Miletus was a leading Greek city of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). It was located on the west coast of the Anatolian peninsula, near the mouth of the Maeander River. The city’s fame came from its busy harbor and extensive trade. Milesians (the people of Miletus) founded trading colonies in Egypt and Italy and along the shores of the Black Sea. The city was also home to such great thinkers as Thales and Anaximander.
Miletus was founded by Ionians, early Greeks who had migrated from the Greek mainland to Asia Minor around 1000 B.C. Miletus was one of 12 such cities founded by mainland Greeks. Other settlements included Ephesus and the island of Samos. Miletus’s fleet and trade rivaled those of Lydia, a kingdom in western Asia Minor. By 546 B.C. Miletus and other Greek cities in Asia Minor were under the rule of the Persians. In 499 B.C. the Milesians led an unsuccessful revolt against the Persians, in which their city was destroyed. About 20 years later, Miletus joined Athens in the Delian League against the Persians.
Displeasure at Athenian control of the league prompted Milesians to revolt against Athens in 412 B.C., during the Peloponnesian War. Miletus had a brief alliance with Sparta, which ended when the Persians took possession of Miletus in 386 B.C. Persian rule ended in 334 B.C., when Miletus was captured and then liberated by Alexander the Great. Following the death of Alexander in 323 B.C., Miletus came under the influence of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt and the Seleucid dynasty of Syria. Both dynasties tried to annex* the city to their own empires.
Miletus became part of the Roman empire in 129 B.C., and its importance diminished. The harbors became clogged with silt*, leaving the city several miles from the sea. Attacks by barbarian* Gothic tribes in the A.D. 300s further weakened the city’s importance. (See also Cities, Greek; Greece, History of; Trade, Greek.)
* annex to add a territory to an existing state
* silt fine particles of earth and sand carried by moving water
* barbarian referring to people from outside the cultures of Greece and Rome, who were viewed as uncivilized