Didymi - Encyclopedia

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DIDYMI, or Didyma (mod. Hieronta), an ancient sanctuary of Apollo in Asia Minor situated in the territory of Miletus, from which it was distant about io m. S. and on the promontory Poseideion. It was sometimes called Branchidae from the name of its priestly caste which claimed descent from Branchus, a youth beloved by Apollo. As the seat of a famous oracle, the original temple attracted offerings from Pharaoh Necho (in whose army there was a contingent of Milesian mercenaries), and the Lydian Croesus, and was plundered by Darius of Persia. Xerxes finally sacked and burnt it (481 B.C.) and exiled the Branchidae to the far north-east of his empire. This exile was believed to be voluntary, the priests having betrayed their treasures to the Persian; and on this belief Alexander the Great acted 150 years later, when, finding the descendants of the Branchidae established in a city beyond the Oxus, he ordered them to be exterminated for the sin of their fathers (328). The celebrated cult-statue of Apollo by Canachus, familiar to us from reproductions on Milesian coins, was also carried to Persia, there to remain till restored by Seleucus I. in 295, and the oracle ceased to speak for a century and a half. The Milesians were not able to undertake the rebuilding till about 332 B.C., when the oracle revived at the bidding of Alexander. The work proved too costly, and despite a special effort made by the Asian province nearly 400 years later, at the bidding of the emperor Caligula, the structure was never quite finished: but even as it was, Strabo ranked the Didymeum the greatest of Greek temples and Pliny placed it among the four most splendid and second only to the Artemisium at Ephesus. In point of fact it was a little smaller than the Samian Heraeum and the temple of Cybele at Sardis, and almost exactly the same size as the Artemisium. The area covered by the platform measures roughly 360 X160 ft.

When Cyriac of Ancona visited the spot in 1446, it seems that the temple was still standing in great part, although the cella had been converted into a fortress by the Byzantines: but when the next European visitor, the Englishman Dr Pickering, arrived in 1673, it had collapsed. It is conjectured that the cause was the great earthquake of 1493. The Society of Dilettanti sent two expeditions to explore the ruins, the first in 1764 under Richard Chandler, the second in 1812 under Sir Wm. Gell; and the French Rothschild Expedition " of 1873 under MM. 0. Rayet and A. Thomas sent a certain amount of architectural sculpture to the Louvre. But no excavation was attempted till MM. E. Pontremoli and B. Haussoullier were sent out by the French Schools of Rome and Athens in 1895. They cleared the western façade and the prodomos, and discovered inscriptions giving information about other parts which they left still buried. Finally the site was purchased by, and the French rights were ceded to, Dr Th. Wiegand, the German explorer of Miletus, who in 1905 began a thorough clearance of what is incomparably the finest temple ruin in Asia Minor.

The temple was a decastyle peripteral structure of the Ionic order, standing on seven steps and possessing double rows of outer columns 60 ft. high, twenty-one in each row on the flanks. It is remarkable not only for its great size, but (inter alia) for (1) the rich ornament of its column bases, which show great variety of design; (2) its various developments of the Ionic capital, e.g. heads of gods, probably of Pergamene art, spring from the " eyes " of the volutes with bulls' heads between them; (3) the massive building two storeys high at least, which served below for prodomos, and above for a dispensary of oracles (xpnQµoypayhca mentioned in the inscriptions) and a treasury; two flights of stairs called " labyrinths " in the inscriptions, led up to these chambers; (4) the pylon and staircase at the west; (5) the frieze of Medusa heads and foliage. Two outer columns are still erect on the north-east flank, carrying their entablature, and one of the inner order stands on the south-west. The fact that the temple was never finished is evident from the state in which some bases still remain at the west. There were probably no pedimental sculptures. A sacred way led from the temple to the sea at Panormus, which was flanked with rows of archaic statues, ten of which were excavated and sent to the British Museum in 1858 by C. T. Newton. Fragments of architectural monuments, which once adorned this road, have also been found. Modern Hieronta is a large and growing Greek village, the only settlement within a radius of several miles. Its harbour is Kovella, distant about 2 z m., and on the N. of the promontory.

See Dilettanti Society, Ionian Antiquities, ii. (1821); C. T. Newton, Hist. of Discoveries, &c. (1862) and Travels in the Levant, ii. (1865); 0. Rayet and A. Thomas, Milet et le Golfe Latmique (1877); E. Pontremoli and B. Haussoullier, Didymes (1904).

(D. G. H.)

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