SAMOTHRACE (săm'ō-thrās, Gr. Samothrakē, Samos of Thrake). An island in the NE Aegean, mountainous and rising to over 5,000 feet (1,563 m.). Its population was Samian, and it was associated with the Athenian maritime confederacies. Samothrace was the home of the mystery cult of the Cabiri, twin gods of Phrygian or Phoenician origin, which was in wide vogue during the Hellenistic age and included Roman notables among its initiates. Paul called here on his first voyage to Europe (Acts.16.11).

SAMOTHRACE săm’ ə thrās (Σαμοθράκη). An island in the NE Aegean Sea.

It is located directly S of the Hebrus River of Macedonia, N of Imbros, and NE of Lemnos. It is very mountainous. The central peak, Mt. Fengari (5,577 ft.), is the most conspicuous landmark of the N Aegean. From it Poseidon was said to have surveyed the plains of Troy. Homer called it Poseidon’s island (Iliad 13. 12).

The island was virtually uninhabited until the 7th cent. b.c., because of its hostile coast. Pliny (NH 4. 23) says that it became an anchorage for ships plying the N Aegean because they had to anchor somewhere, due to the hazards of sailing at night.

The cults of the great mother, Cybele, and of the Cabeiri flourished on the island. During Hel. times the cult of the Cabeiri rivaled that of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis. Philip of Macedon and his wife, Olympias, were initiates as were many prominent Romans later. The Cabeiri were twin gods of unknown origin. Herodotus assigned them to the Pelasgians, the traditional settlers of Greece. Others consider them of Phrygian or Phoenician origin.

The island has been excavated by French and Austrian teams in the 19th cent. and more recently by New York University. The sanctuary of the great gods, a rotunda dedicated to Queen Arsinoë II of Egypt and a propylon of Ptolemy II have been uncovered. The most famous find was the “Winged Victory of Samothrace,” now in the Louvre, which was erected in a fountain to commemorate a naval victory of the Rhodians, in c. 190 b.c.

The Apostle Paul anchored off Samothrace on his first journey to Europe (Acts 16:11).


K. Lehmann, Samothrace, A Guide to the Excavations and the Museum (1955).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

An island in the Aegean Sea, South of Thrace opposite the mouth of the Hebrus River, and Northwest of Troas. The island is mountainous, as the name indicates (see Samos), and towers above Imbros when viewed from the Trojan coast. The summit is about a mile high. It is mentioned in the Iliad (xiii.12) as the seat of Poseidon and referred to by Virgil Aeneid vii.208.

The island was always famous for sanctity, and the seat of a cult of the Cabeiri, which Herodotus (ii.51) says was derived from the Pelasgian inhabitants (see also Aristophanes, Pax 277). The mysteries connected with the worship of these gods later rivaled the famous mysteries of Eleusis, and both Philip of Macedon and Olympias his wife were initiated here (Plut. Alex. 3).

Probably because of its sacred character the island did not figure to any extent in history, but in the expedition of Xerxes in 480 BC, one ship at least of the Samothracian contingent is mentioned as conspicuous in the battle of Salamis.

The famous "Victory of Samothrace" (now in the Louvre) was set up here by Demetrius Poliorcetes circa 300 BC, and was discovered in 1863. Since that time (1873-75), the Austrian government carried on extensive excavations (see Conze, Hauser and Benndorf, op. cit.).

In the New Testament the island is mentioned in Ac 16:11. From Troas, Paul made a straight run to Samothrace, and the next day sailed to NEAPOLIS (which see) on the Thracian coast, the port of PHILIPPI (which see). At the northern end of Samothrace was a town where the ship could anchor for the night, and on the return journey (Ac 20:6) a landing may have been made, but no details are given. Pliny characterizes the island as being most difficult for anchorage, but because of the hazards of sailing by night, the ancient navigators always anchored somewhere if possible.


See under SAMOS.

Arthur J. Kinsella