Didyma (Greek: Δίδυμα) was an ancient Ionian sanctuary, the modern Didim, Turkey, containing a temple and oracle of Apollo, the Didymaion. In Greek didyma means "twin", but the Greeks who sought a "twin" at Didyma ignored the Carian origin of the name. Next to Delphi, Didyma was the most renowned oracle of the Hellenic world, first mentioned among the Greeks in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, but an establishment preceding literacy and even the Hellenic colonization of Ionia. Mythic genealogies of the origins of the Branchidae line of priests, designed to capture the origins of Didyma as a Hellenic tradition, date to the Hellenistic period.
Didyma was the largest and most significant sanctuary on the territory of the great classical city Miletus. To approach it, visitors would follow the Sacred Way to Didyma, about 17 km long. Along the way, were ritual waystations, and statues of members of the Branchidae family, male and female, as well as animal figures. Some of these statues, dating to the 6th century BC are now in the British Museum, taken by Charles Newton in the 19th century.
Greek and Roman authors laboured to refer the name Didyma to "twin" temples — not a feature of the site — or to temples of the twins, Apollo and Artemis, whose own cult center at Didyma was only recently established, or whether, as Wilamowitz suggested there is a connection to Cybele Dindymene, "Cybele of Mount Dindymon", is mooted. Recent excavations by the German team of archaeologists have uncovered a major sanctuary dedicated to Artemis, with the key ritual focus being water.
The 6th-century Didymaion, dedicated to Apollo, enclosed its smaller predecessor, which archaeologists have identified. Its treasury was enriched by gifts from Croesus.
Until its destruction by the Persians in 494 BC, Didyma's sanctuary was administered by the family of the Branchidae, who claimed descent from a purely eponymous Branchos, a youth beloved of Apollo. The priestess, seated above the sacred spring, gave utterances that were interpreted by the Branchidae. Both Herodotus and Pausanias dated the origins of the oracle at Didyma before the Ionian colonization of this coast. The Branchidae were expelled by Darius' Persians, who burned the temple in 493 BC and carried away to Ecbatana the archaic bronze statue of Apollo, traditionally made by Canachus of Sicyon in the 6th century; the spring dried up, it was reported, and the archaic oracle was silenced. Though the sanctuaries of Delphi and Ephesus were swiftly rebuilt, Didyma remained a ruin until the first steps of restoration were undertaken, in 334 BC. Callisthenes, a court historian of Alexander reported that the spring began once more to flow after Alexander passed through, but there had been a complete break in the oracles' personnel and tradition. Inscriptions, including inquiries and responses, and literary testimony record Didyma's role as an oracle, with the "grim epilogue" of Apollo's supposed sanction of Diocletian's persecution of Christians, until the closing of the temples under Theodosius I.
Alexander the Great reconsecrated the oracle but placed its administration of the oracle in the hands of the city, where the priest in charge was annually elected. About 300 BC Seleucus I Nicator brought the bronze cult image back, and the Milesians began to build a new temple, which, if it had ever been completed, would have been the largest in the Hellenic world. Vitruvius recorded a tradition that the architects were Paeonius of Ephesus, whom Vitruvius credited with the rebuilding of the Temple of Artemis there, and Daphnis of Miletus. The peripteral temple was surrounded by a double file of Ionic columns. With a pronaos of three rows of four columns, the approaching visitor passed through a regularized grove formed of columns. The usual door leading to a cella was replaced by a blank wall with a large upper opening through which one could glimpse the upper part of the naiskos in the inner court (adyton). The entry route lay down either of two long constricted sloping passageways built within the thickness of the walls which gave access to the inner court, still open to the sky but isolated from the world by the high walls of the cella: there was the ancient spring, the naiskos— which was a small temple itself, containing in its own small cella the bronze cult image of the god— and a grove of laurels, sacred to Apollo. The inner walls of the cella were articulated by pilasters standing on a base the height of a man (1.94 m). Turning back again, the visitor saw a monumental staircase that led up to three openings to a room whose roof was supported by two columns on the central cross-axis. The oracular procedure, so well documented at Delphi, is unknown at Didyma and must be reconstructed on the basis of the temple's construction, but it appears that several features of Delphi were now adopted: a priestess and answers delivered in classical hexameters. At Delphi, nothing was written; at Didyma, inquiries and answers were written; a small structure, the Chresmographion featured in this process: it was meticulously disassembled in the Christian period.
The annual festival held there under the auspices of Miletus was the Didymeia; it was made a Panhellenic festival in the beginning of the 2nd century BC. German excavations made between 1905 and 1930 revealed all of the incomplete new temple and some carved fragments that belonged to the earlier temple and to associated statues.
Pausanias visited Didyma in the later 2nd century AD. Pliny reported the worship of Apollo Didymiae, Apollo of Didymus, in Central Asia, transported to Sogdiana by a general of Seleucus and Antiochus whose inscribed altars there were still to be seen by Pliny's correspondents. Corroborating inscriptions on amphoras were found by I.R. Pichikyan at Dilbergin.
Clement of Alexandria quotes Leandrios saying that Cleochus, grandfather of the eponymous founder Miletus, was buried within the temple enclosure of Didyma.
The fourth largest sanctuary in the Greek world after the Temple of Artemis (and the Heraion of Samos and the Olympieion at Sicily), the Didymaion was built to rival the Artemision, employing one of the same architects, who was completing his work there, and having the same approximate dimensions.Strabo, Geography (XIV.1.5)
In 334 BC, Alexander the Great liberated the cities of Ionia. Although the oracle pronounced him to be the son of Zeus in 331 BC, it probably was not until about 300 BC (the cult statue of Apollo had been returned in 301 BC) that the citizens of Miletus were able to begin rebuilding the earlier archaic temple that had been plundered (including treasures that had been dedicated by Croesus) and burned by the Persians in 494 BC. Betrayed by the Branchidae, the priestly caste who were guardians of the site, in exchange for their lives, their descendants later were said to have been massacred by a vengeful Alexander. But the project proved too ambitious and the magnificent structure never was completed. One hundred and twenty columns were planned, each over sixty-four feet high (the tallest of any Greek temple). Inscribed accounts of the construction indicate that each column cost approximately forty-thousand drachmas, at a time when a worker earned about two drachmas a day.
Suetonius indicates that Caligula intended to complete the sumptuous temple, and Pausanius (VII.5.4) later writes that the temple was unfinished even in his own time, almost five centuries later. When it was learned that the Temple of Artemis had been destroyed by invading Goths, the temple at Didyma was fortified against attack and escaped destruction. But its famous oracle, second only to that at Delphi, was silenced by the edict of Theodosius to Cynegius in AD 385 and later closed altogether, its sanctuary replaced by a church. At the end of the fifteenth century, an earthquake reduced the temple to rubble, collapsing all but three of its columns.
The temple is unusual in that it was hypaethral and had no roof. Raised on a high, stepped podium and surrounded on all four sides by a double row of columns (double peristyle or dipteral), twenty-one along the sides and ten across the front and rear façades (decastyle), the interior cella (naiskos) was exposed to the sky, providing a large open sanctuary (adyton) within this forest of columns. Behind an array of twelve more columns in the temple's deep porch (pronaos), there was a great doorway but with such a high threshold that it did not serve as an entrance but as an antechamber or stage, on either side of which were two vaulted passageways that descended in the dark, not to the traditional cella but out onto the sunlit inner court of the sanctuary, itself. There, at the far end, was a small tetrastyle temple that housed the cult statue of Apollo and a spring. Turning around, one saw a broad flight of stairs leading up to doors on the other side of the antechamber.
Having fasted for three days in preparation and inspired by the chthonian powers of the sacred underground spring, the prophetess received the oracle of the god, but it is uncertain exactly how that message was conveyed. It may be that the antechamber was used as a chresmographeion and the oracle was pronounced from there by the prophet of the temple, or it may be that the cult statue was intended to be seen and petitioners were permitted to go down the passageways to the adyton. The oracle chamber also may have been another building altogether, where the prophecies, many of which survive, were rendered into verse and delivered in writing.
In the variety and complexity of its interior spaces, Didyma is unique. It is exceptional for another reason: In 1979, fine, barely visible lines were discovered incised on the high interior walls of the adyton. They are the actual blueprint of the temple, rendered in full-scale and precisely scratched into the surface of the marble to serve as a guide over the several lifetimes it would take to complete construction. They survive at the Didymaion because the temple never was finished and the walls of the cella court did not receive their final polishing.
"With regard to the enlargement made at the middle columns, which among the Greeks is called entasis, at the end of the book a figure and calculation will be subjoined." Vitruvius' De Architectura originally was illustrated with ten such drawings, all of which have been lost. One set of inscribed lines at Didyma actually provides a scheme for laying out the entasis (the slight convex bulge of the column to make it appear straight) and so provides an example of how the missing scale drawing might have looked.
References: Didyma: Apollo's Oracle, Cult, and Companions (1988) by Joseph Fontenrose; Lothar Haselberger (1985); The Seven Wonders of the World (1995) by John and Elizabeth Romer; Greek Architecture (1996) by A. W. Lawrence, revised by R. A. Tomlinson.
Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1960) translated by Morris Morgan (Dover Books); The Geography of Strabo (1929) translated by Horace Leonard Jones (Loeb Classical Library); Pausanius: Description of Greece (1933) translated by W. H. S. Jones and H. A. Ormerod (Loeb Classical Library).