Placed at the mouth of the Meander in the south of the province of Ionia on the western coast of Asia Minor, the ancient city of Miletus was the oldest and the most powerful of the twelve Ionian cities in Asia Minor. Its four harbours made it a major player in the commerce of the ancient world. It was also repeatedly captured by envious invaders.
Miletus also founded over ten colonies on the shores of the Marmara and the Black Sea, while its commercial activities extended as far as Egypt. Its schools made a very great contribution to the intellectual and scholarly development of the Mediterranean world and one cannot talk of Miletus without mentioning the great contributions to geometry and science made by Thales, one of the greatest scholars produced by the city.
Miletus is renowned as the first city to which the principles of modern town-planning were applied. The grid plan introduced by Hippodamos was later to form the basis of town-planning in all Roman cities. As a result of the silting caused by the alluvium washed down by the Meander the city now lays at a distance of several kilometres from the sea. The fact that Miletus formerly possessed four separate harbours well indicates the important role played by the Meander in the history of the city.
The Miletus alphabet was accepted as the normal script employed in writing ancient Greek.
It was mentioned by Homer in The Iliad (II.868). The city eventually declined due to the silting up of its harbours.
Prehistoric period. The Minoan and Mycenaean Period
There was sparse habitation in the Neolithic period (7000-3100 BC), mainly in the area of the sanctuary of Athena, to the west of the hill of the stadium.
Evidence of first settlement at the site has been made inaccessible by the rise of sea level and deposition of sediments from the Maeander. The first available evidence is of 3500-3000 BC.
In the Early Bronze Age Miletus was an important centre of the culture of western Anatolia, which reveals its link with the Cyclades, the Dodecanese and Troy.
Recorded history at Miletus begins with the records of the Hittite Empire and the Mycenaean records of Pylos and Knossos, in the Late Bronze Age. The prehistoric archaeology of the Early and Middle Bronze Age portrays a city heavily influenced by society and events elsewhere in the Aegean, rather than inland.
Beginning at about 1900 BC artefacts of the Minoan civilization acquired by trade arrived at Miletus.
There are several conflicting mythological traditions about the foundation of the city. According to Pausanias, the first inhabitants were native Carians under Anax and Asterios followed by Cretan colonists under Miletus, who had been sent by King Minos. The Minoans coexisted with the Carians and inhabited the city, which changed its name from Anaktoria to Miletus.
According to Strabo, Miletus was first founded and fortified above the sea by Cretans, where the Miletus of older times is now situated, being settled by Sarpedon, who brought colonists from the Cretan Miletus and named the city after that Miletus, the place formerly being in possession of the Leleges.
Aristocritus of Miletus refers to the very old traditions of the Milesians and says that Miletus was a son of Apollo who fled to Caria in order to escape the envy of King Minos and founded a city named after him.
Almost immediately the Minoan settlement was succeeded by the Mycenaean settlement, which is restricted mainly to the zone including the sanctuary of Athena and the Harbour of the Theatre. Several buildings have been excavated, while there is material evidence of a large-scale production of Mycenaean pottery. Vases and figurines were also imported from Argolis.
In the heyday of the Mycenaean kingdoms of mainland Greece (15th - 13th BC), Miletus was reported in the chronographs of Hittite kings as an ally of the Achaeans (Ahhiyawa) under the name Milawanda. In c. 1320 BC the city supported an anti-Hittite rebellion of Uhha-Ziti of nearby Arzawa and as a result, was partially burnt. In the last phase of the Bronze Age the city was again under the Hittites, as evidenced by the Hittite type of fortifications adopted. Homer reports Miletus as a Carian city that fought on the side of Troy. It was completely destroyed c. 1185-1180 BC and was abandoned.
Geometric Period. Miletus must have been colonised c. 1050 BC by Ionian colonists. According to mythological tradition, Neleus, son of the king of Athens Kodrus, who came from Pylos, was the founder of the city. The Ionian colonists massacred all the male inhabitants they found there (Carian and Cretan) and married their women.
The descendants of Neleus established a monarchy but gave it up in the 10th - 9th century BC, when the conflict between the two successors to the throne, the Neleid cousins Leodamas and Phitres or Amphitres, caused a strange trial: each pretender of the throne led a part of the Milesian army against a different enemy of the city. Leodamas won and became king. Phitres revolted and, at the head of his own force, killed Leodamas and attempted to accede to the throne. The sons of Leodamas, however, took vengeance for their father’s death. It was then that Epimenes was chosen as an aesymnetes. He exterminated the band of Phitres’ sons and established aristocracy.
The Archaic Period. There are written evidence, though very scant, that Miletus was a key factor during the conflicts among Greek cities already from the late 8th century BC. It was a permanent enemy and competitor of neighbouring Samos. Thus, in the well-known war between Eretria and Chalcis over the control of the Lelantine Plain (8th BC), the Milesians joined the Eretria side because Samos had joined Chalcis. In the first half of the 7th century BC the Milesians allied with Eritrea against Naxos, while towards the end of the same century Eritrea became the enemy of Miletus, which had joined forces with Chios.
Later on, when the King of Lydia Alyattes attacked the land of Miletus, the Chians helped the city. The Lydian Kingdom was against Miletus already from the years of Gyges, Ardys and Sadyattes – the predecessors of Alyattes. However, the conflict came to a head when Alyattes unsuccessfully tried for 12 consecutive years to break down the resistance of the Milesians and their tyrant Thrasybulus. A treaty of alliance, favourable to Miletus, was finally signed (608 or 598 or 594 BC).
In the same period or shortly later Miletus allied with Samos against Priene. In any case, c. 530 BC, when they were again in conflict with Samos and its tyrant Polycrates, the Milesians were helped by their ally Mytilene and possibly other cities of Lesvos.
The treaty Thrasybulus signed with Alyattes must have been in effect until the years of Croesus, as concluded by the text of Herodotus, who reports that when Cyrus occupied the Lydian Kingdom, he signed a treaty through which he granted the Milesians the privileges they already enjoyed. As a result, Miletus did not join the Ionians in their attempt to resist the Mede Harpagus, the general of Cyrus in Asia Minor.
The political history of Miletus in the 7th and 6th century BC is more difficult to describe: aristocracy was overthrown by the tyrant Thrasybulus c. 615 BC. He was succeeded by two tyrants, Thoas and Damasenor, who aimed to politically eliminate the most notable aristocratic families.
In 513 BC the Milesians under their tyrant Histiaeus participated in the Scythian expedition of Darius. As a reward, Darius granted him several territories of Thrace, where he settled after leaving his relative, Aristagoras in his stead in Miletus. However, later on the Milesians sided with the Ionian Revolt of Thrace & Cyprus against Persians but were defeated in the naval battle of Lade which led to the suppression of the revolt. As punishment the Persians completely destroyed Miletus; most male population was slaughtered, women and children were sold into slavery, but some part of the population was taken to Ambe of the Red Sea. In 494 BC the city was captured by the Persians, while the neighbouring highlands were ceded to the Carians.
Classical Period. Whatever destruction and ostracism of Pertains was the city continued to exist.
After it was freed from the Persians, the city was rebuilt in accordance with the grid plan of the famous Hippodamus of Miletus and joined the Delian League. The rapid recovery and the excessively high contribution the city had to pay (10 talents) shows that classical Miletus, without being able to rival its archaic predecessor, remained an important city of Asia Minor.
The early & mid years of the 5th century BC the social and political conflicts arose. A dispute of 470-440 BC divided the oligarchic side into pro-Athenians and pro-Median. In the mid-5th century BC the Athenians intervened in a conflict between the oligarchs and the democrats and, supported the former side. An inscription of 450-449 BC reports the measures Athens took when it intervened in the affairs of Miletus, including the guard posted in the city.
In 441 BC Miletus and Samos fought for the influence over the territories of Priene. The Samians won but the Milesians caused the intervention of Athens, which favoured them and established democracy on Samos. It is presumed that democracy had already been established in Miletus at the time.
The entire 5th century is a succession of revolts, interventions, wars, alliances and destruction.
By the end of the 5th century Miletus was once again under the Persian control and 334 BC was one of the most powerful fortified places of the Persian defence against Alexander the Great. The Macedonian king had to besiege the city by land and water. After the heavy losses when the city finally fell to the Macedonians, Alexander did not destroy the city but overthrew the pro-Persian oligarchy and restored democracy.
The Roman Imperial Period. The history of the city in the early centuries of the Roman Empire is largely unknown. Only a few incidents connected with the city, which must have been inferior to Pergamum, Ephesus, Smyrna and Sardis, are reported. It known that Tiberius (26 AD) refused to make it the centre of the imperial cult, a title won by Smyrna.
However, his successor Caligula (37-41 AD) and his wife were worshipped by the city. This cult did not last long because of Caligula’s death and the subsequent “damnatio memoriae” of the emperor. The title of neokoros must have been restored by Commodus (180-192 AD). Elagabalus (218-222 AD) awarded the second official title of neokoros to the city, which Miletus lost again because of the “damnatio memoriae” of the emperor in the years of Alexander Severus.
The city was visited by Trajan (114 AD), who inaugurated some new projects, such as the Nymphaeum. The city participated in the Panhellenion, the league of the Greek cities established by Emperor Hadrian.
The main benefactor of the city was Annia Galeria Faustina, daughter of Antonius Pius (Eusebes) and wife of Marcus Aurelius, who visited the city and stayed there for a while (164 AD). Among her donations were the construction of the magnificent baths named after her and the completion of the Roman theatre. The steadily increasing number of worshippers swarming into the sanctuary of Apollo in Didyma, which became very famous in the Imperial years, certainly contributed to the economic prosperity of Miletus.
Excavations in Miletus started by French archaeologists in 1868 but a significant research has been carried out since 1899 under the auspices of the German Archaeological Institute.
The territory of Miletus, the land of “Milesie”, extended over an area of 2,000 sq. km. It included four parts: 1- Miletus, which was an island in the prehistoric period and was later transformed into a triangular peninsula, with a length of 1.8 km from north to south and a maximum width of 1.4 km. On the peninsula, or very near to it, there is a range of hills: Humeitepe is to the north, while Kaletepe dominates around the so-called Harbour of Lions, to the south-west of Humeitepe. The low hill of the stadium is to the south of the second hill. Finally, the highest hill, Kalabaktepe (57 m) is to the south-west of the peninsula; 2- Mount Grion, to the east; 3- the low valley of Maeander River, controlled by the Milesians as far as the outskirts of the land of Magnesia; and 4 - the islands of Miletus, Leros, Patmos, Lade, Farmakoussa and Lepsia (modern Lipsi). The flow of the Maeander River gradually turned Miletus from a coastal into a continental city, while the island Lade became a hill.
The territory of Miletus included a series of settlements: 1- Assesos (Mengerevtepe); 2- Teichioussa; 3- Ioniapolis (Mersinet Iskelesi); 4- Didyma or Branchidai; 5- neighbouring Myous, which was annexed by Miletus in the 3rd century BC.
Important Landmarks of Miletus
The Theatre of Miletus with horseshoe-shaped cavea, and stage-building of many different periods was built into a hill between the Bay of Lions and the Theatre Harbour ca. 300 – 133 BC.
The cavea of the theatre originally consisted of three tiers each containing twenty rows of seats; the lowest tier is divided into five cunei or wedges by stairs, the second tier into ten wedges, and the upper tier had twenty wedges. This uppermost tier was destroyed with the construction of a mediaeval citadel in this location. The stage building underwent numerous transformations from the fourth century BC to the late third century AD; a significant feature of the plan of the theatre is the incorporation of the rear wall of the stage building into the circuit of the city walls.
The stage building and the cavea of the theatre underwent significant transformations over time. Although the preserved remains date to the Roman period, the Hellenistic phases of construction are evident. The first phase dating to ca. 300-250 BC was built along the line of the city wall.
During the second phase there were four doors in the lower story and three in the upper story. The proscenium at this phase is reconstructed as being wider than the stage building, and having a facade articulated by 16 Doric columns.
The third phase of construction, dated by the excavators to sometime before the mid-second century BC, resulted in significant changes to the stage building. This change was probably prompted by the alteration in dramatic action which occurred at this time; the Theatre at Priene also experienced similar renovations to accommodate the demands of New Comedy.
The final Hellenistic stage building was probably necessitated by the need to provide an adequate logeion. Again, the entire stage building was widened.
Stone steps which led up to the logeion, and which were originally thought to belong to the fourth construction phase, are now known to date to the Roman period.
The theatre in its Roman phase represented one of the largest in Asia Minor, with a seating capacity for 15,000 people and is the best preserved building of the city. It was remodelled, possibly in the years of Nero. The two-storey skene had a luxurious facade (scaenae frons) made of colourful marble and rich architectural and sculptural decoration. The floor of the orchestra was covered with red marble slabs. It was converted into an arena and was used for gladiator combats. Thus, the first tiers of seats were removed and a protective parapet was constructed.
New works were carried out towards the late 2nd century BC, when the skene had three floors, with the last floor being decorated with a relief frieze depicting deities and Eros hunting wild beasts. The imperial box (tribunal) in the middle of the cavea was constructed in the same period and was based on four columns.
The Theatre Harbour was located on the west part of the Miletus peninsula. The architectural remains of the south side, which have been studied, confirm that the harbour was used from prehistoric times and intensively so until later antiquity. Some of the most important public buildings of Miletus were built around it: the Theatre, which gave the harbour its name, was situated on the north side, the Gymnasium and the Stadium of Eumenes ΙΙ and the West Agora.
Walls. Miletus was first walled during the Late Helladic period (1350-1050 BC). A 75-metre section of the wall south of the temple of Athena, and four bastions have been studied. The wall was 4 metres thick, made of brick with a stone foundation.
Reinforced by towers, the wall of the archaic period (7th - 6th century BC) surrounded the whole peninsula of Miletus and the hill of Kalabaktepe. Traces of the archaic wall have been preserved in the area of the Theatre Harbour and the southern end of the Theatre hill. Two phases can be discerned according to the masonry employed: an older one, in which the polygonal system of building was used, and a more recent one (late Archaic) in which, rectangular stones were used.
The wall was rebuilt twice during the Classical era: once in 479 BC during the reconstruction of the city after the Persian wars, and once again after the conquest of Miletus by Alexander the Great in 334 BC. Only the Sacred Gate survives from the first phase.
A part of the Hellenistic wall, made of marble and limestone slabs, is preserved in the Theatre Harbour, and another part underneath the Roman stage Theatre. Located at the south-east end of the wall, the so-called Lion Gate, the second monumental structure after the Sacred Gate, belongs to this phase of the wall.
The south cross wall was built in the 1st century BC to protect the city from Mithridates's raids. It was founded along the Sacred Gate of the Classical wall, exactly where the Milesian peninsula began. It was 500 metres long, with sloping faces, and was reinforced by towers built every 60 metres. The last modifications of the wall were executed in the 3rd century AD (Gothic wall), and the 6th century AD, during the reign of Emperor Justinian (527-565 AD).
The Sacred Gate was on the southern wall of Miletus. It was called Sacred because it marked the beginning of the Sacred Way connecting Miletus to the sanctuary of Apollo at Didyma.
The monumental gate underwent many architectural phases. Initially, during the archaic period, it was 5 metres wide and flanked by two almost square towers. In Hellenistic times, the gate was reconstructed on the foundation of the older one.
During the early Imperial period, the older gate underwent changes. During the reign of Marcus Traianus (100 AD), the Sacred Gate was rebuilt. This is also when the Sacred Way was repaired.
Τhe Lion Harbour was situated between the Theatre hill and the north part of the Humei Τepe hill, and penetrated deep into the north part of the Miletus peninsula. It was the main military port of the city. It was named after the two sizeable marble lions adorning the narrowest point of its entrance since the 3rd century BC. The lions are not in their original position today; the one is in a very good condition and the other was found broken into pieces.
A long L-shaped Doric stoa (32 m), which was built in the Hellenistic years and accommodated shops and storehouses, was built on the waterfront. In the Roman years there were two significant monuments in the southwestern corner of the Harbour: the Large and the Small Monument.
The North Agora, the main agora of Miletus, developed on the south side of the harbour after the Persian wars. In the south-eastern corner of the Harbour there was a monumental gate built in the 1st century AD, which offered access from the harbour to the city. Only the foundations of this luxurious construction have been preserved. The remains of the Hellenistic and Roman Delphinium, the starting point of the annual sacred procession that made its way to the temple of Apollo in Didyma, have also been preserved in the south-eastern corner of the Harbour of Lions.
The Temple of Athena is the most ancient temple of Miletus. It was built during the first half of the 5th century BC in the peninsula south of the Theatre Harbour, where the West Agora was later built. Athena was worshipped in this area -as in other cities of coastal Asia Minor- from the Geometric period onwards.
The temple was erected on an artificial terrace accessible through two staircases on its north and south sides. The strong foundation of the temple, the only one surviving today, was made of slabs of gneiss, coming from the mountain-range of Latmos, located east of the Milesian peninsula. Scarce fragments have been preserved from the walls of the temple, which makes the graphic reconstruction of its original form difficult.
Measuring 18x35 metres, it was orientated from south to north. It consisted of a cella and a pronaos, surrounded by a pteron of Ionic order. The east and west colonnades were made up of ten columns, the north one of seven, and the south one of six columns.
The Archaic temple underwent alterations during the Classical Period, as indicated by the preserved parts of the architrave. Building modifications on the surroundings of the temple changed its appearance radically during late antiquity. Studies of building remains in the environs of the temple of Athena confirm that the area had been in use from Prehistoric times.
Faustina Baths – the Baths of the imperial era, which consisted an integral part of the everyday life in the roman cities, have been found scattered all over the town plan of Miletus. Among them, the Baths of Faustina situated at the north of the theatre hill near the homonymous port and the stadium of the city, stand out. The complex is well preserved; therefore its particular spaces can be discerned.
The main characteristic of the baths’ architectural design is the asymmetrical arrangement of the chambers due to the peculiar circumstances and the limitations dictated by the building area. The baths’ plan was adjusted to the morphology of a terrain of an inaccessible area, where once was a river bed. The edifice was not included in the Hippodameian town planning.
A large square palaestra occupied the western part of the complex and constituted the main area of physical exercises. The courtyard was surrounded by a single-storey stoa with marble monolithic unfluted columns with composite capitals, which carried an architrave with elaborate sculptural decoration.
The bath block was developed on the eastern part of the complex and it was composed of eight rectangular vaulted halls of different dimensions, arranged parallel and perpendicular to each other to form an irregular and compact whole, enveloped from the north and the east by smaller service areas. The heated and cold rooms had pools and luxurious construction with revetments and marble floors, while sculptural figures completed the decoration of the interior spaces.
The bath rooms were arranged behind the long basilica hall (ambulacrum) 80 m length, which constituted a common architectural feature in the architecture of the roman thermae and served as meeting hall or as changing room. On its long sides, there were 13 rooms (4 m high and 2-3 m wide) equipped with beds for relaxation.
To the north of the ambulacrum there was a square apsidal hall with elaborate architectural and sculptural decoration, which served the imperial cult. Statues of Apollo and the Muses, which decorated the niches opened at the hall’s wall, are now exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul.
The route of the bather was from the cold room (frigitarium) placed to the east of ambulacrum, followed by the warm room (tepidarium) and then entered the hot room (caldarium), the large central hall of the baths, measuring 27.30 x 14.85 m, which included square and semi-circular swimming pools (natatio), and finally reached the sweat chambers at the southeast corner of the complex. Inside the cold room (frigitarium, measuring 6,50 x 12 m) there was a pool with water (natatio, frigida) decorated with statues, which served as fountains. The most remarkable among them was the statue of a river god, likely the personification of the Maeander, fragments of which have been found during the excavations. The heating system was situated at the east and north part of the complex. From there the heating was channelled through hypocaust and clay pipes to the central hall of the baths and the other rooms of the complex.
The Faustina baths were built around the mid- 2nd century in honour of the empress Faustina, the wife of Marcus Aurelius, who visited Ephesus (though not Miletus ) in 164 AD. The complex was rebuilt approximately during the 3rd century.
Miletus in Bible
Miletus was one of St. Paul's stops on his Third Missionary Journey. According to Acts 20:16-38, Paul was on his way back to Jerusalem, and in a hurry because he wanted to reach the holy city by the day of Pentecost. Coming from Troas, he bypassed Ephesus but paused at Miletus and called for the elders of Ephesus to come meet him there.
His lengthy farewell speech to Milesians included a quote of the otherwise unknown saying of Jesus, It is more blessed to give than to receive. He said he would probably not see them again, for the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. The elders wept to hear this, they prayed and embraced, and then brought him to the ship where he sailed for Jerusalem. Paul's speech on this occasion is his only recorded sermon delivered exclusively to believers.
Another visit to Miletus is suggested by 2 Timothy 4:20, which describes Paul leaving Trophimus in Miletus due to illness.
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