The now almost uninhabited small Cycladic island was one of the largest religious centers in antiquity as the shrine of Apollo. The imposing temple district shaped the former center of Delos. In the 5th century BC The member of the First Attic League advanced to an important trading power. Today the island is considered an ancient open-air museum, in which countless ruins remind of the former religious and economic importance.
Delos Island: Facts
|3.6 km² large island as an ancient open-air museum, in Greek mythology the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis; Excavations of the holy precinct around the sanctuary of Apollon, the holy precinct around the holy lake, the ancient residential town with theater precinct and the cult facilities on Mount Kynthos; outstanding buildings (ruins) such as the Doric Temple of Seven Statues, the processional street with what was once 16 archaic marble lions, the See-Palaestra (wrestling school), the “House of Comedy Players” and the “House of Masks”
|Delos Island, southwest of Mykonos Island
|important center of the veneration of Apollo
Delos island: history
|1400-1200 BC Chr.
|around 1000 BC Chr.
|first ionic settlement
|in the 7th century BC Chr.
|Center of the Ionian Island Federation; Place of the Delic Games
|477 BC Chr.
|Establishment of the Attic-Delian League based on Delos
|454 BC Chr.
|Transfer of the federal treasury to Athens and the loss of importance of Delos
|around 420 BC Chr.
|Construction of the Seven Statues Temple
|168 BC Chr.
|Delos under Roman protectorate
|around 166 BC Chr.
|Construction of the granite palaestra
|88 BC Chr.
|Conquest by King Mithridates of Pontus, subsequently loss of importance
|Start of excavations by the French Archaeological School of Athens
|Backfilling of the Holy Lake
No place for the dead
When the German traveler Ludwig Roß visited the island of Delos in 1835, he came across a “completely desolate island, a great sad sea of rubble.” Despite systematic excavations in the past two centuries, only fantasy, myth and narrative are able to revive the former meaning of this tiny island in our mind’s eye. It is an island about which the poet Pindar, of whom, among other things, victorious songs for the winners of the Olympic and Isthmian competitions have been handed down, once wrote: »Mortals call you Delos, but the Olympic gods call you blue, shimmering star in the earth. ”
Delos owes its importance to the famous Apollo shrine. The cult of Apollo was probably brought to the island by Ionian seafarers at the turn of the first millennium BC, although the settlement and cult traditions of the island can be proven to date back to the third millennium BC. The inclusion of this deity from Asia Minor into Greek cult life is portrayed in mythology in its own way: According to this, Leto, who was expecting a child from Zeus and was persecuted by the angry Hera, wife of Zeus, found refuge in Delos. At the foot of Mount Kynthos she gave birth to Apollo under a palm tree. This is also reported by Homer’s famous Apollo hymn.
The first of three temples of Apollo dates from the seventh century BC. And the former refuge of seafarers developed into a religious center and a central trading and sea power in the Aegean.
Ancient evidence shows that Delos hosted splendid celebrations and competitions with dances, songs and fistfights, the so-called “Delia”, to which participants from all over the Aegean and from Asia Minor came. And certainly these visitors stood in awe of the huge statue of Apollo, whose base inscription proclaimed: “I, statue and base, are made of the same marble.” In later centuries it was cut to pieces and scattered to the wind – one foot in London, one Hand in the Museum of Delos still exist. Of the nine seated marble lions, guardians of Apollo, at least five have been preserved. Even today they exude a certain “oriental serenity” and majestic calm.
After Athens had taken over Delos, not only were two new temples of Apollo built next to the old one, but magnificent treasure houses of Greek states were also built on the edge of the cult area. The first cleansing (catharsis) of the island, as required by an oracle, also took place at this time. From then on, it was forbidden to bury the dead on the island, and the graves in the vicinity of the Temple of Apollo were initially relocated. Delos developed into a place beyond growth and decay.
A second catharsis took place in 426 BC, with the removal of all graves from the island and the transfer of the dead to the neighboring island of Rhéneia. And besides, from now on it was forbidden to give birth to children on the island.
Even after independence from Athens, Delos was able to assert itself as a central place of worship. Egyptian sanctuaries as well as places of worship of Syrian deities emerged as a trading center and meeting point for the most varied of nationalities. The Jewish community also owned a synagogue on Delos.
Delos reached its peak in the second and first centuries BC. The remains of splendid private houses with rich mosaic decorations still bear witness to the former importance of this trading center. The largest slave market of that time took place here; sometimes thousands of slaves were sold in a day. Delos was never to recover from the destruction of the island in the first century BC. As early as 170 AD, according to payhelpcenter, the Greek Pausanias, to whom we owe the travelogue “Periegesis tes Hellados”, is said to have met only a few temple guards on Delos.