previous next


MILE´TUS (Μίλητος: Eth. Μιλήσιος, Eth. Milesius), once the most flourishing city of Ionia, was situated on the northern extremity of the peninsula formed, in the south-west of the Latmicus Sinus, by Mount Grion. The city stood opposite the mouth of the Maeander, from which its distance amounted to 80 stadia.

At the time when the Ionian colonies were planted on the coast of Asia Minor, Miletus already existed as a town, and was inhabited, according to Herodotus (1.146), by Carians, while Ephorus (ap. Strab. xiv. p.634) related that the original inhabitants had been Leleges, and that afterwards Sarpedon introduced Cretan settlers. The testimony of Herodotus is born out by the Homeric poems, in which (Il. 2.867) Miletus is spoken of as a place of the Carians. That the place was successively in the hands of different tribes, is intimated also by the fact mentioned by Pliny (5.30), that the earlier names of Miletus were Lelegeïs, Pityusa, and Anactoria. (Comp. Paus. 7.2.3; Steph. B. sub voce On the arrival of the Ionians, Neleus, their leader, with a band of his followers, took forcible possession of the town, massacred all the men, and took the women for their wives,--an event to which certain social customs. regulating the intercourse between the sexes, were traced by subsequent generations. It appears, however, that Neleus did not occupy the ancient town itself, but built a new one on a site somewhat nearer the sea. (Strab. l.c.) Tombs, fortifications, and other remains, attributed to the ancient Leleges, were shown at Miletus as late as the time of Strabo (xiv. p.611; comp. Hdt. 9.97). As in most other colonies the Ionians had amalgamated with the ancient inhabitants of the country, the Milesians were believed to be the purest representatives of the Ionians in Asia. Owing to its excellent situation, and the convenience of four harbours, one of which was capacious enough to contain a fleet, Miletus soon rose to a great preponderance among the Ionian cities. It became the most powerful maritime and commercial place; its ships sailed to every part of the Mediterranean, and even into the Atlantic; but the Milesians turned their attention principally to the Euxine, on the coasts of which, as well as elsewhere, they founded upwards of 75 colonies. (Plin. Nat. 5.31; Senec. Cons. ad Helv. 6; Strab. xiv. p.635; Athen. 12.523.) The most remarkable of these colonies were Abydos, Lampsacus, and Parium, on the Hellespont; Proconnesus and Cyzicus on the Propontis ; Sinope and Amisus on the Euxine; while others were founded in Thrace, the Crimea, and on the Borysthenes. The period during which Miletus acquired this extraordinary power and prosperity, was that between its occupation by the Ionians and its conquest by the Persians, B.C. 494.

The history of Miletus, especially the earlier portion of it, is very obscure. A tyrannis appears to have been established there at an early time; after the overthrow of this tyrannis, we are told, the city was split into two factions, one of which seems to have been an oligarchical and the other a democratic party. (Plut. Quaest. Gr. 32.) The former gained the ascendant, but was obliged to take extraordinary precautions to preserve it. On another occasion we hear of a struggle between the wealthy citizens and the commonalty, accompanied with horrible excesses of cruelty on both sides. (Athen. 12.524.) Herodotus (5.28) also speaks of a civil war at Miletus, which lasted for two generations, and reduced the people to great distress. It was at length terminated by the mediation of the Persians, who seem to have committed the government to those landowners who had shown the greatest moderation, or had kept aloof from the contest of the parties. All these convulsions took place within the period in which Miletus rose to the summit of her greatness as a maritime state. When the kingdom of Lydia began its career of conquest, its rulers were naturally attracted by the wealth and prosperity of Miletus. The first attempts to conquer it were made by Ardys, and then by Sadyattes, who conquered the Milesians in two engagements. After the death of Sadyattes, the war was continued by Alyattes, who, however, concluded a peace, because he was taken ill in consequence, it was believed, of his troops having burnt a temple of Athena in the territory of Miletus. (Herod 1.17, &c.) At this time the city was governed by the tyrant Thrasybulus, a friend of Periander of Corinth (Hdt. 5.92), and a crafty politician. Subsequently Miletus seems to have concluded a treaty with Croesus, whose sovereignty was recognised, and to whom tribute was paid.

After the conquest of Lydia by the Persians, Miletus entered into a similar relation to Cyrus [p. 2.356]as that in which it had stood to Croesus, and was thereby saved from the calamities inflicted upon other Ionian cities. (Hdt. 1.141, &c.) In the reign of Darius, the Ionians allowed themselves to be prevailed upon by Histiaeus and his unscrupulous kinsman and successor openly to revolt against Persia, B.C. 500. Miletus having, in the person of its tyrant, headed the expedition, had to pay a severe penalty for its rashness. After repeated defeats in the field, the city was besieged by land and by sea, and finally taken by storm B.C. 494. The city was plundered and its inhabitants massacred, and the survivors were transplanted, by order of Darius, to a place called Ampe, near the mouth of the Tigris. The town itself was given up to the Carians. (Hdt. 6.6, &c.; Strab. xiv. p.635.)

The battle of Mycale, in B.C. 479, restored the freedom of Miletus, which soon after joined the Athenian confederacy. But the days of its greatness and glory were gone (Thuc. 1.15, 115, &c.); its ancient spirit of liberty, however, was not, yet extinct, for, towards the end of the Peloponnesian War, Miletus threw off the yoke imposed upon her by Athens. In a battle fought under the very walls of their city, the Milesians defeated their opponents, and Phrynichus, the Athenian admiral, abandoned the enterprise. (Thuc. 8.25, &c.) Not long after this, the Milesians demolished a fort which the Persian Tissaphernes was erecting in their territory, for the purpose of bringing them to subjection. (Thuc. 8.85.) In B.C. 334, when Alexander, on his Eastern expedition, appeared before Miletus, the inhabitants, encouraged by the presence of a Persian army and fleet stationed at Mycale, refused to submit to him. Upon this, Alexander immediately commenced a vigorous attack upon the wails, and finally took the city by assault. A part of it was destroyed on that occasion ; but Alexander pardoned the surviving inhabitants, and granted them their liberty. (Arrian, Arr. Anab. 1.18, &c.; Strab. l.c.) After this time Miletus continued, indeed, to flourish as a commercial place, but was only a second-rate town. In the war between the Romans and Antiochus, Miletus sided with the former. (Liv. 37.16, 43.6.) The city continued to enjoy some degree of prosperity at the time when Strabo wrote, and even as late as the time of Pliny and Pausanias. (Comp. Tac. Ann. 4.63, 55.) From the Acts (20.17), it appears that St. Paul stayed a few days there, on his return from Macedonia and Troas. In the Christian times, Ephesus was the see of a bishop, who occupied the first rank among the bishops of Caria; and in this condition the town remained for several centuries (Hierocl. p. 687; Mich. Duc. p. 14), until it was destroyed by the Turks and other barbarians.

Miletus, in its best days, consisted of an inner and an outer city, each of which had its own fortifications (Arrian l.c.), while its harbours were protected by the group of the Tragusaean islands in front of which Lade was the largest. Great and beautiful as the city may have been, we have now no means of forming any idea of its topography, since its site and its whole territory have been changed by the deposits of the Maeander into a pestilential swamp, covering the remains of the ancient city with water and mud. Chandler, and other travellers not being aware of this change, mistook the ruins of Myus for those of Miletus, and describe them as such. (Leake, Asia Minor, p. 239.) Great as Miletus was as a commercial city, it is no less great in the history of Greek literature, being the birthplace of the philosophers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, and of the historians Cadmus and Hecataeus.

The Milesians, like the rest of the Ionians, were notorious for their voluptuousness and effeminacy, though, at one time, they must have been brave and warlike. Their manufactures of couches and other furniture were very celebrated, and their woollen cloths and carpets were particularly esteemed. (Ath. 1. p. 28, xi. p. 428, 12.540, 553, 15.691; Verg. G. 3.306, 4.335; comp. Rambach, De Mileto ejusque coloniis, Halae, 1790, 4°; Schroeder, Comment. de Rebus Milesiorum, part i. Stralsund, 1817, 4°; Soldan, Rerum Milesiarum Comment. i. Darmstadt, 1829, 4°.)



hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: