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ISAW Papers 6 (2013)

The Quartier du Stade on late Hellenistic Delos:
a case study of rapid urbanization
(fieldwork seasons 2009-2010)

Mantha Zarmakoupi

Abstract: This study examines recent archaeological evidence for the Quartier du Stade on Delos, which was newly formed after 167 CE. Analysis of the changes in the houses and the overall urban development of this neighborhood contribute to revealing the forces that shaped the city of Delos in this period, such as economy, politics, and ideology.

Subjects: Delos Island (Greece), Economic history--To 500.

Table of Contents


Delos, home of the sanctuary of Apollo since the archaic period, underwent a period of rapid economic development after 167 BCE, when the Romans put the island under Athenian dominion and turned it into a commercial base between the East and the West. Due to its advantageous geographical position, Delos had attracted traders from Greece, Macedonia, and the Hellenistic East as well as dealers from Rome since the third century BCE. In between 167 BCE and the sacks of 88 and 69 BCE, the island, though primarily addressing the regional market of the Cyclades, became an intermediary step in Rome’s commercial relations with the Hellenistic east.1 The accelerated urbanization, attested by the formation of new neighborhoods and the maelstrom of redevelopment in the existing urban and port areas of the island, as seen in the massive constructions of docksides, warehouses and markets, was the result of this economic development and the unprecedented demographic growth that it generated.2 My study focuses on one of the newly-formed neighborhoods of Delos in this period, the Quartier du Stade. By analyzing the changes in the houses and the overall urban development of this neighborhood, my aim is to examine the relations between the forces that shaped the city of Delos in this period, such as economy, politics, ideology, and the major urban components, for example, architecture, landscape, infrastructure. In doing so I hope to address alternative ways of approaching the city in the ancient world. In this paper I outline the parameters of this research by addressing the religious and economic network of Delos and its subsequent appropriation in the late Hellenistic period, and present the preliminary results of my fieldwork on the Quartier du Stade in 2009 and 2010.

Although numerous archaeological excavations have probed the city of Delos for over a century and recent comprehensive studies have adjusted our understanding of Delian architecture,3 the nature and history of urbanism on Delos remains a surprisingly understudied topic. Only preliminary thoughts have been expressed on the urbanization of Delos,4 while the only comprehensive study on the urban growth of the island (Papageorgiou-Venetas 1981) has been rightly criticized for misapplying modern urban planning principles and quantitative methods.5 Rather than providing an architectural history of the buildings or a catalogue raisonnée-style publication of one class of material culture, my project sets the larger goal of using the “Quartier du Stade” as a case study of rapid urbanisation.

Drawing on current developments and debates in the fields of Hellenistic economy,6 and contemporary urban studies,7 the project will address the relations between the forces that shaped urban growth and major components of the city texture on late Hellenistic Delos. Although this project focuses on a specific case study of urban growth, its ultimate goal is to offer an alternative way for approaching the urbanism of ancient cities. By examining the agents, relationships and consequences of the accelerated development of the late Hellenistic city of Delos this project will identify a model of urban growth that to date has been overlooked in the study of ancient cities that have focused on the idealized concepts of the Hellenistic and Roman urban environments, such as monumentality and town planning. The rapid urbanisation of Delos may be compared to far more accelerated developments of the growing commercial centres in Asia and the Gulf Region today. Historical paradigms of this model of informal urban growth will further the understanding of the ties between economic and urban developments today.

Religious and economic network of Delos

Delos was an important cult center from early on whose activity was inextricably linked to its economic role. Due to its advantageous geographical position in the center of the Aegean world, Delos commanded a huge cult network that intertwined religious with economic and political activities from the archaic period onwards. This network was primarily for the islanders but at times it was used to stake claims for the Ionian peoples, that is, one of three major linguistic/cultural groups of Hellenes. Communities competing for political power and leadership exploited the cult network of Delos over time: Ionians, Athenians, the successors of Alexander and finally Romans.8

There are three key moments in the history of Delos that are relevant for my discussion of the urban growth on Delos: the first Athenian dominion, the period of independence and the second Athenian dominion. In 478 BCE, at a time of insecurity after the Persian Wars, the Athenians created a maritime confederacy with Delos as its seat and by the end of the fifth century BCE they resumed the administration of the sanctuary.9 During this period, in 426 BCE, the Athenians purified the island; they removed tombs of all who had died on the island and issued a proclamation that in future none should be born or die on the sacred island; pregnant women and dying persons must be ferried across to Rheneia.10 This important moment marked the character of the urban settlement on Delos and its subsequent growth. With no tombs to mark the limits of the city, Delos on the one hand evades traditional categories of the ancient city and on the other presents a unique opportunity to reexamine the factors that shape the ancient city.

Delos gained its independence in the early Hellenistic period, when the successors of Alexander distributed the provinces of Alexander’s empire. In between 315 and 313 BCE Antigonos Monophthalmos created the koinon of the Nesiotes, first confederacy of the islanders proper (versus the Ionians), and set Delos as its seat. The euergetism of the Antigonids modified the physiognomy of the sanctuary in this period; for instance the Portico of Philip V, king of Macedon, towards 210 BCE (GD 3), the South Portico, towards 250 BCE (GD 4), and the Portico of Antigonos Gonatas, king of Macedon, 250-225 BCE (GD 29).11 Furthermore, due to the increasing role of Delos as a commercial center of the Cyclades in this period, a multitude of cults is attested on the island: for instance, the cults of Egyptian gods (e.g., Serapeion A [GD 91], and Serapeion C [GD 100]) and the cults of the Syrian Gods (GD 98, Sanctuary of Syrian Gods).12

But the prosperity of the Delian commerce began with the decision of the Roman Senate to make it a “duty free” port in 167 BCE under Athenian suzerainty. The senate guaranteed duty-free status to the port of Delos (through a grant of ἀτέλεια) prohibiting the Athenians from levying import and export duties on any of the trade passing through the harbor. This decision was taken at the end of the Third Macedonian War, in a series of conflicts fought by Rome in order to gain control of the Mediterranean basin. The Senate wished to destroy the commerce of Rhodes – the major power in the Aegean. Indeed Rhodes experienced massive trade shrinkage at the end of the second century BCE.13 The growing commercial importance of the island of Delos was not only a consequence of the grant of ateleia in 167 BCE, but also of other equally important developments such as the Roman destruction of Carthage and Corinth, the rapid collapse of the Seleucid empire in the latter half of the century and the creation of the Roman province of Asia in 129 BCE.14 Strabo, a Greek geographer writing at the very beginning of the first century CE, says that the merchants (οἱ ἔμποροι) changed their place of business from Corinth to Delos following the destruction of the former in 146 BCE for two reasons: they were attracted first by τῆς ἀτελείας τοῦ ἱεροῦ and second by the good location of the harbor, “as it is on the sea-route from Italy and Greece to Asia” (Str. 10.5.4). Because Delos was a shrine, it had become an international town; because it was an international town, it became a place of commerce.15

According to the literary sources (Strabo, Pliny, Pausanias and Lucilius), slaves and luxury goods from the Middle East were traded through Delos. Pausanias (3.23.3-6) described Delos at this time as the trading station of all Greece. Pliny (HN 34.9) reported that the mercatus in Delo was concelebrante toto orbe, more specifically after the development of the Roman shipping lane to Asia (so after 133 BCE). The contemporary poet Lucilius referred to the mighty port of Puteoli as “a lesser Delos” (Paulus, ex Fest. 88.4: ‘Minorem Delum’ Puteolos esse dixerunt…unde Lucilius-- inde Dicarchitum populos Delumque minorem [=Lucil.118]). Strabo described Delos as the location of a trans-Mediterranean slave trade to the agricultural estates, mines, shops and households of the Roman West (Str. 14.5.2).16 However, no physical remains have ever been identified on the island to confirm the importance of the slave trade.17 Luxury items, such as perfumes, spices, unguents, incense, gems, statues, metals, dyes, glass, tapestries, textiles and linens – all originating in the Middle and Far East – were credited to the commerce of Delos including highly prized Delian bronze statues (Plin. HN 34.9):18 sculptor ateliers, for instance the boutiques on the south side of Agora of Italians (GD 52), fabrication of auloi, for instance the boutique at the Monument du granit (GD 54).19 Pliny reports that Delos became a production centre for the perfume trade, a point reinforced by the number of unguentarii who are recorded amongst Roman-Italian families on Delos whose professions are recorded in epigraphic or literary evidence from Italy.20 Since the raw materials for this manufacture had to be imported from further east, Pliny’s evidence confirms the importance of oriental luxuries as a component of Delian trade. Archaeological evidence also points to the existence of perfume, purple dye, glass jewelry, sculpture and terracotta figurines production on Delos (purple-dye production: GD 79.1, GD 80.1 and at the bay of Fourni; perfumeries: GD 79, GD 66, GD 50, GD 120, GD 118; sculpture ateliers: shops 103 and 106 at SW corner of the Agora of the Italians [GD 52]; glass production: shops to the west of the Maison des Stucs [GD 87], south of the Samothrakeion [GD 93] and in the area of the Aphrodision [88]; coroplastic workshops: shop at the south side of Agora of the Italians [GD 52], Quartier du Théâtre, Insula VI, Maison B).21

Demographic and urban growth

From a population of about 1,500 to 2,000 in the period of the independence, it gained an estimated amount of roughly 15,000, during the period of the second Athenian dominion. It has been suggested that the island reached a population of 20,000 to 30,000 residents at its peak.22 However there is no firm evidence – inscriptions give evidence for 1,200 citizens and a population of about 6,000 at the beginning of the first century BCE. During this period the island is characterized by its cosmopolitan character. The majority of the new residents of the island were from the eastern Mediterranean and the Italian peninsula.23 While some eastern merchants at Delos came from cities as close as western and southern Asia Minor, the majority came from places further abroad, including Antioch, Berytus, Tyre, Sidon, Alexandria, and from more exotic points still further east, such as Gadara, Heliopolis, Arabian Nabataea, Gerra on the Persian gulf and in one instance from as far away as Minaei in south Yemen.24 The largest ethnic contingent of the island was, however, Roman-Italian.25

But whereas the occupation is so diverse the architecture is quite uniform, attesting to what has been termed an architectural koine. Contrary to later tendencies to “Romanize” settlements, what we see on the island is a total adaptation of the local building techniques with a religious/ethnic flavor attested in inscriptions, paintings and sculptures.26 Recent studies have pointed that the contact of Roman with local cultures resulted in a plurality of hybrid cultural expressions, which defy the generalization that the term “Romanization” implies.27 Here foreigners adopted the local architectural language and arranged their houses and religious club associations around a courtyard, while details in the decoration, such as statues and wall paintings, as well as inscriptions indicate their distinct identity. The House of Cleopatra (GD 119) that is occupied by an Athenian couple (Dioskourides and Cleopatra of the Myrrhinoutta demos – ID 1987) is not different from the House of the Trident (GD 118) that is occupied by a Syrian (indicated by protomes of the bulls of Hadad and the lions of Astargatis in the Rhodian peristyle of the house) or the House of the Dolphins (GD 111) that is constructed by a Phoenician (signature of the vestibule mosaic of the Tanit symbol). Equally homogenous in their architecture are the religious association of the Poseidoniastes from Berytos (GD 57) and the 25 houses with religious wall paintings in relation to the Roman cult of the Lares Compitales.28 Only in a few cases (House of Diadoumenos, House of the Dolphins, and House of the Trident) the spatial arrangements of the house remind visual strategies of self-representation familiar from the slightly later houses in Campania. In these houses the alignment of the entrance corridor, whose floor featured an impressive emblema, with the peristyle and the façade of the oecus maior created a visual impact on the house’s interior to a passer-by, which owners could employ to enhance their personal status. The majority of the houses, however, follow the more traditional layout of the Greek house of rooms around a courtyard accessed by an ante-room, pastas or colonnade, which in some cases was appropriated, for example, the angle of the vestibule allowed passers-by to see into a part of the house, in order to accommodate the owners’ wish of self-representation.29

The rapid urbanization of the island took place in this period.30 The small settlement of the period of independence, which clustered around the main sanctuary area with some smaller sanctuaries and cultural centers beyond, exploded during the period of the second Athenian dominion. The urbanization expanded from the area of the old sanctuary center outwards:

1 - The new markets, the Agora of the Hermaistai or the Competaliastai (GD 2), the Agora of Theophrastos (GD 49) and the Agora of the Delians (GD 84), clustered at the borders of the sanctuary;31

2 - the main port facilities expanded to the south and big storage facilities and facilities equivalent to shopping malls were created next to them.32

3 – the residential neighborhoods developed around the sanctuary center and where good natural ports were created to complement the activities of the main port, overloaded by the maritime traffic going through the island in this period.33 The character of the neighborhoods was mixed: residences mingled with manufacturing activities, shops and storage facilities and were next to some locus of cultural activity, such as the gymnasia.

The main residential neighborhoods that have been identified to date have been divided in two kinds, the so-called “old” and “new” neighborhoods.34 The term “old” neighborhood is used for neighborhoods that developed in areas that were previously urbanized, for example, the Quartier du Théâtre and the Quartier de l’Inopos, and the term “new” neighborhood is used for areas that were not previously urbanized, for example, the Quartier de Skardhana (or Quartier Nord) and the Quartier du Stade. These new neighborhoods took over the areas of the gardens (κήποι) and the open farming areas of the island to the north, which were concentrated at the south of the island in this period.35 However, the full extension of the city is not well known as not all the areas of the island have been excavated.36

Quartier du Stade

Fig. 1. Quartier du Stade, plan (source: Bruneau and Ducat 2005, foldout 6, opposite p. 247). Published with the permission of the French School in Athens (EfA). All rights reserved.
Fig. 2. Insulae I and II of the Quartier du Stade, plan, (after Plassart 1916, pl. 1).
Fig. 3. Quartier du Stade, plan of the neighborhood with its adjacent port structures (source: Papageorgiou-Venetas 1981, 105, fig. 85). Published with the permission of A. Papageorgiou-Venetas.

The Quartier du Stade (figs. 1, 2 and 3), the focus of this study, is one of the newly-formed neighborhoods. It is located on the north-east side of Delos next to the Stadion, after which it is named. It was not as isolated from the sanctuary center as it may seem today. The Archegesion (GD 74), the sanctuary of the Archegetes/Anios, the mythical founder of the Delian city (first half of sixth century BCE),37 is located between the hippodrome and this neighborhood. It is also generally thought that the gardens mentioned in the accounts of the hieropoioi (near the Hippodrome, near the Neorion, near the palaestra) were located in this area.38

The Stadion (GD 78) predates the neighborhood; it is mentioned in the accounts of the hieropoioi, the annually appointed officials of the sanctuary, since the first quarter of the third century BCE.39 The Gymnasion (GD 76) attached to the Stadion was built at the end of the second or the beginning of the first century BCE (based on construction evidence),40 and the Xyston (GD 77) was dedicated by Ptolemy IX when Διονύσιος Δημητρίου Αναφλύστιος was epimeletes of the island in 111/10 BCE. Probably both structures, Gymnasion and Xyston, were part of one building project developed by the Athenian colony and financed by Ptolemy IX.41 No exact dates can be confirmed for the rest of the Quartier du Stade. Even from this sparse dating evidence, it is clear that the urban development in this neighborhood as elsewhere on the island occurred after 167 BCE and it declined after the sacks of 88 and 69 BCE.42 Part of the Quartier du Stade is also the synagogue (GD 80), which is located to the south of the port structures of the neighborhood.43 The earliest phases of the synagogue date from the second century BCE; however, it cannot be ascertained whether these are before or after 167 BCE.44

Only a very small part of the neighborhood was excavated (Insula I and II) at the beginning of the 20th century (1912-13) by André Plassart, who published an extensive report of the excavations in 1916 – however, a full and detailed publication of the excavations did not follow.45 More recently, in 1997, House IB was re-excavated and identified as a perfume workshop by Jean-Pierre Brun and Michèle Brunet.46 Their study provides a relative chronology of the development of that house, which is helpful in the study of the overall neighborhood. In the context of the research project of the French School in Athens on the provision of storage space in houses and shops on Delos (dir. Véronique Chankowski), I examine the unpublished excavation archives of André Plassart (1912-1913), study the finds from the neighborhood and conduct an architectural survey of the Quartier.47 In doing so my aim is to analyze the urban development of the Quartier du Stade and address it in relation to the economic development that Delos underwent in this period.

From the two Insulae that were exposed by Plassart’s excavation, we may infer that it was a mixed-use residential and manufacturing neighborhood with some sale activities and some storage facilities within the residential units. From the visible remaining structures of the neighborhood facing towards the port, we can see that there were no large storage facilities like the ones located to the south of the main port; instead, the storage facilities were integrated in the residential areas. Insula I presents a few shops, (α), (β) and (γ) at its north end.48 Aside from a modest house at the north (IA), the rest of the buildings are quite big with courtyards: for instance, the perfume workshop (IB) and Houses IE, IC and ID. Insula II has a shop at the southwest corner (ζ, η, θ) and two houses with courtyards (IIA, IIB). Storage spaces were dispersed on the ground floor of the buildings. The character of this neighborhood is very similar to the other newly-formed neighborhood of the island, the Quartier de Skardhana, where we also have mixed residential, manufacturing and storage uses.49 Industrial and commercial features are not completely unique to the newer neighborhoods, but also appear to some degree in the older neighborhoods, too; for example, one of Delos’ two excavated coroplastic workshops appeared in the heart of the Quartier du Théâtre,50 and there are numerous small shops throughout the island.51 The upper floors, like all the houses of Delos, were the most opulent ones; for example, the surviving sculptures come from the upper floors and the remains of the walls from the upper floor feature polychrome decoration.52

The inhabitants of some of the excavated houses were Italian (IC, ID, IE) as is suggested by the altars of the Lares Compitales placed at their entrances,53 and is indicated by a bilingual, Greek and Latin, inscription in House IC, that records a dedication by three freedmen to their patron:

[Κοίντον Τύλλιον] . . . τον Κοίντου υἱὸν
[Κοίντος Τύλλ]ιος [Ἡρα]κλέων καὶ Κοίντος
Τύλλιος Ἀλέξανδρος καὶ Κοίντος Τύλλιος
Ἀρίσταρχος οἱ Κοίντου τὸν ἑαυτῶν πάτρωνα
ἀρετῆς ἕνεκεν καὶ καλοκαγαθίας τῆς εἰς ἐαυτούς.

[Q. Tullium Q. f . . . . pum]
Q. Tullius Q. l. A[ristarchus]
Q. Tullius Q. l. Ale[xander]
Q. Tullius Q. l. He[racleo p]atro[nem]
suom honoris et be[nef]ici cau[sa]

“(To) Q. Tullius son of Q., Q. Tullius Heracleon and Q Tullius Alexandros and Q. Tullius Aristarchos (dedicated) to their patron, honoring his virtue and benefaction.” 54

The freedmen Heracleon, Alexandros and Aristarchos dedicated a statue to their patron (Q. Tullius Q. f.). The patron and freedman Heracleon are known from other inscriptions. Quintus Tullius is Apolloniastes in 125 BCE (ID 1730).55 As Plassart pointed out, this inscription must be dated later, while Heracleon appears as a slave in a dedication of Competaliastes dated to 97/96 BCE (ID 1761).56 The inscription came from the upper floor of the house, probably from the north balcony around the court, as it was found in the upper layers of the rubble in room (g) close to its south wall.57

In addition, a terracotta figurine of a clothed “Oriental Aphrodite” (Inv. no. A2498) was found in House IC.58 The origin of the figurine was not thus far identified, as Plassart’s notes are confusing because he changed the labeling of the houses as well as their rooms during his excavation.59 I have examined the changes of Plassart’s labeling and concluded that the figurine comes from room (h) of the House IC.60 The figurine shows some influence from Egyptian iconography and as many other Egyptianizing figurines from Delos points to the appeal and integration of Egyptianizing religion in the multicultural community of Delos.61 It is not clear from Plassart’s notes whether the figurine was found on the upper or lower layers of the rubble, which would respectively indicate that it came from one of the rooms on the upper floor or from room (h). Room (h) also featured a badly shaped graffito of a horse and a boat followed by an equally clumsy in execution inscription: (ΜΝ[ΗCΘΗΤΙ] ΕΚΠΑΓΑΘΟC [Ε]ΠΑΓΑΘΩ: μνήσθητι Ἐκπάγαθος ἐπ᾽ ἀγαθῷ).62 It is possible that Ἐκπάγαθος is a misspelling of Ἐπάγαθος, a freedman’s name that is also attested in an inscription found in the southern extremity of the Portico of Philip (ID 1961, M. Καικίλιος Ἐπάγαθος).63

House IIA seems to have been inhabited by members of a Jewish community and, at some point, it may have served as an early location of the synagogue later located at the southeast of this area. A dedication to “God Most High” found in the house uses the epithet ὕψιστος to refer to God, an epithet that has been identified as referring to the Jewish deity (ID 2328: Λυσίμαχος ὑπὲρ ἑαυτοῦ Θεῷ Ὑψιστῳ χαριστήριον. “Lysimachos for himself [to] God most High [for a] votive/thank-offering”). In addition, the direct access to the well from the court is a unique feature in Delos that has been only attested at the synagogue, and could have been designed for ablutions.64 The ethnic diversity of the neighborhood is characteristic of the diversity of the island in this period.65

Fig. 4. Houses IC and ID, first phase, plan.