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The aqueduct of Eupalinos at Samos

Samos is located in the east Aegean Sea, just off the coast of Turkey, separated from Asia Minor by the narrow Strait of Mycale. It is one of the largest Greek islands, with an area of 477 km2, and endowed with lush vegetation, beautiful bays and abundant spring water.

In classical antiquity, Samos prospered as a leading commercial centre of the then known world. Its location, opposite the coasts of Asia Minor and the activities of its habitants as seafarers and merchants gained it economic prosperity and political power in the latter years of 7th c. and particularly in the 6th c. BC. Its capital rested on the slopes of Ambelos mountain, dominating a natural harbour and the narrow strip of sea between Samos and Asia Minor.

That is the time that Herodotus refers to when visiting Samos in 460BC (link), admiring the most ingenious engineering feats in Greece, on the island:

  • The breakwater seawall, protecting the harbour from the south winds of the winter (restored and extended in the 19th c. AD),
  • the temple of Hera with its massive, palimpsestic architectural features, and
  • the tunnel of Eupalinos channelling water through the mountain to the city. Herodotus comments extensively on the last project, naming the project engineer, Eupalinos (= he who solves problems easily), son of Naustrophos from Megara. Many labourers, probably slaves, must have been used for its excavation.

The prosperity of Samos reflected in these projects is commonly associated with the reign of the tyrant Polycrates (538–522 BC), whose court, in the context of the physiocratic philosophy of Ionia, hosted the intelligentsia of the Greek world. Typically, tyrants at that time were interested in channelling resources inwards, rather than on offerings in famous sanctuaries, catering for the needs of their people and their public image, tending on the infrastructure (e.g. the breakwater seawall, the fourth temple of Hera nearby or the massive ring of fortification walls surrounding the capital).

Edifices related to water management, catering for the expanding cities in the late 6th c. BC archaic Greece, were among their main concerns, as Theagenis’ fountain in Megara, Periandros’ fountain in Corinth, the Peisistratοs’ aqueduct in Athens or the aqueduct of Flerio in Naxos island.

However, archaeological research on Eupalinos aqueduct concluded that the structure was ready by 550 BC, thus it must have been part of another construction project on the island, possibly contemporary to the third temple of Hera by the architects Rhoikos and Theodoros (c. 570-560 BC), completed before Polycrates gained power.