Accepted as one of the most important cities of the Greek antiquity, Miletus lost ground on account of silting up of its harbors. In ancient times, it was located on the coast at the mouth of the River Meander. Thanks to its harbors and strategic situation of note on the west coast of Asia Minor, it played a considerable role for the ancient world trade. It was continuously invaded by various conquerors; such as Cretan Minoans, Mycenaeans from the Peloponnese. However, finally Miletus prospered thanks to the Meander River, which silted up over the centuries. Miletus was started to be accepted as one of the most important 12 Ionian cities. Moreover, that city happened to be among the first cities to mint coins in the ancient world, as mentioned in The Iliad by Homer.
Miletus Through History
Miletus, like Didyma, was destroyed by the Persians in around 500 BC, yet, restored and the plan of Hippodamus, who was a Miletus native, was applied to its streets, known as the inventor of the “Hippodamian grid.” First applied in cities like Rhodes and Piraeus, his plan was later used in the northern part of his homeland. Well-known philosophers of nature and the universe like Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes, the historian and geographer Hekataios and Isidorus, one of the architects of Hagia Sophia are all Milesians.
Biblically important, too, Miletus was one of St. Paul’s stops on his Third Missionary Journey. According to Acts, he was on the way back from Troas, he took a break at Miletus and called for the elders of Ephesus to come meet him there. He made a farewell speech to the elders of the church, to be only recorded sermon delivered to advocates, he said he would probably not see them again, for “the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.” The elders prayed for him and hugged, took him to the ship to sail for Jerusalem.
A badly-reserved Byzantine castle on a hill behind the theater presents a good view of the the original coastline around Miletus and other ruins clustered around. The city walls were thick and strong, however attacked by Alexander the Great during his invasion. One of the harbours of Miletus, the Theater Harbour hosted the Cretan citizens and the Lion Harbour was secured by two marble lions, one of which is yet today visible. There is an important inscription found on one of the seats of the theater, written in Greek “For the Jews and the God-fearers.”, which tells about tolerance for Jews at Miletus, indicating a sizeable Jewish community.
Paths starting from the theater give way to the Baths of Faustina, built by the wife of Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century. Near the Faustina Baths of Miletus is the Harbor Gateway separating the harbor from the city. Double rows of columns provided a dramatic entrance for those who arrived in Miletus by ship. The Sacred Way begins at the Harbor Gate and extended to the bouleterion. The inhabitants of Miletus travelled this route annually or a pilgrimage to the Temple of Apollo.
Archaeological excavations were launched by French and German archaeologists between 1873 and 1931, however interrupted due to the wars. The outstanding artifact unearthed in Miletos during the first excavations of the 19th century, in the Market Gate of Miletus, was taken piece by piece to Germany and reclustered. It has been exhibited at the Pergamon museum in Berlin since then. The main collection of artifacts of Miletus locates in the Miletus Museum in Didim, Aydın, for nearly forty years.