The Principality of Samos

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I remember sitting at the airport waiting to be picked up by a friend, thinking what would Pythagoras make of his island, now filled with tourists and a constant stream of visitors from Turkey (just 1.6 km away at its closest point)? I wondered if I would find the inspiration to add numbers and philosophise about life as he once did.

After being whisked away to a nearby beach followed by taverna food then a night of dancing, I quickly forgot the intellectual side of the island. I soon became accustomed to the nature and rivers that I was taken to. Then a ferry crossing to the immaculately preserved ancient Ephesus in Turkey (wish was there in 100 BCE when it was a thriving metropolis) and the picturesque church that greeted me outside my window every day. You see, this is one of the most inspiring and historical places to be in Greece, and one with a great story and its own “independence!” In fact as a Lesvian, they even have a town called Mytilene, what else could I want?

As kids, we had been taught that the Turks had control of Greek speaking lands for four centuries. As a young un, we didn’t learn the term Ottomans until my latter high school and university days, along the same time I discovered that it wasn’t just the Ottomans who stayed uninvited in Greece; I soon discovered that Venetians, Catalans, Genoans, Arabs (Crete, Cyprus), Latins, Serbians, Bulgarians, Lombards, Seljuks (precursors to the Ottomans) and more had taken various parts of Greek speaking lands since at least the twelfth century. The Ottomans had been growing in the Balkans since the back end of the 1300s.

By the time Sultan Mehmet took Constantinople in 1453 and Trebizond in 1460, the area of what is now Greece and Turkey was divided amongst many of those listed above. It was a whose who of the medieval world, joined by the Lusignans in Cyprus and the funky looking Knights of St John in the Dodecanese.

Of course, by the 1700s, most of Greece, Cyprus and Anatolia was taken by the Ottomans, who were at their peak in terms of size and military strength. Yet, just like the mythical village of Asterix and Obelix in ancient Gaul, some Greek territories were independent. The Mani for example were not subdued until the 1700s – no Turkish speaking tax collector or soldier would be stupid enough to enrage the Mani, would they?! The commune of the Zagorisians were left to their own devices by the Ottomans for centuries until the early 1800s. It was that era when the power of the Ottomans began to be shaken by the rising Greek forces and an inability of the Sultan to adapt to changes in the new world order with the rise of Russia, Prussia (German) and the growth of British and French superiority.

As all these powers began wrestling each other for global influence and reach, a small island in the Aegean managed to gain a level of freedom which few other territories controlled by the Ottomans, or indeed other empires, were able to experience.

If you lived in the era before the Greek Revolution, you may have blinked and missed what Samos meant to the islanders and to ancient history; this was a giant of an island.

The island produced some of the earliest sculptors, philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, philosopher Epicurus, astronomer Aristarchus of Samos, (Earth revolves around the sun concept), poet Aeschrion, astronomer Conon, writer Agathocles and the list goes on in Samos… In fact, word restriction by the publisher means I kept the list of names brief. This island contains some of the best writers who continued to flourish post Delian League and into the Hellenistic Era.

The island was a bastion of Ionian culture, and a leader of the Greek world order due to its strategic position next to Asia Minor. A strong navy and plenty of wealth made Samos a great place to pursue the arts and academia. Samian prosperity only really declined during the Greek speaking Byzantine era after the 400s AD as more trade routes flowed through Constantinople rather than Samos. During the Greek Revolution in the 1820s, Samos defeated the Ottomans and Egyptians on numerous occasions, however they were forced in 1834 to become a semi-independent tributary of the Sultan by the Allies before final reunification with Greece in 1913.

That period between the 1820s to 1913 is interesting. A Greek island that had gained a form of independence against the vastly superior Ottomans and maintained its own flag. The people of Samos were famous for destroying a Turkish naval boat in the early stages of the Greek Revolution and halting a naval invasion. The Sultan allowed them self-government as long as annual tribute was paid. The ruler of the island was appointed by the Ottomans; a Greek given the title of Prince of Samos. He ruled from the port of Vathi, along with a small Parliament that was established that included a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Stephanos Vogorides became the first Prince until 1849, when the islanders revolted against his harsh tax collection.

George Konemenos arrived in 1851. He was a reformer who built schools in each village and modernised local bureaucracy and the judiciary. In turn he was replaced by John Ghikas in 1855 who encouraged education for all, resulting in a more cultured and educated island. One that Pythagoras would have enjoyed. Many would go abroad to Constantinople or Greece to attain further education, returning to the island when studies were completed. They brought with them fashion and ideas from wherever they came from.

Miltiades Aristarchis came in 1859 and used engineering to create a better capital. He was overthrown in 1866 in an uprising, though not before Ottoman troops had made a venture to the island to support the Prince.

A number of rulers followed who would commence benign in their rule before morphing into a difficult leader, including Pavlos Mousouros, Konstantinos Adosidis, Konstantinos Vagianis, Ioannis Vithynos (another to be overthrown), Michail Grigoriadis, Andreas Kopasis (assassinated 1912).

Grigorios Vegleris was the nineteenth and final Prince in 1912, holding the record of the shortest reign of just four months. With the commencement of the Balkan War, exiled Samian patriot with the name of Themistokles Sophoulis, returned to the island to declare a union with Greece which was ratified a few months later. At this point there were about sixty thousand people living on the island.

Here ended the Principality of Samos. What has ended is the beauty of the island and its historical importance to Greece.

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