Delphi, Greece

Delphi, Greece
Delphi was a particularly prominent religious city in Greece. Myths and legends have
established Delphi as an extremely important place during ancient times. In an ancient myth,
Zeus released two eagles from opposite directions, and they eventually met in Delphi, thus
indicating that Delphi was the center of the world, an occasion consequently marked with a stone
known as the omphalos (Britannica 979). Therefore, the people of the ancient Greek world
perceived Delphi to be a place of special significance to the gods. Since Delphi was of such
importance to the ancient gods, the people made it a place of prominence in the Greek world.
Delphi was occupied with monuments and statues, making it a significant Greek cultural center.
It also contained a stadium and theatre, and hosted the Pythian Games. “In Greek history the
chief significance of Delphi was that it provided a meeting place for the inhabitants of the
innumerable particularistic city-states. As an international sanctuary it helped to foster a spirit of
Panhellenism, to which the Panhellenic Pythian games contributed” (Fine 678). Thus Delphi
was a city-state of considerable international significance.
Delphi was located on the southern slope of Mount Parnassus in the district of Phocis and
approximately six miles from the Gulf of Corinth (Legon 118 and Britannica 979). It stands at
an elevation of about 2,000 feet (Broneer 69). Modern day Delphi was previously called Kastri
and is relatively close to the location of ancient Delphi (Legon 118).
Delphi was important as early as the 1100 B.C. and eventually became an international
Greek shrine (Legon 118). Having been established as the center of the ancient world, Delphi
became a place of significant construction projects. It is perhaps most famous for the temple of
Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, whose temple is “the oldest and most influential religious
sanctuary in ancient Greece” (Legon 118).
In addition to holding Apollo’s primary temple, Delphi is significant because the temple
contained the famous prophet, or oracle, which influenced many aspects of Greek society (Legon
118). The oracle, Pythia, was often consulted, dealing with political, social, and economical
issues. It became extremely popular and well-known among the ancient world. Influencing
much of the Greek-speaking world, the oracle’s utterances held considerable weight, being
considered not only for private matters, but also on state affairs and national policy (Britannica
979). Delphi became a considerable power in the ancient world largely because of the oracle, as
rulers from many surrounding areas consulted it and based their actions on its counsel (Broneer
70). It was the oracle that spoke forth supposed wisdom, giving advice that the Greeks would
take very seriously. “The oracle messages were spoken by a priestess seated on a golden tripod,
who uttered sounds in a frenzied trance; they were interpreted to the questioner by a priest, who
usually spoke in verse” (Columbia 772). Since people would allow the words of the oracle to
dictate their future actions, Delphi would receive gifts from foreign leaders in appreciation for it,
thus allowing Delphi to amass significant wealth (Broneer 70).
As time passed, Delphi’s significance dwindled. It was no longer considered the center
of the world, as foreign powers invaded. The great Temple of Apollo, which was first build
during the 6th century B.C., was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times (Columbia 772). John V.A.
Vine summarizes the various destructions and rebuildings of the temple:
“The original small temple was burned about 548 B.C. The second temple, for
which members of the Athenian Alcmaedonidae family were the chief
contractors, was completed in 510 B.C. This building, of which Euripides gives a
partial description in his Ion, was destroyed by an earthquake in 373 B.C. The
new temple, although often damaged, survived until its destruction by Arcadius
about 400 A.D.” (Fine 678).
Not only did the Temple of Apollo face difficulties, but the entire city-state of Delphi faced
significant hardships in early Roman times. Delphi was struggling to survive amidst
earthquakes, holy wars, and times of international turmoil. Not only did Nero allegedly loot
about five hundred statues, but also “with the spread of Christianity, the old pagan sanctuary of
Delphi fell into decay” (Britannica 979). The decreasing significance of Delphi was undoubtedly
impacted by the growing popularity of Christianity and the dispersion of the gospel message. “In
390 A.D., Theodosius I, in the name of Christianity, silenced the oracle forever” (Fine 678).
Thus we are able to see the direct effect of the spread of Christianity in subduing ancient Greek
religion. The temple of Apollo, as well as the rest of the city, declined in importance as people
did not put as much value on worshipping the ancient Greek gods. It was also during this time
that the popularity and importance of the oracle dramatically declined (Columbia 772).
Delphi has since become a popular site to visit in Greece. Excavations on Delphi were
performed in 1892 by the French Archaeological School in Athens, revealing a large, irregular
rectangular temple sanctuary (Broneer 70). Excavations included Apollo’s great temple as well
as a chamber of the Delphic oracle (Britannica 979). The primary components of the
excavations are the Sanctuary, whose principle building is the Temple of Apollo, and an area
called “Marmaria” to the east (Broneer 70, 71). Other things that have been recovered include
the Sacred Way, Castalian Spring, Treasury of the Massilians, Corycean Cave, and many other
treasures. It is through the discoveries of such excavations that we are able to appreciate the
tremendous artistic and cultural contributions of the ancient Greek city-state of Delphi.
Works Cited
Broneer, Oscar T. Collier’s Encyclopedia, vol. 8. New York: Collier’s, 1996.
Fine, John V.A. The Encyclopedia Americana International Edition, vol. 8. Danbury, CT:
Grolier Inc., 1999.
Lagasse, Paul, editor. The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edition. New York: Columbia University
Press, 2000.
Legon, Ronald P. “Delphi.” The World Book Encyclopedia 2002 Edition, volume 5. Chicago:
World Book, Inc., 2002.
The New Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 3, 15th edition. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica,
Inc., 1998.