Samothracia, or Samothrace
Samothra'cia, Or Samothrace
(Σαμοθράκη), a famous island in the northeastern part of the Aegean Sea, above the Hellespont, with a city of the same name. It was anciently called Dardana, Leucania, and also Samos; and, to distinguish it from the other Samos (q.v.), the name of Thrace was added, from its vicinity to that country. Hence, Samos of Thrace, Σάμος Θράκης, and by contraction Σαμοθράκη, Samothrace. Samothrace is about twenty miles in circumference, and about twenty miles from the coast of Thrace. The island was celebrated for the mysteries of Ceres and Proserpine, and was a sacred asylum (Diod. Sic. 3, 55; 5, 47; Ptolemy, Geog. 5, 11; Pliny, Hist. Nat. 4, 23). In ancient times it was the resort of numerous pilgrims, who regarded it as invested with peculiar sanctity. It was the seat of the worship and mysteries of the Cabiri — mysteries in which persons of the highest rank and consideration deemed it an especial honor to be initiated, and which have been a favorite subject for investigation among modern students. Samothrace is mountainous, and the central peak is the highest point in the northern part of the Aegean, and inferior only to Mount Athos on the mainland. Homer places upon it the throne of Neptune; it towers high over Imbros, and the plains of Troy are distinctly visible from its summit. Homer describes Jupiter as watching from hence the progress of the Trojan war. The traditions of Samothrace extend to the remotest antiquity; they refer to a period when the Hellespont, the Propontis, and the Bosphorus were but a series of inland lakes, and the Euxine was entirely shut away from the Aegean. It is the opinion of Niebuhr (Ancient Ethnography and Geography, 1, 182) that Samothrace was the center of the Pelasgic religion. Perseus took refuge here after his defeat by the Romans at Pydna. In later times Samothrace had, according to Pliny, the privileges of a small free state, though it was doubtless considered a dependency of the province of Macedonia. The island is now called Samothraki, frequently corrupted into Samandrichi (ἐς τὸ μανδίκι). It is but thinly peopled, principally by fishermen, and in many parts is covered with forests. It contains only a single village. The mountain is described in the Missionary Herald for 1836, p. 246; comp. Richter, Wallfahrt, p. 438 sq.; Smith, Dict. of Class. Geog. s.v.; Conze, Reise auf d. Inseln d. Thrakischen Meers (Berl. 1859).
The mention of this island in the account of Paul's first voyage to Europe (Ac 16:11) is, for two reasons, worthy of careful notice. In the first place, being a very lofty and conspicuous island, it is an excellent landmark for sailors, and must have been full in view, if the weather was clear, throughout that voyage from Troas to Neapolis. From the shore at Troas, Samothrace is seen towering over Imbros (Homer, 2, 13, 12, 13; Kinglake, Eöthen, p. 64), and it is similarly a marked object in the view from the hills between Neapolis and Philippi (Clarke, Travels, ch. 13). These allusions tend to give vividness to one of the most important voyages that ever took place. Secondly, this voyage was made with a fair wind. Not only are we told that it occupied only parts of two days, whereas on a subsequent return voyage (Ac 20:6) the time spent at sea was five: but the technical word here used (εὐθυδρομήσαμεν) implies that they ran before the wind. Now the position of Samothrace is exactly such as to correspond with these notices, and thus incidentally to confirm the accuracy of a most artless narrative. Paul and his companions anchored for the night off Samothrace. The ancient city, and therefore probably the usual anchorage, was on the north side, which would be sufficiently sheltered from a southeast wind. It may be added, as a further practical consideration not to be overlooked, that such a wind would be favorable for overcoming the opposing current, which sets southerly after leaving the Dardanelles, and easterly between Samothrace and the mainland. See Conybeare and Howson, Life and Ep. of St. Paul, 1, 282 sq., Lewin, St. Paul, 1, 200.