🔼The name Samothrace: Summary
- The Joy Of Fragmentation
- From (1) שמח (sammah), to be high or rejoice, and (2) perhaps the verb רסס (rasas), to fragment.
🔼The name Samothrace in the Bible
The name Samothrace belongs to an island just off the north-west coast of Anatolia, in sight of Troas and the ancient city of Troy. Samothrace is Greece's fourth highest island, and rather significantly, Poseidon the Earth-Shaker "sat marveling at the war and its conflicts, high on the topmost peak of wooded Samothrake" (Iliad.13.11, in the graceful translation of Peter Green).
Samothrace was never noted for any significant achievement or favorable geographic qualities, but rather because it was the home of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. In this large temple complex a unique pantheon of pre-Greek deities was venerated and for centuries an associated mystery cult was maintained. Despite (or perhaps because) it being pre-Greek, the complex and its religion was very famous throughout the known world.
Long before it became Greek, the island was populated by colonies of various native tribes, and ultimately the Thracians, who peopled the eastern Balkans (modern Bulgaria, up to the Bosporus). In the 7th century BC, Greeks moved in, reportedly (albeit disputed by some) from Samos, which would help to explain the name. The Persians conquered it in the sixth century, the Greeks in the fifth, the Macedonians in the fourth. In 168 BC, Rome defeated Macedon in the Battle of Pydna, because of which Samothrace became independent. That lasted until the reforms of Vespasian in 70 AD, the same year in which Jerusalem fell. But that means that when Paul and friends landed on Samothrace, it was still free. And that was a rare feat in those days.
The island is mentioned only once in the Bible, namely in Acts 16:11, where Luke reports that Paul and company left Troas to go straight to Samothrace and continue the next day to Neapolis.
🔼Etymology of the name Samothrace
The name Samothrace combines the names Samos and Thrace. The first occurrence of the Thracians is in the Iliad (2.844), where they are counted among the allies of Priam, king of Troy. It's unclear where the name Thrace (or Thrax) may have come from, but Josephus declared that the term Thracians emerged when the Greeks corrupted the original ethnonym Thirasians, who were named after Thiras (Ant.1.6), or the Biblical Tiras, son of Japheth, son of Noah (Genesis 10:2). Unfortunately, it's also unclear where the name Tiras comes from but perhaps from the verb רסס (rasas), to fragment, which may in turn refer to scientific inquiry. Note that our modern word "science" comes from the Greek word σχιζω (schizo), to break, split or divide:
The verb רסס (rasas) means to moisten. Noun רסיס (rasis) means drop (of dew). And identical noun תירס (rasis) means fragment, which may stem from a whole separate root or may simply be the same word.
The first part of our name either derives from the name Samos or shares its root, namely the verb שמח (sammah), to be high in the sense of to be uplifted or to rejoice:
The broadly attested root שמח (samah) means to be high or uplifted or simply to be joyful. Adjective שמח (sameah) means joyful or merry. Noun שמחה (simha) means joy or gladness.
The name Samothrace comes from Samos Of Thrace, which in turn may means something like The Joy Of Breaking Things or The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out and refer to scientific inquiry. The most famous son of Samothrace was Aristarchus of Samothrace, who became a very famous Homeric scholar as well as the chief librarian in Alexandria from 153 to 145 BC.