Delos is one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece. Delos had a position as a holy sanctuary, as well as the distinction of being the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. As the myth goes, Leto had lain with Zeus, and became pregnant with his children, as was often the case in Greek Mythology. Hera, in her jealous nature, punished Leto by forcing her to wonder the world searching for a safe place to give birth to her children, Artemis and Apollo. Leto finally settled on Delos.

 delos map

According to archaeologists and ancient scholars, Delos has been inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC (Kent 1948). Thucydides (2004) identifies the original inhabitants as piratical Carians who were eventually expelled by King Minos of Crete. Delos was a major cult center, acquiring Panhellenic religious significance, and becoming a site for religious pilgrimage (Kent 1948). The greatest influences for the general public to travel were: tourism and pilgrimage. The city of Delos served both as a tourist attraction and a sacred city. It would be the equivalent of Mecca in modern day. Since the city of Delos was once open to the public, everyone would travel and leave offerings, and wealth, at this famous sanctuary. Eventually, Delos became much more exclusive, yet remained a very wealthy city. It had the three largest temples dedicated to Apollo, all on the same small island (Kent 1948). This island became an unbelievable source for revenue from the tourism and pilgrimages made to the temples on Delos, the abundance of natural resource, and the distinction of this site as the center of the Delian League (Kent 1948). It was for these reasons that the entire city was purged and purified. During the Peloponnesian War, it became a law that no one was allowed to die or give birth on the island (Thucydides 2004). All dead bodies were removed as well (Thucydides 2004). This would protect the sanctity of the site and preserve its neutrality, since the island became the treasury of Greece in the Peloponnesian Wars (Thucydides 2004). During the Peloponnesian War, the city saw an enormous amount of revenue, although there are no clear records as to just how much (Kent 1948). After the Persian Wars, the island became the center for the Delian League, founded in 478 BC (Trumper 2009). The League’s treasury was kept at Delos until 454 BC when Pericles had the treasury moved to Athens for safekeeping (Trumper 2009). The island, despite being abundant in natural resources, produced no finished goods. However there were multiple agoras, or marketplaces on the island (Trumper 2009). It became the center of the slave trade, due in large part to the Italian traders that came to Delos to purchase slaves captured by the Cilician Pirates, or prisoners of war (Trumper 2009). This meant that Delos became one of the largest slave trade centers of the time (Trumper 2009). The greatest advantages of being a religious center in the ancient Greek world are the security and wealth. Delos, like many other religious sites was considerably wealthy, and because of this wealth and popularity, it was also heavily protected. Delos not only held monetary wealth, but cultural and religious wealth as well. The Greeks saw it as a matter of personal pride, patriotism, and nationalism to protect this city. This was evident during the Persian War, when Delos became the capital of the Delian League and during the Peloponnesian Wars when the entire city was heavily purified and protected.

 terrace of the lions

Terrace of the Lions and Temple of Apollo

The two most famous monuments found at Delos, the Terrace of the Lions and the Temple of Apollo. Another famous temple at Delos is the Temple of the Delians. The Temple of the Delians was done in the same Doric column design as the Parthenon (Summerson 1963).  The vertical shafts of the columns were fluted with parallel concave grooves, and the top of the column flared out to meet a square abacus at the intersection with a horizontal beam (Summerson 1963). The basic features of a Greek Doric column are the orders alternating triglyphs and metopes (Summerson 1963).

triglyphs and metropes

The triglyphs are rectangular blocks that project outward and are decoratively grooved with three vertical grooves (Summerson 1963). The triglyphs are between two metopes. Metopes function simply to fill in the space of a Doric frieze (Summerson 1963). Under each triglyphs are pegs that serve no only to add support to the entire structure but to eliminate rainwater runoff (Summerson 1963). The original design came from wooden temples and so the triglyphs were arranged in a way so that each column had to bear a beam which lay across the center of the column (Summerson 1963). This style became so popular that it was regarded as the ideal way for temple construction. However, changing to stone cubes instead of wooden beams required full support of the architrave load at the last column (Summerson 1963). In order to reach this perfect harmonious design that we associate with the Temple of Apollo and the Parthenon, the Greeks had to employ a lot of trial and error. In fact, the first temples had the final triglyph moved, which disrupted the sequence, and left a gap in the order of columns (Summerson 1963). Also the last triglyph was not centered with the corresponding column, which further disrupted the order and stability of the structure (Summerson 1963). The resulting problem is called the Doric corner conflict (Summerson 1963). With the metopes, since they are somewhat flexible in their proportions, the space between columns can be adjusted by the architect (Summerson 1963). Often the last two columns were set slightly closer together to give a subtle visual strengthening to the corners (Summerson 1963). Triglyphs could be arranged in a harmonic manner again, and the corner was terminated with a triglyph (Summerson 1963). However, final triglyph and column were often not centered (Summerson 1963). The Temple of the Delians is the largest of three dedicated temples of Apollo on the island of Delos (Kent 1948). It was begun in 478 BC and never completely finished (Summerson 1963). All the columns are centered under a triglyph in the frieze, except for the corner columns (Summerson 1963). This temple, just like the Temple of Apollo and the Terrace of the Lions, is significant for its religious association with Apollo, but also for its significance to the history of Greece.

temple of the delians

Temple of the Delians

Delos is an incredible source for archaeological evidence. The fact that it was a famous religious site is reason for its preservation and relevance. In modern days, people visit Delos to see the remnants of the beautiful temples and to see the history and culture of ancient Greece. In ancient Greek times, this reason for tourism was also true. People travelled to see Delos and to seek spiritual help. It gives historians and archaeologists a clear insight into ancient Greek travel and culture. The combination of tourism, religious center, and a political and economic center under the Delian League makes Delos an extremely provocative site.

Works Cited

Kent, John Harvey

  1948 The Temple Estates of Delos, Rheneia, and Mykonos. The Journal of the American

      School of Classical Studies. 17(4):243-338.

Summerson, John

  1963 The Classical Language of Architecture. BBC.


   2004 The History of the Peloponnesian War. Richard Crawley trans. Dover Publications.

Trumper, Monika

   2009 Graeco-Roman Slave Markets- Fact or Fiction. Oxbow Books Limited.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s