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DELOS de’ lŏs (Δη̂λος). A small Aegean island, regarded as the center of the Cyclades, which derive their name from their encirclement of Delos. That they do so is apparent to anyone viewing the panorama of surrounding islands and sea from the 480 ft. summit of Mount Cynthus, the central rock knoll of the island. The island itself, barren of trees and uninhabited, is covered with the remarkable ruins of a Greco-Roman town.

Delos was reputed to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, and from earliest recorded history the island was honored by song and dance, and was the scene of a sacred festival which, as early as the 8th cent. b.c., attracted visitors from all parts of the Aegean world. The island was taken over by colonists of Gr. stock as early as 1000 b.c., and was already famous as a place of Hellenic life by the time the Odyssey was written, in the 8th cent. History, in the stricter sense of the word, begins, however, in the 6th cent., when Pisistratus of Athens (560-527 b.c.), and Polycrates, who came to power in Samos in 540 b.c., sought in turn to bring Delos within their spheres of control.

When the Pers. fleet was on its way to Greece in 490 b.c., it respected the sanctity of Delos, and when, after the clash with Persia, the Greeks set up a maritime confederacy to protect their independence (478 b.c.), Delos was chosen as the seat of the common treasury. When Athens boldly removed the treasury to Athens, Delos remained a member without tribute. Athenian control continued until the end of the disastrous war with Sparta that closed the 5th cent. b.c., when Athens lost her great naval power. A generation later (378, 377 b.c.) Athens lead a revived maritime league and again controlled Delos. With Athens’ final eclipse (314 b.c.), her influence in Delos ended.

For the next cent. and a half, the island was administered by officials known as hieropoioi, with Ptolemaic Egypt and metropolitan Macedon, successor states of Alexander’s empire, contending for power in the Aegean. Delos enjoyed the status and institutions of a city-state over this period. Monuments and inscrs. reveal the rivalries of the surrounding states—Egypt, Macedon, Pergamum and Syria—under their Hel. kings all of whom, however, seem to have respected Delian independence and the island’s sanctity.

Early in the 3rd cent., Delos became the center of the Aegean grain trade. Foreign banking firms flourished and Italian names began to appear in Delian inscrs. Delos lost her neutral status when she made the mistake of supporting Perseus of Macedon in his clash with Rome. Rome, after breaking Macedon, handed Delos to Athens, which had been shrewd enough to support the victor, and Athens replaced the whole Delian population by her own colonists (166 b.c.). Delos was made a free port to damage Rhodian trade and the island rapidly became a cosmopolitan center of business commerce and the chief center of the slave trade in the central Mediterranean. It was one of the states to whom the Rom. Lucius Calpurnius Piso appealed for protection of Jewish interests in the war with Antiochus VII (1 Macc 15:15-24). When Mithridates of Pontus launched his great assault on Rome in 88 b.c., Archelaus his general massacred 20,000 Italians on Delos and the island failed to recover its commercial prosperity. The trade routes changed and the place fell into the dereliction in which it is seen today.

The French began the archeological investigation of Delos in 1873. Its mass of remains, buildings, public and private, sacred and secular and its multitude of inscrs. have notably added to the knowledge of the Gr. world and its culture.


CAH, VIII, ch. 20 (1930) has a full bibliography; W. A. Laidlaw, A History of Delos (1933).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

An island, now deserted, one of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, about 3 miles long and 1 mile broad, with a rocky mountain (Cynthus) several hundred feet high in the center. In antiquity Delos enjoyed great prosperity. According to Greek legend the island once floated on the surface of the water, until Poseidon fastened it on four diamond pillars for the wandering Leto, who, like Io, was pursued by the vengeful Hera. It was here that Apollo and Artemis were born; hence, the island was sacred, and became one of the chief seats of worship of the two deities. Numerous temples embellished Delos. The most magnificent was that of Apollo, which contained a colossal statue of the god, a dedicatory offering of the Naxians. This temple was a sanctuary visited by all the Greeks, who came from far and near to worship at the deity’s shrine. There was a Dorian peripteral temple in Delos from the beginning of the 4th century BC. To the North was a remarkable altar composed entirely of ox-horns. The various Ionian cities sent sacred embassies (theoriai) with rich offerings. There was also a celebrated oracle in Delos which was accounted one of the most trustworthy in the world. Every five years the famous Delian festival was celebrated with prophecies, athletic contests and games of every kind. All the nations of Greece participated.

The earliest inhabitants of Delos were Carians; but about 1000 BC the island was occupied by Ionians. For a long time it enjoyed independence. In 478 Delos was chosen as the place for the convention of the representatives of the Greek states for deliberation about means for defense against Persia. The treasury of the Athenian Confederacy was kept here after 476. The island became independent of Athens in 454. During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC it became one of the chief ports of the Aegean. This was partly due to its location, and partly to the fact that the Romans, after 190 BC, favored the island as a rival to the sea-power of Rhodes. In 166 Delos was given to Athens; the inhabitants fled to Achea, and the island was colonized by Athenians, together with Romans.

The ruins of the city of Delos, which became a flourishing commercial port, are to the North of the temple. It became the center of trade between Alexandria and the Black Sea, and was for a long time one of the chief slave markets of the Greek world. But Delos received a severe blow, from which it never recovered, in the war between Rome and Mithridates. The latter’s general landed in 88 BC and massacred many, and sold the remainder of the defenseless people, and sacked and destroyed the city together with the temple and its countless treasures. At the conclusion of peace (84) Delos came into the possession of the Romans, who later gave it back to Athens. Under the Empire the island lost its importance entirely.

Delos was one of the states to which Rome addressed letters in behalf of the Jews (138-137 BC; see 1 Macc 15:16-23). Among those who came to Delos from the East must have been many of this nation. Josephus cites in full a decree passed in Delos which confirmed the Jewish exemption from military service (Ant., XIV, x, 4).

The excavations of the French have laid bare 8 temples within the sacred enclosure (Apollo, Artemis, Dionysus). Numerous statues, dating from the earliest times of Greek art down to the latest, have been discovered; also 2,000 inscriptions, among which was an inventory of the temple treasure.

By the side of Delos, across a very narrow strait, lies Rheneia, another island which was the burying-ground of Delos; for on the sacred isle neither births, deaths nor burials were permitted. In 426 BC Delos was "purified" by the Athenians--by the removal of the bodies that had been interred there previously.


Lebegue, Recherches sur Delos (Paris, 1876); V. v. Schoffer, De Deli Insulae rebus, Berliner Studien fur klass. Phil. (Berlin, 1889); Homolle, S. Reinach and others, in the Bulletin de corresp. Hellen. (VI, 1-167; VII, 103-25, 329-73; VIII, 75-158; XIV, 389-511; XV, 113-68); Homolle, Archives de l’intendance sacree a Delos; Jebb, Journal of Hellenic Studies (1880), 7-62.

J. E. Harry