previous next


DELOS or DELUS (Δῆλος: Eth. and Adj. Δήλιος, Δήλια, Δηλιάς, Δηλιακός), the smallest of the islands called the Cyclades in the Aegaean sea, lying in the strait between Rheneia and Myconus. It appears in the earliest times as one of the holiest spots in Hellas. According to the most generally received tradition, it was called out of the deep by the trident of Poseidon, but was a floating island, until Zeus fastened it by adamantine chains to the bottom of the sea, that it might be a secure restingplace to Leto, for the birth of Apollo and Artemis. (Pind. ap. Strab. x. p.485; Callim. Hymn. in Del. passim; Verg. A. 3.76; Plin. Nat. 4.12. s. 22; Dict. of Ant. art. Leto.) As the birthplace of Apollo, it became one of the chief seats of his worship, and the god is said to have obtained exclusive possession of the island by giving Calaureia to Poseidon in exchange for it. (Strab. viii. p.373.) In the same way the Delphians related that Apollo gave Calaureia to Poseidon in order to obtain possession of Delphi. (Paus. 10.5.6.) Delos was called by various other names by the poets and mythographers. Pliny (l.c.) mentions the names of Asteria, Ortygia, Lagia, Chlamydia, Cynthus, Pyrpile; and Stephanus B. those of Asteria, Pelasgia, and Chlamydia. Its name of Asteria is alluded to by Poseidon, who speaks of Delos as the “unshaken prodigy of the earth, which mortals call Delos, but the gods in Olympus the farfamed star (ἄστρον) of the dark earth.” (Pind. Frag. 57, 58, ed. Bergk.) Callimachus also says that it was called Asteria, when Leto found refuge upon it. (Ibid. 40.) It received the name of Ortygia because according to one version of the legend Leto was changed by Zeus into a quail (ὄρτυξ), in order to escape from Hera, and in this form arrived at the floating island. (Serv. ad Virg. Aen. 3.72; Strabo also mentions the name Ortygia, x. p. 486.) The name of Delos was supposed by the ancient writers to have been given to the island from its becoming clear or plain (δῆλος) after floating about in the sea. (Aristot. ap. Plin. Nat. 4.12. s. 22; Serv. ad Virg. Aen. l.c.) In consequence of its having been fastened by Zeus to the bottom of the sea, it was supposed to be immovable even by earthquakes, to which the surrounding islands were frequently subject. Hence Pindar, in the passage already quoted, calls Delos “the unshaken prodigy of the earth” (χθόνος ἀκίνητον τέρας). Down to the time of Pliny (l.c.) it was only twice shaken by earthquakes, and on each occasion the phenomenon was regarded with alarm by the whole of Greece. The first occurred just before the Persian invasion (Hdt. 6.98), and the second shortly before the Peloponnesian War (Thuc, 2.8). It is a curious circumstance that Herodotus speaks of the former earthquake, and Thucydides of the latter as the only one which had ever taken place; and accordingly some commentators suppose that Thucydides actually refers to the same earthquake as the one mentioned by Herodotus. (See Arnold, ad Thuc. l.c.

Respecting the origin of the worship of Apollo at Delos, we have no trustworthy information. K. O. Müller supposes that it was introduced by the Dorians on their voyage to Crete (Müller, Dor. vol. i. p. 238); but this is only an hypothesis, unsupported by evidence. In the earliest historical times the island was inhabited by Ionians, and is represented as the centre of a great periodical festival in honour of Apollo, celebrated by all the Ionic cities on the mainland as well as in the islands. In this character it is represented in the Homeric hymn to Apollo, which cannot probably be later than 600 B.C. (Hom. [p. 1.759]Hymn. in Apoll. 146, seq.; Grote, Hist of Greece, vol. iii. p. 222.) The festival was conducted with great splendour; and, as at Delphi, there were musical, as well as gymnastic contests. Like the Olympic and other great festivals of Hellas, it doubtless grew out of one of a more limited character; and we are expressly informed that Delos was originally the centre of an Amphictyony, to which the Cyclades and the neighbouring islands belonged. (Thuc. 3.104; Strab. x. p.485; comp. Böckh, Inscr. vol. i. p. 252, seq.) The Athenians took part in this festival at an early period, as is evident from the mention of the Deliastae in one of Solon's laws (Athen. 6.234). It was related at a later period that the Athenians instituted the festival to commemorate the safe return of Theseus from Crete, and that the vessel in which the sacred embassy sailed to the festival was the identical one which had carried Theseus and his companions. (Plut. Thes. 21; Plat. Phaed. sub init.) The two Ionic despots, Peisistratus of Athens and Polycrates of Samos, both took a warm interest in the festival: Peisistratus purified the island by removing all the tombs which were within view of the temple; and Polycrates dedicated the neighbouring island of Rheneia to the Delian Apollo, by fastening it with a chain to Delos. But owing to various causes, among which undoubtedly was the conquest of the Ionic cities in Asia Minor by the Persians, the festival had fallen into decay at the commencement of the Peloponnesian War. In the sixth year of this war, B.C. 426, the Athenians purified Delos. They removed all the tombs from the island, and declared it to be unlawful henceforth for any living being to be born or die within it, and that every pregnant woman should be carried over to the island of Rheneia in order to be delivered. (Thuc. l.c.; Strab. x. p.486.) On this occasion the Athenians restored the ancient festival under the name of the Delia, of which an account is given elsewhere. (Dict. of Ant. art. Delia.

The sanctity of Delos was respected by Datis and Artaphernes, who would not anchor here, but passed on to Rheneia. They also sent a herald to recall the Delians, who had fled to Tenos, and they burnt upon the altar of the god 300 talents of frankincense. (Hdt. 6.97.) On the formation of the confederacy in B.C. 477, for the purpose of carrying on the war against Persia, Delos was chosen as the common treasury (Thuc. 1.96); but subsequently the transference of the treasury to Athens, and the altered character of the confederacy, reduced the island to a condition of absolute political dependence upon Athens. The purification of Delos by the Athenians in B.C. 426 has been already mentioned; but four years afterwards (B.C. 422) the Athenians thinking the removal of the Delians themselves essential to the complete purification of the island, banished all the inhabitants, who obtained a settlement at Atramyttium (Adramyttium), which was given to them by the satrap Pharnaces. (Thuc. 5.1; Paus. 4.27.90) Here, some years afterwards (B.C. 411), several of them were murdered by Arsaces, a general of Tissaphernes (Thuc. 8.108).

After the fall of Corinth (B.C. 146) Delos became the centre of an extensive commerce. The sanctity of the spot and its consequent security, its festival which was a kind of fair, the excellence of its harbour, and its convenient situation on the highway from Italy and Greece to Asia, made it a favourite resort of merchants. (Strab. x. p.486.) So extensive was the commerce carried on at Delos, that 10,000 slaves are said to have changed hands here in one day. (Strab. xiv. p.668.) Delos was celebrated for its bronze, and before the invention of the Corinthian bronze the aes Deliacum had the greatest reputation in antiquity, and the vessels made of it were in very great request. (Plin. Nat. 34.2. s. 4; “vasa Deliaca,” Cic. pro Rosc. Am. 46, Verr. 2.34; Dict. of Ant. p. 25b., 2nd ed.) The Romans confirmed the Athenians in the possession of the island; but in the Mithridatic War the generals of Mithridates inflicted upon it a devastation, from which it never recovered. In the time of Strabo it still belonged to the Athenians. (Plb. 30.18; Strab. l.c.; Appian, App. Mith. 28; Paus. 3.23. § § 3, 4.) Pausanias describes it as almost deserted in his time (8.33.2, comp. 9.34.6).

Delos is little more than a rock, being only 5 miles in circumference, according to Pliny (l.c.). The town is described by Strabo (x. p.485) as lying in a plain at the foot of Mount Cynthus, and the only buildings which he specifies in the island are the ἱερὸν of Apollo, and the temple of Leto. The town was situated on the western side of the island. Mount Cynthus, from which Apollo and Leto are so often called, is a bare granite rock not more than 400 or 500 feet high. It was probably the acropolis of the ancient town, and seems to have been surrounded by a wall. On its sides are many architectural fragments of white marble, and on its summit are the foundations and remains of a large building of the Ionic order. In antiquity two flights of steps led up to the summit of the mountain; the one on the northern, and the other on the western side. On the western side is an ancient gate, of which “the roof is formed of two stones rudely shaped, and resting against each other at an angle so obtuse that the rise is only 4 feet 2 inches, above a breadth of 16 feet 2 inches.” (Leake.)

The ancient writers speak of a little river INOPUS (Ἰνωπός) in the island. They compare its rising and falling with the same phaenomena of the Nile, and some even suppose there was a connection between it and the Aegyptian river. (Strab. vi. p.271, x. p. 485; Callim. Hymn. in Del. 206, 263, in Dian. 171; Paus. 2.5.3; Plin. Nat. 2.103. s. 106.) We also find mention of a lake or tank, called λίμνη τροχοειδής by Herodotus (2.170) and Theognis (7), τροχοέσσα by Callimachus (in Del. 261), containing the water necessary for the service of the temple of Apollo. Its name, as well as the epithet περιηγής given it by Callimachus (in Apoll. 59), sufficiently proves that it was oval or circular; and there can be no doubt that it is the oval basin, 100 yards in length, situated in the northern half of the island, and a little inland east of the ancient harbour, which Tournefort and the earlier writers absurdly supposed to be a Naumachia. This lake is frequently mentioned by other ancient writers; and near it Leto is said to have brought forth her divine children. (Aesch. Eum. 9; Eur. Ion 169, Iphig. Taur. 1103.) Others again represent the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis as near the Inopus (Hom. in Apoll. 18; Callim. in Del. 206); and as the exact spot was pointed out in later times, the Inopus would appear to have been situated in the northern part of the island, near the oval basin mentioned above. Leake, however, identifies the Inopus with the small brook which flows down from Mount Cynthus and joins the sea at the port of Furni, since it is the only running stream in the island, and that only in winter. Leto is said to have grasped a palm-tree [p. 1.760]when she bore her children; and the palm, which does not grow in Greece Proper, was held in especial reverence in Delos. (Comp. Paus. 8.48.3; Hom. Od. 6.162; Aelian, Ael. VH 5.4; Hyg. Fab. 140.) The identical palm-tree of Leto was shown by the Delii in the time of Cicero (de Leg. 1.1).

Delos is now a heap of ruins. Whole shiploads of columns and other architectural remains were carried off, centuries ago, to Venice and Constantinople. Of the great temple of Apollo, of the stoa of Philip, of the theatre, and of numerous other buildings, there is scarcely the capital of a column or an architrave left uninjured. Not a single palm-tree is now found in the island, and the only inhabitants are a few shepherds, taking care of some flocks of sheep and goats brought over from Myconus. The chief buildings of Delos lay between the oval basin and the harbour on the western side of the island. The ruins of the great temple of Apollo and of the stoa of Philip III. of Macedon may here be distinctly traced. (Böckh, Inscr. n. 2274.) There are still remains of the colossal statue of Apollo dedicated by the Naxians, and in front of the basis we read Ναξίοι Ἀπόλλωνι. This statue was thrown down in antiquity. A brazen palm-tree, which had been dedicated by Nicias, according to Plutarch (Plut. Nic. 3), or by the Naxians themselves, according to Semus (Athen. 11.502), having been blown down by the wind, carried with it the colossal statue. “The theatre stood at the western foot of Mount Cynthus, facing Rheneia, and not far from the stoa of Philip. Its extremities were supported by walls of white marble of the finest masonry, but of a singular form, having had two projections adjacent to the orchestra, by which means the lower seats were in this part prolonged beyond the semicircle, and thus afforded additional accommodation to spectators in the situation most desirable. The diameter, including only the projections, is 187 feet. The marble seats have all been carried away, but many of the stones which formed their substruction remain. Immediately below the theatre, on the shore, are the ruins of a stoa, the columns of which were of granite. In a small valley which leads to the summit of Mount Cynthus, leaving the theatre on the left, many ruins of ancient houses are observable; and above them, in a level at the foot of the peak, there is a wall of white marble, which appears to have been the cell of a temple. Here lies an altar, which is inscribed with a dedication to Isis by one of her priests, Ctesippus, son of Ctesippus of Chius. Like many others, remaining both in this island and in Rheneia, it is adorned with bulls' heads and festoons. Another fragment of an inscription mentions Sarapis; and as both these were nearly in the same place where Spon and Wheler found another in which Isis; Anubis, Harpocrates, wand the Dioscuri were all named, it is very probable that the remains of white marble belonged to a temple of Isis. Among them is a portion of a large shaft pierced through the middle, 4 feet 5 inches in diameter; and there is another of the same kind, 5 feet 8 inches in diameter, half-way up the peak of Cynthus.” (Leake.) After describing Mount Cynthus, of which we have already spoken, Leake continues:--“Ruins of private houses surround Mount Cynthus on every side. On the heights above the Trochoëssa, which form the north-western promontory of the island, are many other similar ruins of ancient houses, neatly constructed with mortar. On the summit of the same hill, near the remains of a large house, are some shafts of white marble, a foot and a half in diameter, half polygonal and half plain. As this quarter was entirely separated from the town on Mount Cynthus by the valley containing the sacred buildings, there is great probability that it was the new Athenae Hadrianae, which was built at the expense of the emperor Hadrian, in a position called Olympieum (Phlegon, ap. Steph. B. sub voce Ὀλυμπίειον), perhaps from a temple of Jupiter Olympius, to which the shafts just mentioned may have belonged.” In the northern part of the island are the remains of the stadium and the gymnasium.

The strait, which separates Delos and Rheneia, is 4 stadia, or about half a mile, in width. (Strab. x. p.486.) In this strait are two rocks, called Rematiári, of which one is probably the ancient island of Hecate (Ἑκάτης νῆσος, Harpocrat. and Suid. s.v. Semus, ap. Athen. 14.645.)

RHENEIA or RHENAIA (Ῥήνεια, Ῥηναῖα, both forms occur in writers and inscriptions) is much larger than Delos, being about 10 miles in circumference. The northern and southern halves are divided by a narrow isthmus. The southern half, which lies opposite Delos, was the burial-place of the latter, as has been already explained, and is now covered with remains of sepulchres. There are also ruins of many private houses, like those at Delos. (Thuc. 1.13, 3.104; Hdt. 6.97; Strab. x. p.486; Diod. 12.58.)

Both Delos and Rheneia are now called Dhiles. (Besides the earlier works of Spon, Wheler, Thevenot, and Tournefort, see Leake, Northern Greece, vol. iii. p. 95, seq.; Ross, Reisen auf den Griech. Inseln, vol. i. p. 30, seq., vol. ii. p. 167, seq.; Brönsted, Reisen, vol. i. p. 59; Fiedler, Reisen durch Griechenland, vol. ii. p. 269, seq.; Expéd. Scientif. vol. iii. p. 3, seq.; Sallier, Hist. de l'Isle de Delos, in Mém. de l'Acad. des Inscr. vol. iii. p. 376; Dorville, Miscell. Observ. vol. vii. p. 1, seq.; Schwenck, Deliacorum Part. I., Francof. 1825; Schläger, Pauca quaedam de Rebus Deli, Mitav. 1840.)


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