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Temple of Apollo, Delphi

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Archaeological Development

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Ritual Activity

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Rules and Regulations

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Other Activities

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Historical Significance

Located on Mt. Parnassus near the Gulf of Corinth the temple was home to the famous Oracle of Delphi, marking the importance of the site. The oracle gave predictions to both city-states and individuals and was home to the Pythian Games. The games were held every eight years and began ca 591 BCE. The event was a musical competition at first and later more music contests and athletic events were added. It was also held more frequently - every four years and was contended only against the Olympic games.

Delphi was also known as the omphalos (meaning navel)or the center of the world. Following the myth that Zeus once sent two eagles from opposite ends of the world to meet at the center. The stone marks it as a place of geopolitical power and currency and is an object of power.[1]

The site and the games were managed by the independent amphictyony which was a council composed of members of the nearby states which: collected taxes offerings, constructed and organized military campaigns in the Four Sacred Wars against Crisa Phocis and Amphissa.
There are suggestions that the oracle was in some way present from 1400BC and that Apollo took over the shrine through Priests from Delos in the 8th Century.[2]This The rise of the temple in the name of Apollo is argued to coincide with the rise of Corinth as a city.[3]

The temple was attacked by the Persians (480BCE) and the Gauls (3rd Century BCE). It came into the hands of the Aitolian league in the same century.
The sixth version of the temple stood until 390 AD when the Roman emperor Theodosius I ordered the destruction of the temple and the accompanying works of art and statues in order to accommodate the Christian order.[4]

The oracles meant that it was often offered devotions in thanks to the gods. This includes a building as a thank you offering from the Athenians for the Battle of Marathon in 490.[5] The importance of the oracle can at times be represented through ancient literature such as when Homer writes that Agamemnon consults the oracle before the Trojan war.[6] Herodotus speaks of an offering of expensive gifts from Croesus ( a frequent visitor of the oracle who was faced with the war against the Persians)and also of a subscription from Egypt from Greek colonists of Naukratis.[7] Making the site a center for Pan-Hellenic activities and relations. Further literary sources include in its number Aeschylus, Aristotle, Diodorus, and Ovid.

Who used the site, and where did they come from? 

The Temple of Apollo was the home to the Pythia (the name of the high priestess at the temple of Apollo) who is better known as the Oracle of Delphi. The oracle was consulted often until 4th C AD as the most prestigious and trusted oracle amongst the Greek societies.[8] Officiants would serve her at the sites and there were two other priests of Apollo who were in charge of the sanctuary. Plutarch served in the late first century to the early second and is a key source on the oracles at the time. The priests were selected from the men of Delphi. Aside from the key two figures, there were other officiants who have been associated with the site such as the hosoi (the holy ones) and the prophetai.[9]

The hopes of the sacred organization of Delphi represented a Pan-Hellenic hope and confederation. It presented a united Greece with a united religion and political interests.[10] Delphi was a popular gathering spot for the Greek elite and were treated as places where the Greek ‘nobility’ would express their close relations to the gods through making costly dedications or some other display (such as competing in the Pythian games).[11] Delphi was thus Panhellenic (for all stratas of society) and civic pride is represented particularly from the ostentatious offerings.[12] The Athenian offerings are best recorded. There is an inscription along the sacred way that reads ‘ The Athenians to Apollo as offerings from the battle of Marathon, taken from the Mede’.[13] Atop the inscription are signs of bronze statues being there. It is likely they depicted the ten eponymous heroes of the Kleisthenic tribes including the new Hellenistic tribes: Antigonos Monophthalmos, Demetrios Poliorketes (made eponymoi in 306) Ptolemy III (223).[14] The Homeric Hymn to Apollo presents an account of how Apollo chose his first priests who were met with Apollo in the form of a Dolphin and bid the Cretan priests to establish the temple.[15] The site was visited by Cretans as evidenced by Cretan sculptures and bronzes found from the 8th century onto as late as ca. 600 BC.[16] It is important to remember that the hymn is not a historical account but the archaeological evidence suggests Cretan visitors. Lydian and Oriental Kings also paid honours.[17]

Select Site Bibliography

Primary Sources

  • Herodotus, Histories 
  • Pausanias Description of Greece Vol.1 TRANS: Jones, W.H.S (1918) (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press)

Secondary Sources

  • Chappell, M(2006) "Delphi and the Homeric Hymn to Apollo" IN: Classical Quarterly 56.
  • Cooper, F. 1990. “Reconstruction of the Athenian Treasury at Delphi in the Fourth Century B.C.” AJA 94: 317–18.
  • Forrest, W.G. (1957), "Colonisation and the Rise of Delphi" (Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte Bd. 6, H. 2 (Apr., 1957), pp. 160–175
  • Fortenrose, J (1959) Python. A study of Delphic Myth and its Origins. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press (London: Cambridge University Press)
  • Middleton, J.H (1888) “The temple of Apollo at Delphi” IN: The Journal of Hellenic Studies volume 9. Pp282-322
  • Neer, R (2004) “The Athenian Treasury at Delphi and the Material of Politics” IN: Classical Antiquity Vol.23, No.1. (USA: University California Press) pp 63-93
  • Ring, T (1995) Southern Europe: International Dictionary of Historic Places (UK: Routledge)
  • Scott, M (2014) Delphi: A history of the Center of the Ancient World (UK: Princeton University Press)
  • Voegelin, E (2000)Order of History 2 (USA: University of Missouri Publishing.)


  1. Voeglin (2000) 31.
  2. Fortenrose (1959) 54.
  3. Forrest (1957)162.
  4. Ring (1995) 185.
  5. Pausanias 10.11.
  6. Homer, Ody. VIII.80.
  7. Herodotus,PerI.50.
  8. Scott (2014) 30.
  9. Forrest (1957) 164.
  10. Middleton (1888)282.
  11. Neer (2004) 65.
  12. Neer (2004)65.
  13. GHI no.19.
  14. Cooper (1990) 317-318.
  15. Chappell (2006) 335.
  16. Fox(2008) 342 .
  17. Middleton (1888)283.


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