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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Archaeological Site of Delphi

Archaeological Site of Delphi

Oracle of Delphi

Delphi is renowned as the ancient sanctuary, which was the home of the Oracle of Delphi, which was consulted about vital decisions throughout the ancient classical world. The Greeks considered Delphi the navel of the world and the Oracle had a phenomenal influence in the ancient world, as demonstrated by the rich monuments built there by most of the important ancient Greek city-states.

Oracle of Delphi

The central site of ancient Delphi is located on a plateau along the slope of Mount Parnassus which includes the Sanctuary of Apollo, the location of the ancient Oracle. Delphi is best known for its Oracle, the Pythia, a priestess at the sanctuary dedicated to Apollo. Apollo spoke through his Oracle of Delphi, who was a priestess in an inner sanctum where she sat on a tripod seat over an opening chasm in the earth. Seated over a crack in the ground, she would become intoxicated by the vapors, and she would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit. In this trance maintained state, she prophesied.

While in a trance the Pythia “raved” and her ravings were translated and interpreted by the priests of the temple into elegant verse, which often had ambiguity integrated into the answer. It has been speculated that the oracular effects were due to vapors escaping from the chasm in the rock. Today there is a debate as to whether the fumes escaping from the earth were sweet-smelling ethylene or other hydrocarbons such as ethane which is known to produce trances. Others speculate that the priestess used specific plants to inspire her prophecies. Several alternative plant candidates have been suggested, including Cannabis, Hyoscyamus, Rhododendron, and Oleander.

The Delphic Oracle was consulted before all major undertakings, including wars and the founding of colonies. In addition to the Greek states, she also was respected by the Greek-influenced countries around the periphery of the Greek world and later some Roman Emperors.  Delphi’s influence eroded with the rise of Christianity across the Roman Empire, although the oracle remained a religious center until the 4th century.

Pythian Games

The Pythian Games were one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece. They were held in honor of Apollo every four years at his sanctuary at Delphi. They were held two years after each Olympic Games. The Pythian Games were founded in the 6th century BC and featured competitions for art and dance.

Temple of Apollo (Delphi)

Temple of Apollo (Delphi)

The Temple of Apollo housed the innermost sanctuary which was the center of the Delphic oracle and seat of Pythia. The temple had the statement “Know thyself,” carved on the entrance. The temple ruins visible today, date from the 4th century BC, and are of a Doric temple of 6 by 15 columns. It was erected on the remains of numerous earlier temples, the earliest having been constructed before 7th-century BC.

The temple survived until AD 390 when the Roman emperor Theodosius I destroyed the temple and most of the statues and works of art in the name of Christianity. Zealous Christians destroyed the site in an attempt to remove all traces of Paganism. The ruins of this temple decay at a faster rate than some of the other ruins due to the use of limestone, a softer material such as porous stone.

Athenian Treasury (Delphi)

Athenian Treasury

The Athenian Treasury at Delphi was constructed by the Athenians to house dedications and votive offerings made by their city to the Sanctuary of Apollo, at Delphi. It is located below the Temple of Apollo along the Sacred Way which allowed all visitors to see the Athenian treasury on their procession up to the sanctuary. Several other city-states also built treasuries in the Panhellenic site of Delphi.

The Treasury structure had thirty metopes, nine along the long sides and six along the short depicted the labors of Herakles and Theseus. The Battle of Marathon can also be seen in some of the images of the metopes which compare the Athenian victory to mythology. By using the founder of Athens, Theseus, to show the triumphs of Athens, the Athenian Treasury sought to show Athens’ reputation as one of the most powerful, city-states of Greece.

The building was excavated and reconstructed from 1903–1906. The structure is in its original place, although the metopes are reproductions as the originals are preserved in the museum of Delphi.

Votive Offerings

The treasury was made to contain votive offerings to their gods. However, it was also a statement of their power to the rest of the ancient world, by showing off armor, statuettes, pottery, and war prizes. Votive offerings were often given after a great victory, or as a prayer or a funeral memorial. All Greeks made such offerings to the gods in a sign of worship. By having a separate treasury, Athens demonstrated their prominent victories and achievements to reinforce their identity as a superpower at the time.

Stoa of the Athenians at Delphi

Stoa of the Athenians

The Stoa of the Athenians is an ancient portico in the Sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi. It was constructed during the early Classical period as a one-sided stoa with an Ionic colonnade. The Stoa was built against the polygonal wall supporting the terrace of the Temple of Apollo. The portico was constructed after the naval victories against the Persians and was used for storing the war spoils, mainly from maritime victories.

The three stepped platform upon which the columns are placed measures 26.5 meters long and 3.10 meters wide and the seven fluted columns of the Ionic order are 3.31 meters high. A stoa in ancient Greek architecture is a covered porch, and in this instance, the stoa would have had a wooden roof to protect the contents within the Stoa.

On the polygonal wall at the back of the stoa, have been carved hundreds of manumission which date between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D. These inscriptions, representing the act of liberating a slave in antiquity.

Theatre at Delphi

Theatre at Delphi

The ancient theatre at Delphi was built up the hill from the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, giving spectators a view of the entire sanctuary and the valley below. It was initially built in the 4th century BC but was remodeled on several occasions, particularly in 160 B.C. and again in 67 A.D. on the occasion of Emperor Nero’s visit.

In antiquity, the theatre was used for the vocal and musical contests which formed part of the Pythian Games in the late Hellenistic and Roman period. The theatre was abandoned when the sanctuary declined in Late Antiquity. It was excavated and restored in the early 1900s and hosted a modern theatrical performance during the Delphic Festivals in 1927.

Theatre in Greek Culture

Western theatre originated in Athens as part of a broader culture of theatricality and performance in classical Greece that included festivals, religious rituals, politics, music, poetry, and symposia. The origins of theatre in ancient Greece are to be found in the celebrations that honored Dionysus. The theatre of ancient Greece consisted of three types: tragedy, comedy and the satyr play.

Participation in the city-state’s many festivals as an audience member or as a participant in the theatrical productions was an essential part of citizenship. Actors were either amateur or semi-professional. The actors wore masks appropriate to the characters they represented, and each might play several roles.

The Greeks developed theatre architecture to accommodate performances in semi-circular auditoria cut into hillsides, where there were superior acoustics, and it was capable of seating 10,000–20,000 people with optimal viewing. The stage consisted of a dancing floor called the ‘orchestra’ and a scene-building area called the ‘skene.’

Tholos of Delphi

Tholos of Delphi

The Tholos of Delphi is among the most recognized ancient structures of the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia in Delphi. A tholos is an architectural feature that was widely used in the classical world. It is a round structure, built upon a podium, with a ring of columns supporting a roof. This circular temple shares the Sanctuary of Athena with other ancient foundations belonging to the Temple of Athena Pronaia, located less than a mile east of the leading Archaeological Site of Delphi.

The external architect of Tholos consisted of twenty Doric columns supported a frieze with triglyphs and metopes. Materials used included Pentelic marble in the superstructure and limestone at the platform. The building’s roof was also constructed of marble and was decorated with female statues.

This 4th century BC building introduced innovative artistic styles in a creative competition between the art of relief and sculpted plastic art. The temple was decorated with dramatic figures demonstrating the passion and the fury of enemies in lively battle scenes. Unfortunately, the reliefs on the metopes could be easily detached and be reused as building materials and tomb covers in the early Christian years.

Delphi

Delphi is renowned as the ancient sanctuary of the Oracle, which was consulted about important decisions throughout the ancient classical world. The Greeks considered Delphi the navel of the world. It occupies a site on the south-western slope of Mount Parnassus and had a phenomenal influence in the ancient world, as evidenced by the rich monuments built there by most of the important ancient Greek city-states.

The Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia where the Tholos is located is not the main or largest Delphi site or the seat of Pythia, the oracle; it was an important sanctuary just before arriving at the main site.

Manumission Inscriptions at Delphi

Freeing Salves at Delphi

This 2,000-year-old inscription represents the act of liberating a slave in antiquity. Most of the inscriptions discovered at Delphi are manumission inscriptions, of which there are over one thousand. Most of the dedications date from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D.

Manumission was an act of liberating a slave in antiquity. Slaves belonged to their masters until they served for a defined period or until they gathered the necessary sum of money for their liberation. When that moment came, the act of manumission had to be guaranteed by a god. The slave was thus symbolically sold to a deity so that the sale action could not be reversed. The act was recorded on inscriptions with a strict formulaic expression. The majority of the manumission inscriptions of Delphi are gathered in two main spots, on the supporting wall of the theatre and the back wall to the Stoa of the Athenians.

These manumission acts were attended by witnesses, whose names were also mentioned on these inscriptions. The priests of the Temple of Apollo are also mentioned in these inscriptions. Thus these inscriptions are a fascinating source of historical information.

Manumission

Manumission is the act by an owner of freeing a slave. Different approaches to this process of conferment of freedom on the enslaved by enslavers were developed at different times and different cultures. In Ancient Greece, this process came in many forms. A master could choose to free their slave at the master’s death and specify this desire in their will. A slave could earn money in their labor and be able to buy their freedom. In rare circumstances, a city could affranchise a slave following acts of bravery and sacrifice. A slave could also be sold symbolically to a sanctuary or god, from where a god could free the slave as is evidenced by the Manumission Inscriptions at Delphi.

Temple of Apollo (Delphi)

Delphic Maxims

The Delphic Maxims are a set of aphorisms inscribed at Delphi. A maxim is a short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or a rule of conduct. The original authorship of the Delphic Maxims is uncertain, and most likely they were popular wisdom, which later was attributed to particular gods or sages. Perhaps the most famous of these maxims is ‘know thyself,’ which was carved into the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The Temple of Apollo housed the innermost sanctuary which was the center of the Delphic oracle and seat of Pythia. 

The specific order and wording of each maxim vary between different translations of the text; below are some of the Delphic Maxims.

  • Know yourself
  • Know your opportunity
  • Think as a mortal
  • Control yourself
  • Help your friends
  • Control Anger
  • Exercise prudence
  • Do not use an oath
  • Love friendship
  • Cling to discipline
  • Pursue honor
  • Long for wisdom
  • Praise the good
  • Find fault with no one
  • Praise virtue
  • Practice what is just
  • Be kind to friends
  • Watch out for your enemies
  • Exercise nobility of character
  • Shun evil
  • Be impartial
  • Guard what is yours
  • Shun what belongs to others
  • Listen to everyone
  • Do a favor for a friend
  • Nothing to excess
  • Foresee the future
  • Despise insolence
  • Have respect for suppliants
  • Be accommodating in everything
  • Educate your children
  • Give what you have
  • Fear deceit
  • Speak well of everyone
  • Be a seeker of wisdom
  • Act when you know
  • Shun murder
  • Pray for things possible
  • Consult the wise
  • Down-look no one
  • Be jealous of no one
  • Praise hope
  • Despise a slanderer
  • Gain possessions justly
  • Honor good men
  • Flee a pledge
  • Speak plainly
  • Govern your expenses
  • Be happy with what you have
  • Fulfill a favor
  • Despise strife
  • Detest disgrace
  • Restrain the tongue
  • Keep yourself from insolence
  • Make just judgments
  • Judge incorruptibly
  • Accuse one who is present
  • Do not depend on strength
  • Deal kindly with everyone
  • Be courteous
  • Give a timely response
  • Repent of sins
  • Control the eye
  • Give timely counsel
  • Guard friendship
  • Be grateful
  • Pursue harmony
  • Keep deeply the top-secret
  • Fear ruling
  • Do away with enmities
  • Accept old age
  • Do not boast in might
  • Flee enmity
  • Despise evil
  • Venture into danger prudently
  • Do not tire of learning
  • Do not stop being thrifty
  • Do not oppose someone absent
  • Do not trust wealth
  • Do not be discontented by life
  • Share the load of the unfortunate
  • Make promises to no one
  • On reaching the end be without sorrow

Archaeological Site of Delphi

  • Title:         Archaeological Site of Delphi
  • Date:          The Pythia was established by 8th century BC
  • Material:    Marble, limestone, Stone
  • Town:          Delphi
  • Greek:         Δελφοί
  • Country:     Greece

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“Love of money and nothing else will ruin Sparta.”
– Oracle of Delphi

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Photo Credit: JOM

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