The island of Delos
The island of Delos (which in ancient Greek means clear, brought to light) was first inhabited during the 3rd millennium BC by the Carians. According to the myth, Leto haunted by the rage of goddess Hera, found shelter on this island and gave birth to Apollo and Artemis,. The Mycenaeans were the first to identify the island as a sacred place of worship, but it was under the Ionians, who, in 1100 BC, made it flourish and develop. By the 7th century BC Ionians made it the most important religious centre and centre of the Ionic Amphictyonia (religious and political union of cities of a specific area, where a temple was commonly worshiped). Apollo’s sanctuary attracted pilgrims from all over Greece and the Mediterranean; every four years, the ‘Delia’ were celebrated, in the god’s honour. During the Persian Wars the island, being a consecrated place, was respected and not destroyed.
Since 478 BC, the year when the Persian forces departed from the Aegean, Delos became the seat of the Athenian Alliance, where its treasury was kept. The Athenians allied with the Ionians,for various political, economic and military reasons. Under the fear of a potential future Persian attack, and based on their naval supremacy, the Athenians became the leaders of the newly established union of the majority of the Greek cities. All members of the Alliance took an oath, agreeing to share common friends and enemies.
Athenians, in their attempt to consolidate this fragile union, considered that by making Delos the seat of the Alliance, would stress the Panhellenic nature of the undertaking. They created the ideological framework upon which they secured the sustainability of the Alliance. The religious implication of such an action minimised the image of the Athenians as the sole leaders, created a feeling of unity since all cities shared the same religious beliefs, and revealed the Alliance as the sacred union under the protection and guidance of Apollo, the god of creativity and light. In order to stress the above, they purified Delos by transferring the existing tombs to the small nearby island of Rheneia and forbade births and the burning of the dead, showing their respect for the holy island.
When Delos came under Roman rule, it was declared as an ‘international’ harbour and no taxes were imposed on its citizens. Roman merchants and bankers established trading companies, which were placed under the auspices of several deities (Hermes, Apollo and Poseidon). This resulted in an intense trade activity and, consequently, in the island’s economic prosperity. A large number of foreigners inhabited Delos throughout that period (Romans, Phoenicians, Syrians, Egyptians, Palestinians and Hebrews).
During the Mithridates’ wars against the Romans in the 1st century BC, the island was raided and gradually declined. As a sacred place though, it has never been forgotten and travellers visit it until today.
Plate found in Delos
(from a Rhodos pottery shop,
2nd half of the 7th century BC)
The Alliance included the Ionian and Aeolian cities of Asia, the islands adjacent to the coast from Lesbos to Rhodes, 35 cities from the Hellespont, 35 from Thrace, most of the Cyclades, Euboea, except the city of Carystus, and 24 from the region of Caria.