In the years immediately following Sparta’s great victory over Athens at Aegospotamoi in 405 BC, as Athens was forced to submit to the humiliation of being stripped of its fleet and even the very walls that had for so long protected its city, a young Athenian by the name of Xenophon came to consult the oracle at Delphi. His mind was fixed not on the conflict at home, but on an opportunity presented by a conflict abroad, in Persia. The throne of the Persian empire was up for grabs, and he had been invited to join the army of the man intending to usurp it: Cyrus. Journeying to Delphi on the advice of his friend Socrates (the man whom no one was wiser than, according to the Delphic oracle), Xenophon asked the oracle which gods he should sacrifice and pray to so that he might best and most successfully perform the journey he had in mind and, after meeting with good fortune, return home safely. The Pythia responded, and Xenophon returned home to perform the appropriate sacrifices. Socrates, however, pointed out that he had not asked the key question: Should he go? Xenophon had consulted the oracle with his mind already made up.1

Within five years, Xenophon would have returned from his campaign, having heroically led his men out of Persia following Cyrus’s defeat and death, and Socrates would have been put to death by the city of Athens as it sought to come to terms with political revolution and instability. In thanks for his lucky escape, Xenophon promised a half tithe (percentage) of the spoils of his campaign to Delphi, which he placed in the treasury of the Athenians. Yet within another thirty years, Xenophon would have transferred his allegiance to Sparta and moved to live near that city, even enrolling his own children in the Spartan education system, and Sparta, preeminent in the years after Aegospotamoi, would have fallen from power, crushed in battle by the combined forces of several Greek city-states.2

The Greek world was turned on its head more than once in the first decades of the fourth century BC, and Delphi could not hope to be immune to this tectonic movement. Several scholars have argued that the effect of such world change was to decrease interest in the Delphic oracle. With very few exceptions, questions about colonization cease at Delphi in the early fourth century BC, no appeals for arbitration are known after 380 BC (when Delphi was called in to arbitrate a dispute between Clazomenae and Cyme over the island of Leuke), and even questions about fighting wars came to a halt after the middle of the century. Parke and Wormell go further and claim that the Spartan consultation about whether to go to war against Athens back in 432 BC was the last time the Pythia was consulted on a major question of policy not connected with cult or ritual in Greek history.3Yet such checklist approaches only highlight one aspect of Delphic business and gloss over the various critical ways in which Delphi was still immersed in the fabric of Greek society at this tumultuous time, acting both as a reflector, but also as a cultivator, and even occasionally as an instigator, of the changes that so fundamentally shook the Greek world.

Partly because Sparta had been banned by the city of Elis from Olympia for the last decades of the fifth century BC (as a result of a disagreement between them), Delphi had received the brunt of Sparta’s monumental dedications following its victory over Athens. These dedications, thanks to the plethora of Athenian monuments at Delphi, were able to artistically, architecturally, and spatially oppose and outdo those of the Athenians. In the following years, as Spartan power was projected across the Greek mainland, Delphi continued to benefit. King Agis of Sparta set up a dedication paid for with money from his plundering in central Greece: it was placed high on top of a tall column to ensure its visibility and prominence inside this increasingly crowded sanctuary. Yet Sparta was soon troubled by the zealous empire-building of one of its most successful generals, the architect of victory over the Athenians, Lysander. It was later said that Lysander had designs on the kingship of Sparta and sought constitutional change to alter the kingship to election rather than family right (with the ultimate aim of taking the title himself). To do so, he was said to have turned to the one authority with the power to convince Spartans of the need for such dramatic change—the Pythia—seeking to bribe her with vast sums of money. But, for once, his advances were rejected, and a second plan, to employ Delphi as the legitimator of a scam involving a supposed son of Apollo, was thwarted by Lysander’s death in battle in 395 BC.4

Sparta, despite its powerful position in Greece, was by no means the only consulter of the oracle at this time: it was claimed in the fourth century AD by the pagan emperor Julian that Athens had been instructed by Delphi at the end of the fifth century BC to build a temple to the Mother of the Gods (the foreign deity Cybele) to ease her anger at the city; this structure became the Athenians’ archive house in the city’s agora.5 Also, it is from this period, the end of the fifth century and the first half of the fourth century BC, that two of the crucial inscriptions for evidence regarding the costs of consulting the oracle (that we met in the first chapter) seem to have been set up as part of public statements of the close relationship between the oracle and different city-states across the wider Greek world. The inscription of Phaselis (in Asia Minor) set out the tariffs for public and private consultations, and that of Sciathus (in the Aegean) set prices for both public and private consultation of the oracle, and perhaps, as well, for the lot oracle available at Delphi.6In the same period, inscriptions were also set up at Delphi to record the privileges granted to particular associations. The most well-known is that for the Aesclepiads (a religious association tied to the god of healing Asclepius), who set up their own inscriptions to publicize their Delphic honors in the sanctuary. Nor was Sparta the only dedicator in the sanctuary: Pythian victors (including those from Athens) represented their victories with statues in the Apollo sanctuary, and individuals increasingly celebrated their close relationship with Delphi (e.g., their status as proxenos) with statues, or were honored for their abilities with statues put up by others (e.g., the orator Gorgias of Sicily was honored in this way with a statue on the temple terrace).7

Despite this plethora of individuals and associations, it was impossible to ignore the presence of Sparta at Delphi in the first three decades of the fourth century BC, and increasingly impossible to ignore Sparta’s rather heavy-handed projection of power across Greece. King Agesilaus of Sparta dedicated a percentage of the hundred talents’-worth of war booty extracted from his campaigns in Asia Minor at the occasion of the Pythian games in 394 BC. He also manipulated the oracular network to assure divine approval for his attack on Argos during a religious festival. Agesilaus first went to the oracle of Zeus at Olympia (which was now much more firmly under the Spartan thumb than it had been in the last decades of the fifth century BC) to ask for approval for the attack, then traveled to Delphi, an oracular shrine with more international weight than that of Olympia (but less under the thumb of Sparta), where he asked simply if the son agreed with his father. Apollo, son of Zeus, could hardly not agree with his father, king of the gods, and by implication, the response Agesilaus had extracted from the oracle of Zeus at Olympia. Agesilaus had manipulated the system to perfection.8

Such stories underscore the irony of Delphi’s position in the Greek world. It was a well-respected oracle, with centuries of authority behind it, in the midst of a lavish sanctuary filled with hundreds of monumental dedications from across the Mediterranean world; it was a host of international athletic and musical games that were respected throughout Greece; and it was managed by a pluri-regional association of cities and states. Yet it was also a small community living by its wits, clinging to a mountainside in central Greece. It is estimated that Delphi had one thousand citizens (with a total population, including foreigners and slaves, of perhaps five thousand) in the early fourth century BC. The population was not divided into demes spread out over the landscape as at Athens and the territory of Attica: the very nature of the Delphic landscape (the sanctuary and city surrounded by the 150–200 square kilometers of sacred land that had to remain uncultivated) meant that citizens of Delphi had to live in, or in the immediate vicinity of, Delphi itself (see map 3, plate 1). Moreover, the overwhelming success of the sanctuary in the preceding centuries had warped the population to such an extent that most other settlements in the surrounding area had withered away; Delphi was extraordinarily isolated for such a small and yet powerful community.9 The surviving inscriptions do indicate that it had some control over areas of land beyond the sacred “no-man’s” land, from which it could draw income. As well, surveys of the land immediately around the city show that it was cultivating its own cereal crops, as well as maintaining sheep on the mountain plateau around the Corycian cave (see map 3, fig. 0.2).10 But, to all intents and purposes, Delphians were dependent for their livelihood on the sanctuary, as the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, composed approximately two centuries before, had forecast they would be. This was reflected in the fact that the city’s key civic structures—the meeting place of the civic assembly, the council chamber (bouleuterion), and the prytaneum (smaller executive council chamber)—were all located within, or very close to, the sanctuary of Apollo itself.11 The very success of Delphi had provided its small community a living, but it had also left its citizens isolated within the wider landscape, and tied their fortunes tightly to that of the sanctuary. As a result, Delphi’s identity was always not only that of independent authority, but also of vulnerable prize as well as of tool susceptible to manipulation.

All three aspects of this identity were on display during first decades of the fourth century BC. In Plato’s detailed analysis of an ideal state, Delphi was to occupy a prominent role. All legislative affairs relating to the establishment of shrines, sacrifices, and other form of cult for gods, daimones and heroes, as well as the graves of the dead and the services to be performed for the spirits of the dead, were to be overseen by the oracle at Delphi. Such a prominent role for Delphi would also be echoed in Plato’s later work: Delphi was to be master of all laws about divine matters, final arbiter in the appointment of interpreters of the sacred laws, and consultant about all public festivals and sacrifices.12

Yet at the same time as Delphi’s importance was being firmly established, both civic and Amphictyonic bodies at Delphi seem to have felt the need to bolster and restate their own importance. It is most probably during this period that one of the phratries (civic units) of Delphi, the Labyadai, chose to reinscribe and publicize in the sanctuary of Apollo their traditional rules, regulations, and oaths (an older version of which could be seen on a different side of the same stone that carried the new updated fourth-century inscription). A similar desire to update and redisplay seems to have motivated the Amphictyony in 380 BC to bring together their regular responsibilities with those regarding special events like the Pythian games and have them inscribed on steles not just at Delphi but also in other cities. Our surviving copy comes from Athens, and in it, the Amphictyony claim responsibility for inspecting the sacred land, for carrying out the necessary repairs before the Pythian games (including to bridges along the roads to Delphi in each of the Amphictyonic members’ respective territories), and for taking the opportunity to set out a potpourri of their own legislation about behavior in the sanctuary. This is not the only set of Amphictyony laws that was updated and displayed at this time. In the first half of the fourth century BC, a number of Amphictyonic laws and decrees seem to have been similarly treated at Delphi and elsewhere.13

This is perhaps part of a bigger picture: some scholars, as we saw in a previous chapter, have argued that it was in this era—particularly the 380s and the 370s—that we should locate the creation of the stories surrounding the First Sacred War over Delphi, the very event that brought the Amphictyony into relation with the sanctuary. And this need to restate, publicize, and even invent particular roles, rules, and perhaps even historical events, among key Delphi players was furthermore motivated by the fact that this was a period during which Delphi began to feel increasingly vulnerable about its position in the wider world. In 385 BC it was whispered that the warlord tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse had designs on the sanctuary and that his treaty with the (not very distant) Illyrians was merely a precursor to launching an attack on Delphi itself. In 373 BC the Athenian general Iphicrates intercepted and captured a ship bringing gold and ivory statues to Delphi and Olympia, thus denying the sanctuaries their latest dedications. In the same year, Delphi fell victim to a serious earthquake and rockslide, which seems to have devastated the Apollo and Athena sanctuaries and their temples. In 371 BC, Sparta, master of Greece for the previous thirty years, finally fell from power, crushed in pulverizing defeat at the battle of Leuctra. In its place was the city of Thebes, not far from Delphi. And most worryingly, by 371 BC, a man called Jason from the city of Pherai in Thessaly had risen to such extraordinary heights of power that he was able to claim mastership of northern Greece, and to act as a strong supporter of Thebes in its challenge to Sparta. In 370 BC, as the sanctuary of Delphi lay in tatters following the earthquake, Jason of Pherai planned to preside over the Pythian games, bringing with him an immense army of sacrificial animals—one thousand oxen and ten thousand other animals—collected from all his dominions. What the Delphians feared most was the rumor that he came not simply to celebrate the games, but to lay claim to the sanctuary itself.14

The Delphians were able to dodge the bullet in 370 BC, because Jason of Pherai—however correct the rumors had been about his intentions—was assassinated earlier in the year before he could preside over the Pythian games at Delphi. Yet the repercussions of events in the last years of the 370s would be felt at Delphi for the rest of the century. First and foremost, the sanctuary was in need of drastic renovation. The temple, it seems, was so badly affected by the earthquake that the oracle was unable to function: no oracles are known certainly to have emanated from Delphi between 372 and 262 BC, although later tradition supplies several examples, especially after the 340s, not least the “discovery” of a number of century-old oracles that seemed to prophesize the Spartan downfall at Leuctra. We know also, from later inscriptions detailing repairs, that parts of the north and south boundary walls, or else (depending on how you read the inscription) the entire east wall of the Apollo sanctuary had collapsed (see plate 2).15 The question was, who would lead the charge in fixing it? Scholarship has long been divided about where the germ of the massive reconstruction project that dominated Delphi through until 310 BC began. For some, it was the brainchild of the organization that had led the previous redevelopment of Delphi: the Amphictyony, who, despite their low profile in the fifth century BC, had recently demonstrated publicly their role and power at Delphi. For others, however, the initial plan may have been formulated among the individual city-states at the several peace conferences that, eventually, failed to prevent the seismic military clash on the plain at Leuctra in 371 BC, with the Amphictyony taking over the project only in the years immediately afterward.16

Yet at the same time as the temple and sanctuary reconstruction project gathered momentum, the sanctuary was also playing host to commemorating the victory over Sparta at Leuctra. Just as Athens had proved a tempting target because of the number of monumental dedications at Delphi for Sparta, so too now Sparta found itself spatially, artistically, and architecturally confronted (see fig. 6.2). The Argives erected a semicircular statue group (directly opposite the similar semicircular monument they had offered in the fifth century) that stood next to the Spartan stoa, which had been built to commemorate victory over Athens, at the very entrance to the Apollo sanctuary. But the Argives did not simply build their monument next to the Spartan monument: theirs physically cut into, and cut off access to, the stoa. This was Delphic monument war in a whole new phase: dedications to victory inflicting wounds on dedications of their enemies. No wonder stories of dedications “dying” at the same time as their real-life dedicators cluster around the monuments of this period: Sparta’s dedicated golden stars were said to have crashed to the ground at the time of the battle of Leuctra, the statue of Lysander to have fallen apart, and another to have crumbled.17

The visibility of the Spartan stoa was further reduced in 369 BC when the Arcadians, celebrating the development of their new confederacy, placed an imposing statue group directly in front of it (see fig. 6.2). The dedicating inscription on the monument read “for victory over the Spartans.”18Nor were they the only city-states to commemorate the Spartan downfall. Thebes constructed a new treasury in the sanctuary (the first for many decades), and Thessaly offered statues of the victorious generals.19 Sparta seems to have retaliated as best it could, by returning to update its statue group to victory at Aegospotamoi from 404 BC with a new victory inscription written by Ion of Samos.20

As the power vacuum left by the collapse of Sparta was filled with city-states like Thebes and Athens fighting for ascendancy in the years after 371 BC, Delphi, still in a state of partial collapse following the earthquake, continued both to play host to that competition and to provide opportunities for a wide number of city-states to realign and recharacterize their histories to fit with the swiftly changing power balance.21 Several dedicators returned to the sanctuary in the following decades to update their previous monuments to military victory by reinscribing their dedicatory epigrams, sometimes to emphasize their religious rather than political nature, and sometimes to make those victories more visible and emphatic.22 Several cities also returned to make their close relationship with Delphi clearer: the Siphnians returned to their treasury built in the sixth century BC to inscribe the fact that they had promanteia across the lintel of its doorway, and the Naxians returned to their sphinx (also a dedication of the sixth century BC), standing high on its column, to inscribe a record of their own promanteia (lower down on the column where it was highly visible to visitors).23

Rewriting history was not the only role for Delphi in this period. In 368 BC, a(nother) peace conference was held at Delphi to try and settle the ongoing political and military disputes in Greece that would eventually culminate in another major clash in 362 at the battle of Mantinea. It was organized by Philiscus of Abydus, an undersatrap of Arioborzanes from Asia Minor, and its main participants were Athens, Thebes, and Sparta. That a Persian should be interested in cultivating peace with Greece is understandable only because the former had need of the (by now) battle-hardened Greek mercenaries for its own wars—men it could obtain only if there was peace in mainland Greece. The conference was a failure, according to some ancient historians, because, though it was held at Delphi, it did not consult the oracle (if indeed the oracle was functioning enough to be consulted).24

The failure of the peace conference, and the failure to settle the ongoing political and military disputes in mainland Greece through the 360s, began to take its toll on Delphi. For sure, the commission for the rebuilding of the Apollo and Athena sanctuaries continued to meet every spring from 370 until 356, but progress was slow—unsurprising when it was a project likely involving a large number of Greek city-states at a time when they were at loggerheads with one another.25 At the same time, however, a surviving inscription from this period related to the lowering of interest rates at Delphi is perhaps testament to an economic slowdown, which would eventually cripple even the major cities like Athens in the 350s. It was more worrying still that the command structure at Delphi was becoming increasingly thwarted by the political and military struggle that was dividing Greece. On the one hand, most of the citizens of Delphi, led by a man called Astycrates, were keen to support the people of Phocis (and by extension Athens) against the increasing Theban supremacy. The Amphictyony, on the other hand, seem to have increasingly leaned toward supporting Thebes. In spring 363 BC, this internal rift came to a head: Astycrates and ten other Delphians were condemned, by a decree of the Amphictyony (proposed by the Thessalians), to permanent exile, and their property was confiscated. This band of eleven refugees fled the sanctuary and was given refuge in Athens. Later that year, the city of Delphi, no doubt under duress from the Amphictyony, granted the Thebans the right of promanteia at a level unlike any they had granted before: the Thebans had the right to consult the oracle not simply before everyone in their particular group, but before everyone in the entire world except the Delphians. The (enforced) political bias of Delphi (or rather the Amphictyony) could not have been clearer, although the Thebans still thought it worthwhile to inscribe their new rights at Delphi on the treasury they had built a decade earlier.26

More internal Delphic strife erupted soon after. A wedding was planned at Delphi between Orsilaus, son of one of the Delphic archons (magistrates), and the daughter of a man called Crates. In preparation for the wedding, during a ritual libation pouring, the vessel cracked. Seeing it as a bad omen, Orsilaus refused to go through with the ceremony. In revenge for the spurning of his daughter, Crates orchestrated for Orsilaus and his brother to be accused of stealing sacred objects from the sanctuary (the same trick the Delphians had used on Aesop a couple of centuries before). Found guilty, the brothers were thrown off the Hyampia cliff to their deaths. Crates, it appears, was still not satisfied and, going insane, murdered a number of Orsilaus’s family members and friends in the sanctuary of Athena at Delphi. This story of revenge for a spurned marriage may well have had a political undertone: Orsilaus’s family was said to have been pro-Theban, and that of Crates pro-Phocis. As a result of the conflict, Crates’ family was heavily fined and the proceeds supposedly dedicated to the goddess whose sanctuary had been defiled by the murder: Athena. Scholars have argued that the money in fact went toward paying for a new structure in the Athena sanctuary: a beautifully constructed and sculpturally adorned tholos, whose exact function is still hotly debated, although the surviving remnants ironically, given how little we know about the use of the building, make up one of the most well-known images of Delphi in today’s tourist literature (see plate 3).27

The changing power balance and resulting tension, both at Delphi, and in the wider Greek world, soon erupted into renewed conflict, but this time over Delphi itself. The Phocians, no longer supported by a now weak Sparta, were targeted by the Thebans at a meeting of the (pro-Theban) Amphictyonic council. They accused the Phocians of sacrilege and ensured that the Amphictyony imposed on the Phocians a heavy fine. The Phocians were between Scylla and Charybidis: paying meant financial penury and submission to Theban supremacy; not paying put them at risk of becoming the target of an Amphictyonic sacred war. In 356 BC, the Phocians decided to gamble everything: they moved in with their troops, under the leadership of their general Philomelus, to occupy the sanctuary, and they asserted their ancient claim to Delphi. About a century after the Athenians had pushed the Phocians to take over the sanctuary in the middle of the fifth century BC, precipitating the Second Sacred War, the Phocians tried the same tactic again. Their actions would begin the Third Sacred War in Delphi’s history.28

In summer 356, under Phocian occupation, the exiled Delphian Astycrates was welcomed back to the city, and the pro-Thebans elements were driven out. This was, for now, a conflict between Phocis and Thebes: the Phocians even began to pay the fine originally imposed on them by the Amphictyony. Indeed they did everything they could to demonstrate their ritual respect for the sanctuary: their general Philomelus promised he would respect the sanctuary’s treasures and even managed to turn the chance remark of the Pythia (along the lines of “do as you please”) into an oracular response to support his occupation.29 But a year later, in 355 BC, the Amphictyony were forced into action to protect the sanctuary they were supposed to be running: sacred war was declared on Phocis for their occupation of the sanctuary. It was not, however, a united front. Several Amphictyonic members chose to remain neutral. Athens, though often represented on the Amphictyonic council, in reality supported her old ally Phocis, and, in a complete volte-face from the time Phocis had occupied the sanctuary a century before, Sparta now also supported Phocis (because Sparta was now anti-Thebes, having suffered defeat at their hands at Leuctra in 371).

It must have been an odd experience to visit Delphi in the 350s BC. On the one hand, the sanctuary was still a building site, its oracle functioning in some kind of temporary setup. On the other hand, the sanctuary was militarily occupied by the Phocians. They had destroyed the stele in the sanctuary on which the original Amphictyonic charge of impiety against them had been inscribed. And they had even begun to build fortress-like protective walls across the crags of the Parnassian mountains around Delphi to defend their position from attack (the remnants of which can still be seen today).30

But the Phocian bravado disguised despair. The Phocian general Philomelus threw himself off a cliff in 354 BC, and his brother Onomarchus took over and was later replaced after being killed in battle (the Phocians proceeded to dedicate statues of Philomelus and Onomarchus in the Apollo sanctuary in their honor). The Phocian force faced opposition from within Delphi as well: Onomarchus was forced to expel seven families from the city and confiscate their property to keep control. As the conflict continued, the Phocians were even forced to go back on their promise not to mistreat the sanctuary’s many sacred dedications. Money was needed to pay for the occupation, and the only source available was the money at Delphi gathered for the temple rebuilding and from oracular consultation, and, when this ran out, they started melting down Delphi’s precious metal offerings. The list of fabulous dedications destroyed during the years 356–46 BC is heart-rendering: the gold tripod cauldron from the serpent column of Plataea; the crater of Alyattes, the sixth century Lydian king; what had survived from the 548 BC fire of Croesus’s golden lion; his gold and silver mixing bowls along with most of the rest of his dedications; the statue of Nike from the Sicilian tyrant Gelon along with other offerings from Sicilian rulers and probably the golden statue of Alexander I of Macedon offered after the Persians Wars. In total, Diodorus Siculus tells us that ten thousand talents’–worth of silver were melted down.31

And yet, between 353 and 351 BC, the committee for the reconstruction of the temple met each year at Delphi to discuss the rebuilding, which was supposedly still under way.32 Similarly, at least the pro-Phocian states seem to have continued to relate issues to the oracle. Dating from the middle of the fourth century BC, there is a series of inscriptions relating to changes in ritual practice in Athens, all of which seems to indicate backing from a Delphic consultation. At the same time, however, these consultations may have been cloaked in a degree of suspicion about Delphic bias. It is not without irony that the fullest contemporary report we have of the process of decision making involved in consulting the Delphi oracle comes from Athens at exactly the time when Delphi is experiencing one of the oddest periods in its history. In 352 BC, according to inscribed reports in Athens, the Athenians were debating what to do with sacred lands belong to the sanctuary of Demeter and Core at Eleusis, which were subject to long-running disputes over ownership between the Athenians and Megarians. They could not decide whether or not to allow cultivation of the sacred land, and referred the issue to Delphi. But instead of simply sending their ambassadors to Delphi with this question, they recorded in the inscription that they had written out the two options (to cultivate or not to cultivate) on sheets of tin. These sheets were subsequently wrapped in wool, then placed in a bronze jug, shaken around, and one was placed inside a gold jug, the other inside a silver jug. Both jugs were then sealed, so that no one knew which jug contained which option. The question the Athenians decided to put to the oracle was simply which jug they should pick. This is an extraordinary procedure and without parallel: that the Athenians chose to inscribe and publicly display the complex lengths they went to in order to ensure that no one—in Athens or at Delphi—could influence the response from the god. Only the god would know what was in each jug and indeed what the real question was in the first place. The answer came back that they should leave the land uncultivated, and the Athenians subsequently obeyed.33

We know too that during this period of occupation, a number of Delphic festivals continued. In the period 356–46 BC, the Thyades, female worshipers of Dionysus from Delphi, joined the Thyades from Athens who had processed from their city to the sanctuary, in order to take part in their regularly held (every two years) joint festival in honor of Dionysus. This ritual celebration took place not in the sanctuary of Delphi, but high in the wilds of the Parnassian mountains. The Delphian and Athenian celebrants processed together from the sanctuary by torchlight up into the mountains to take part in a series of Dionysiac revels. In this particular period, at the end of one such celebration, the Thyades lost their way returning down from the mountains to Delphi and strayed into Amphissan (enemy) territory. The women of Amphissa, keen to ensure the lost female worshipers were not maltreated, looked after the group and made sure that they found the path that would take them home.34

This was not the only festival in honor of Dionysus celebrated at Delphi. Plutarch in the first century AD tells us of several others (which will be examined in a later chapter). The difficulty, as always, is with knowing whether Plutarch’s testimony should be extrapolated back in time. Despite the fact that Dionysus may always have been worshiped at Delphi, it is only now in the fourth century BC that his cult can be archaeologically attested to. From the middle of the century, dedications appear to Dionysus in an area just to the east of the Apollo sanctuary that would become (or indeed may have been already) the established cult location of the god (see plate 1). In 339–38 BC, a paean was written by Philodamus honoring Dionysus at Delphi, and complemented by the introduction of a statue of the god offered by the Cnidians set up in the area of the theater (see plate 2).35 And Dionysus even made it on to the temple of Apollo itself. The temple construction, interrupted by the different wars of the fourth century, would finally be completed in the 320s BC. The new pedimental sculptures adorning it were the work of Athenian sculptor Praxias and finished (probably by c. 327 BC) by another Athenian, Androsthenes. Made in Pentelic (Athenian) marble, the east pediment displayed Apollo, hunched on his tripod, while the west pediment portrayed an Apollo-like Dionysus, playing the lyre (fig. 7.1). Much scholarly ink has been spilled over the meaning of the sculptural choice for these pediments, and particularly the elevation of Dionysus to equal billing with Apollo. Some have seen it as a result of Macedonian influence, others of Athenian. Yet what it reflected above the politics of influence was the increasingly wide and public scope of worship at Delphi, with major cult areas dedicated not only to Dionysus but also to Asclepius and Hermes in the fourth century, alongside the continued worship of a variety of other gods.36


Figure 7.1. Statues of the gods Apollo (left) and Dionysus (right) from the east and west pediments, respectively, of the fourth century BC temple of Apollo in the Apollo sanctuary at Delphi (Museum at Delphi).

By 351 BC, the Phocian cause looked almost lost, although they managed to hang on to control of Delphi until 346 BC. They were supposedly so desperate for money by this time that one of their last commanders, Phalaecus, even resorted to following lines from Homer’s Iliad that intimated there might be wealth beneath the temple of Apollo. He set his soldiers to work digging up the area around the sacred hearth and tripod, but to no avail.37 What finally brought their occupation of Delphi to an end, however, was not so much the absence of money, as the arrival of one man: Philip, king of Macedon.

Philip had in fact already been involved with Delphi in the first year of the Phocian occupation. In his dealings with the Chalcidians in 356 BC, he had negotiated a treaty, which he called on the oracle at Delphi to put its stamp of approval to; a copy of this was later set up at the sanctuary.38Now, however, at the request of the Amphictyony, he came with his forces to expel the Phocians from the sanctuary. This he did in 346 BC, having first successfully neutralized Athens’s support for Phocis through another peace treaty of his own with Athens.39 The Phocians were expelled from the temple and the Amphictyony. Those who had fled abroad were put under a curse, as was anyone who had touched the money that came from the melting down of the sanctuary’s treasures. Those who remained were forced to break up their cities within Phocian territory into villages of not more than fifty houses. Phocis was handed an enormous fine—an annual tribute of sixty talents—until such a time as they had repaid everything they had destroyed at the sanctuary (valued by Diodorus Siculus at ten thousand talents). The sanctuary was given back to the Delphians. The pro-Phocian families (including that of Astycrates) were once again expelled, and those exiled by the Phocians were allowed to return. In a statement of the seriousness of Phocian actions, the statues of their generals dedicated in the sanctuary during their occupation were targeted for removal and destruction: the only instance of such a decision in Delphic history.40

In contrast, Philip of Macedon was feted as the savior of Delphi. Even though Thebes had borne the brunt of the conflict, Philip took the glory. He presided over the Pythian games in 346 BC and was given the seats on the Amphictyony formerly occupied by the Phocians. Indeed in the lists of attendees at their meetings, his representatives came second, while the Thessalians, who presided over the council, came in first (the latter were pro-Macedonian in any case). Philip was voted promanteia by the Delphians, and a statue of him was erected in the Apollo sanctuary, possibly by the Amphictyony themselves. In turn, the Amphictyony was later said to have proclaimed itself at the center and beginning of a new era, an era of koine eirene—“common peace.”41

Athens—increasingly wary of Philip’s actions—especially after their peace treaty with him had not delivered the rebalancing of power in central Greece they had hoped for, boycotted the Pythian games celebrated by Philip in 346 BC, lost their right of promanteia with the oracle (just as Philip got his), and even considered going to war against Philip and the Amphictyonic league. Demosthenes, the famous Athenian orator whose anti-Philip stance would eventually convince Athens to face Philip in battle at Chaeroneia in 338 BC, characterized life at Delphi during the 340s under Philip’s auspices by saying that the new government at Delphi was so tyrannical that if anyone mentioned the sacred treasures, they were thrown off a cliff. And Philip, Demosthenes argued, was so intent on holding on to to authority at Delphi that, if he could not be there to celebrate its games, rather than allowing another city to do it, he would send his slaves.42

The impression one gets of Delphi through the speeches of Athenian orators like Demosthenes is of a place of critical importance not only due to the authority of its oracle, but also to its own long existence and long-standing interaction with Athens over that time. Delphi was a source of authority and tradition, an important element of Greek society, which the orators, especially Demosthenes, increasingly portrayed as besmirched by Philip.43 And at the same time as Delphi was characterized in this way by the Athenian orators, Athens’s physical involvement with Delphi was very selective: the Athenians were boycotting its games, offering no civic dedications in the sanctuary, and refusing to contribute financially to the reconstruction of its temple. Yet the Athenians were active as part of the commission tasked with overseeing the rebuilding (as naopoioi), and as craftsmen and suppliers for it. Nor is this patchwork approach to Delphic interaction only true for Athens, the plentiful inscriptional evidence from this period allows us to form a picture in which many different cities and states made particular decisions about what kinds of activities at Delphi they wanted to be involved in.44 And at the same time, the inscriptional evidence reveals the degree to which individuals throughout the Greek world sought to be part of the construction: many individuals gave small amounts, most half a drachma (about a day’s wage for an Athenian juror), but some gave only enough to cover the cost of their donation being inscribed (and sometimes even less than that). Donating was, however, clearly a huge source of pride: Clearistus of Carystus brought his children to Delphi in order to donate to the reconstruction fund and, while there, showed them the statue of his grandfather Aristocles of Carystus, who was represented on the monument to Spartan victory at Aegospotamoi.45

In the years after 346 BC, the rebuilding of the temple and sanctuary moved forward apace, reinfused as it was with energy and money thanks in no small measure to the Phocian fine flowing annually into Delphi’s coffers. The renovations were extensive: the terracing wall to the temple terrace was raised in height, the entire floor plan of the temple was moved farther north, necessitating excavation and rebuilding of the terracing wall to the north to create extra space. Sets of stairs were inlaid into this new terracing wall to lead to the area later occupied by the theater. There was significant investment in systems to channel water as it flowed down the mountainside around and underneath the temple platform. A new temple was planned with new pedimental sculpture, so the surviving pedimental sculpture from the previous Apollo temple, like the famous charioteer statue, was buried just to the north of the temple terrace, along with dedications damaged in the 373 BC earthquake. New access routes were laid out above these burials between the north of the sanctuary and the temple terrace, with previous dedications moved around and repositioned to line these routes, and at the same time areas of cult worship to a variety of deities and heroes were likely more fully developed, for instance, the cult area around the “tomb” of Neoptolemus just to the north of the temple (see plates 1, 2; figs. 1.4, 7.2).46

But the Phocian fine, it seems, had encouraged the Amphictyony to develop their plans even further. Some of the dedications that were melted down by the Phocians (particularly Croesus’s gold and silver craters) were remade. Money was also put to use to create new structures at Delphi: a gymnasium and stadium, for instance, to provide better facilities for its increasingly popular Pythian games (fig. 7.3). The stadium, dramatically positioned now up above the Apollo sanctuary, had copies of its older rules and regulations laid into its stone walls (see plate 1). One inscription, still in place today, forbids the taking of sacrificial wine out of the stadium on pain of a large fine. It seems that those tasked with the reinscribing of this old rule were uncertain how to render it in fourth-century style. The result is an inscription in which the letter forms are a curious mix of centuries: an archaic theta but a fourth-century alpha, for example, and even a misspelling of the word “wine” because, by then, an entire letter that used to be in the word (the digamma) had slipped out of usage and was unrecognizable to the fourth-century letter cutters.47


Figure 7.2. The fourth century BC temple of Apollo in the Apollo sanctuary at Delphi as seen today from the theater above it (© Michael Scott)


Figure 7.3. A reconstruction of the gymnasium at Delphi (aquarelle de Jean-Claude Golvin. Musée départemental Arles antique © éditions Errance). 1 Covered running track. 2 Outdoor running track. 3 Roman baths. 4 Washing pool. 5 Palestra.

The gymnasium, on the other hand, was built nearer the Castalian fountain, next to the Athena sanctuary, on land mythically considered the location where Odysseus had been wounded in the thigh by a boar (see plate 1, fig. 7.3). It was one of the first architecturally complex gymnasiums built in Greece, putting Delphi at the forefront of Greek architectural and athletic development, and it consisted of both a covered and outdoor running track, a wrestling area, and bathing facilities. The Pythian games benefited from the building of these new facilities: additional events were added to the games in the fourth century, and it is now, in the late 340s and 330s, that the first attempts are made—by Aristotle and his nephew Callisthenes no less—to record a list of all the Pythian victors stretching back to the beginnings of the games in the sixth century, a list eventually put on display in the sanctuary, and for which laborious effort Aristotle and Callisthenes received honors from the Delphians.48

If all this was not enough, the Phocian fine was also channeled by the Amphictyony toward their other sanctuary, that of Demeter at Anthela, and used to produce the Amphictyony’s first, and only, currency (fig. 7.4). The one place conspicuously not to benefit from the fine seems to have been the sanctuary of Athena at Delphi (although its damaged tholos and temple were repaired). At the same time, its two treasuries seem to have been converted for use in some kind of civic/private function and were surrounded by inscribed steles documenting civic affairs, perhaps an indication that this sanctuary had come more recognizably under the control of the Delphic polis at a time when relations between the Amphictyony and Delphi must have been strained (see plate 3).49


Figure 7.4. Coinage issued by the Amphictyony at Delphi between 336 and 335–35 BC. This stater coin has Demeter on one side (due to the Amphictyony’s responsibility for the sanctuary of Demeter at Anthela), and Apollo sitting on the omphalos on the other. “Amphictyony” is spelled out on the coin around the rim (© EFA/Ph. Collet [Guide du site fig. 2.f])

Despite tense relations at Delphi, this burst of building activity and reflowering of the Amphictyony, coupled with the ongoing articulation in the literary sources at this time of the events surrounding the First Sacred War in the early sixth century, seems to have once again encouraged dedicators to invest in the sanctuary. The Cnidians returned to spruce up their lesche and the surrounding area. The Thebans and Boeotians celebrated the outcome of the war with new dedications. The Cyreneans, fundamentally tied to Delphi throughout their history, and now contributors to the fund to rebuild the temple, returned to dedicate a marble treasury in the Apollo sanctuary (see plate 2), for which they were awarded promanteia, to complement their other fourth-century dedication: a chariot sculpture with a figure of the god Ammon. Likewise, the Rhodians, chose to build a sculpture of the god Helios with his sun chariot, which was placed atop a high column on the eastern edge of the temple terrace, directly on the axis of the new temple (see fig. 1.3).50

But it was this temple that was soon again to spark controversy. By 340 BC, it was complete enough for the Athenians, still spoiling for a fight having felt cheated by Philip of Macedon in the peace agreed in 346 BC, to rehang the Persian shields the Athenians had placed on the metopes of the previous temple after their great victory against the Persians at Marathon in 490 BC. In a sanctuary already teeming with examples of the rewriting of history to suit present circumstances, this was one in which history was deliberately not rewritten to make a point. The rehanging of the same old shields pointed to the continued glory of Athenian history, but also, more specifically, to the past misdemeanors of Thebes, a city now enjoying considerable influence, but which, according to the inscriptions on the shields, had fought with Persia against Greece back in the fifth century BC.51

Such an undiplomatic slap in the face could not go unnoticed. At a meeting of the Amphictyonic council in 340 BC, the representative of the Ozolian Locrians accused the Athenians (without doubt, pushed by Thebes and Philip) of impiety for not performing the proper rituals before erecting the shields. Athens’s man at the council was Aeschines, an orator who, in Athens, was a natural supporter of Philip (and thus archenemy of Demosthenes), but who now was called on to defend Athens on a larger stage against Philip’s machinations. His speech to the assembly, as he himself later recalled, brilliantly turned the tables on Athens’s accusers. The Locrians were guilty, he argued, of a greater impiety in cultivating sacred land. His rhetoric was enough to spark a military attack then and there against the Locrians, an attack the Locrians easily repelled because neither the Amphictyony nor the city of Delphi had a proper standing army. As 340 gave way to 339 BC, the Amphictyony called a special meeting to organize a proper military force. But by this time, Athens had realized that pushing this war was not in their best interests long-term: the city was conspicuously absent from the emergency meeting, as were the representatives of their main enemy Thebes. The result was that the paltry forces of the Amphictyony were able to evict the Locrians—and particularly the citizens of Amphissa—from the sacred land, but unable to enforce any kind of permanent solution. In exasperation, the Thessalian commander of the Amphictyonic forces turned (once again) to Philip of Macedon.52

It was exactly the invitation Philip had been waiting for. Fed up with Athens snapping at his heels, Philip used the invitation to sweep south with his forces. Instead of marching on Amphissa, he set up camp at Elatea, just a couple of days march from Athens. Athens’s diplomatic posturing had led to the prospect of its invasion. In desperation, Athens was forced into an alliance with the same city it had hoped to antagonize in the first place: Thebes. In late September 339 BC, Athens consulted the Delphic oracle on ill omens witnessed at their festival of the Mysteries at Eleusis. Demosthenes, Philip’s most vocal opponent, architect of the new alliance between Thebes and Athens, denounced Delphi’s response with the bitter words “the Pythia is Philipizing.” In the winter of 339–38, Athens and Thebes marched to occupy Phocis and Delphi as a brave forward move against Philip. In return, in the summer of 338 BC, Philip turned to meet them. He occupied Locris, punished Amphissa as per his original agreement with the Amphictyony, and faced Athens and Thebes on the battlefield at Chaeronea, just on the other side of the Parnassian mountains from Delphi. It was a cataclysmic event in Greek history: the forces of Athens and Thebes were decimated, leaving Philip triumphant and in charge of mainland Greece.53

So ended what became known as the Fourth Sacred War. Amphissa, terrorized into submission by Philip, promptly put up a statue of him in the Apollo sanctuary at Delphi, calling him “basileos” (“king”) (it was their first and only civic dedication in the sanctuary).54 It was a moment, finally, for the Greeks, and particularly the Delphians, to catch their breath. In a single century, their sanctuary had been used as a space in which to trumpet Athenian defeat and Spartan ascendancy, followed by Spartan defeat and Theban ascendency. It had been in ruins since 373 BC, during which time the Delphians had faced prospective takeovers from Thessaly; actual occupations by the Phocians; two Sacred Wars; the dramatic loss of many of their most precious offerings; the adrenaline shot of the Phocian fine, which had not only replenished their coffers, but had seen their sanctuary rebuilt and expanded; the articulation not only of a newly empowered Amphictyony but of a mythic history of their involvement with the sanctuary dating back to the First Sacred War; and the arrival and imposition of Philip and the power of Macedon over mainland Greece. It had been a roller coaster ride. Perhaps now, they thought, things would settle for a while? They could not have been more wrong.

One tries to imagine all these as they were when they breathed
intact. They must have looked, from a distance, like cypresses,
shiny, multicoloured, around the temple of Pythia. One just tries …
one is still trying.

—George Seferis, Dokimes vol. 2 (1981), trans. C. Capri-Karka

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