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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter 2021 (Print 2021)


  • Christof Berns

Miletus (Ion. Μίλητος; Lat. Miletus; medieval Palatia; modern Balat, Turkey) was an ancient city in southwest Asia Minor. The city extended onto a peninsula on the southern shore of the Latmian Gulf, on the border between the historic cultural landscapes of Ionia and Caria. Due to the ongoing silting of the Gulf, the city’s ruins are now found approximately 9 km inland from the coast.

Miletus has a long history. The earliest traces of a settlement at the site come from the Chalcolithic period (4th millenium). The city enjoyed its golden age during the archaic period (7th–6th cent. BCE). It was the center of Ionian natural philosophy, and the city established numerous colonies in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions. In 494 BCE, after the so-called Ionian Revolt, Miletus was destroyed by the Persians and its inhabitants were deported to Susa (Herodotus, Hist. 6.18–22). During the classical (5th–4th cent. BCE) and Hellenistic periods (3rd–1st cent. BCE), the city underwent a large-scale expansion once again. Characteristic of its urban structure was its grid plan, which had earlier been attributed to Hippodamus of Miletus (5th cent. BCE), but which recent research has shown to have been a development of the late archaic period. The temple of Apollo at Didyma, which played a significant role for the entire region, also belonged to Miletus and its territory. The temple area was connected to the city by a processional path, the Sacred Way.

During the early Roman imperial period (1st cent. CE) – when Paul, according to Acts, gave his farewell speech to the elders of Ephesus in Miletus (Acts 20:17–35) – the city belonged to the Roman province of Asia. Although the city’s importance lagged behind that of Ephesus, which was the seat of the Roman proconsul, it nevertheless served as an urban center with extensive open squares and magnificent public buildings. The city’s location between Samos, Kos, and the Valley of Meander that flows through the middle of Anatolia made it a central hub of important transportation routes. According to the Greek writer Strabo (Geogr. 14.1.6), at the beginning of the imperial period Miletus possessed four harbors, which are still partially evident in the topography of the city’s ruins. Throughout its history, Miletus hosted a diverse population. Inscriptions attest to the existence of a Jewish community living there during the imperial period.

During the Byzantine period, the city temporarily served as the seat of the archbishop. Beginning in the 14th century CE, it became part of the Seljuk emirates Aydın and Menteşe.


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