Delos is a small island in the Aegean Sea that became an important Greek religious and commercial center. The ancient Greeks considered Delos the birthplace of the god Apollo and goddess Artemis, and a famous sanctuary for the worship of Apollo was located there. During Hellenistic* and Roman times, Delos became a thriving port and drew merchants and bankers from till over the Mediterranean region.
Delos lies in the middle of the Cyclades, a group of islands in the south Aegean Sea. Ionian Greeks colonized the island around 950 B.C., and it came under the control of Athens in the 500s B.C. For a time, Delos served as the meeting place and treasury of the Delian League, an alliance of city-states* formed by Athens after the Persian Wars to protect Greece from further Persian attacks. From ancient times, Delos was important to many Greek cults that worshiped particular gods. Especially renowned was the sanctuary of Apollo, which was the site of a large annual festival celebrated with games, singing, and dancing.
Delos gained its independence from Athens in 314 B.C. and formed a confederacy* with other island city-states. After this time, Delos grew prosperous as a center for foreign trade, and it became the most important marketplace for the Mediterranean slave trade. The geographer Straboreported that the Delos market bought and sold as many as 10,000 slaves a day.
The island’s independence ended in 166 B.C., when Rome conquered Greece and returned Delos to the control of Athens. However, the port and slave market continued to flourish. Delos declined in importance after it was sacked* in 88 B.C. by the forces of Mithradates VI, one of Rome’s most dangerous enemies in Asia Minor. It was again looted—by pirates—in 69 B.C. (See also Greece, History of; Ionians; Piracy; Religion, Greek; Slavery.)
* Hellenistic referring to the Greek-influenced culture of the Mediterranean world during the three centuries after Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C.
* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory
* confederacy group of states joined together for a purpose
* sack to rob a captured city