Around the Letoon

In the northwest corner of the Precinct of Apollo are two buildings: the Ecclesiasterion, an assembly building first erected in the early 5th century bc and then re-modelled more than once in Hellenistic times, whose marble seats along the north wall to either side of an aedicule are still well-preserved in situ; and, across from it, a small rectangular edifice of the late 5th century bc, referred to gener ally as an ‘Administrative Office’ building. Between the two, a tiny passageway latterly remained the only access in and out of the Sanctuary from the north. Continuing north, the pathway passes beside two important sacred structures. Immediately to the left is the Sanctuary of the Twelve Gods or Dodekatheon, attested here from Archaic times and dedicated probably to four triads of gods: Zeus, Hera and Athena; Apollo, Artemis and Leto; Hades, Demeter and Kore; and Poseidon, Aphrodite and Hermes. The granite base of the temple and marble elements of the superstructure at the west end are visible, and a number of the dozen altars which lay in its precinct are clustered to the east. Almost contiguous to the north, and opposite what was once a complex of shops, is the Letoon, constructed around 540 bc in a veined, white marble, and consecrated to the mother of Apollo and Artemis, without whose exhausting search for a place to give birth and final choice of Delos , there would never have been any sanctuary here in the first place. The temple is built over a widely protruding marble crepis which forms a beautifully rounded ledge in Parian marble, on which offerings were laid; it had a paved vestibule, giving access to the naos which protected the seated effigy of Leto. The temple is small, but its temenos appears to have stretched some considerable way to the east—an area now occpied by the large, open area of the Agora of the Italians. The latter was laid out in the late 2nd century bc, but never fully completed.

Detour into Agora of the Italians. The size of the agora (over all almost 100 x 70m) gives some sense of the importance and wealth which the community of Italian merchants had achieved on Delos by the 2nd century bc through banking and trade in slaves and other commodities. The area is entered through a ruined Doric Propylon. The wide, central space of beaten earth is surrounded by a Doric peristyle of white marble columns on red bases (the latter visible on the north side). It formerly had an Ionic, colonnaded gallery above. The construction was donated by several individuals or trade groups known as Hermaists (see p. 53). Begun in c. 110 bc, it was repaired after the sack of Delos by Mithridates, but then left unfinished around 50 bc. On the inner side is a series of rooms or exedrae containing votive monuments, statues, and mosaics: noteworthy on the west side are those of Lucius Orbius, Caius Cluvius, and Caius Ofellius (where a fine nude statue by the Athenian sculptors Dionysios and Timarchides, now in the museum, was found); the room of Publius Satricanius, on the north side has a fine mosaic. In an exedra on the east side was found a statue of a Wounded Gaul (now in Athens). A building such as this—comparable to today’s shopping malls—would have been thronged with life in the daylight hours: make-shift stalls in the central court selling goods under canopies would have been fixed to the colonnade, so that people sauntered in the shade of the colonnade itself between parallel rows of shops to one side and stalls to the other. On the outer east and west sides of the structure are more lines of shops opening into the street.

West of both the Italian Agora and of the Letoon are the remains of a granite building with a double court: the ground floor was divided into small rooms, perhaps sculptors’ workshops (statues of an unfinished sphinx and gryphon are visible), while above may have been an assembly room.

Delos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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