Ancient Greek Coins of Miletus

This page is a sidebar to “The Apollo of Didyma Issues,” one of the pages of Ancient Greek Coins of Miletus.

SIDEBAR: The Oracle of Apollo at Didyma

The oracle of Apollo at Didyma, a few miles south of Miletus and under Milesian control during the Archaic and early Classical period, was second in reputation only to the famous Delphic Oracle at Delphi on the Greek mainland. The brief history of the oracle of “Apollo Didymaios” below is quoted from a nineteenth-century edition of the celebrated Archaeologia Graeca, or the Antiquities of Greece, by the seventeenth-century antiquarian and Archbishop of Canterbury, John Potter.

The next oracle I shall speak of is that of Apollo Didymaeus, so named from the double light imparted by him to mankind; the one directly and immediately from his own body, and the other by reflection from the moon. The place of it was also called Didyma, and belonged to the Milesians, whence Apollo is called Milesius. It was also called the oracle of the Branchidae, and Apollo himself was called Branchides, from Branchus, who was reputed the son of Macareus, but begotten by Apollo; for it was no unusual thing for the ancient heroes to be called the sons of two fathers, the one mortal, who was always their mother’s husband, the other some lascivious deity that had fallen in love with her: so Hercules was reputed the son of Jupiter and Amphytryon; Hector of Priam and Apollo, with many others. The original of this oracle is thus described by Varro, where speaking of Branchus’s mother, he reports, ‘that being with child, she dreamed the sun entered into her mouth, and passed through her belly; whence her child was named Branchus, from βρόγχος, the throat, through which the god had penetrated into the womb. The boy afterwards having kissed Apollo in the woods, and received from him a crown and sceptre, began to prophesy, and presently after disappeared.’ Whereupon a magnificent temple was dedicated to him and Apollo Philesius, so called from φιλεῖν, to kiss; whence Statius saith, he was

———patrioque aequalis honori.
In honour equal to his father Phoebus.

Others derive the name from Branchus, a Thessalian youth, beloved by Apollo, who received him into his own temple, and commanded divine honours should be paid him after death. But Stephanus the Byzantian telleth us, that this oracle was sacred to Jupiter and Apollo, and perhaps it might belong to all three. However that be, we are assured by Herodotus, that this oracle was ἐκ παλαιοῦ ιδρυμένον, τῷ Ἴωνέϛ τε πάντεϛ καὶ Αἰολέες εἰώθεσαν χρέεσθαι, very ancient, and frequented by all the Ionians and Aeolians: and are farther told by Conon in Photius’s Bibliotheca, that it was accounted χρηστηρίων Ἑλληνικῶν μετὰ Δελφοὺς κράτιστον, the best of all the Grecian oracles, except the Delphian.

In the time of the Persian war this temple was spoiled and burned, being betrayed into the hands of the barbarians by the Branchidae, or priests, who had the care of it; but they, conscious of their own wickedness, and fearing lest they should meet with condign punishment, desired of Xerxes, that, as a requital of their service, he would grant them a habitation in some remote part of Asia, whence they might never return into Greece, but live secure, being placed beyond the reach of justice. Xerxes granted their request: whereupon, notwithstanding a great many unlucky omens appeared to them, they founded a city, and called it after their ancient name, Branchidae. But for all this, they could not escape divine vengeance, which was inflicted on their children by Alexander the Great, who, having conquered Darius, and possessed himself of Asia, utterly demolished their city, and put all its inhabitants to the sword, as detesting the very posterity of such impious wretches.

The Persians being vanquished, and peace restored to Greece, the temple was rebuilt by the Milesians, with such magnificence, that it surpassed almost all the other Grecian temples in bigness, being raised to such a bulk, that they were forced to let it remain uncovered; for the compass of it was no less than that of a village, and contained at least four or five stadia.

© RJO 1995–2016