Delos – 2

The second of five pieces about the Greek Island of Delos, at the centre of The Cyclades.

On a more human level, the earliest inhabitants of Delos in the middle of the third millennium BCE built their homes on top of the hill called Kynthos, so they would have an early warning of any approaching invaders. A thousand years later the Mycenaeans settled by the sea.

No records exist of when the Apollonian sanctuary began, but by the time the Ionians colonised the island in 1000 BCE Delos was already a cult centre. Hellenes from all over the Greek world gathered on Delos to worship Apollo the god of light, harmony, and balance, and Artemis the moon-goddess.

As Delos became more prosperous through the next few hundred years, the Athenians gradually increased their influence, culminating in a decree in 426 BCE that stated no one could give birth or die on Delos. Eventually, this resulted in the entire population moving to the small neighbouring island of Rinia and further afield.

Delos rebounded once it came within the Roman sphere of influence. The Romans made Delos a free port in 167 BCE and its wealth soared in the second and first centuries BCE, as the island became the centre of commercial activity in the eastern Mediterranean. Unfortunately, this wealth and friendliness with Rome alerted local despots and pirates to the treasures on the island and Delos was plundered twice in the first century BCE, first in 88 BCE by Mithridates, King of Pontus and then in 69 BCE by the pirate Athenodorus. The island never really recovered from these losses.    

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