considerable remains still exist of the ancient walls, which were built in massive Cyclopean style, as well as of the sanctuary of the Cabeiri, and other temples and edifices of Ptolemaic and later date.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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