The Theater of Miletus
Evidence of first settlement at the site has been made inaccessible by the rise of sea level and deposition of sediments from the Maeander. The first available evidence is of the Neolithic. In the early and middle Bronze age the settlement came under Minoan influence. Legend has it that an influx of Cretans occurred displacing the indigenous Leleges. The site was renamed Miletus after a place in Crete.
The Late Bronze Age, 13th century BCE, saw the arrival of Luwian language speakers from south central Anatolia calling themselves the Carians. Later in that century the first Greeks arrived. The city at that time rebelled against the Hittite Empire. After the fall of that empire the city was destroyed in the 12th century BCE and starting about 1000 BCE was resettled extensively by the Ionian Greeks. Legend offers an Ionian foundation event sponsored by a founder named Neleus from the Peloponnesus.
The Greek Dark Ages were a time of Ionian settlement and consolidation in an alliance called the Ionian League. The Archaic Period of Greece began with a sudden and brilliant flash of art and philosophy on the coast of Anatolia. In the 6th Century BC, Miletus was the site of origin of the Greek philosophical (and scientific) tradition, when Thales, followed by Anaximander and Anaximines (known collectively, to modern scholars, as the Milesian School) began to speculate about the material constitution of the world, and to propose speculative naturalistic (as opposed to traditional, supernatural) explanations for various natural phenomena.
In antiquity the city possessed a harbor at the southern entry of a large bay, on which two more of the traditional twelve Ionian cities stood: Priene and Myus. The harbor of Miletus was additionally protected by the nearby small island of Lade. Over the centuries the gulf silted up with alluvium carried by the Meander River. Priene and Myus had lost their harbors by the Roman era, and Miletus itself became an inland town in the early Christian era; all three were abandoned to ruin as their economies were strangled by the lack of access to the sea. There is a Great Harbour Monument where, according to the New Testament account, the apostle Paul stopped on his way back to Jerusalem by boat. He met the Ephesian Elders and then headed out to the beach to bid them farewell, recorded in the book of Acts 20:17-38.
GeologyDuring the Pleistocene epoch the Miletus region was submerged in the Aegean Sea. It subsequently emerged slowly, the sea reaching a low level of about 130 meters (430 ft) below present level at about 18,000 BP. The site of Miletus was part of the mainland.
A gradual rise brought a level of about 1.75 meters (5 ft 9 in) below present at about 5500 BP, creating several karst block islands of limestone, the location of the first settlements at Miletus. At about 1500 BCE the karst shifted due to small crustal movements and the islands consolidated into a peninsula. Since then the sea has risen 1.75 m but the peninsula has been surrounded by sediment from the Maeander river and is now land-locked. Sedimentation of the harbor began at about 1000 BCE, and by 300 CE Lake Bafa had been created.
NeolithicThe earliest available archaeological evidence indicates that the islands on which Miletus was originally placed were inhabited by a Neolithic population in the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BCE (3500–3000 BCE). Pollen in core samples from Lake Bafa in the Latmus region inland of Miletus suggests that a lightly-grazed climax forest prevailed in the Maeander valley, otherwise untenanted. Sparse Neolithic settlements were made at springs, numerous and sometimes geothermal in this karst, rift valley topography. The islands offshore were settled perhaps for their strategic significance at the mouth of the Maeander, a route inland protected by escarpments. The grazers in the valley may have belonged to them, but the location looked to the sea.
Bronze AgeRecorded history at Miletus begins with the records of the Hittite Empire in the Late Bronze Age. The prehistoric archaeology of the Early and Middle Bronze Age portrays a city heavily influenced by society and events elsewhere in the Aegean, rather than inland.
Cretan periodBeginning at about 1900 BCE artifacts of the Minoan civilization acquired by trade arrived at Miletus. For some centuries the location received a strong impulse from that civilization, an archaeological fact that tends to support but not necessarily confirm the founding legend—that is, a population influx, from Crete. According to Strabo:
Ephorus says: Miletus was first founded and fortified above the sea by Cretans, where the Miletus of olden times is now situated, being settled by Sarpedon, who brought colonists from the Cretan Miletus and named the city after that Miletus, the place formerly being in possession of the Leleges.The legends recounted as history by the ancient historians and geographers are perhaps the strongest; the late mythographers have nothing historically significant to relate.
Luwian and Greek periodMiletus is first mentioned in the Hittite Annals of Mursili II as Millawanda. In ca. 1320 BC, Millawanda supported the rebellion of Uhha-Ziti of Arzawa. Mursili ordered his generals Mala-Ziti and Gulla to raid Millawanda, and they proceeded to burn parts of it (damage from LHIIIA:2 has been found on-site: Christopher Mee, Anatolia and the Aegean in the Late Bronze Age, p. 142). In addition the town was fortified according to a Hittite plan (ibid, p. 139).
Millawanda is then mentioned in the "Tawagalawa letter", part of a series including the Manapa-Tarhunta letter and the Milawata letter, all of which are less securely dated. The Tawagalawa letter notes that Milawata had a governor, Atpa, who was under the jurisdiction of "Ahhiyawa" (a growing state probably in LHIIIB Mycenaean Greece); and that the town of Atriya was under Milesian jurisdiction. The Manapa-Tarhunta letter also mentions Atpa. Together the two letters tell that the adventurer Piyama-Radu had humiliated Manapa-Tarhunta before Atpa (in addition to other misadventures); a Hittite king then chased Piyama-Radu into Millawanda and, in the Tawagalawa letter, requested Piyama-Radu's extradition to Hatti.
The Milawata letter mentions a joint expedition by the Hittite king and a Luwiyan vassal (probably Kupanta-Kurunta of Mira) against Milawata (apparently its new name), and notes that Milawata (and Atriya) were now under Hittite control.
Homer records that during the time of the Trojan War, it was a Carian city (Iliad, book II).
In the last stage of LHIIIB, the citadel of bronze age Pylos counted among its female slaves a mi-ra-ti-ja, Mycenaean Greek for "women from Miletus", written in Linear b syllabic script.
During the collapse of Bronze Age civilisation, Miletus was burnt again, presumably by the Sea Peoples.
Dark AgeMythographers told that Neleus, a son of Codrus the last King of Athens, had come to Miletus after the "Return of the Heraclids" (so, during the Greek Dark Ages). The Ionians killed the men of Miletus and married their widows. This is the mythical commencement of the enduring alliance between Athens and Miletus, which played an important role in the subsequent Persian Wars.
Miletus was one of the cities involved in the Lelantine War of the 8th century BCE.
Miletus was an important center of philosophy and science, producing such men as Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes.
By the 6th century BCE, Miletus had earned a maritime empire with many colonies, but brushed up against powerful Lydia at home, and the tyrant Polycrates of its neighbour to the west, Samos.
When Cyrus of Persia defeated Croesus of Lydia, Miletus fell under Persian rule. In 502 BC, the Ionian Revolt began in Naxos; and when Miletus's tyrant Aristagoras failed to recapture the island, Aristagoras joined the revolt as its leader. Persia quashed this rebellion and punished Miletus in such a fashion that the whole of Greece mourned it. A year afterward, Phrynicus produced the tragedy The Capture of Miletus in Athens. The Athenians fined him for reminding them of their loss.
Its gridlike layout, planned by Hippodamos, became the basic layout for Roman cities.
In 479 BC, the Greeks decisively defeated the Persians at the Greek mainland, and Miletus was freed of Persian rule. During this time several other cities were formed by Milesian settlers, spanning across what is now Turkey and even as far as Crimea.
The eponymous founder of the bawdy Miletian school of literature Aristides of Miletus taught here.
Alexandrian periodIn 334 BC, the city was liberated from Persian rule by Alexander the Great.
Roman periodThe New Testament mentions Miletus as the site where the Apostle Paul in 57 CE met with the elders of the church of Ephesus near the close of his Third Missionary Journey, as recorded in Acts of the Apostles (Acts 20:15–38). It is believed that Paul stopped by Great Harbour Monument and sat on its steps. He may have met the Ephesian elders there and then bid them farewell on the nearby beach. Miletus is also the city where Paul left Trophimus, one of his travelling companions, to recover from an illness (2 Timothy 4:20). Because this cannot be the same visit as Acts 20 (in which Trophimus accompanied Paul all the way to Jerusalem, according to Acts 21:29), Paul must have made at least one additional visit to Miletus, perhaps as late as 65 or 66 CE. Paul's previous successful three-year ministry in nearby Ephesus resulted in the evangelization of the entire province of Asia (see Acts 19:10, 20; 1 Corinthians 16:9). It is safe to assume that at least by the time of the apostle's second visit to Miletus, a fledgling Christian community was established in Miletus. (The rendering of the King James Version of Malta as "Melita" in Acts 28:1 has created confusion between Malta and Miletus among some readers of the Bible.)
Byzantine periodDuring the Byzantine age Miletus became a residence for archbishops. The small Byzantine castle called Castro Palation located on the hill beside the city, was built at this time.
Finally, Ottomans utilized the city as a harbour during their rule in Anatolia. As the harbour became silted up, the city was abandoned. Today the ruins of city lie some 10 kilometres from the sea.
Archaeological excavationsThe first excavations in Miletus were conducted by the French archaeologist Olivier Rayet in 1873, followed by the German archaeologist Theodor Wiegand. Excavations, however, were interrupted several times by wars and various other events. Today, excavations are organized by the Ruhr University of Bochum, Germany.
One remarkable artifact recovered from the city during the first excavations of the 19th century, the Market Gate of Miletus, was transported piece by piece to Germany and reassembled. It is currently exhibited at the Pergamon museum in Berlin. The main collection of artifacts resides in the Miletus Museum in Didim, Aydın, serving since 1973.
Colonies of MiletusMiletus became known for the great number of colonies she founded. She was considered the greater Greek metropolis and she has founded more colonies than any other Greek city. Pliny the Elder mentions 90 colonies founded by Miletus in his Natural History (5.112).
- Thales (c. 624 BC–c. 546 BC) Pre-Socratic philosopher
- Anaximander (c. 610 BC–c. 546 BC) Pre-Socratic philosopher
- Anaximenes (c. 585 BC–c. 525 BC) Pre-Socratic philosopher
- Hippodamus of Miletus (c. 498—408 BC) urban planner
- Aspasia (c. 470–400 BC) courtesan , and mistress of Pericles, was born here
- Aristides of Miletus, writer
- Hecataeus of Miletus, historian
- Hesychius (6th century) Greek chronicler and biographer
- Isidore (4th–5th century) Greek architect
- Aristagoras (5th–6th century) Tyrant of Miletus
- Leucippus (first half of 5th century BC) Philosopher and originator of Atomism (his association with Miletus is traditional, but disputed)