An island, now deserted, one of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, about 3 miles long and 1 mile broad, with a rocky mountain (Cynthus) several hundred feet high in the center. In antiquity Delos enjoyed great prosperity. According to Greek legend the island once floated on the surface of the water, until Poseidon fastened it on four diamond pillars for the wandering Leto, who, like Io, was pursued by the vengeful Hera. It was here that Apollo and Artemis were born; hence, the island was sacred, and became one of the chief seats of worship of the two deities. Numerous temples embellished Delos. The most magnificent was that of Apollo, which contained a colossal statue of the god, a dedicatory offering of the Naxians. This temple was a sanctuary visited by all the Greeks, who came from far and near to worship at the deity's shrine. There was a Dorian peripteral temple in Delos from the beginning of the 4th century BC. To the North was a remarkable altar composed entirely of ox-horns. The various Ionian cities sent sacred embassies (theoriai) with rich offerings. There was also a celebrated oracle in Delos which was accounted one of the most trustworthy in the world. Every five years the famous Delian festival was celebrated with prophecies, athletic contests and games of every kind. All the nations of Greece participated.
The earliest inhabitants of Delos were Carians; but about 1000 BC the island was occupied by Ionians. For a long time it enjoyed independence. In 478 Delos was chosen as the place for the convention of the representatives of the Greek states for deliberation about means for defense against Persia. The treasury of the Athenian Confederacy was kept here after 476. The island became independent of Athens in 454. During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC it became one of the chief ports of the Aegean. This was partly due to its location, and partly to the fact that the Romans, after 190 BC, favored the island as a rival to the sea-power of Rhodes. In 166 Delos was given to Athens; the inhabitants fled to Achea, and the island was colonized by Athenians, together with Romans.
The ruins of the city of Delos, which became a flourishing commercial port, are to the North of the temple. It became the center of trade between Alexandria and the Black Sea, and was for a long time one of the chief slave markets of the Greek world. But Delos received a severe blow, from which it never recovered, in the war between Rome and Mithridates. The latter's general landed in 88 BC and massacred many, and sold the remainder of the defenseless people, and sacked and destroyed the city together with the temple and its countless treasures. At the conclusion of peace (84) Delos came into the possession of the Romans, who later gave it back to Athens. Under the Empire the island lost its importance entirely.
Delos was one of the states to which Rome addressed letters in behalf of the Jews (138-137 BC; see 1 Macc 15:16-23). Among those who came to Delos from the East must have been many of this nation. Josephus cites in full a decree passed in Delos which confirmed the Jewish exemption from military service (Ant., XIV, x, 4).
The excavations of the French have laid bare 8 temples within the sacred enclosure (Apollo, Artemis, Dionysus). Numerous statues, dating from the earliest times of Greek art down to the latest, have been discovered; also 2,000 inscriptions, among which was an inventory of the temple treasure.
By the side of Delos, across a very narrow strait, lies Rheneia, another island which was the burying-ground of Delos; for on the sacred isle neither births, deaths nor burials were permitted. In 426 BC Delos was "purified" by the Athenians--by the removal of the bodies that had been interred there previously.
Lebegue, Recherches sur Delos (Paris, 1876); V. v. Schoffer, De Deli Insulae rebus, Berliner Studien fur klass. Phil. (Berlin, 1889); Homolle, S. Reinach and others, in the Bulletin de corresp. Hellen. (VI, 1-167; VII, 103-25, 329-73; VIII, 75-158; XIV, 389-511; XV, 113-68); Homolle, Archives de l'intendance sacree a Delos; Jebb, Journal of Hellenic Studies (1880), 7-62.
J. E. Harry
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