Miletus played an important role in the history of western Anatolia as one of the 12 Ionian Cities of Asia Minor. The ruins of the ancient city are situated 30 km south of Soke near the Maeander (Buyuk Menderes) river and is one of the most attractive sites in Turkey. Miletus was the home of several famous philosophers and scientists such as Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Hippodamus, and Hecataeus.
Excavations conducted by the German archaeologists revealed the fact that there was a Mycenaean settlement there dating back to 1500 BC. Some traces of fortification walls, houses and some remains of Minoan pottery were found in the area. There are several assertions as to the first foundation of Miletus. The town was first mentioned in some Hittite sources as Millawanda, and before the Greek occupation, the city was inhabited by Carians and Lelegians. According to Strabo, Miletus was first founded by Neleus, son of Codrus, king of Athens, and the newcomers ousted the native locals taking their land and their possessions. According to Herodotus, Greeks killed all the men and took their women as their wives.
The geographical location of Miletus was the major factor that contributed the increase of trade and commercial activities and its proximity to some important settlements like Ephesus, Priene and Didyma was an advantage to become a wealthy and most powerful of the 12 Ionian Cities. (Ionian League) in Asia Minor in 7th and 6th centuries BC. Milesians established not less than 90 colonies spreading around a large geography as far as Egypt, Black Sea, and the Marmara sea.
In the 6th century BC all the Ionian Cities on the Aegean coastline were brought under the rule of Lydia. Miletus was an exceptionand they repelled the attacks of Gyges, Alyattes and Croesus. In 546 BC, Persian army defeated the Lydian king, Croesus and the capital city, Sardes was captured by Cyrus. After the fall of Lydia and Sardes, Persians continued their invasion capturing theIonian city-states one by one. The Ionian League (also called Panionic league) was unable to consolidate their power for a strong, united resistance. However, Miletus signed an agreement acquiring special terms from the Persians and they gained a considerable amount of freedom.
The period between the years 500 and 494 BC signifies the struggle of the Ionian Cities against the Persian rule and resulting revolt which Miletus took part in joining the battle of Lade with 80 battle ships. The result was a catastrophe and Miletus was severely punishedby the Persians who occupied the city, and massacred most of the men, the rest was sent to Susa as prisoners. The temple of Apollo at Didyma was looted and burnt down.
In 490 BC, Persian king, Darius was defeated by the Athenians at Marathon, and 10 years later Xerxes was defeated at Salamis and Platea. These two victories enabled the Ionian Cities to regain their freedom. In the following years an alliance of Ionian Citiesso called The Delian League was formed under the leadership of Athens in order to avoid and resist any future threats. Miletus was rebuilt and quickly restored to its previous prosperity and status.
In 334 BC, Miletus came under the rule of Alexander the Great and finally in 133 BC, like many other Ionian Cities, Miletus became one of the most important cities of the new Roman province of Asia. Miletus benefited from the advantages and privileges granted to them from their new rulers, Romans. Citizens of Miletus continued trading with other city states, and Roman emperors adorned the city with many monuments and buildings.
The harbor of Miletus was a very important asset which made a considerable amount of contribution to the prosperity of the city via the sea trade. However during the Roman era it was getting more and more difficult to operate the harbor due to the fact that increasing amounts of silt brought down by the river Maeander, and by the 4C AD the harbor was completely silted making marine navigation impossible.
As the result of the silting of the area and inevitable decline in trade, Miletus lost its wealth, prosperity and most of its population. For those who never left the city, life was so difficult, and impoverished.
Archaeological studies revealed the fact that the city of Miletus, after the destruction caused by the Persians in 494 BC, was reconstructed in conformity with the grid-iron planintroduced by the Milesian architect, Hippodamus, a famous town-planner and Philosopher at his time. His town-planning techniques were also applied to several cities like Priene, Ephesus, Piraeus, and Rhodes.
Greco-Roman Theatre : One of the most significant buildings in Miletus, dating back to 4th century BC. During the Hellenistic era the theater has the capacity of 5000 spectators, during the Roman period it was modified and reconstructed increasing the capacity up to 15000, and many alterations were applied to cavea and orchestra enabling the structure to be used for gladiatorial fights.
In parallel with Roman style, the cave is semi-circular and has a diameter of 140 meters. The vomitoria (vaulted passages) are all in a perfect condition. There are some inscriptions on some of the seats, one reads; “This was the place of the goldsmiths of the blues”. The “Blues” mention in this inscription, was one of the political and sportive groups that was very effective in Byzantine society in Istanbul (Constantinople).
Heroon : The Hellenistic structure consists of a courtyard and a tomb stands in the center, and on the East and the West sides of the building there are several rooms.
Nymphaeum : This monumental fountain was built during Roman period (2nd century AD). At the back there are two basins which used to be filled with the water brought by aqueducts from a 6 km source. Part of the water was distributed to the different parts of the city using a network of pipes and channels. The three story facade is flanked by colonnades and ornamented with vaulted niches, and statues of nymphs (water fairies) and deities. Some of the statues of this splendid monument are in Istanbul Archaeological Museum and, Pergamum museum in Berlin.
The Bouleuterion : The structure dates back to the reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (2nd Century BC) and engineered by Timarchus and Herakleides. The building compromises a propylon, a colonnaded courtyard, and the auditorium. The columns of the propylon are Corinthian in style and provided access to the courtyard measuring 26 by 24 meters. A doric order stoa stretches along three sides of courtyard in the middle of which the remains of a Roman tomb stands. The capacity of the building was 1500 persons.
Delphinion : The biggest and oldest shrine in Miletus dedicated to Apollo Delphinius. Delphinius (Delphis means dolphin ancient Greek language) was the word that was used in ancient time to relate Apollo with the dolphins. In ancient time dolphins was considered as smart and music loving animals. The Delphinion has a temenos measuring 50 by 60 meters, surrounded by a stoa which was originally built doric in style but changed to Corinthian in style during Roman period.