The Delphinion, a sanctuary of Apollo Delphinios, played an important role in Milesian life for a long time. It is located on the southeastern edge of the Lion Bay, on the Holy Road and immediately adjacent to the Ionian Hall. The long period for which the sanctuary was in use, including several phases of renovations and reconstructions from the archaic period up until the Roman Empire, underscores its great importance.
The building complex of the Delphinion cannot be reconstructed precisely in its early, monumentalizing phase, which took place during the late Archaic period (end of the sixth century BCE). Along with large parts of Miletus, the Delphinion was destroyed by the conquering Persians in 494 BCE and only rebuilt once the city was liberated a few years later, around 479/78 BCE. The subsequent Classical phase of the sanctuary offers more tangible archaeological evidence. The new building was erected on the area of a complete city block (insula) and characterized by a single-nave column halls in the north and south. There is no evidence that the sanctuary contained a temple or idol during its pre-Hellenistic phases. At the time, religious activities appear to have been focused on the altar of Apollo.
Much later, after Alexander the Great’s conquest, the complex was massively enlarged towards the east, now taking up 2 insulae. In the beginning of the first century BCE, a rotunda was integrated into the center of the courtyard complex, probably for a newly donated idol. Around the same time, the existing altar seems to have been turned slightly so as to face the rotunda.
The complex was modified again around 3 centuries later, when the halls were demolished and rebuilt at a higher ground level and with different dimensions. This may well have been a necessary response to rising groundwater levels and resulting floods.
The incarnation of the sanctuary which current visitors see is from the Roman Empire. At that time, the complex spanned an elongated rectangular area that took up 2 city blocks (insulae) including the road separating them. Flanked on all 4 sides by column halls opening towards the inside, it featured a spacious, central square. It is accessible via steps in the western hall.
The remnants of the altar to Apollo are particularly interesting. Some of its building elements are exhibited at the Altes Museum in Berlin today. What has been preserved of its foundation consists of a nearly square altar block base, with a frontal step to the west granting access. This indicates that worshipers approached the altar from the west and made sacrifices towards the east. Around the altar, there were further monuments.
Although the architecture of the delphinium does not seem particularly impressive, it is considered Miletus’ main temple. As well as Apollo, some other deities were worshiped here. Inscriptions call the Delphinion the “most prominent place of the city,” effectively identifying it as the religious and political center of Miletus. The fact that the Delphinion was the starting point of the Holy Road and the point of departure of the state procession to the Temple of Apollo at Didyma further corroborates this status.
Aside from its religious and ritual character, the Delphinion functioned as the state archive, as shown by the more than 150 inscriptions found inside the sanctuary. Documents such as resolutions and contracts were published here. Today, we also know that the prytaneion (the seat of the municipal government) was based at the Delphinion. With its many functions, the Delphinion was a highly sociopolitical as well as religious center of Miletus.
Text: Marieke Bohn
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