The sanctuary of the Great Gods
Samothrace in ancient times was the island home of the Mystery Cult of the Great Gods, whose initiation rites promised divine protection at sea, and the opportunity to ˮbecome both more pious and more just and better in every respect than they were before.ˮ The identity and nature of the Samothracian Gods remain enigmatic. Ancient writers often referred to them as the Kabeiroi, but in Samothrace they were simply called the Gods or the Great Gods. Initiation was available throughout the sailing season. At Samothrace, as at Eleusis, there were three stages of initiation: the preliminary myesis, the telete and the epopteia; however, the issue of the central ritual at Samothrace is open.
In the Thracian Sea, only the mountainous pyramid of Athos can rival the dignity of the mountain mass of Samothrace, and it is notable that they both have a similar importance in history. In antiquity, Samothrace was the island home of the Mystery Cult of the Great Gods. According to mythology, it was on Samothrace that Zeus encountered Electra, one of the seven Pleiades; from their liaison, the mythical siblings Dardanos, Iasion and Harmonia were born. Later, Cadmus, in search of his sister Europa,traveled from Phoenicia to Samothrace, where he found Harmonia, whom he abducted and later married. In historical times, Alexander the Great᾿s parents, Philip II and Olympias, methere when they were being initiated; and Perseus, Macedonia᾿s last king, sought refuge here after the battle of Pydna in 168 BC while pursued by the Romans. The content of the Mysteries᾿initiation rites was secret. Today, their power is signaled by the deployment of the innovative buildings that once framed the rites within the sacred landscape and make the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothrace one of the most important expressions of Hellenistic sacred spacein the ancient Mediterranean. The identity and nature of the Samothracian Gods remain enigmatic. Ancient writers often referred to them as the Kabeiroi, but in Samothrace they were simply called the Gods or the Great Gods. An Alexandrian writer, Mnaseas, gives us their names: Axieros, Axiokersa, Axiokersos, whom he associates with the Eleusinian triad Demeter, Persephone and Hades. In addition, he names a fourth figure, Kasmilos, whom he connects with Hermes. Initiation was available throughout the sailing season (April-November).