MILETUS (mī-lē'tŭs, Gr. Milētos). In KJV once Miletum (2Tim.4.20). Pausanias says Miletus, southernmost of the Greek cities of Asia Minor, had Cretan origins. According to Homer, it was occupied by “foreign-speaking” Carians who fought in the Trojan confederation. Perhaps shortly after the Trojan War (twelfth cent. b.c.) Ionians seized the city. In the great age of Greek colonization (eighth to sixth cent.) Miletus planted many commercial centers around the Black Sea, and their wealth points to vigorous, expansive life in the metropolis (shown also by her exerting of pressure on Egypt and her maintenance of contact with Sybaris in Italy until the fall of that town in 510). Miletus must have exercised strong sea-power during these active centuries, and her military might is shown by the resistance she offered to the Lydian kings and the privileged position accorded her even by the greatest of those rulers, Croesus. When Croesus' kingdom fell to the Persians in 546, no attempt was made to reduce Miletus' independence. In 499 Miletus took the lead in precipitating the Ionian Revolt. In a naval engagement at Lade she suffered defeat, and the city was occupied by the Persians in 494.

The disaster ended Miletus’ long prosperity, until then damaged only by the factional strife that was endemic in all ancient Greek cities. In the sixth century Milesian scholars flourished—savants like Thales (statesman, philosopher, physicist, and astronomer), Anaximander and Anaximenes (physicists and astronomers), and Hecataeus (geographer). Industry flourished, and Milesian woolen goods were famous. After Persia’s defeat at Mycale in 479, Miletus regained her freedom and joined the Delian League, Athens’ security organization, leaving it in 412 in the day of Athens’ decline and disaster, only to fall under Persia again. In the fourth century the city was under Caria, from which her first founders had come. Aspasia (blue-stocking mistress of Pericles), Hippodamus (who planned the Piraeus), and Timotheus (the poet) belong to this second period of Milesian vigor.

The rest of her history was undistinguished. A silting harbor, the common bane of that coast, ended her sea power and sea-borne commerce. At the time of Paul’s visit (Acts.20.15, Acts.20.17) Miletus was a city of no great standing in the Roman province of Asia. The sea is now ten miles (seventeen km.) from the ancient site.——EMB


MILETUS mī lē’ təs (Μίλητος, G3626). Ancient city of Asia Minor, on the shore of the Mediterranean near the mouth of the River Maeander.

Miletus was one of the great Ionian cities in Asia Minor. It was colonized first by Cretans, and later by Greeks. During the great period of colonization (750-550 b.c.) when the Greeks extended their influence to every corner of the Mediterranean area, Miletus was most active, being credited with the establishment of about ninety colonies, chiefly in the Black Sea region, among them Abydos, Cyzicus, and Sinope. It also led the way in the Gr. penetration of Egypt, being largely responsible for the founding of Naucratis in the 7th cent. b.c., the first permanent Gr. settlement in the country. Situated favorably, with four good harbors, Miletus became a great sea power and dominated the Black Sea trade, from which it became exceedingly wealthy. Luxury items from Miletus played a part in Athenian economic activity in the 6th cent. The kings of Lydia found a strong rival in Miletus, until a treaty was concluded in which Miletus evidently acknowledged Lydian rule, but enjoyed a privileged position esp. under Croesus. This relationship continued after the Pers. conquest in the mid 6th cent. Throughout this same time Ephesus was distinguished for its literary and scientific accomplishments. It was the home of the first Gr. philosopher, Thales, who sought to understand the world in terms of one basic substance, water. His successors, Anaximander and Anaximenes, belonged to the so-called Milesian school of philosophy, which sought to explain things without recourse to supernatural intervention. Anaximander is distinguished as the first person to draw a map of the world. Toward the end of the 6th cent. Hecataeus founded a school of antiquarian historians known as the logographers, which had a great influence on the development and work of Herodotus, who is acknowledged as the “Father of History.” Until 500 b.c. Miletus was the greatest of the eastern Gr. cities.

This period of material and cultural prosperity came to an end with the involvement of Miletus in the Ionian revolt, beginning in 499 b.c. Persia proved too strong, and after the naval disaster at Lade (494 b.c.) the city was captured and the inhabitants sold into slavery. Then began a slow recovery. The city was rebuilt on a new grid plan invented at this very time by a native son, Hippodamus. It became part of the Athenian confederacy in about 450 b.c. and in 412 revolted and ultimately fell again under Persia. Toward the end of the 4th cent. it was conquered and rebuilt by Alexander. Under the Hel. kings it retained some importance as a commercial town, and some great buildings were built by these rulers. In 133 b.c. the city passed into Rom. hands as part of the province of Asia, and received special attention from Augustus and Trajan because of its commercial importance. However, the harbors slowly silted up, and the city became a typical small Rom. provincial town. In a.d. 263 the Goths came and destroyed the great temple of Artemis. By the time of Justinian (6th cent. a.d.) it was a small village, and is now deserted. Excavations and investigations have been in progress from the 16th cent. on, and today the classical town may be seen, containing extensive remains of both private and public buildings covering the period from the 5th cent. b.c. to Rom. imperial times.

The Apostle Paul stopped at Miletus on his journey from Greece to Jerusalem, and spoke to the elders of the Ephesian church whom he asked to meet him there (Acts 20:15, 17). In 2 Timothy 4:20 he mentions leaving Trophimus there to recover from an illness. Miletus, however, played little part in the history of Christianity, though it had a bishopric in the 5th cent.


Oxford Classical Dictionary; Pauly-Wissova, Real-Encyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, XV2 (1932), 1586-1622; CAH Passim; IDB (1962).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A famous early Ionian Greek city on the coast of Caria, near the mouth of the Meander River, which, according to Ac 20:15-21:1, and 2Ti 4:20 (the King James Version "Miletum"), Paul twice visited. In the earliest times it was a prominent trading post, and it is said that 75 colonies were founded by its merchants. Among them were Abydos, Cyzicus and Sinope. In 494 BC, the city was taken by the Persians; it was recovered by Alexander the Great, but after his time it rapidly declined, yet it continued to exist until long after the Christian era. In the history of early Christianity it plays but a little part. The Meander brings down a considerable amount of sediment which it has deposited at its mouth, naturally altering the coast line. The gulf into which the river flows has thus been nearly filled with the deposit. In the ancient gulf stood a little island called Lade; the island now appears as a mound in the marshy malarial plain, and Palatia, the modern village which stands on the site of Miletus, is 6 miles from the coast. Without taking into account the great changes in the coast line it would be difficult to understand Ac 20:15-21, for in the days of Paul, Ephesus could be reached from Miletus by land only by making a long detour about the head of the gulf. To go directly from one of these cities to the other, one would have been obliged to cross the gulf by boat and then continue by land. This is what Paul’s messenger probably did. The direct journey may now be made by land. Miletus has been so ruined that its plan can no longer be made out. Practically the only remaining object of unusual interest is theater, the largest in Asia Minor, which was not built in a hollow of the hillside, as most ancient theaters were, but in the open field.