Some have greatness thrust upon them

“ Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice.”

“ Reader, if you are looking for something monumental, look around you.”

—Epitaph for the Delphic scholar Pierre de la Coste Messelière (1894–1975), which is on display at the French dig house at Delphi. The same wording was famously first used by Sir Christopher Wren in (his) St. Paul’s Cathedral, London (1723).



At the dawn of the second century BC, the Delphians found themselves in a curious limbo. On the one hand, their sanctuary was overwhelmingly still under the thumb of the Aetolians, who interfered in Delphic civic life, dominated many aspects of the sanctuary and its business, and even appointed informal “overseers” (epimeletai) to keep an eye on things in the city. The Delphians were at pains to honor the overseers (who seem to have been given rights even to keep herds of cattle on Delphic public land) on a regular basis.1 At the same time, visitors to parts of the Delphic complex—particularly the Corycian cave in the Parnassian mountains above—were beginning to decline. And even the oracle, according to Parke and Wormell, can be shown to have had only one genuine consultation in the entire second century BC, despite the fact that the Delphians during that time, in a single inscription, granted proxenia to the citizens of 135 different cities in the ancient world.2

And yet, on the other hand, the territory this small city controlled was larger than that of a number of central Greek cities. The surviving lists of those whose gave hospitality around the Greek world to the theoroi—the messengers sent out from Delphi to announce its athletic and musical games—grow longer than ever in the second century BC, testifying to the importance and popularity of Delphi’s contests. In 200 BC, one of the winners, Satyrus of Samos—victor as an auletes (flute player)—was apparently so delighted with his win that he immediately played two impromptu concerts in the stadium at Delphi as a gesture to the gods and spectators. At the same time, far away at the Greek settlement of Ai Khanoum in modern-day Afghanistan, a man named Clearchus was in the process of erecting a monument telling of his journey all the way to Delphi and back. The monument spelled out the purpose of his journey: to copy with his own hand the words of the Seven Sages inscribed on the temple of Apollo, so that his fellow citizens could benefit from their public display at home. As well, the Amphictyony had recently given the go-ahead to a near four-meter-high bronze statue of the people of Antiocheia, as well as to a statue of similar height for Antiochus III (to complement another statue of this king atop a horse already dedicated in the sanctuary), both of which were placed in a prime position to the west of the temple of Apollo.3 As the century began, then, Delphi was not independent but increasingly cosmopolitan, in decline and yet never more popular.

But all this was about to change. In 200 BC, as Delphi became less and less subtle in its call to be freed from its Aetolian “oppressors,” Rome was once again drawn into Greek affairs. King Philip V of Macedon, this time seeking to expand his territory by annexing parts of the Greek world belonging to the Ptolemaic (Egyptian) ruling family, had set his sights on the island of Rhodes, as well as on the city of Pergamon (see map 1). Pergamon was the seat of Attalus I, friend of Rome, Aetolia, and Delphi. Initially reluctant to fight Philip again, having just emerged from the Second Punic War against Carthage, Rome at first counseled peace to Philip. But soon enough, particularly after Philip had also set his sights on taking Athens, in October 200 BC, Rome went to war again against Philip V of Macedon.

The resulting victories of Rome were based on the slogan “liberty for the Greeks.” Macedon was forced to withdraw back into its own kingdom. In May 196 BC, at the Isthmian games, the herald proclaimed that the Roman Senate and consul Titus Quinctius Flamininus, had defeated Philip V, leaving “free without garrisons, without tribute, governed by their ancestral laws, the Corinthians, Phocians, Locrians, Euboeans, Achaeans, Magnesians, Thessalians, and Perrhebians.” Flamininus celebrated the victory, or rather liberation, at Delphi. He sent his own shield along with shields of silver and a crown of gold, decorated with a series of poetic inscriptions, as dedications to Apollo. The Delphians in return later put up a statue of the general in the Apollo sanctuary.4 Yet, almost as soon as the Romans had liberated Greece, they were gone. Despite staying in contact with the city of Delphi (as witnessed by a series of proxeny decrees for Romans inscribed in the sanctuary), by 194 BC, there was not a single Roman solider left in Greece.5

What brought them back was their one-time ally, the fading Aetolian league who were still—barely—masters of Delphi. In 193 BC, just a year after the Romans had left Greece, the Aetolians rallied their allies, including king Antiochus of the Seleucid empire in the East (the same king who had recently been honored by the Amphictyony with an enormous statue of himself in the sanctuary). In October 192, Antiochus landed in mainland Greece with ten thousand men, five hundred cavalry, and six elephants. The king came to Delphi to offer sacrifice, and, in the spirit of the place which had, twice before, been the scene for defeats of forces invading Greece (the Persians and the Gauls), Antiochus proclaimed himself champion of Greek freedom against Roman domination (despite the fact that the Romans had proclaimed the freedom of Greece just four years earlier and subsequently left).6

This declaration of war against Rome was a threat the Romans could no longer tolerate. Landing in Greece almost immediately after Antiochus’s sacrifice at Delphi, the Roman forces, under the control of Manius Acilius Glabrio, dislodged those of Antiochus and the Aetolian league from the their stronghold at the infamous pass at Thermopylae, the “bottle-neck” of Greece. It is testament to the fast-changing nature of alliances in this period that Philip V of Macedon, defeated by the Romans in 197 BC, now fought, just six years later in 191, with the Romans against Antiochus. Equally so is the fact that Philip also fought alongside Eumenes II of Pergamon, who had become king on the death of his father Attalus I in 197 (Philip had tried to conquer Pergamon less than a decade before, nearly capturing Eumenes’ father several times in the process). Within months of the onslaught from this Roman, Macedonian, and Pergamene force, the Aetolians sued for peace. Antiochus remained to be dealt with.7

To the Delphians, having seen Antiochus’s proud arrival followed in such a short space of time by news of Glabrio’s victory, the world must have seemed a very uncertain place. But they did know for sure now where their allegiances needed to be.8 Between September 191 BC and March 190, Glabrio not only seems to have turned over a series of confiscated Aetolian properties in the vicinity of Delphi to the “city and the god,” and made a series of changes to the boundaries of Delphi’s sacred land, but also wrote a letter to the Delphians, saying he would support in Rome the sanctuary’s return to its ancestral ways of governance and the autonomy of the city and sanctuary.9 In response, the city of Delphi not only welcomed their “liberation” by the Romans, but engraved Glabrio’s letter on the base of the statue they set up in his honor, along with a list of all the people—mostly Aetolians—they promptly chucked out of the city.10

Glabrio’s initiatives probably engendered some regional hostility—particularly his changing of land boundaries, which brought Delphi into conflict with its long-term local rival, the city of Amphissa (see map 3). His offer to the Delphians may well also have begun (or indeed been responding to) a tussle for power at Delphi between the city (which some sources intimate attempted to push Glabrio to give them sole control of the sanctuary and shut out the Amphictyony entirely) and the Amphictyony, who wanted Glabrio and the Roman Senate to restore the traditional Amphictyony/city divided system of control over the sanctuary.11 But, for the moment, Glabrio had a more important enemy to deal with: Antiochus III. In 189 BC, Antiochus was finally defeated by a combined Macedonian, Pergamene, and Roman force at the battle of Magnesia, with Eumenes II of Pergamon personally leading the cavalry charge that was crucial in bringing victory.12

In 189 BC, just as Antiochus was defeated, Delphi sent three ambassadors to Rome to confirm Glabrio’s offer of the city and sanctuary’s independence. Spurius Postumius Albinus wrote in response to Delphi to confirm the Roman Senate’s official decision to uphold Glabrio’s offer. As a result, Delphi’s Amphictyonic council was reformed so that, for the first time in its history, the Delphian representatives now chaired its meetings.13 But on their way home, the Delphian ambassadors were murdered by Aetolians. Later that same year, Delphi sent two more ambassadors to Rome, this time to announce the creation of a new Delphic festival, the Romaia, in honor of Rome, and also to bring to Roman attention the murder of the previous ambassadors and point the finger at those responsible. The Senate commanded M. Fulvius Nobilior to search for the culprits, and G. Livius Salinator wrote to Delphi to confirm the Senate’s acceptance of the new festival in Rome’s honor, the text of which was inscribed publicly at Delphi on the base of Glabrio’s statue, which was fast becoming the central notice board in the sanctuary for the developing relationship between Rome and Delphi.14

In 189 BC, therefore, Delphi was once again in a very different sort of limbo from that in which it had found itself at the beginning of the century. On the one hand, it had a degree of liberty—guaranteed by the Roman Senate—it hadn’t had since the Aetolians had taken control of the sanctuary in the early third century BC, and indeed perhaps a degree of liberty it hadn’t had in its entire history. On the other hand, it was still a small city without an army; it was in only partial control, with the Amphictyony, of the sanctuary. Its civic ambassadors had been murdered by Aetolians, it was surrounded by Aetolian communities or those in sympathy with Aetolia; and its livelihood—the sanctuary—was still to some degree dependent on Aetolian business. That position became even more precarious when the Romans, having again asserted their interests in Greece, decided again to leave. In 188 BC, they withdrew, leaving behind no troops, veterans, garrisons, governors, political overseers, or indeed even any diplomats. Delphi—whatever the Roman Senate had promised and Delphi had inscribed on its walls—was once again on its own.15

Delphi did have one clear ally, Eumenes II of Pergamon. Like his father before him, and unlike other Hellenistic rulers, Eumenes II happily pumped money into the sanctuary. In the 180s BC he sent slaves to help with the construction of Delphi’s theater, another testament to the continuing popularity of the sanctuary’s musical competitions at this time in that Delphi now had need of a dedicated stone-built structure in which to house the competitions and spectators.16 In response, the Amphictyony were happy to recognize the status of asylia for the sanctuary of Athena Nikephoros in Pergamon and the Nikephoria games set up by Eumenes. In addition, Eumenes II was honored with statues in the sanctuary, one by the Amphictyony and one by the Aetolians, testament to their lingering presence at Delphi, especially since the statues were placed center stage on the temple terrace of the Apollo sanctuary.17

We hear little about Delphi in the remaining years of the 180s and early 170s BC. On receipt of a gift of 3,520 drachmas from the Calydonian Alcesippus the sanctuary was happy to establish a festival celebration called the Alcesippeia.18 The Rhodians were called in to arbitrate on a question of land border dispute between Delphi and Amphissa in 180–79 BC.19 Aetolian use of the sanctuary seems to have petered out after 179 BC, and, in 178 BC, the Amphictyony unusually called itself, in the inscribed list of delegates for that year’s meeting, “a union of the Amphictyons from the autonomous tribes and the democratic cities”; this was thought to be not only a celebration of Delphi’s newfound independence, but also a dig at the Amphictyons’ former enemies, particularly the Aetolians and Macedonians.20 A question to the oracle about an issue of colonization by the island of Paros in 175 BC represents a distant echo of Delphi’s almost continuous role in these processes back in the seventh and sixth centuries BC. Also in 175 BC the father of the Delphian Eudocus erected a statue of Eudocus in the sanctuary, in honor of the latter’s athletic victories.21

Yet, at the same time, pressure was again building in the wider Greek world that would change Greece’s, and Delphi’s, future for good. In 179 BC, Philip V of Macedon, having waged war against and then alongside the Romans, died. He had been slowly and successfully rebuilding Macedonian power within the constraints of burgeoning Roman influence. Yet in his last moments, he seems to have attempted to stop his son from succeeding him. Perhaps it was for fear of what his son, Perseus, would attempt once on the throne.22

Taking control despite Philip’s final efforts, King Perseus of Macedon initially walked a careful diplomatic line, pacifying Rome and flattering Greece. Delphi too was flattered, as one of the sanctuaries chosen as the place of publication for Perseus’s call for the return of all exiles to Macedonia, and for his treaty of friendship with the Boeotians.23 Yet in 174 BC, Perseus crushed a tribal rebellion against him in Macedonia and subsequently set off on a leisurely tour with his army through central Greece, which brought him to Delphi. His arrival was timed to coincide with the celebration of the Pythian games, Perseus grandly sweeping in to sacrifice at the sanctuary as part of the festival.24 Perseus continued to use Delphi as a place for acts of public propaganda. He consulted the oracle in what was to become (although he could not know it at the time) the last ever consultation by an independent monarch of the oracle at Delphi.25 Yet Perseus also used Delphi as the location for his more cutthroat activities, including the attempted murder of his enemy, and longtime Delphic supporter, King Eumenes II of Pergamon, who had, in 172 BC, traveled to the Roman Senate to warn them of the threat Perseus posed to Roman interests. With the help of Praxo, the wife of an eminent Delphian who later became a priest of Apollo, Perseus set up an ambush on the road leading from the port of Cirrha up to Delphi. Eumenes’ party was slain and Eumenes himself left for dead.26

By 171 BC, Rome had awakened to the threat Perseus posed to Roman interests in Greece. Delphi, in part because it had been a focus for Perseus’s propaganda, in turn acted as a primary focus for the Roman articulation of Perseus’s wrongdoings. In particular, the Romans focused on Perseus’s armed participation at the Pythian festival in 174 BC at a sanctuary whose independence was, at the end of the day, guaranteed by the Roman Senate. In addition, they focused on his attempted murder at Delphi of Eumenes II, a friend of Rome, as well as his wider alliances with the same barbarians who had invaded Greece and sacked the temple of Apollo at Delphi just over a century before. These grievances were inscribed and publicly displayed in the sanctuary at Delphi.27

In the years that followed, Roman troops flooded back, this time under the command of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, to fight in what has become known as the Third Macedonian War.28 On 22 June 168 BC, Paullus crushed Perseus at the battle of Pydna, a victory that was commemorated most pointedly at Delphi. Perseus had been in the process of building himself another ten-meter-high statue at Delphi, intended as a victory monument in which a golden statue of him on horseback would stand atop a marble column, and be located on the temple terrace. It was unfinished when his hopes were crushed at Pydna. In a brilliant piece of propaganda, Aemilius Paullus chose to complete the monument, putting a statue of himself on horseback in place of that of Perseus, and adding a sculptured frieze around the base depicting his victory at Pydna (figs. 9.1, 1.3). In addition he erased the Greek inscription already carved in anticipation of Perseus’s victory and replaced it with his name, titles, and a short but pointed explanation in Latin: “de rege Perse Macedonibusque cepet” (“[that which] he took from King Perseus and from the Macedonians”).29 Apollo is absent from Paullus’s declaration: this monument is not about thanking the gods for victory, it is about making a political statement of that victory in the most public and forceful way possible. This new monument stood on the temple terrace of the Apollo sanctuary at Delphi in the area where the major monuments to Greek victory over foreign invading enemies had stood for centuries (see fig. 1.3). Yet this time it was a Roman general commemorating his victory over a Greek force, and in so doing preserving what Rome had guaranteed: Delphian independence and Greek “freedom.”

Yet the victory at Pydna also marks a critical moment in the nature of the freedom that Rome offered Greece. Rome abolished the Macedonian monarchy, replacing it with a series of republics. More widely, 168 BC represents the tipping point for Greece (and the rest of the Mediterranean) in what political scientists call “unipolarity”: the arrival of Rome as the only political and military force in the Mediterranean. Rome had emerged victorious from the wars at the end of the third and beginning of the second centuries BCagainst Carthage, Macedon, and the Seleucid Empire. In previous Greek conflicts, it had subsequently completely withdrawn. But after 168 BC, there was to be no withdrawal. Greece’s “multipolar anarchy” of the Hellenistic world was replaced by Roman unipolarity, which would be imposed on the country in an ever increasingly forceful manner.30Delphi had not only, once again, been an important factor in the events that had brought Greece ever more closely under Roman control, it had also been the place in which to make that transition clear through the dedication of the remarkable victory monument of Aemilius Paullus. But to what extent would and could Delphi’s freedom continue in this new phase of Roman unipolar dominance?


Figure 9.1. A reconstruction of the column, frieze, and statue erected by Aemilius Paullus following his victory over King Perseus of Macedon at the battle of Pydna (© Dietrich Reimer-Verlag [Front Cover image, H. Kähler Der Fries vom Reiterdenkmal des Aemilius Paullus in Delphi]

The great survivors of this sea change in Greece’s history were old friends of Delphi: the Attalid ruling family of Pergamon and particularly its current ruler Eumenes II. He had fought with Rome against Antiochus of Syria, informed against Perseus of Macedon to the Roman Senate (in part following Roman suspicions of him being a Perseus supporter), been left for dead after being ambushed on the road to Delphi by Perseus’s operatives, and now lived to see the downfall of Macedon and the rise of Roman power.31 In 159BC, Eumenes II finally passed away and was succeeded by his brother Attalus II. At Delphi in that year, celebrations were held in honor of Eumenes II and Attalus II on the back of a huge financial donation to the sanctuary by the Attalid rulers themselves. New festival celebrations and sacrifices, the Eumeneia and the Attaleia, were initiated at Delphi on a huge scale. Fifteen hundred liters of wine were prepared for the festival banquet, and financial sanctions imposed on those who failed to carry out their appointed roles in the celebration.32 The Delphians went further and erected a statue of the new Attalid ruler in the sanctuary right by the sacred processional area in front of the Athenian stoa in the Apollo sanctuary (see plate 2). Attalus II was clearly in awe of the variety and standard of artistic accomplishment at Delphi. He sent painters to Delphi to make copies of its many monuments, and especially the paintings by Polygnotus from the fifth century BC Cnidian lesche building. Delphi, in return, not only accommodated Attalus’s artistic mission, but honored his artists in inscriptions engraved onto the monument of Eumenes II erected in his honor earlier in the century.33

The Amphictyony did not, however, fare quite so well following Roman victory at Pydna. The French epigraphist Georges Daux argues that there are only two certain instances of Amphictyonic action in the entire period 166–46 BC, that of their participation in the arbitration of a dispute over the city of Lamia between Sparta and the Dorians of the Metropolis (an Amphictyonic tribal grouping); and that of their honoring of an Athenian. This lull is perhaps to be associated with a further rearrangement of the Amphictyonic council conducted around 165 BC to reflect the altered political map of Greece following Roman victory.34

Yet the Amphictyony and the city of Delphi survived much more successfully than other parts of Greece. In the early 140s, Roman forces were back in action at Pydna, this time to dispatch a pretender to the Macedonian throne. Two years later, in 146 BC, in the same year in which the Romans won their historic victory over Carthage and destroyed that city, a league of Peloponnesian cities, known as the Achaean league, which had been on good terms with Rome, turned against Rome. The Roman general Lucius Mummius, with approximately 23,000 men including forces from Crete and Pergamon, marched on the league in what has become known as the Achaean War. At the end of 146 BC, Mummius defeated the league in the battle of Corinth and in punishment plundered and burned the city of Corinth to the ground. Every Greek city that had been part of the league was put under direct Roman control.35

The destruction of Corinth in 146 BC marked another turning point in Rome’s relationship to Greece and, along with the destruction of Carthage in the same year, a new phase in Roman domination of the Mediterranean. Mummius celebrated his victory in part by sending dedications to Delphi: ironically the sanctuary was increasingly becoming the location for the commemoration of Roman victories over Greece. But as a result, perversely, Delphian interaction with the wider Greek and Mediterranean worlds seems to have shrunk. The surviving accounts of proxeny decrees—honors offered by the city of Delphi to individuals from elsewhere—show that in the first half of the second century BC, Delphi was welcoming and forming relationships with people from all over the Greek world. But from 146 BC onward, that circle shrinks considerably, to almost only its immediate neighbors and mainland Greece (although Delphi continues to honor Romans—almost a prerequisite given the increasing Roman control of Greece), with an almost total absence of the Aegean islands, Asia Minor, and Africa.36

The one benefit of this closer-to-home focus after 146 BC seems to have been the renewed presence of Athens at Delphi. An inscription on the wall of the Athenian treasury at Delphi records Athenian involvement in 140 BC as arbitrators in a local dispute over the extent of Delphian territory. In 138 BC Athens revived the Athenian Pythaïs festival, which had not occurred since the late fourth century BC and was intended to celebrate Apollo’s arrival at Delphi thought to be via the Athenian territory of Attica. The heart of the festival was a procession along the sacred road from Athens and Delphi and a return to Athens bringing fire from the sacred hearth of the Apollo temple. The festival was intended to stress the close historical, religious, and geographical links between Athens and Delphi; and its renewal, at a time in which both, given recent Roman actions toward other Greek cities, felt the need for mutual support and comfort, is particularly understandable. The Pythaïs, which had been an irregular event undertaken only in relation to particular divine signs (like lightning) was now turned into a regular festival, celebrated every eight years, with the event recorded each time in inscriptions on the walls of the Athenian treasury, which tell us not only that there had been many oracles in the past prescribing the festival, but also that some three hundred to five hundred people were involved in the sacred procession. It was also on the occasion either of the first Pythaïs in 138 BC, or a decade later in 128 BC, that the Athenians composed and then inscribed on the highly visible southern wall of their treasury at Delphi not only the words but also the musical notations for two hymns to Apollo (see plate 2, fig. 5.4). These hymns, which have been fundamental to the study of ancient music, and were discovered early on in the initial excavation of the sanctuary at the end of the nineteenth century, record the celebration of Apollo through sacrifice, song, and prayer.37

Yet this (re)blossoming of the relationship between Athens and Delphi did not stop here. In 134 BC, the Amphictyony, having received five ambassadors from Athens, appear to have confirmed the privileges accorded to the Dionysiac guild members of Athens back in the third century BC. On the treasury of Athens in Delphi, as well as in the theater of Dionysus in Athens, the record of both the original honors and their restatement over a century later were inscribed and published. Crucially, though, the Amphictyony highlights in the inscription that their confirmation of such privileges is contingent on Roman approval (a smart and perhaps necessary move in the wake of increasing Roman control after the destruction of Corinth in 146 BC).38 These privileges were later augmented, after the actors’ star performance at the Pythaïs of 128 BC, with a series of further rights in 125 BC, and would be restated again after the Roman Senate had also commented on Athenian prowess in 112 BC.39 Indeed, the language used in these inscriptions is not only testament to the strength of relationship between Delphi and Athens, but also, more widely, to Athens’s increasing reputation as a cultural powerhouse. In its public inscription of 125 BC, the Amphictyony honored the “people of Athens, who are at the origin of everything that is good in humanity, and who brought mankind up from a bestial existence to a state of civilisation.”40

At the very same time, however, as the city of Delphi and the Amphictyony were honoring Athens in such fulsome terms, Delphi itself was embroiled in scandal. Traditionally dated to 125 BC, but perhaps occurring as late as 117 BC, the Amphictyony were called to an emergency session, the only one in their history for which the inscribed list of attendees named both the official representatives, the hieromnemons, and their advisors, the pylagores. In the aftermath of the event, the entire dossier of documents relating to the affair was inscribed on the side of the temple of Apollo, and it tells a story not only of conflict at Delphi, but of continuing Roman interest in the sanctuary.41 It appears that a group of Delphians linked to the son of Diodorus had usurped a series of objects belonging to Apollo for their own purposes, breaking one of the fundamental tenets of the sanctuary and of Greek religious belief (and for which in the past the punishment had been death). Thirteen Delphians in return, led by Nicatas, son of Alcinus, reported on their actions in the first instance to the Amphictyony, but, fearing for their lives while the slow wheels of Amphictyonic bureaucracy turned, fled from Delphi to Rome. There, they appeared before the Roman Senate pleading for its support. The Senate decided to take up the case and, through the Roman proconsul of Macedonia, put pressure on the Amphictyony to deal speedily and properly with the situation, thus precipitating the Amphictyony’s emergency session. Following their investigation, serious mistakes were found in the sacred accounts thanks to objects wrongly appropriated and the need to redefine the boundaries of Apollo’s sacred land.42 Elite Delphians were charged with taking sacred treasures, and were forced to make good the god’s financial loss.43 The total fines imposed came to fifty-three talents and fifty-three mines. Yet at the same time as this scandal appears to show equally Delphian misbehavior, Amphictyonic action, and Roman willingness to engage in the minutiae of Delphic management, it perhaps also indicates a certain reluctance on the part of the Amphictyony to acquiesce beyond the necessary to the will of Rome. The engraving of an inscription recording praise from the Amphictyony for the thirteen brave Delphian whistle blowers was actually left unfinished, and, despite the large fine supposedly imposed, those responsible for the sacred theft seem to have suffered little more than a rap on the knuckles: some of them appear as priests of Apollo in the sanctuary a few years later.44

One of the downsides of the Roman defeat and subsequent carving up of Macedon during the course of the second century BC was that mainland Greece was left without a well armed and coordinated buffer zone between it and the “barbarian” tribes to the north. As a result, raids by northern tribes became more frequent during the second half of the century and into the first twenty years of the first century BC.45 Delphi—as it had been in the past—was an obvious target, given its large collections of precious dedications and minimal armed protection. In 107 BC, the Delphians honored M. Minucius Rufus for protecting Greece against barbarian raids. The threat, and resultant gratitude, was obviously very real. The Delphians offered one statue with a Greek inscription and another with a Latin inscription, the only known occurrence of such bilingual honors in Delphic history.46 Surviving texts from Delphi also attest to Roman concern for safe passage around the wider Mediterranean at this time. An inscription from 100 BC, carved into the base of the victorious monument of Aemilius Paullus, relates a Roman law (translated into Greek) asserting the rights of Romans to safe passage across the seas and urging all Greeks not to give aid to pirates. In the same year, the threat to local Delphians was also made clear. Kidnappers were reported operating in the vicinity of the sanctuary.47

Yet it is also apparent that despite these threats, the sanctuary continued to enjoy a good deal of patronage, especially at the time of the Pythian games. At the turn of the first century BC, the stadium seems to have undergone a refitting; in 97 BC the city of Delphi honored an Athenian comic poet Alexandrus with a statue in the sanctuary, and the eastern Locrians honored their Pythian victor Aristocrates with a statue. In 90 BC we hear that Antipatrus of Eleuthernai was invited by the Delphic polis to play the water organ for two days during the Pythian games, as paid entertainment for visitors, in addition to the musical and athletic competitions.48 It is also during the first century BC that we first hear of a cult at Delphi in honor of Dionysus Sphaleotas and the establishment of an official cult shrine in his honor near the terrace of Attalus at Delphi. The surviving inscription claims that this cult dated back to the Trojan War, and that the cult would go on to be respected into late Antiquity.49

Yet the beginning of the first century BC, not withstanding the threat of foreign invasion, also represented the start of a broader downturn in Delphic fortunes. In 87 BC, the Roman general Sulla, having marched on Rome only the year before, was on campaign in Greece against the forces of Mithridates, the latest threat to Roman control of the eastern Mediterranean. In part thanks to his precarious relationship with Rome, Sulla found himself in need of money. He turned to Greece’s best bank vaults: its sanctuaries. Taking the treasures from Olympia and Epidaurus, he wrote to the Amphictyony at Delphi to warn them of his intention to raid the sanctuary. He sent his agent in Phocis, a man named Caphis, to Delphi to organize the plunder. Once there, Caphis was said to have heard the sound of Apollo’s lyre and took it as a sign of the god’s displeasure at what was being done. He reported this to Sulla, yet Sulla replied that the sound of the lyre meant the god’s pleasure not displeasure and instructed Caphis to continue. Sulla was not ignorant of Delphi’s importance; he had most probably consulted the oracle himself several years before and was said to carry with him everywhere a small golden statue of Apollo from Delphi, which, when in particularly tight situations, he was said to have always kissed. But he was also a canny political and military operator in a tight spot: he found himself at odds with Rome to the west and at war with Mithridates to the east; neglecting the treasures he had at his disposal was simply not an option.50

Delphi was thus—once again—raided and the larger objects that could not be transported whole, like a giant silver mixing bowl said to have been one of King Croesus of Lydia’s dedications back in the sixth century BC, were broken up on-site for ease of transportation. In return, Sulla, after his subsequent victories, took land belonging to Thebes and reapportioned its revenues to those sanctuaries from which he had taken money. It was little more than a gesture, however, never likely to reach the financial value of what had been taken and most certainly unable to repair the damage to the sanctuary’s reputation and relationship with the Roman world.51 Up to this point, Delphi had been the recipient of Roman dedications to Roman victories, even those over fellow Greek cities. Now Delphi had become the bankroller for the destruction of Greece (ostensibly of course in the name of saving Greece from Mithridates).52 When Sulla laid siege to the city of Athens between the summer of 87 BC and 1 March 86 BC, some Athenian citizens fled to Delphi and asked the oracle whether Athens had finally met its fate. All the oracle could do was repeat the words it had supposedly said to the Athenians hero Theseus centuries before: “be not too distressed within your heart, and lay your plans. For as a leathern bottle you will ride the waves even in a swelling surge.”53

Delphi should have celebrated the Pythian festival in 86 BC, the year Athens fell to Sulla. Certain competitors certainly presumed the celebrations would go ahead. Polygnota, a woman from Thebes, arrived at Delphi accompanied by her cousin, ready to take part in the musical competitions as a harp singer, only to find that the festival had been canceled. Given that she had already made the effort to come, she offered a free performance to those present. She was apparently so good (or the need for anything cheering so intense) that the city of Delphi commissioned her to perform for three days for the price of five hundred drachmas, and threw in civic honors for her as well. The uncertainty surrounding the Pythian celebration of 86 BC was understandable. Athens had fallen to Sulla. Mithridates was still a prominent threat both to Sulla and to mainland Greece, and another set of Roman legions, under the command of Lucius Valerius Flaccus, was also crossing northern Greece on route to Asia.54

Things got worse the following year. Tribes from the north, including the Illyrians, Thracians, Scordisci, Maedi, and Dardani, having defeated the Roman army stationed in northern Greece, invaded central Greece and sacked a number of cities, including, by 84BC, Delphi. Accounts differ as to the extent of damage, but it appears the invaders were able to get to the heart of the sanctuary, cause significant damage to the temple of Apollo, extinguish the sacred hearth, and carry off a number of dedications.55 Funds at the sanctuary seem to have been so low that no immediate repairs were carried out. The only upside was found in stories that later circulated about how anyone who came in contact with the booty taken in the barbarian raid was met with a curse. The Illyrians suffered a plague of frogs; earthquakes drove the Celtic tribes from their homes; and even the Roman governor, Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus (who would be consul at Rome in 83 BC), having acquired a share of the booty from the Illyrians, was said to have taken home with him the curse of civil war that would plague his consulship and Rome for the remainder of the decade, and indeed for a good part of the rest of the century.56

We know relatively little about how Delphi fared in the rest of the first century BC. The traditional picture is that it entered a period of steady decline: its temple not repaired, its sanctuary deprived of its sacred treasures first by Sulla and then by barbarian invaders. Yet there are signs that this picture may be overly pessimistic. Some have recently argued that the Amphictyony was active in and around this period, even trying to establish Athenian tetradrachms as the coinage of preference throughout the Greek world. Others have argued that the damage to the temple, traditionally thought not to be repaired until the time of Emperor Domitian 150 years later, was repaired much sooner. Three Spartans received awards of proxenia in 86–85 BC, and later, in 29 BC, the Spartans even honored a Delphian, in recognition of his help to Spartans visiting Delphi: they set up a monument in his honor in the sanctuary. We know that Cicero, an ambitious young man, came to consult the oracle in 79 BC to ask about how he might win fame and was given the response that he make his own character his guide in life (Cicero comments in one of his writings that the oracle had by now stopped giving its answers in verse form).57

Moreover, Delphi continued to play host during this period to a relatively new form of business begun (or at least more publicly and permanently displayed) in about 200 BC: manumissions. Since 200 BC, and continuing through until the end of the first centuryAD, Delphi seems to have become a key space in which to publicize the contract for the freeing of a slave. There are over thirteen hundred known manumission inscriptions at Delphi, covering the massive polygonal wall that supported the terrace of the temple of Apollo, as well as a series of other monuments around the sanctuary (see plate 2, fig. 9.2). These inscriptions reveal the sanctuary’s development of a new public function for a changing clientele list, which, over time, encapsulated not only Delphi’s controllers and the Delphian community, but also a wider local market.58 In the fifty-seven manumissions known through to 190 BC, for example, forty-three were undertaken by Aetolians and only twelve by Delphians. As well, in the year 179–78 BC, just as the Aetolians were cut out of Delphi, no Aetolians undertook a manumission in the sanctuary. After 167–66 BC, the two biggest groups undertaking manumissions were the western Locrians and Phocians, suggesting, that at least for this particular element of Delphic business, the sanctuary was particularly (and understandably) attractive to those living within striking distance of it.59

Yet undoubtedly, Delphi was at best a bystander in the titanic struggles that were about to grip the Mediterranean world in the second half of the first century BC. In the midst of the war between Caesar and Pompey, Julius Caesar, in the lead up to the battle of Pharselis in August 48 BC, records Delphi simply as another Greek town occupied by one of his lieutenants, Q. Fufius Calenus, several months before the battle. Yet one of Pompey’s lieutenants, Appius Claudius Censorinus, whom Pompey had put in charge of Greece in 49 BC, seems to have taken Delphi more seriously, and consulted the oracle in the run up to the conflict about whether to support Pompey or Caesar. It was, it seems, only due to his influence as a Roman official that he could persuade the priests of Apollo to conduct a full consultation ceremony. The Pythia replied, in typically enigmatic fashion, that the war did not concern him (he fell ill and died before he had to take a side). In turn Anthony would pay more attention to the political value of Delphi. Having won in 42 BC, with the help of Octavian, the battle of Philippi in northern Greece against Caesar’s murderers, Brutus and Cassius, Anthony is said to have flattered the Greeks in part through his respect for the temple of Pythian Apollo. Later he is also said to have attempted to win the good will of the Roman Senate by promising to repair the temple of Apollo following a visit to the sanctuary. Later, while resident in Athens, Anthony seems to have been involved in the dispatch of a sacred embassy to Delphi c. 40 BC, only Athens’s second since the time of Sulla, which was followed up in 36/5 BC by a renewal of friendship and exchange between Gephyraei (a genos [family group] of Athens) and Delphi.60Anthony’s offers and embassies, however, would come to naught, not least because of his own death in Alexandria, bringing to an end the civil war that had split the Roman world in two. Its winner, Octavian, became Rome’s first emperor in 27 BC. As Augustus, he faced significant challenges in healing and controlling his Roman Empire. The question was, what role would there be for Delphi in this—a yet another—new world?


Figure 9.2. Manumission inscriptions carved into the retaining wall of the temple terrace in the Apollo sanctuary at Delphi (P. de la Coste-Messelière & G. Miré Delphes 1957 Librarie Hachette p. 53)

The guest of Phoebus claps his hands and shouts,
“There is but one such spot: from Heaven Apollo
Beheld; —and chose it for his earthly shrine!”

—Aubrey de Vere lines written under Delphi 1850

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