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The Oracle at Delphi and Colonization

The Greeks were always careful to solicit approval from their gods before setting out from home, whether for commercial voyages or colonization. The god most frequently consulted about sending out a colony was Apollo in his sanctuary at Delphi1, a hauntingly beautiful spot in the mountains of central Greece. The Delphic sanctuary began to be internationally renowned in the eighth century B.C. because it housed an oracular shrine in which a prophetess, the Pythia2, spoke the will of Apollo in response to questions from visiting petitioners. The Delphic oracle operated for a limited number of days over nine months of the year, and demand for its services was so high that the operators of the sanctuary rewarded generous contributors with the privilege of jumping to the head of the line. The great majority of visitors to Delphi consulted the oracle about personal matters such as marriage and having children. That Greeks hoping to found a colony felt they had to secure the approval of Apollo of Delphi demonstrates the oracle was held in high esteem already as early as the 700s B.C., a reputation that continued to make the oracle a force in Greek international affairs in the centuries to come.

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