1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Delos
DELOS (mod. Mikra Dili, or Little Delos, to distinguish it from Megali Dili, or Great Delos), an island in the Aegean, the smallest but most famous of the Cyclades, and, according to the ancient belief, the spot round which the group arranged itself in a nearly circular form. It is a rugged mass of granite, about 3 m. long and 1 m. to 1 m. broad, about 1 m. E. of Megali Dili or Rheneia, and 2 m. W. of Myconus. Towards the centre it rises to its greatest height of 350 ft. in the steep and rocky peak of Mount Cynthus, which, though overtopped by several eminences in the neighbouring islands, is very conspicuous from the surrounding sea. It is now completely destitute of trees, but it abounds with brushwood of lentisk and cistus, and here and there affords a patch of corn-land to the occasional sower from Myconus.
I. Archaeology.—Excavations have been made by the French School at Athens upon the island of Delos since 1877, chiefly by Th. Homolle. They have proceeded slowly but systematically, and the method adopted, though scientific and economical, left the site in some apparent confusion, but the débris have more recently been cleared away to a considerable extent. The complete plan of the sacred precinct of Apollo has been recovered, as well as those of a considerable portion of the commercial quarter of Hellenistic and Roman times, of the theatre, of the temples of the foreign gods, of the temples on the top of Mount Cynthus, and of several very interesting private houses. Numerous works of sculpture of all periods have been found, and also a very extensive series of inscriptions, some of them throwing much light upon the subject of temple administration in Greece.
The most convenient place for landing is protected by an ancient mole; it faces the channel between Delos and Rheneia, and is about opposite the most northerly of the two little islands now called Ῥευματιάρι. From this side the sacred precinct of Apollo is approached by an avenue flanked by porticoes, that upon the seaside bearing the name of Philip V. of Macedon, who dedicated it about 200 B.C. This avenue must have formed the usual approach for sacred embassies and processions; but it is probable that the space to the south was not convenient for marshalling them, since Nicias, on the occasion of his famous embassy, built a bridge from the island of Hecate (the Greater Rhevmatiari) to Delos, in order that the imposing Athenian procession might not miss its full effect. Facing the avenue were the propylaea that formed the chief entrance of the precinct of Apollo. They consisted of a gate faced on the outside with a projecting portico of four columns, on the inside with two columns in antis. Through this one entered a large open space, filled with votive offerings and containing a large exedra. The sacred road continued its course to the north-east corner of this open space, with the precinct of Artemis on its west side, and, on its east side, a terrace on which stood three temples. The southernmost of these was the temple of Apollo, but only its back was visible from this side. Though there is no evidence to show to whom the other two were dedicated, the fact that they faced west seems to imply that they were either dedicated to heroes or minor deities, or that they were treasuries. Beyond them a road branches to the right, sweeping round in a broad curve to the space in front of the temple of Apollo. The outer side of this curve is bounded by a row of treasuries, similar to those found at Delphi and Olympia, and serving to house the more costly offerings of various islands or cities. The space to the east and south of the temple of Apollo could also be approached directly from the propylaea of entrance, by turning to the right through a passage-like building with a porch at either end. Just to the north of this may be seen the basis of the colossal statue of Apollo dedicated by the Naxians, with its well-known archaic inscription; two large fragments of the statue itself may still be seen a little farther to the north.
The temple of Apollo forms the centre of the whole precinct, which it dominates by the height of its steps as well as of the terrace already mentioned; its position must have been more commanding in ancient times than it is now that heaps of earth and débris cover so much of the level. The temple was of Doric style, with six columns at the front and back and thirteen at the sides; it was built early in the 4th century B.C.; little if any traces have been found of the earlier building which it superseded. Its sculptural decoration appears to have been but scanty; the metopes were plain. The groups which ornamented, as acroteria, the two gables of the temple have been in part recovered, and may now be seen in the national museum at Athens; at the one end was Boreas carrying off Oreithyia, at the other Eos and Cephalus, the centre in each case being occupied by the winged figure that stood out against the sky—a variation on the winged Victories that often occupy the same position on temples.
To the east of the space in front of the temple was an oblong building of two chambers, with a colonnade on each side but not in front; this may have been the Prytaneum or some other official building; beyond it is the most interesting and characteristic of all the monuments of Delphi. This is a long narrow hall, running from north to south, and entered by a portico at its south end. At the north end was the famous altar, built out of the horns of the victims, which was sometimes reckoned among the seven wonders of the world. The rest of the room is taken up by a paved space, surrounded by a narrow gangway; and on this it is supposed that the γέρανος or stork-dance took place. The most remarkable architectural feature of the building is the partition that separated the altar from this long gallery; it consists of two columns between antae, with capitals of a very peculiar form, consisting of the fore parts of bulls set back to back; from these the whole building is sometimes called the sanctuary of the bulls. Beyond it, on the east, was a sacred wood filling the space up to the wall of the precinct; and at the south end of this was a small open space with the altar of Zeus Polieus.
At the north of the precinct was a broad road, flanked with votive offerings and exedrae, and along the boundary were porticoes and chambers intended for the reception of the θεωρίαι or sacred embassies; there are two entrances on this side, each of them through extensive propylaea.
At the north-west corner of the precinct is a building of limestone, the πώρινος οἶκος often mentioned in the inventories of the treasures of the Delian shrine. South of it is the precinct of Artemis, containing within it the old temple of the goddess; her more recent temple was to the south of her precinct, opening not into it but into the open space entered through the southern propylaea of the precinct of Apollo. The older temple is mentioned in some of the inventories as “the temple in which were the seven statues”; and close beside it was found a series of archaic draped female statues, which was the most important of its kind until the discovery of the finer and better preserved set from the Athenian Acropolis.
Within the precinct there were found many statues and other works of art, and a very large number of inscriptions, some of them giving inventories of the votive offerings and accounts of the administration of the temple and its property. The latter are of considerable interest, and give full information as to the sources of the revenue and its financial administration.
Outside the precinct of Apollo, on the south, was an open place; between this and the precinct was a house for the priests, and within it, in a kind of court, a set of small structures that may perhaps be identified as the tombs of the Hyperborean maidens. Just to the east was the temple of Dionysus, which is of peculiar plan, and faces the open place; on the other side of it is a large rectangular court, surrounded by colonnades and chambers which served as offices, the whole forming a sort of commercial exchange; in the middle of it was a temple dedicated to Aphrodite and Hermes.
To the north of the precinct of Apollo, between it and the sacred lake, there are very extensive ruins of the commercial town of Delos; these have been only partially cleared, but have yielded a good many inscriptions and other antiquities. The most extensive building is a very large court surrounded by chambers, a sort of club or exchange. Beyond this, on the way to the east coast, are the remains of the new and the old palaestra, also partially excavated.
The shore of the channel facing Rheneia is lined with docks and warehouses, and behind them, as well as elsewhere in the island, there have been found several private houses of the 2nd or 3rd century B.C. Each of these consists of a single court surrounded by columns and often paved with mosaic; various chambers open out of the court, including usually one of large proportions, the ἀνδρών or dining-room for guests.
The theatre, which is set in the lower slope of Mount Cynthus, has the wings of the auditorium supported by massive substructures. The most interesting feature is the scena, which is unique in plan; it consisted of an oblong building of two storeys, surrounded on all sides by a low portico or terrace reaching to the level of the first floor. This was supported by pillars, set closer together along the front than at the sides and back. An inscription found in the theatre showed that this portico, or at least the front portion of it, was called the proscenium or logeum, two terms of which the identity was previously disputed.
On the summit of Mount Cynthus, above the primitive cave-temple which has always been visible, there have been found the remains of a small precinct dedicated to Zeus Cynthius and Athena Cynthia. Some way down the slope of the hill, between the cave-temple and the ravine of the Inopus, is a terrace with the temples of the foreign gods, Isis and Serapis, and a small odeum.
II. History.—Many alternative names for Delos are given by tradition; one of these, Ortygia, is elsewhere also assigned to an island sacred to Artemis. Of the various traditions that were current among the ancient Greeks regarding the origin of Delos, the most popular describes it as drifting through the Aegean till moored by Zeus as a refuge for the wandering Leto. It supplied a birthplace to Apollo and Artemis, who were born beneath a palm tree beside its sacred lake, and became for ever sacred to these twin deities. The island first appears in history as the seat of a great Ionic festival to which the various Ionic states, including Athens, were accustomed annually to despatch a sacred embassy, or Theoria, at the anniversary of the birth of the god on the 7th of Thargelion (about May). In the 6th century B.C. the influence of the Delian Apollo was at its height; Polycrates of Samos dedicated the neighbouring island of Rheneia to his service and Peisistratus of Athens caused all the area within sight of the temple to be cleared of the tombs by which its sanctity was impaired. After the Persian wars, the predominance of Athens led to the transformation of the Delian amphictyony into the Athenian empire. (See Delian League.) In 426 B.C., in connexion with a reorganization of the festival, which henceforth was celebrated in the third year of every Olympiad, the Athenians instituted a more elaborate lustration, caused every tomb to be removed from the island, and established a law that ever after any one who was about to die or to give birth to a child should be at once conveyed from its shores. And even this was not accounted sufficient, for in 422 they expelled all its secular inhabitants, who were, however, permitted to return in the following year. At the close of the Peloponnesian War the Spartans gave to the people of Delos the management of their own affairs; but the Athenian predominance was soon after restored, and survived an appeal to the amphictyony of Delphi in 345 B.C. During Macedonian times, from 322 to 166 B.C., Delos again became independent; during this period the shrine was enriched by offerings from all quarters, and the temple and its possessions were administered by officials called ἱεροποιοί. After 166 B.C. the Romans restored the control of Delian worship to Athens, but granted to the island various commercial privileges which brought it great prosperity. In 87 B.C. Menophanes, the general of Mithradates VI. of Pontus, sacked the island, which had remained faithful to Rome. From this blow it never recovered; the Athenian control was resumed in 42 B.C., but Pausanias (viii. 33. 2) mentions Delos as deserted but for a few Athenian officials; and several epigrams of the 1st or 2nd century A.D. attest the same fact, though the temple and worship were probably kept up until the official extinction of the ancient religion. A museum has now been built to contain the antiquities found in the excavations; otherwise Delos is now uninhabited, though during the summer months a few shepherds cross over with their flocks from Myconus or Rheneia. As a religious centre it is replaced by Tenos and as a commercial centre by the flourishing port of Syra.
See Lebègue, Recherches sur Délos (Paris, 1876). Numerous articles in the Bulletin de correspondance hellénique record the various discoveries at Delos as they were made. See also Th. Homolle, Les Archives de l’intendance sacrée à Délos (with plan). The best consecutive account is given in the Guide Joanne, Grèce, ii. 443-464. For history, see Sir R. C. Jebb, Journal of Hellenic Studies, i. (1889), pp. 7-62. For works of art found at Delos see Greek Art. (E. Gr.)