BMCR 2002.06.17

Miletos. The Ornament of Ionia: A History of the City to 400 B.C.E

, Miletos, the ornament of Ionia : a history of the city to 400 B.C.E.. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. viii, 304 pages : maps ; 24 cm. ISBN 047211199X $59.50.

It is pleasing to see the publication of this book, especially because it is the history of an individual city outside of Athens, Sparta or Thebes that has been thoroughly studied. Gorman (henceforth G.) has produced a cogent and well-argued history of one of the more important “secondary” cities in the Greek world. She makes admirable use of all of the available source material and weaves it together into a very readable narrative. This review will look at this book chapter by chapter to give what I hope will be a useful overview of the work.

The Introduction (pp. 1-11) outlines the reasons behind the work, and gives some cursory indications of what is to come. We are told about the location of Miletos on the cusp between the Greek world and that of the Near East, as well as the difficulties presented to the modern archaeologists who are attempting to uncover more about the city, i.e. a severe groundwater problem that hinders excavation in certain sectors of the ancient site. Following this is an overview of how Miletos has been treated in past scholarship: the last work specifically dedicated to the city was in 1915 and now quite outdated; the city is mentioned in passing in general history books and books on such issues as trade and colonisation. G. ventures several reasons for the gap — the main one being that the heyday of Miletos preceded the Classical Age and hence was before the Greeks were writing on any kind of large scale. She then provides a brief overview of the development of ancient historiography and concludes with some remarks on the conventions she adopted such as her choice of dating for the pre-historic period (she opted for the high chronology of Manning, 1995 because it correlated with the dating system employed by the site’s current excavators, the Niemeiers1). I was pleased to see that she had also chosen as her method of orthography the closer transliteration practice, which is more respectful to the Greek language than Latinisation (with the exception of certain very common words).

Chapter 1: Foundations (pp. 13-46) is an exhaustive discussion of the foundation stories concerning Miletos. It is interesting to note that the site dates back to the Minoan period, ca. 1700 BC. Two indications of its Minoan origin are provided, one based on toponymy and the other based on the archaeological record. The name Miletos is suspiciously close to the toponym Milatos on Krete; at first glance this may not be convincing, but, taken together with the fact that, as G. points out, these are the only two times these names are used in the Greek world, it would strengthen this theory. The archaeological evidence is more compelling and satisfies the majority of the criteria necessary to indicate putative Minoan settlement (as developed by Warren,2 cf. pp. 21-22). There follows an indepth treatment of the Bronze Age settlement (pp. 23-27) and a discussion of the city’s relations with the Hittites (by whom the Greeks were referred to as the Ahhiyawa, and there may be a reference to Miletos under the name of Millawanda3). G.’s cautious discussion of this posited identification is well-argued and utilises all available sources, and concludes that the evidence is sufficient to support the linking of Miletos with Millawanda. Moreover, G. suggests that the Mykenaian population remained and that only the aristocracy had changed. This suggestion is based on the fact that the Mykenaian remains continued in sufficient quantitites from the Mykenaian to the “Hittite” (term utilised by reviewer) period.

The next section deals with the arrival of the Ionian inhabitants of the city (pp. 31-43) and is the kernel of this chapter. G. traces the disparate myths of foundation provided by the ancients and intertwines with them calendric similarities to Athens as well as political structural similarities between Miletos and Athens and concludes “The evidence of social institutions is consistent with the tradition that Athens was the mother city of Miletos” (p. 40).4 The date of the Ionian colonisation is to be fixed via the similarities between the Milesian and Athenian ceramic remains at ca. 1050 BC. The issue of what happened to the indigenous population — the Karians — at the site of Miletos was well put, namely that their presence is not very well attested and there are no indications of any continued Karian habitation. It is probably correct to conclude, as does G., that their influence on Miletos was negligible (in any case, the Carian presence at Miletos was not substantial enough to leave unequivocal indication of their influence on society there: no definitive Carian nomenclature or architecture has been unearthed, p. 43). The chapter concludes with a brief, but useful, description of the extent of the Milesian territory (pp. 43-46).

Chapter 2: Trade and Colonisation (pp. 47-85) treats the two issues which were paramount for the creation and continued existence and prosperity of Miletos — trade and colonisation. In the section on trade (pp. 47-59) G. endeavours successfully to show how Miletos created trade lines by means of initiating and maintaining friendly status with such states as Eretria, Paros, Erythrai and Sybaris, and by means of participation in commercial arrangements with non-Greeks. This latter is especially relevant to Miletos because of its location on the edge of Anatolia, which enabled the city to engage in relations with the Eastern empires — first the Hittites and subsequently the Lydians and Persians. There were even Ionian traders in Egypt, although, as G. notes, the extant evidence only dates to the 6th century BC. Although no specific mention of Miletos is made, it is quite likely that the primary city in Ionia was an active participant in this trade (cf. p. 54). The second section deals with the issue of colonisation (pp. 59-71), and G. must enter the minefield concerning the reasons and/or causes for the colonising movement in the Archaic period. This is an as yet unresolved debate, although the most recent consensus seems to prefer more of an economic impetus. G. wisely adopts the view that one overall encompassing reason is not obtainable and that different conditions would have existed for different parts of the Greek world (pp. 60-62).5 When discussing Miletos and colonisation, one is inevitably led into the discussion about the true number of Milesian colonies. The ancients viewed Miletos as the most productive coloniser and G. provides her number, based upon the archaeological and literary evidence, as being between 30 and 45 colonial foundations. Numbers aside, the influence of Miletos on the colonial scene is emphasised by the comparative proportion of colonies that were founded by the city — “… even if we accept the conservative numbers and count only the primary settlements, the fact remains that Miletos established a significant proportion of the Greek colonies: approximately one-fifth of all known colonies between 800 and 500 B.C.E. … more than one-half of the colonies in the north-east” (p. 64). G.’s conclusion for this section is worthy of quotation as a summary of the reasons for Milesian sustained survival — “Its widespread colonies not only provided trade and economic prosperity but … would play a significant role in reviving and repopulating Miletos in the first decades of the Classical era” (p. 71).

Chapter 3: The Archaic City (pp. 87-128) is one of the core sections of the book, where G. provides a detailed discussion on the development and political structure of Miletos. This chapter also extensively utilises all available source material, and, although not extensive at Miletos, extant inscriptions can be combined with those of several of the Milesian colonies to produce some valuable insight into the city itself. The topics G. treats include: Early Archaic Offices (aisymnetes, epimenios, prosetairoi),6 Tyranny and Oligarchy, and The External threat (primarily the Lydians and then for the majority of the historical period the Persians).

Chapter 4: Ionian Revolt and Refoundation (pp. 129-163) treats the main disaster to befall Miletos in this period, namely its participation in the Ionian Revolt against the Persians from 499-494 BC (pp. 129-145) and the subsequent razing of the city by the Persians (which is clearly indicated in the archaeological record as a burn layer). Although Miletos never fully recovered its status as a leading power, the rebuilding of the city on an orthogonal urban plan was an instructive model for organised urban planning in a Greek city (pp. 145-151 for the refoundation and pp. 151-155 for the urban plan). The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of the Milesian architect Hippodamos and the “Hippodamian Method” of urban construction (pp. 155-163).

Chapter 5: Archaeology and Cult (pp. 165-213) begins with an extremely brief survey of the archaeology of the city, concentrating on the City Wall (pp. 166-168). The major part of the chapter, however, is composed of a study on the Milesian cults (pp. 168-196), in which G. discusses the attestation of the deities in the city. The first, and pre-eminent, one is Apollo Delphinios, whose priests were referred to as the Molpoi (“Singers”). His prominence is no surprise considering that the Apolline oracle at Didyma was within Milesian territory. G. remarks on the epithet of Delphinios and concludes that it was probably derived from a pre-Greek period (perhaps Minoan, for we have evidence for this cult in an oath from Dreros on Krete) and that this particular cult of Apollo is connected with political institutions in the city — e.g., outside of Miletos, we have it at Thera, Aigina, Olbia, Athens and Khios.

G. next turns to the Oracle at Didyma and presents a rather detailed discussion (pp. 176-196) of the rites and procession to Didyma. The main piece of epigraphic evidence that G. examines thoroughly is the Molpoi Decree (Milet 1.3 #133), which outlines the procession and duties of certain officials. Other attested cults, both from Miletos itself or from the colonies include: Apollo Hebdomaios, Apollo Ietros, Apollo Lykeios, Apollo Thargelios, Apollo Thyios, Apollo Ulios, Artemis Delphinia, Artemis Kithone, Artemis Pythia, Dionysos, Hera Antheia, Leto, Leukos (perhaps to be equated with Akhilleus7), Zeus Notios, and Zeus Soter. The last part of this chapter is a more detailed description of the archaeological remains, divided into the following sections: The City and Kalabaktepe (pp. 196-206), The Nekropolis (pp. 206-208), and the Sites in the Chore (pp. 208-213). It may have been preferable to gather the archaeological description together into a single section in order to provide a more clear and unified narrative (cf. for example pp. 166-168 at the beginning of this chapter).

The final chapter, Chapter 6: The Fifth Century (pp. 215-242), discusses the history of Miletos in post-Persian destruction era. The main two thrusts are: debate over when a democratic government overthrew the oligarchic rulers and for how long it survived before the reassertion of the oligarchy, and Milesian membership in the Delian League. Throughout this chapter G. makes use of the epigraphic record, i.e. IG i 3 21 (Milesian regulations from Athens which imposed restrictions on Miletos after it had rebelled against the League, ca. 450/449 BC) and the “Banishment Decree” (Milet 1.6 #187, dated to the mid-fifth century BC). This section concludes with an outline of events at Miletos between 478 and 442 BC, in which the democratic government at Miletos is said to be a direct result of the Athenians forcing the Milesians back into the League and the inscription in IG i 3 21 is said to be the preserved additional regulations to go with the lost formal decree of readmittance. Next is a brief summary (pp. 236-242) of the events at Miletos from ca. 442 to ca. 400 BC (G.’s chosen termination date for the study), which ends with a page describing the city’s history from 400 BC down to the Turkish period and the origin of the name of the modern village Balat (from the fortress which had been built in the eleventh century by the Byzantine officials).

The book ends with an Appendix in which G. enumerates each of the Milesian colonies with summary notes on such topics as location, foundation date, sources, brief historical remarks, and a chronologically arranged chart of all of them. The bibliography is quite extensive and the maps useful.

This book (produced practically free of typographical errors — I noticed only two — p. 43 abut for about and p. 260 Malcoln for Malcolm) is a valuable contribution to ancient history and is to be commended for its rather extensive use of epigraphic evidence, something of paramount importance when studying a site for which there is little literary evidence. The use of colonial comparanda is helpful and, in many cases, necessary to be able to reconstruct the situation in the metropolis. This work is a major advance in the study of those cities in the secondary rank and will, moreover, be of the utmost importance to anyone engaged in the study of either East Greek history or the history and development of the polis. One wishes to see more of this type of history to be written.8


1. S.W. Manning, The Absolute Chronology of the Aegean Early Bronze Age: Archaeology, Radiocarbon, and History (Sheffield, 1995); B. Niemeier & W-D. Niemeier, “Milet 1994-1995: Projekt ‘Minoisch-mykenisches bis protogeometrisches Milet’: Zielsetzung und Grabungen auf dem Stadionhügel und am Athenatempel”, AA 112 (1997): 189-248.

2. Peter Warren, The Aegean Civilizations (Oxford, 1975).

3. This is not firmly agreed upon, as G. says, but there are references to scholars who have accepted it — cf. H.G. Güterboch, The Hittites and the Aegean World: Part 1. The Ahhiyawa Problem Reconsidered, AJA 87 (1983): 133-138; M.J. Mellink, The Hittites and the Aegean World Part 2. Archaeological Comments on Ahhiyawa-Achaians in Western Anatolia, AJA 87 (1983): 138-141; H.G. Güterboch, Hittites and Akhaeans: A New Look, PAPS (1984) 128: 114-122; H.G. Güterboch, Troy in Hittite Texts? Wilusa, Ahhiyawa, and Hittite History in M.J. Mellink (ed.) Troy and the Trojan War (Bryn Mawr, 1986): 133-144; T.R. Bryce, The Nature of Mycenaean Involvement in Western Anatolia, Historia 38 (1989): 1-21; W-D. Niemeier, The Mykenaeans in Western Anatolia and the Problem of the Origins of the Sea Peoples in S. Gitin et al. (eds.) Mediterranean Peoples in Transition: Thirteenth to Early Tenth Centuries BCE (Jerusalem, 1998): 17-65.

4. G. makes use of colonial calendars to reconstruct the Milesian calendar, “Because of the scanty Archaic remains from Miletos, its calendar must be deduced from the evidence of the colonies …” (p. 38).

5. Another example of multiple reasons for colonisation is that of Megara, a co-coloniser of the Milesians in the Black Sea region; see P.J. Smith, Megaris in Hellenistic and Roman Times: an archaeological and epigraphic study (diss., McGill University [2000], chap. 3).

6. This type of narrow study of political offices in a city is quite instructive, especially for governmental nomenclature.

7. Cf. p. 175, where G. says, “the most celebrated site for the worship of Achilles was the island of Leuke, 50 km. southeast of the Istros River delta. Perhaps, then, Leukos was occasionally used in antiquity as an epithet for Achilles.”

8. This reviewer is currently working on a similar treatment of Megara and has noted some interesting similarities on certain issues between Miletos and Megara: a) identity of a people called Leleges; b) connection to Krete (cf. the Megarian site called Minoa); c) major sea power and coloniser in the Archaic period and reasons for colonisation; d) reconstruction of calendar by means of colonies. G. even mentions that the two cities may have enjoyed cordial relations: “The Milesians took control of the south littoral of the Propontis, while the Megarians dominated the east and north. The Black Sea was entirely Milesian as far as we can tell… This fact indicates that Miletos must have had very good relations with the Megarians, since Megara controlled the Bosporos, the only way into and out of the Black Sea” (p. 70).