|Native name: |
General view of Delos
|Area||3.43 km2 (1.32 sq mi)|
|Highest elevation||112 m (367 ft)|
|Highest point||Mt. Kynthos|
|Pop. density||4/km2 (10/sq mi)|
|Criteria||Cultural: ii, iii, iv, vi|
|Inscription||1990 (14th session)|
The island of Delos (; Greek: ['ðilos]; Attic: , Doric: ), near Mykonos, near the centre of the Cyclades archipelago, is one of the most important mythological, historical, and archaeological sites in Greece. The excavations in the island are among the most extensive in the Mediterranean; ongoing work takes place under the direction of the French School at Athens, and many of the artifacts found are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Delos had a position as a holy sanctuary for a millennium before Olympian Greek mythology made it the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. From its Sacred Harbour, the horizon shows the three conical mounds that have identified landscapes sacred to a goddess in other sites: one, retaining its Pre-Greek name Mount Kynthos, is crowned with a sanctuary of Zeus.
Investigation of ancient stone huts found on the island indicate that it has been inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC. Thucydides identifies the original inhabitants as piratical Carians who were eventually expelled by King Minos of Crete. By the writing of the Odyssey, the island was already famous as the birthplace of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis (although there seems to be some confusion of Artemis' birthplace being either Delos or the island of Ortygia). Between 900 BC and 100 AD, Delos was a major cult centre where Dionysus and Titaness Leto, mother of the twin deities Apollo and Artemis, were revered. Eventually acquiring Panhellenic religious significance, Delos was initially a religious pilgrimage for the Ionians.
A number of "purifications" were performed by the city-state of Athens in an attempt to render the island fit for the proper worship of the gods. The first took place in the 6th century BC, directed by the tyrant Pisistratus who ordered that all graves within sight of the temple be dug up and the bodies moved to another nearby island. In the 5th century BC, during the 6th year of the Peloponnesian war and under instruction from the Delphic Oracle, the entire island was purged of all dead bodies. It was then ordered that no one should be allowed to either die or give birth on the island due to its sacred importance and to preserve its neutrality in commerce, since no one could then claim ownership through inheritance. Immediately after this purification, the first quinquennial festival of the Delian games were celebrated there. Four years later, all inhabitants of the island were removed to Atramyttium in Asia as a further purification.
After the Persian Wars the island became the natural meeting-ground for the Delian League, founded in 478 BC, the congresses being held in the temple (a separate quarter was reserved for foreigners and the sanctuaries of foreign deities). The League's common treasury was kept here as well until 454 BC when Pericles removed it to Athens.
The island had no productive capacity for food, fiber, or timber, with such being imported. Limited water was exploited with an extensive cistern and aqueduct system, wells, and sanitary drains. Various regions operated agoras (markets).
Strabo states that in 166 BC the Romans converted Delos into a free port, which was partially motivated by seeking to damage the trade of Rhodes, at the time the target of Roman hostility. In 167 or 166 BC, after the Roman victory in the Third Macedonian War, the Roman Republic ceded the island of Delos to the Athenians, who expelled most of the original inhabitants. Roman traders came to purchase tens of thousands of slaves captured by the Cilician pirates or captured in the wars following the disintegration of the Seleucid Empire. It became the center of the slave trade, with the largest slave market in the larger region being maintained here.
The Roman destruction of Corinth in 146 BC allowed Delos to at least partially assume Corinth's role as the premier trading center of Greece. However, Delos' commercial prosperity, construction activity, and population waned significantly after the island was assaulted by the forces of Mithridates VI of Pontus in 88 and 69 BC, during the Mithridatic Wars with Rome. Before the end of the 1st century BC, trade routes had changed; Delos was replaced by Puteoli as the chief focus of Italian trade with the East, and as a cult-centre too it entered a sharp decline.
Despite its decline, Delos maintained a sizeable population through the Roman Imperial period and into Late Antiquity. Evidence has been found of Roman baths, coins, an aqueduct, residential and elite houses, as well as multiple churches, basilicas and a monastery all from the 1st - 6th centuries AD. The pottery found indicates that produce, like wine and oil, continued to be imported from regional centres. There are also a number of wine presses amidst the ruins of the ancient city that date to this period, suggesting that the population at this time was engaged in considerable viticultural endeavour.
Delos was eventually abandoned around the 8th century AD.
Since 1872 the École française d'Athènes ("French School of Athens") has been excavating the island, the complex of buildings of which compares with those of Delphi and Olympia. In 1990, UNESCO inscribed Delos on the World Heritage List, citing it as the "exceptionally extensive and rich" archaeological site which "conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port".
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