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Didyma


The temple of Didyma. Photo Jona Lendering. Didyma: oracle of Apollo near Miletus.

Didyma was the oracular shrine of Apollo at Miletus, to which it was connected by the "Sacred Road". Its priests were the Branchidae. The existence of the sanctuary antedates the Greek colonization of Ionia, and in historical times, people thought that the sacrifices were very unGreek. The name "Didyma", for example, is Anatolian in origin, although the Greeks were reminded of their word didymoi, "twins" (i.e., Apollo and Artemis.)

The temple building itself was founded at the end of the eighth century. A century and a half later, it was well-known throughout the ancient world. According to Herodotus of Halicarnassus, pharaoh Necho II sent presents. Half a century later, Croesus of Lydia did the same.

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Weight, originally from Didyma. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Weight from Didyma, excavated in Susa (Louvre)

After the Persians had defeated the Ionian Greeks at Lade, they sacked Miletus and destroyed Didyma; part of the booty was brought to Susa, where it was discovered by archaeologists. The Branchidae were deported to the east; the report that Alexander the Great met and killed their descendants in Sogdia may or may not be correct. It is remarkable that later, it was claimed that the Persian king Darius I the Great, who had been responsible for the sack, had also awarded privileges to Didyma (Tacitus, Annals, 3.62).

It was only after Alexander had defeated the Persians, that the oracle spoke again. If we are to believe the Macedonian propaganda, Apollo's first announcement was that Alexander was the son of a god indeed.


Inscription near the stairs leading to the sanctuary. Photo Jona Lendering. Builders' marks near the stairs leading to the sanctuary. Photo Marco Prins. Builders' marks on the stairs leading to the sanctuary. Photo Marco Prins. Detail of the decoration of the temple. Photo Marco Prins.
Inscription near the stairs leading to the sanctuary Builders' marks near the stairs leading to the sanctuary. Builders' marks near the stairs leading to the sanctuary. Detail of the decoration of the temple.
The stairs of the temple of Apollo. Photo Marco Prins. Column bases. Photo Jona Lendering. Decoration of a drum. Photo Jona Lendering. Detail of a column base. Photo Jona Lendering.
Access to the shrine Columns Decoration of a drum Decoration of a column
A stone lion. Photo Jona Lendering. Detail of a column base. Photo Marco Prins. A griffin on a drum. Photo Jona Lendering. Game on the terrace. Photo Jona Lendering.
A stone lion Decoration of a column Griffin on a drum A game on the terrace
A broken column. Photo Marco Prins. Inscription in the Adyton. Photo Jona Lendering. Tunnel from the entrance to the adyton. Photo Jona Lendering. A detail of the tunnel to the adyton. Photo Jona Lendering.
Fallen column Inscription in the adyton Tunnel from the entrance to the adyton A detail of the tunnel to the adyton. None of the big stones was identical, so their place in the tunnel was carefully indicated.
The chresmographeion, where the oracles were stored. Photo Jona Lendering. Very fine lines on the adyton walls. Photo Jona Lendering. The small sanctuary in the adyton. Photo Jona Lendering. The adyton; the small sanctuary in the background. Photo Jona Lendering.
The chresmographeion, where the oracles were stored, Very fine lines on the adyton walls The small sanctuary (naiskos) in the adyton The adyton; the small sanctuary in the background
Apollo. Arkeoloji Müzesi, Istanbul (Turkey). Photo Jona Lendering.
An Apollo from Miletus, now in the Arkeoloji Müzesi, Istanbul
Alexander ordered the reconstruction of the temple, but it was left to Seleucus I Nicator, the founder of the Seleucid empire, to make a beginning with the project. He can not have done this before 300, after the battle of Ipsus in which he conquered this part of Alexander's empire.

His architects were Daphnis and Paionios. The temple was designed to measure 109 by 51 meter, but remained unfinished. A large hall that was to be the heart of the temple (the adyton), never had a roof, which meant that a small sanctuary was built inside the roofless hall. The adyton now became some sort of open courtyard with disproportionally high outer walls, surrounding a little temple (naiskos).

A circular structure on the site of the altar in front of the temple. Photo Jona Lendering.
Circular structure on the site of an altar

Several phases of rebuilding can be indicated. The beautifully decorated columns were finished in 37 CE and the gorgons on the cornice of the temple date back to the second century CE. The altar is a bit of a problem: the circular structure in front of the temple is on the right place, but appears to be too small. A plausible alternative is that the altar was a bit to the north, where a mosque stands on an old church, which appears to be founded on a structure from Antiquity.

South of Didyma was the port of Panormus, where the pilgrims disembarked. A satellite photo can be seen here.

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 28 Nov 2011
Head of Zeus. Archaeological Museum of Istanbul (Turkey). Photo Jona Lendering. Details of the cornice of the temple. Photo Marco Prins. Cornice, detail. Photo Jona Lendering. Cornice, detail. Photo Jona Lendering. The mosque, possible on the location of the altar. Photo Jona Lendering.
Head of Zeus (Arkeoloji Müzesi, Istanbul) Part of the cornice of the temple, second century CE. Detail of the cornice: a gorgon Detail of the cornice: a gorgon The modern mosque, built in an old church, possible on the location of the ancient altar.
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