The island of Delos (/ˈdlɒs/; Greek: Δήλος [ˈðilos]; Attic: Δῆλος, Doric: Δᾶλος), near Mykonos, near the centre of the Cyclades archipelago, is one of the most important mythological, historical, and archaeological sites in Greece. The excavations in the island are among the most extensive in the Mediterranean; ongoing work takes place under the direction of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades, and many of the artifacts found are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Native name:
Delos general.jpg
General view of Delos
In the Cyclades
Delos is located in Greece
Coordinates37°23′36″N 25°16′16″E / 37.39333°N 25.27111°E / 37.39333; 25.27111Coordinates: 37°23′36″N 25°16′16″E / 37.39333°N 25.27111°E / 37.39333; 25.27111
Area3.43 km2 (1.32 sq mi)
Highest elevation112 m (367 ft)
Highest pointMt. Kynthos
RegionSouth Aegean
Regional unitMykonos
Population24 (2011)
Pop. density6,8/km2 (176/sq mi)
CriteriaCultural: ii, iii, iv, vi
Inscription1990 (14th Session)

Delos had a position as a holy sanctuary for a millennium before Olympian Greek mythology made it the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. From its Sacred Harbour, the horizon shows the three conical mounds that have identified landscapes sacred to a goddess (it is predicted that the deity's name is Athena) - in other sites: one, retaining its Pre-Greek name Mount Cynthus (Mount Kynthos),[1] is crowned with a sanctuary of Zeus.

In 1990, UNESCO inscribed Delos on the World Heritage List, citing it as the "exceptionally extensive and rich" archaeological site which "conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port".[2]


Ancient GreeceEdit

The island of Delos, Carl Anton Joseph Rottmann, 1847
The theatre
The Terrace of the Lions

Investigation of ancient stone huts found on the island indicate that it has been inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC. Thucydides identifies the original inhabitants as piratical Carians who were eventually expelled by King Minos of Crete.[3] By the writing of the Odyssey, the island was already famous as the birthplace of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis (although there seems to be some confusion of Artemis' birthplace being either Delos or the island of Ortygia).

Between 900 BC and 100 AD, Delos was a major cult centre where the gods Dionysus and Leto, mother of the twin deities Apollo and Artemis, were revered. Eventually acquiring Panhellenic religious significance, Delos was initially a religious pilgrimage for the Ionians.

A number of "purifications" were performed by the city-state of Athens in an attempt to render the island fit for the proper worship of the gods. The first took place in the 6th century BC, directed by the tyrant Pisistratus who ordered that all graves within sight of the temple be dug up and the bodies moved to another nearby island. In the 5th century BC, during the 6th year of the Peloponnesian war and under instruction from the Delphic Oracle, the entire island was purged of all dead bodies. Prohibition of dying was then ordered, so that no one should be allowed to die (or give birth) on the island due to its sacred importance, and to preserve its neutrality in commerce since no one could then claim ownership through inheritance. Immediately after this purification, the first quinquennial festival of the Delian games were celebrated there.[4] Four years later, all inhabitants of the island were removed to Atramyttium in Asia as a further purification.[5]

After the Persian Wars the island became the natural meeting-ground for the Delian League, founded in 478 BC, the congresses being held in the temple (a separate quarter was reserved for foreigners and the sanctuaries of foreign deities). The League's common treasury was kept here as well until 454 BC when Pericles removed it to Athens.[6]

During the Hellenistic period there was a well-established Phoenician colony on the island with extensive trade relations.[7]

The island had no productive capacity for food, fiber, or timber, which was all imported. Limited water was exploited with an extensive cistern and aqueduct system, wells, and sanitary drains. Various regions operated agoras (markets).

Suda writes that the Greeks used the proverb "ᾌδεις ὥσπερ εἰς Δῆλον πλέων", meaning you sing as if sailing into Delos in reference to someone who is happy, light-hearted and enjoying himself.[8]

Iamblichus writes that there were Delos Mysteries (similar to the Eleusinian Mysteries).[9]

Roman eraEdit

Strabo states that in 166 BC the Romans converted Delos into a free port, which was partially motivated by seeking to damage the trade of Rhodes, at the time the target of Roman hostility. In 167 or 166 BC, after the Roman victory in the Third Macedonian War, the Roman Republic ceded the island of Delos to the Athenians, who expelled most of the original inhabitants.[10] Roman traders came to purchase tens of thousands of slaves captured by the Cilician pirates or captured in the wars following the disintegration of the Seleucid Empire. It became the center of the slave trade, with the largest slave market in the larger region being maintained here.

The Roman destruction of Corinth in 146 BC allowed Delos to at least partially assume Corinth's role as the premier trading center of Greece. However, Delos' commercial prosperity, construction activity, and population waned significantly after the island was assaulted by the forces of Mithridates VI of Pontus in 88 and 69 BC, during the Mithridatic Wars with Rome.[11] Before the end of the 1st century BC, trade routes had changed; Delos was replaced by Puteoli as the chief focus of Italian trade with the East, and as a cult-centre too it entered a sharp decline.

Despite its decline, Delos maintained some population in the early Roman Imperial period. Pausanias (8,33,2), writing in the 2nd century AD, states that Delos was uninhabited apart from a few custodians of the sanctuaries. Evidence has been found of Roman baths, coins, an aqueduct, residential and elite houses, as well as multiple churches, basilicas and a monastery all from the 1st–6th centuries AD, which, however, does not suggest that the island was continuously inhabited in the period.[12][13] The pottery found indicates that produce, like wine and oil, continued to be imported from regional centres. There are also a number of wine presses amidst the ruins of the ancient city that date to this period, suggesting that the population at this time was engaged in considerable viticultural endeavour.[14]

Delos was eventually abandoned around the 8th century AD.[15]


  • The small sacred lake in its circular bowl, now intentionally left dry by the island's caretakers to suppress disease-spreading bacteria,[16] is a topographical feature that determined the placement of later features.
  • The Minoan Fountain was a rectangular public well hewn in the rock, with a central column; it formalized the sacred spring in its present 6th century BC form, reconstructed in 166 BC, according to an inscription. Tightly-laid courses of masonry form the walls; water can still be reached by a flight of steps that fill one side.
  • There are several market squares. The Hellenistic Agora of the Competaliasts by the Sacred Harbour retains the postholes for market awnings in its stone paving. Two powerful Italic merchant guilds dedicated statues and columns there.
  • The Temple of the Delians, dedicated to Apollo, is a classic example of the Doric order. Beside the temple once stood a colossal Kouros of Apollo, only parts of which remain extant. Dating to the 6th century BC, parts of the upper torso and pelvis remain in situ, a hand is kept at the local museum and a foot in the British Museum.[17]
The Terrace of the Lions
  • The Terrace of the Lions, also dedicated to Apollo by the people of Naxos shortly before 600 BC. It originally had nine to twelve squatting, snarling marble guardian lions along the Sacred Way; one was removed and is presently situated over the main gate of the Venetian Arsenal. The lions create a monumental avenue comparable to Egyptian avenues of sphinxes. (There is a Greek sphinx in the Delos Museum.) Today only seven of the original lions remain.
  • The Oikos of the Naxians (House of the Naxians), first quarter of 6th century BC: a long hall with one central ionic colonnade, a west porch tristyle in antis and an east marble prostasis of the middle of the 6th century BCE.[18]
  • The Establishment of the Poseidoniasts, clubhouse of "the Koinon of the Berytian Poseidoniast merchants, shipmasters and warehousemen",[19][20][21] during the early years of Roman hegemony, late 2nd century BC. To their protective triad of Baal/Poseidon, Astarte/Aphrodite and Eshmun/Asklepios, they added Roma.
Dionysus riding a panther mosaic in the House of Dionysos
  • The Doric Temple of Isis was built on a high over-looking hill at the beginning of the Roman period to venerate the familiar trinity of Isis, the Alexandrian Serapis and Anubis.
  • The Temple of Hera, circa 500 BC, is a rebuilding of an earlier Heraion on the site.
  • The House of Dionysus is a luxurious 2nd century private house named for the floor mosaic of Dionysus riding a panther.
  • The House of the Dolphins is similarly named from its atrium mosaic, where erotes ride dolphins; its Phoenician owner commissioned a floor mosaic of Tanit in his vestibule.
  • The Stoivadeion dedicated to Dionysus bears a statue of the god of wine and the life-force. On either side of the platform, a pillar supports a colossal phallus, the symbol of Dionysus. The southern pillar, which is decorated with relief scenes from the Dionysiac circle, was erected around 300 BC to celebrate a winning theatrical performance. The statue of Dionysus was originally flanked by those of two actors impersonating Paposilenoi (conserved in the Archaeological Museum of Delos). The marble theatre is a rebuilding of an older one, undertaken shortly after 300 BC.
  • The Delos Synagogue, the oldest synagogue known today.[citation needed]

Current populationEdit

The 2001 Greek census reported a population of 14 inhabitants on the island. The island is administratively a part of the municipality of Mýkonos.

According to more recent numbers, in the year 2011 the island counted 24 inhabitants.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The combination -nth- is a marker for Pre-Greek words: Corinth, menthos, labyrinth, etc. A name Artemis and even Diana retained was Cynthia.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Thucydides, I,8.
  4. ^ Thucydides, III,104.
  5. ^ Thucydides, V,1.
  6. ^ Thucydides, I,96.
  7. ^ Boussac, Marie-Françoise (1982). "À propos de quelques sceaux déliens". Bulletin de correspondance hellénique (in French). 106 (1): 445–446. doi:10.3406/bch.1982.1923. ISSN 0007-4217.
  8. ^ Suda, alpha, 455
  9. ^ Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, § 28.151
  10. ^ Tang, Birgit (2005), Delos, Carthage, Ampurias: the Housing of Three Mediterranean Trading Centres, Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider (Accademia di Danimarca), p. 14, ISBN 8882653056.
  11. ^ Tang, Birgit (2005), Delos, Carthage, Ampurias: the Housing of Three Mediterranean Trading Centres, Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider (Accademia di Danimarca), pp. 14, 32, ISBN 8882653056.
  12. ^ DODD, EMLYN K. (2020). ROMAN AND LATE ANTIQUE WINE PRODUCTION IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN : a comparative ... archaeological study at antiochia ad cragum. [Place of publication not identified]: ARCHAEOPRESS. ISBN 978-1-78969-403-1. OCLC 1139263254.
  13. ^ Le Quéré, Enora (2015). Les Cyclades sous l'Empire romain : histoire d'une renaissance. Impr. Université Rennes 2). Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes. ISBN 978-2-7535-4045-3. OCLC 919408437.
  14. ^ DODD, EMLYN K. (2020). ROMAN AND LATE ANTIQUE WINE PRODUCTION IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN : a comparative ... archaeological study at antiochia ad cragum. [Place of publication not identified]: ARCHAEOPRESS. ISBN 978-1-78969-403-1. OCLC 1139263254.
  15. ^ DODD, EMLYN K. (2020). ROMAN AND LATE ANTIQUE WINE PRODUCTION IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN : a comparative ... archaeological study at antiochia ad cragum. [Place of publication not identified]: ARCHAEOPRESS. ISBN 978-1-78969-403-1. OCLC 1139263254.
  16. ^ "Sacred Lake | Greece Attractions". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 2020-04-12.
  17. ^ British Museum Collection
  18. ^ Gruben G., Griechische Tempel und Heiligtümer, München, 2001
  19. ^ Gazette numismatique suisse. p. 124.
  20. ^ Carter, Jane B. (1997). "Thiasos and Marzeaḥ". In Langdon, Susan (ed.). New Light on a Dark Age. p. 99.
  21. ^ Hephaistos. 2006. p. 129.

Further reading and viewingEdit

  • Claude Vial, Inscriptions de Délos. Index, tome II: les Déliens (Paris: De Boccard, 2008).
  • Delos: Island at the Center of the World. Princeton, New Jersey: Films for the Humanities and Sciences, 2006.

External linksEdit

  • Hellenic Ministry of Culture site: Delos
  • EfA website with history of the Delos Archaeological site (in French)
  • English translations of inscriptions from Delos
  • Delos Island on WikiMapia
  • The Barrington Atlas Directory notes: Delos GRE