Zeytintepe and Değirmentepe
The Değirmentepe and Zeytintepe hills are located about 2 kilometers to the southwest of the theater. They were already far from the city during the Hellenistic period; their location is much closer to the archaic settlement on Kalabaktepe. Değirmentepe (“mill hill”) was named after the foundations of an old mill found to the east of its hilltop. Zeytintepe means “olive hill,” and you only need to take a walk around the area to see where the name comes from: the slopes of both hills are covered in olive groves.
Photo: J. Zurbach
The hilltop of Zeytintepe, viewed from Değirmentepe to the west.
Photo: J. Zurbach
The eastern half of Değirmentepe viewed from the north.
The necropolis on Değirmentepe.
The largest currently known necropolis of Miletus stood on the slopes of Değirmentepe. A necropolis is a large burial area, a type of cemetery. It literally translates to “city of the dead.” The necropolis on Değirmentepe was in use from the late Bronze Age until the time of the Roman Empire—an extraordinarily long period of time. Some finds from more recent digs suggest that the site was used as a necropolis in the intervening years, too, in particular, during the Classical and Hellenistic period.
Most of the burial sites discovered here are typical Mycenaean chamber tombs. They are almost circular and have an elongated entrance called dromos. Simple stones set into the door frames were used to lock the chambers. The burial sites from the Roman Empire are loculi, chamber tombs consisting of niches of varying depths, each of which contains a single grave. Old graves that had not been used in a long time were often reopened and adapted to house new bodies. Some of the graves excavated for this purpose can still be seen on the eastern slope of the hill. However, because Miletus was inhabited for such a long time, however, many graves were robbed from late antiquity onward.
Text: Jan-Marc Henke / Lisa Steinmann / Julien Zurbach
E. Forbeck, Die Nekropolen von Milet. Die Grabungen von 1901 bis 1909 und die Arbeiten der Jahre 1993 bis 1996 (Dissertation Ruhr-Universität Bochum 1998 [Bochum 2016]).
J. Zurbach, Milet, „ville-monde“ de l’Antiquité, 2020.
The Temple of Aphrodite on Zeytintepe
Miletus’ archaic temple of Aphrodite was located on the hilltop of Zeytintepe. Seafarers approaching the city would have spotted this defining landmark from afar. Today, the hill still offers impressive views. It was a perfect spot for the cult of Aphrodite, worshiped as patron of mariners in the Milesian colonies of the Black Sea and in the important trading base of Naucratis in Egypt.
The hill must have been accessible from the north coast, where archaeologists found an inscription of a dedication to Aphrodite dated to the Roman Empire. Apart from that, the temple of Aphrodite in Oikous is mentioned in many epigraphs and inscriptions on vessels (graffiti). A poem from the third century BCE describes the location of the temple. Oikous must have been a small settlement in the area, but it has not been found yet. The first votive offerings to Aphrodite have been dated to the seventh century BCE. A large number of such offerings and other finds in the temple, all dated to the middle of that century, suggest that the temple had countless visitors and was highly popular.
Although no buildings from that time are known, many votive offerings were found. They survived because they were buried in the ground inside the temple in antiquity: it was not permitted to remove gifts to the gods and goddesses from the sacred district. In particular, the bothros (a pit for old offerings), carved more than 17 meters deep into the rock, yielded many of these finds. These numerous offerings indicate that the temple was destroyed or restructured around 630 BCE. Burn marks on many of the votive items suggest that the building may have been constructed from a fragile material and was destroyed in a fire.
On the hilltop, a larger area was leveled to build the foundation for the late archaic temple; some of its building blocks have survived in their original place. The temple itself, however, appears to have been used as a quarry later, which led to its complete removal. Many shattered fragments suggest a larger marble structure, and corresponding figurative decorations have been found. Adjacent to it, other building remnants from the archaic period are scattered along the partially terraced and raised slopes of the hill.
Sacrifices in the temple mostly involved sheep and goats, and its archaic terracotta figures mostly depict female forms. In addition, many of the discovered offerings had been imported or made by travelers from the entire Mediterranean; this is a good indication of the temple’s prominence, wealth, and significance.
Although the cult of Aphrodite survived the destruction of Miletus by the Persians in 494 BCE, no new temple was built. Later finds suggest that only few people visited the site. In the late Hellenistic period, its name appeared in the novel Callirhoe by the poet Chariton of Aphrodisias.
Text: Lisa Steinmann
R. Senff, Das Aphroditeheiligtum von Milet, in: G. Heedemann – E. Schwertheim (eds.), Neue Forschungen zur Religionsgeschichte Kleinasiens. Elmar Schwertheim zum 60. Geburtstag gewidmet, Asia Minor Studien 49 (Bonn 2003) 11–25.
V. von Graeve, Das Aphrodite-Heiligtum von Milet und seine Weihegaben, in: I. Gerlach – D. Raue (eds.), Sanktuar und Ritual: Heilige Plätze im archäologischen Befund. DAI Forschungscluster 4, Heiligtümer: Gestalt und Ritual, Kontinuität und Veränderung, Menschen – Kulturen – Traditionen 10 (Rahden/Westfalen 2013) 5–17.