She begins by exploring a graveyard of ancient shipwrecks in the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, then enjoys the tradition of a warm welcome on the island of Chios. Next, Bettany heads to the island of Lesbos, visiting the ancient Greek Theatre of Mytilene and taking a dip in the island’s thermal waters. Finally, Bettany stops on Samos, an island known for both its ancient naval power and its famous sixth-century BC resident, mathematician and philosopher – Pythagoras.
Greek Island Odyssey with Bettany Hughes episode 1
Pherecydes, native to the Aegean, wrote that the island was occupied by the Leleges, aboriginal Greeks who were reported to be subjected to the Minoans on Crete. They were eventually driven out by invading Ionians. Chios was one of the original twelve member states of the Ionian League. As a result, Chios, at the end of the 7th century BC, was one of the first cities to strike or mint coins, establishing the sphinx as its symbol. It maintained this tradition for almost 900 years.
In the 6th century BC, Chios’ government adopted a constitution similar to that developed by Solon in Athens and later developed democratic elements with a voting assembly and people’s magistrates called damarchoi.
In 546 BC, Chios was subjected to the Persian Empire. Chios joined the Ionian Revolt against the Persians in 499 BC. The naval power of Chios during this period is demonstrated by the fact that the Chians had the largest fleet (100 ships) of all of the Ionians at the Battle of Lade in 494 BC. At Lade, the Chian fleet doggedly continued to fight the Persian fleet even after the defection of the Samians and others, but the Chians were ultimately forced to retreat and were again subjected to Persian domination.
The defeat of Persia at the Battle of Mycale in 479 BC meant the liberation of Chios from Persian rule. When the Athenians formed the Delian League, Chios joined as one of the few members who did not have to pay tribute but who supplied ships to the alliance.
Pythagoras of Samos was an ancient Ionian Greek philosopher and the eponymous founder of Pythagoreanism. His political and religious teachings were well known in Magna Graecia and influenced the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and, through them, Western philosophy. Knowledge of his life is clouded by legend, but he appears to have been the son of Mnesarchus, a gem-engraver on the island of Samos.
Modern scholars disagree regarding Pythagoras’s education and influences, but they do agree that, around 530 BC, he travelled to Croton in southern Italy, where he founded a school in which initiates were sworn to secrecy and lived a communal, ascetic lifestyle. This lifestyle entailed a number of dietary prohibitions, traditionally said to have included vegetarianism, although modern scholars doubt that he ever advocated for complete vegetarianism.
In ancient times Samos was an especially rich and powerful city-state, particularly known for its vineyards and wine production. It is home to Pythagoreion and the Heraion of Samos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes the Eupalinian aqueduct, a marvel of ancient engineering.
Samos is the birthplace of the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, after whom the Pythagorean theorem is named, the philosophers Melissus of Samos and Epicurus, and the astronomer Aristarchus of Samos, the first known individual to propose that the Earth revolves around the sun. Samian wine was well known in antiquity, and is still produced on the island.