Delos

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Delos (Δήλος), or the Island of Delos, near Mykonos, is one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in Greece because of the its role in the ancient Greek mythology. It forms part of Cyclades archipelago and is located near the centre of the island group.

Overview

For a thousand years prior to being associated with the birth of Apollo and Artemis in Greek mythology, Delos served as a revered sanctuary. Looking from its Sacred Harbour, three distinct conical hills can be seen that were recognized as sacred areas related to a goddess, most likely Athena. Among these sites, one of them, known as Mount Cynthus, still retaining its original name before the Greek influence, is adorned with a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus.

Notable Structures

circa

Agora of the Competaliasts
The Agora of the Competaliasts was a prominent marketplace situated on Delos Island in ancient Greece, originating in the latter part of the second century BCE. Positioned right next to the Sacred Harbour, this market contains two central marble monuments — a square one and another circular—that are both offerings to Hermes. Surrounding these focal points stand remnants of numerous other structures raised by traders, ship captains, and financiers. Towards the northern section of this market lies the Portico of Philip and an Ionic temple devoted to Hermes. In the eastern and southern parts, you can find the vestiges of shops from the prosperous era of this Greek commercial hub. The ground is covered with gneiss stones, featuring indentations where tent poles were once placed.

circa 216-200 BCE

Portico of Philip V
During the period of independence (circa 314-166 BCE) the rulaers of the Hellenistic states competed eagerly with each other in constructing magnificient buildings on the "Sacred Island of Delos", where all the Greeks could gaze upon and marbel at the wealth and power of the cities that had built the monumental structures. The kings of Pergamum (circa mid third century BCE) built a large stoa or portico on the eastern side of the "Sacred Way" that led from the Hellenistic port to the entrance of the sanctuary. Across the way an even larger portico was built at a later date (circa 210 BCE) by Philip V, as attested by the inscription on the epistyle; "Philip, king of Macedonians, [son of] king Demetrius, to Apollo.

As was to be expected, the presence of the ruling Macedonians was strong at this pan-Hellenic sanctuary. Antigonos III Doson (Gonastas), Philip's grandfather (circa 250 BCE) had built another portico which demarcated the northern boundary of the sanctuary. Late in the fourth century BCE, Philip's great-grandfather Demetrius Poliorcetes built the Neorion, a large building that housed a trireme dedicated to Apollo. A few years later (this dating is based on inscriptions on contemporary exedrae), behind the portico of Philip, another stoa was added, the "western portico", open to the docks and the harbour, and used for commercial purposes. On the south side of the portico of Philip there was a small Ionic temple dedicated to Hermes, protector of commerce.

circa

Agora of the Italians
Italians began settling on the island of Delos as early as the third century BCE, their presence became stronger after the mid second century BCE coinciding with the Rome's rise to predominance. Most were bankers and merchants from southern Italy and Sicily organized in various professional societies, each under the patronage of a god, whether Apollo (Apolloniasts), Poseidon (Poseidoniasts) or Hermes (Hermaists). In the Agora of the Competaliasts, the center of their commercial activities, they dedicated many monuments and altars to these gods. Most of these people lived in the town's new districts north of the sanctuary, where, towards the end of the second century BCE, they built the so-called Agora of the Italians, the meeting place for the members of the Italian community.

Around 130 BCE the marshes south of the Sacred Lake were filled with earth, sometimes as much as two meters, and part of the temenos (sacred precinct) of Letoon was sacrificed to allow the construction of the flamboyantly luxurious agora of the Italians, the largest building complex on the Delos island. With the construction of this defiantly massive building on the holy isle, the superpower of the age made an explicit statement of its presence, its power and the regulating role it was determined to play in the Aegean. By the same means the Naxians and the Athenians declared their intentions in the past and made a statement of the leading role they had decided to play in the area.

A marble gate on the south-western side led into a large open-air space surrounded by two-storied colonnades with Doric clumns on the ground and square pilasters on the upper floor. The architrave was inscribed with the names of the sponsors in both Greek and Latin.

Behind the ground floor colonnades were the niches and exedrae with honorific statues. In one such exedra stood the larger that life statue of Gaius Opheilius Ferus, created by the Athenian sculpturs Dionysus and Timarchides, as indicated by the inscription on the base. Gaius Opheilius, a wealthy merchant from Campania who had business interests on Delos, paid for the construction of the western colonnade of the agora, perhaps under the condition that he would be granted a spot in which to place his statue. Naturally he paid not only for the construction of the alcove but for the staute as well. He depicted nude, his himation flung over his left shoulder, with a youthful vigorous body, in the manner of worksby Polyclitus and Praxiteles. Standing, his raised right hand braced upon a long spear and his left hand holding a small sword, imitating the stance of statues of Alexander the Great, he may possibly draw a parallel between his commercial successes and the conqueror's achievements. Both conquered the world.

In another of the agora's niches was found the head from the equestrian statue of a man in a cuirass. The expressionless face with its stern fixed glance and tight lips reveals someone accustomed to giving orders. The highly polished marble further accentuates the cold expresion of the possible military man.

Thwo statues of Gauls found at the same site are quite different. THey were probably related to the civtories of the kings of Pergamum against the Gauls, or the slaughter of Celtic mercenaries by the soldiers of Ptolemy II Philadelphus in 276 BCE. The first statue (displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens), depicts a wounded Gallic warrior, fallen onto his right knee but continuing to fight raising the characteristic shield he grasps in his right hand. Only the striking head of the statue, with its wild "barbaric" features survives. Both statues emphasize the fierce nature of the Gauls in order to make the achievement of the victors even more admirable. In these works, as on the altar of Pergamum, and the Parthenon, the civtories of the Greeks against the "barbarians" are presented as victories of civilization over barbarism, of oder against the anarchy, of law against violance, achievements comparable to those of the Olympian Gods (gigantomachy; most important divine struggle in Greek mythology, the battle fought between the Giants and the Olympian gods for supremacy of the cosmos), raising the victorious kings to the level of divine saviours.

On the north-west side were the baths and on the three sides, outside the agora, were many small shops and workshops. In the south west corner,the workshop of a sculptor, a relief representing Isis Pelagia (the protector of seamen) was discovered. The goddess, dressed in a long robe girdled under the breasts, is standing on the prow of a warship with her feet apart to resist the force of the wind. With both her arms and with her left foot, she is holding her himation open to the wind, so that her body becomes a mast, her arms the rards and her himation the sail.

circa

Temple of the Athenians
The temple of the Athenians was located between the Temple of the Delians and the Poros Temple. For its construction Athens sent valuable white Pentelic marble and the required experienced craftsmen, who probably worked under the supervision of Callicrates, the master craftsman of the Temple of Nike. Built between 425-420 BCE, and probably inaugurated circa 417 BCE by general Niclas, it was an amphiprostyle temple in the Doric order, with six columns on each narrow side. Inside the cella, seven statues were placed upn a horseshoe shaped base of grey-blue eleusinian marble, hence the inscriptions referring to the temple as the "temple in which stand the seven statues". The excavations unearthed many sections of the temple's wonderful acroteria (displayed in the Delos Museum). The eastern side's central acroterion depicts Boreas, king of Thrace, the personification of the north wing, abducting the young princes Oreithyia, daughter of the Athenian king Erechteus and Praxithea. According to the legend, Boreas seized the princess as she was dancing on the banks of the Ilissos river and took her to Thrace. Their offspring were the winged brothers Calais and Zetes and two daughters, Cleopatra and Chion. The central acroterion on the western side depicts Eos (dawn) carrying off the handsome Cephalus, another Athenian hero, son of Hermes and princess Erse,sister of Oreithyia.

circa

House of Cleopatra
In the theatre district wealthy and average houses were constructed side by side without any class distinctions. In many cases, two small houses were joined together to create a larger residential complex to better serve the needs of wealthy owners. This is what Cleopatra from Myrrinous of Attica (near modern day Markopoulo) did, adding a luxurious marble peristyle to a court that was too small for such a structure. But, the neighbours' houses had such peristyles and obviously Cleopatra thought it was necessary given the social status of her family. The house itself is fairly typical of the larger homes in the town's theatre district, with many rooms arranged around two open courtyards. In the second, more private, courtyard there is a large basin where the juice of grapes trodden by foot was collected, an indication that the owners may have been wine producers.

The ostentatious extravagance and vanity of the owners is obvious, because they erected their statues right opposite the main entrance of the house to impress visitors and passers-by, who could see them whenever the door was open. The inscription on the base, is addition to the names of those represented and the date of commission (138/137 BCE), also proclaims the fact the Dioscurides had dedicated two silver tripods to the temple of Apollo. In 1987 CE these statues were removed to Delos Museum and in their place cement replicas were installed in 1989 CE.

The inscription on the base of the statues reads: "Cleopatra, daughter of Adrastos from Myrrinous, erected the statue of her husband Dioscurides, son of Theodoros from Myrrinous, who dedicated two silver Delphic tripods in the temple of Apollo, on each side of the entranceway, in the year when Timarchos was Eponym Archon of Athens".

As it is apparent from the inscription, these statues, and the house which contained them, were not owned by the famous queen of Egypt Cleopatra VII. Rather an Athenian couple, offering insight into residential life on the sacred island of Delos during the second century BCE. Cleopatra is a fairly common Greek name meaning "she who brings glory to her father".

circa

Temple of the Delians
The temple of the Delians or the Great Temple of Apollo was located immediately to the north-east of the Oikos of the Naxians. It was one of the three temples, situated side by side, dedicated to Apollo, god of Greek mythology. It is the only peripteral temple of the Delos island, whith six Doric columns on each of its narrow sides and thirteen on each long side. Its construction coincided with a number of important events in the island's history. Construction, which was funded by the treasury of the Delian League, began around 476 BCE but the building process was interrupted in 454 BCE when the treasury was transferred to Athens. Work began again during the period of independence, after 314 BCE, but was never completed and the columns (scattered around the temple) were never finished. Inside the temple was the cult statue of the god and many centuries' worth of precious offerings, which transformed it into kind of a museum of the sanctuary's history.

circa

House of Dionysus Mosaic
The House of Dionysus mosaic was one of the largest houses in the theater district. In the middle of the large peristyle court an exceptional mosaic (emblema) representing Dionysus gives the house its name. This is one of the most important mosaics from the Hellenistic period, created with thousands of tine tesserae of glass paste and semi precious stones, cut in various shapes, according to the surface they had to cover. The tesserae are bound with mortar of the same colour, so as to reduce the space between them to the minimum, and to make the image look like a painting. The original emblem is now exhibited in the Delos Museum and a copy is installed in its place.

The god Dionysus is represented with wings, crowned with ivy, and seated on the back of a tiger with a wreath of vines and grapes around its neck. In his reaised right hand he is holding a thyrsus decorated with a ribbon as though it were a spear. On the ground, among plants, a fallen silver kantharos is depicted, a wine cup, symbol of the god. In this representation, as in another one from the "house of the masks", there is a strongly theatrical atmosphere.

The same theme is depicted in the house with masks and in houses in other ancient cities (Pella, Eretria, Pompeii), indicating that there was a common model. It may possibly portray the return of the god from India, and may have been inspired by the reenactment at the Ptolemaia procession in Alexandria, or by paintings on the same theme.

Dionysus, the god of the creative power that fertilizes nature, he who by granting humanity the divine gift of the vine, allowed men to become equal, if only for a short while, to the gods, was extremely popular on Delos island as well as on neighbouring Mykonos. He was worshipped all over Greece under some 140 different epithets, which declared his power and attributes. On Delos and Mykonos he was worshiped as Leneus (god of the grape harvest), and Bacchus (god of mystical drunkenness and orgiastic ecstasy). He was depicted in many statues, reliefs and mosaics nude and crowned with vines of ivy, always accompanied by his happy entourage - Silenoi, Satyrs and Maenads. Plutarch, a lifelong priest of Apollo at Delphi, reports that the Delphic sanctuary belonged solely to Apollo and Mykonos to Dionysus, but on both islands the two gods were worshipped equally.

circa

Poros Temple
The oldest temple dedicated to Apollo, the Poros temple or Porinos Oikos was built of poros stone either during the period of the Athenian tyran Peisistratus, or that of his sons, in the late sixth century BCE. The famous statue of Apollo created by the Athenian sculptors Tectaeus and Angelion originally stood in this temple and was later transferred to the Great Temple. It consisted of a wooden core to which sheets of hammered gold or gilded bronze were attached. The god was depicted in the kouros type, holding a bow in one hand and the Three Graces or three Muses in the other. The Graces, according to Plutarch, were holding musical instruments, the lyre, aulos, and syrinx. The statue is depicted on a marble relief and many clay seals (now displayed at Delos Museum). On the relief, to the left of the god's head, Hermes is portrayed carrying a calf on his shoulders and to the right is Nike. Behind it is perhaps part of a throne.

In the temple of Apollo of the Naxians and the cult statue by Tectaeus and Angelion, Apollo is depicted as both benefactor and avenger. The Graces in his right hand recall the precious gifts he gives to man, while the bow in his left is a permanent warning of how harsh he can be to those who displease him.

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References

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