Miletus Archaeological Site


Location: village of Akkoy, Aydin Province    Map


Description of Miletus Archaeological Site

Miletus (Classical Greek: Μίλητος, Milētos and Latin Miletus Hittite: Millawanda) is an ancient port city in the west of Anatolia, in the Aegean region (its classical name is Meander), on the seaside near the mouth of the Büyük Menderes River. Now it is 5 km from Akkoy in Didim District of Aydın. It is in ruins in the north and near the village of Balat, and since its harbor is filled by Büyük Menderes, it is located approximately 10 km inland from the sea.


Geographical situation

Miletus is located about 80 km south of today's city of Izmir, near the town of Balat in Aydın Province.

The ancient city lay on a promontory protruding into the entrance to the Gulf of Miletus. The river Mäander (Turkish: Büyük Menderes), which flows into this gulf and carries large amounts of sediment, caused increasing siltation of the gulf, which, in addition to Miletus, was also home to other Greek poleis such as Magnesia, Herakleia and Priene. Miletus gained its particular economic importance through the four bays around the headland that could be used as harbors.

A few kilometers from Miletus was the Apollo sanctuary of Didyma, which was administered by the city and was of national importance.



Mythological origins

According to Greek mythical tradition, Miletus was founded by Cretans from Milatos under Sarpedon. Strabo quotes Ephorus of Cyme, a historian of the fourth century BC: “Miletus was first founded by Cretans over the sea [...] and settled by Sarpedon, who brought residents from the Cretan Miletus and named the city after that Miletus. The Lelegers had previously owned the place.” According to another version, settlement took place under the Cretan Milatos two generations before the fall of Troy.

According to legend, the Ionian settlement was carried out by Neleus, the son of Kodros, the last king of Athens. Herodotus reports that the Greeks came without women. After they killed the Carians, they married their daughters.


Prehistoric settlement

So far, only one confirmed Neolithic settlement site is known near Miletus, but isolated Stone Age finds are repeatedly found during excavations in Miletus. In the area of the Temple of Athena and east of the theater there were settlements in the Chalcolithic period, which are summarized as Miletus I (late 4th millennium BC). There are now around 600 sites in the wider area that have been evaluated for landscape archaeology. There is good evidence of settlement in the pre-Minoan period, but the findings are overall low. The Minoan and Mycenaean settlements in the area are essentially limited to Miletus and Didyma.



Bronze Age

In the area of the Temple of Athena, settlement continued from Miletus II (3rd millennium BC), which was still of southwest Anatolian character, to the first Minoan settlement (Miletus III, around 2000-1800 BC), which was dominated by a Destroyed by fire and rebuilt as Miletus IV (around 1800–1450 BC). Linear A inscriptions and the remains of a temple complex in particular date from this period. Kamares ceramics, which were extremely popular in the Eastern Mediterranean region at the time, were found everywhere and bear witness to the lively trade with Crete. The Minoan-type household pottery made locally from clay with a high mica content - for example conical bowls and three-legged cooking pots - also speaks for the presence of a Minoan population, as immigrants also brought their kitchenware with them along with their eating and drinking habits. Two Minoan seals - one depicting a Cretan wild goat - and a clay seal with a seal impression were also found. However, pottery of local, southwest Anatolian character seems to indicate that a significant proportion of the population of Miletus III still consisted of locals. However, the ruling class was apparently Minoan. There was undoubtedly a significant Cretan influence on the city, which represented a link in the metal trade between Crete and Inner Anatolia. The Greeks always considered the area around Miletus to be an area that had been settled in ancient times by Carians or Lelegians and that was under Cretan influence before the Hellenes settled there on a larger scale.

Miletus IV was also destroyed and rebuilt as a Mycenaean city (Miletus V, around 1450–1315 BC). This settlement includes some richly furnished tombs on Degirmentepe. Much of the painted Mycenaean pottery was again made locally. Since masses of Mycenaean ceramics also came to light, it is certain that the painted vessels were not just imports, but that Miletus was actually a Greek-Mycenaean city. The now dominant research opinion equates this Miletus with the city of Millawanda (also the late spelling Milawata), mentioned several times in Hittite documents, which was under the hegemony of Aḫḫijawa - in the opinion of almost all Hittitologists, archaeologists and ancient historians, a Mycenaean empire with a center of power on the Greek mainland (Mycenae or Thebes) or, according to a minority opinion, a Mycenaean state in the southeastern Aegean region. Millawanda was founded around 1316 BC. Destroyed by the Hittites in the second year of Mursili II's reign. However, since the spoils of war (some people, cattle and sheep) that Muršili II states in his annals as the result of his campaign against Millawanda sound modest, it is also doubted whether he actually conquered and destroyed Millawanda or whether the fire layer cannot be attributed to another event. Shortly afterwards, Mursili II conquered and occupied the neighboring Apaša, which is most likely to be equated with ancient Ephesus. As recent excavation findings, including finds of inscriptions, have shown, Apasa was the capital of the country of Arzawa, which also included the area around the Meander Valley. Around the time of the capture of Millawanda, Uluburun's ship sank off the Carian coast near Bodrum, south of Miletus. This date was recently determined dendrochronologically. The ship was carrying exactly the same Mycenaean pottery found in the Miletus V destruction layer.

The destruction of Miletus V left a 30-40 cm thick layer of fire on which the city of Miletus VI (c. 1315-1100 BC) was built. Apparently the destruction had no long-term consequences. According to Hittite documents, such as the letter from Manapa-Tarḫunta to probably Muwatalli II (KUB 19.5 + 19.79; CTH 191) and the Tawagalawa letter (KUB 14.3; CTH 181), probably from Hattušili III. Written, Millawanda was founded during the first half of the 13th century BC. In any case, it was again controlled by Aḫḫijawa in the 4th century BC. In the Tawagalawa letter, the Hittite king complained to the king of Aḫḫijawa about Piyamaradu, a rebel probably of Artzawa origin, who attacked the Lukka lands and, after the intervention of the great king, withdrew to Millawanda and had already fought wars against vassals of the Hittites in western Asia Minor in earlier years - The Manapa-Tarḫunta letter already reports on this - led. Piyamaradu's actions were apparently supported by Atpa, the highest representative of Aḫḫijawa in Millawandas. The letter also states that Millawanda was by the sea, “aside from the Hittite king’s route to the Lukka lands”. Under Tudhalija IV, however, the city apparently came under the control of the Hittites, as can be seen from information in around 1230 BC. The so-called Milawata letter, written in the 1st century BC, is closed, the recipient of which, according to the prevailing opinion, was either a ruler subordinate to the Hittite king, was either in Milawata or was Tarkasnawa of Mira. This takes place from around 1230 BC. Hittite suzerainty that occurred in the archaeological findings in Miletus. This is similar to the one around 1200 BC. The approximately 1,100-meter-long defensive wall of Miletus VI was built in the 1st century BC and was much more Hittite-style in style than the roughly simultaneous defensive walls on the Greek mainland. Also found in the chamber grave necropolis from the 13th century BC. Hittite swords in some graves. Furthermore, a fragment of a Mycenaean krater that Niemeier built around 1200 BC shows. Dated, a crown of horns, which was one of the attributes of Hittite gods, from around the middle of the 13th century BC, but also of Hittite great kings counted on depictions. The Hittite sources also seem to confirm archaeologically that Miletus/Millawanda was inhabited from the late 13th century BC. BC was no longer under Mycenaean control. A mention of Miletus can be found on Linear B tablets from the Mycenaean Pylos from the early 12th century. The female ethnic group mi-ra-ti-ja (= women - in this case they were slaves - from Milatos) is listed there. Several Linear B documents from Boeotian Thebes mention an apparently highly respected man from Miletus who lived at the Theban court.

For the period around 1200 B.C. Traces of destruction were discovered in the 1st century BC, but the city remained populated afterwards. Miletus VII existed until the late phase of SH III C (early 11th century), as evidenced by ceramic finds in the heavily disturbed layers of Miletus VI and VII. These are mostly fragments of locally produced clay vessels in the Mycenaean style, which reveal similarities to contemporary ceramics on Rhodes, Kos, smaller islands in the southeast Aegean region and Iasos. It is unclear whether Miletus VII was destroyed and/or abandoned. Apparently Miletus was not inhabited for some time; Earliest post-Mycenaean pottery is early protogeometric (late 11th/early 10th century). A few shards could also be sub-Mycenaean.


Protogeometric and Geometric Time

According to tradition, Miletus was found in 1053 BC. Re-founded by Ionian colonists in 500 BC. There was no evidence of at least a long interruption in the settlement of Miletus between the Mycenaean period (SH III C) and the Protogeometric period (Miletus VII). In any case, early protogeometric and possibly sub-Mycenaean pottery from the late 11th century BC was found in Miletus VII directly above the Late Bronze Age destruction layer of Miletus VI. found. The pottery from the Protogeometric period (around 1050–900 BC) shows strong parallels to examples from Athens, which fits surprisingly well with the mythical tradition of an Attic settlement by Neleus. About the development of Miletus in the period from the eleventh to the early eighth century BC. Little is known so far. There are hardly any finds, especially remains of architecture, from this period.


Archaic period

Dated 8th century B.C. from 2000 BC, Miletus became the most important transshipment port for trade with the eastern Mediterranean and soon also with the Black Sea region and developed its own considerable industry, including raw materials and products such as oil, wool and textiles. Purple dyeing was particularly important. In addition, Miletus and other cities in western Asia Minor, especially Ephesus and Sardis, started minting coins (earliest electron coins in the sixth century BC), which subsequently replaced barter. Miletus rose to become one of the most important Greek poleis, temporarily exercised naval control over the Aegean and founded from the 7th century BC over 80 colonies, especially on the Propontis and around the Black Sea. An early and important Black Sea colony was Sinope, which in turn founded several daughter cities along the Anatolian Black Sea coast, including Trapezous. The northeasternmost colony of Miletus was Tanais, east of the Sea of Azov. But Milesian colonies also emerged in other areas, e.g.  the Egyptian Naukratis. Miletus was also called the capital of Ionia due, among other things, to its extensive trading activities and the number of its colonies. After the Cimmerian invasions in the seventh century B.C. In the 4th century BC there were conflicts between the Greek cities on the west coast of Asia Minor and the neighboring empires of the Lydians and later the Persians. In the sixth century B.C. In the 4th century BC the city was subjugated first by the Lydian king Croesus and then by the Persians under Cyrus II, but retained its independent political status as it had not joined an uprising. An uprising by the Ionian Greeks against the Persian Empire that began in Miletus failed and Miletus was destroyed in 494 BC. Conquered and destroyed as a result of the Battle of Lade. Herodotus writes that the inhabitants were deported and resettled, but substantial traces of repopulation lie directly on the Persian destruction layer, so that not much time can have passed between these two events. The destruction of Miletus by the Persians in 494 BC. BC ushered in the Persian Wars, a period that was so important for Greek history.


Classical and Hellenistic-Roman periods

Because of the strict grid-like reconstruction according to the ideas of Hippodamus of Miletus (see Hippodamian scheme), the city is now also referred to as the “Manhattan of antiquity”. The city belonged to the Delian-Attic Sea League, partly under Athenian occupation. She fell in the Peloponnesian War in 412 BC. BC from Athens, repelled the Athenian counterattack in the Battle of Miletus and became the base of operations for the Spartan fleet.

In the fourth century B.C. the city was under Persian rule in the 4th century BC. Since Alexander the Great encountered resistance in it, it was to lose the leading role in Asia Minor to Ephesus. The city's harbor was the scene of an offensive and successful operation by the smaller Macedonian fleet against the Persian armada. After conquering the city using the most modern siege technology, Alexander disbanded his own fleet, to the surprise of his command staff. The reconstruction of the city began, and in the Hellenistic period Miletus was able to assert itself again among the various powers that ruled in Asia Minor. 133 B.C. In the 4th century BC the city became part of the Roman province of Asia together with the Kingdom of Pergamum.

In the Roman Empire, the city flourished again and was decorated with numerous buildings, but remained of minor importance because the Romans chose Ephesus as the provincial capital. The beginnings of Christianity in Miletus also date back to the Roman period. According to the New Testament narrative in Acts 20:15-38, the apostle Paul said goodbye to the leaders of the church in Ephesus on his third and final missionary journey before returning to Jerusalem.


Byzantine period

It was long believed that Miletus had already experienced a sharp decline in population in late antiquity because a narrow new wall ring was dated to the year 538 based on a building inscription from the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. Only recent research has revised this picture, as there is ample evidence that Miletus was still flourishing in the later sixth century. It is now assumed that only the old market gate was renovated in 538 and the associated inscription was only later integrated into the Byzantine wall, which was probably built in the later seventh century. At this time, Miletus had indeed declined greatly due to plagues and warlike events. The settlement now concentrated on the large theater, in whose auditorium houses were built and which was fortified against enemy attacks. In addition, a fort was built on the highest point of the theater, which is where the medieval name Miletus “Palatia” comes from. As a bishop's seat, Miletus acquired supra-regional importance during this time.


Islamic period

The princes of Mentesche temporarily had their seat in Miletus. They built numerous representative buildings. The excellently preserved Ilyas Bey Mosque from 1404 is one example. During this time, the port of Miletus was finally silted up by sediments from the meander.


Modern times

Until a severe earthquake in 1955, a village called Balat existed in the ruins. After the earthquake, the settlement was moved south, outside the actual city area.


Cultural significance

Miletus was of great importance for culture and science in ancient times. The city is considered the birthplace of rational thought and philosophy in ancient Greece. Miletus was founded in the 6th century BC by the Ionian natural philosophers Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes. Known as the birthplace of science under the term “the school of Miletus”. Thales was the first Greek thinker to break away from the mythological world view of things and began to search for the Arché, i.e. the origin of all being. Anaximander and Anaximenes were students of Thales and similarly important, for example Anaximander was the first cartographer.



History of the excavations

Olivier Rayet carried out the first archaeological investigations in 1873. From 1899 onwards, large-scale excavations began in the urban area of ancient Miletus under the direction of Theodor Wiegand. This work continued without interruption until 1913. The two world wars and the Asia Minor catastrophe interrupted regular research activities in Miletus. However, in 1938 Carl Weickert was able to carry out a short excavation campaign. Regular on-site research did not begin again until 1955. Carl Weickert was again in charge of the post-war excavations, then Gerhard Kleiner and Wolfgang Müller-Wiener. Volkmar von Graeve led the excavation from 1989 to 2012. The originals of the documentation from the old excavations before 1909 are in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and in the DAI in Berlin. Copies of these are in the Miletus archive at the Ruhr University Bochum, where all recent excavation documents are also collected. From 2012 to 2016, Philipp Niewöhner was head of the excavation. In November 2017, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Turkey appointed Christof Berns as head of the Miletus excavations.


Research priorities

Bronze Age

The Bronze Age excavations have been under the direction of Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier since 1994. The investigations from Miletus I to V have brought new discoveries and insights. Among other things, a charred wooden throne was found in a Minoan brick sanctuary in Miletus IV. Wooden furniture finds from the Bronze Age are extremely rare. A cultic throne, however, promises to be particularly informative, especially since such thrones are known from Minoan seal depictions. A priestess sits on a throne and receives offerings. We may have such a find here. Three Minoan seals were also found, including a lentoid made of rose quartz. On it there is an engraving of a winged griffin fighting a lion in the typical flying gallop. A similar representation of a lioness was found on the shard of a Rhyton; A valuable arrowhead made of rock crystal, probably an offering, was also found. Remains of typical Minoan frescoes also came to light. Several Linear A inscriptions carved into clay vessels demonstrate a clear Minoan presence, as the local population would have been expected to use Luwian hieroglyphics or Hittite cuneiform writing in the Bronze Age. Finally, there is a disc-shaped weight stone made of marble with a marking of six circles, which was calibrated according to the Minoan weight system. Miletus IV is therefore further evidence of Minoan naval dominance with bases in the Cyclades and the eastern Mediterranean region.

This period ends around 1500 BC with a horizon of destruction, the cause of which is still controversially discussed. Another finding is the slightly earlier dated ash and destruction layer from the eruption of the volcano on the island of Thera. Traditionally dated to the last third of the 16th century BC is dated, but for the scientific dating methods in the last two decades it was much earlier, in the second half of the 17th century BC, data resulted. Afterwards, as on Crete and the other eastern islands, the ash layer was cleared away and the cities were restored.

Miletus V then took on a completely Mycenaean character in both imported and local goods. It had a significant ceramic production, so seven clay brick ceramic kilns were found in a small area. The proportion of the autochthonous Anatolian population appears to have remained small. Miletus V was also ended by a 40 cm thick layer of fire. No new information could be gained about the last Bronze Age layer, Miletus VI, because in the current excavation area the layer was disturbed by Roman buildings. It ended around 1100 BC.


Archaic period

The excavation in Miletus began in 1899 with the aim of increasing knowledge about this city in the Archaic period, as Miletus was particularly important at this time, for example as the birthplace of Ionian natural philosophy or due to the fate of the city on the eve of the Persian campaigns .

In fact, the pre-war excavations mainly produced results relating to the later eras. Archaic finds and findings were only excavated at Kalabak-Tepe and at the Temple of Athena as well as in isolated places in the city area. Based on these rather sparse findings, Armin von Gerkan doubted that the archaic Miletus was located in the same place as the later city. The research after the war therefore often aimed to refute Gerkan's theses. There was therefore increased digging at the Temple of Athena.

The more recent research was again devoted to the city quarter on Kalabak Tepe, where part of the city wall was known. A residential area with several pottery kilns was uncovered on the southern slope of the hill. Furthermore, the situation on the eastern terrace of the hill, where there was a sanctuary of Artemis Chitone, could be clarified. There were also problems with early classical resettlement after 494 BC were illuminated during these excavations. In addition, a sanctuary of Aphrodite of Oikous, previously only known from the sources, was discovered. The extensive trade connections of Miletus can be gauged from the finds of the temple's votive offerings: many painted drinking vessels from Greece, especially Corinth, Sparta and Athens; from Etruria the black Bucchero ware; large-format clay figures from Cyprus, worked Tridacna shells from northern Syria and numerous pieces of jewelry, amulets, scarabs and votive figurines from Egypt.

The territory (chora) of Miletus also includes the nearby settlements of Assesos, Pyrrha and Teichioussa. Teichioussa is located on the Gulf of Akbük. Assesos was discovered on Mengerev Tepe in 1992. According to Herodotus, his sanctuary of Athena Assesia was destroyed during an invasion by the Lydian king Alyattes II around 600 BC. The only village found so far could be identical to Argassa. It had a sacred precinct that was built in the 4th century BC when Temenos was sold out. A corresponding boundary stone was found. According to current research, it can be considered certain that the archaic Miletus was in the same location as the later city.


Hellenistic and Roman periods

Theodor Wiegand was able to gain important insights into the Hellenistic and Roman periods through large-scale excavations: The city therefore had an orthogonal street system, the inventor of which is said to have been Hippodamus of Miletus. The course of the Hellenistic and later city walls was recovered. Important buildings of this period are:
Buleuterion, the meeting place of the Bule (council).
Nordmarkt, a market facility.
South market, whose representative entrance gate was transferred to Berlin by Theodor Wiegand, where it is now kept in the Pergamon Museum, see Market Gate of Miletus.
Nymphaeum, a multi-story fountain with sculptural decorations.
Faustina Baths, a Roman bath.
West market, market at the Athena temple.
Delphinion, sanctuary of Apollo Delphinios, the main god of the Milesians.
Oracle sanctuary of Apollo of Didyma. The sanctuary is connected to the Holy Gate of the city of Miletus by a 15-kilometer-long so-called Sacred Road. At 118 m, the Apollo Sanctuary was the third largest of the Greeks in the Archaic period and the largest sanctuary in the Hellenistic era.
The processional street itself with its seven stations. From the 7th century until the end of pagan antiquity around 400 AD, the processional route formed the "axis" of the Milesian territory for more than a thousand years, connecting the two most important sanctuaries, the urban Delphinion and the extra-urban sanctuary at Didyma, as antithetic “poles” to each other.”

Since 2014, a project at the Ruhr University Bochum has been dedicated to researching the Hellenistic and Imperial period residential development and infrastructure on Humeitepe. Since 2020, this research has been continued with a cooperation project between the University of Hamburg and the École Normale Supérieure (Paris), which includes the urban development of the entire city.



The following people came from Miletus, among others:
Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes, philosophers
Hecataeus of Miletus, writer and philosopher
Hippodamus, city planner and political theorist
Aristeides of Miletus (around 150 – around 100 BC) author
Artemon of Miletus (1st century AD) author
Aristodemus of Miletus, follower of Antigonus Monophthalmos during the Diadochi Wars
Demodamas, retainer of the first two Seleucid kings
Aspasia, second wife of Pericles
Thargelia, beauty, wise woman and courtesan of old
Isidore of Miletus, one of the builders of Hagia Sophia