Burning Enemy Temples in Asia Minor in the Age of Persian Wars

Recorded: July 5, 2023
Event: Achaemenid Workshop 2
Citation: Nawotka, Krzysztof. "Burning Enemy Temples in Asia Minor in the Age of Persian Wars." Pourdavoud Institute: Achaemenid Workshop 2 (July 5, 2023).

by Krzysztof Nawotka (University of Wrocław)

Within his accounts of Greco-Persian hostilities in Asia Minor Herodotos relates burning of a number of temples, among them two major ones, of Kubaba in Sardis and of Apollo in Didyma. Burning of the temple in Sardis reportedly became justification for Persian acts of revenge in Greece in 480 BCE. Since Milesians played the pivotal role in the Ionian rebellion burning of the temple in Didyma could be construed as the first act of the Persian revenge. There are two lines of historiographical tradition on burning of Didyma: this of Herodotos attributing it to Darius and that known from Kallisthenes and Pausanias attributing it to Xerxes. The second tradition most probably draws on Ktesias. The account of Herodotos on the fate of Miletos in 494 BCE is less reliable than generally assumed. Ktesias’ version of events in Didyma is better. It is anchored in the well-attested tradition of the pro-Persian attitude of Branchidai, the guardians of Didyma whose removal to Central Asia was not banishment but rather protective resettlement. Archaeological evidence suggest that Didyma was despoiled but not burned to the ground, unlike temples in the urban core of Miletos. The epigraphic curve for Miletos and Didyma shows the first quarter of the 5th c. BCE as the period of some inscribing, as opposite to the second quarter of the 5th c. This lends indirect support to the late date of the events in Didyma: removal of all valuables and statues under Xerxes, evacuation of Branchidai to Sogdiana, cessation of cult and oracular activity in the temple of Apollo. The whole issue of deliberate burning of enemy temples in Asia in the age of the Persian wars is overblown: the temple in Sardis was burnt by accident, the temple in Didyma was not burnt at all. It is a part of the Herodotean ideology rather than of the factual account of wars between the Greeks and Persians.

About the Speaker

Krzysztof Nawotka is professor of Ancient History at the University of Wroclaw, Poland. He received his PhD in Classics from The Ohio State University in 1991 and his habilitation from the University of Wroclaw in 1999. From 2015 he has been a member of the Academia Europaea, from 2021 a member of the Kommission Transformationsprozesse und Imperium in den Antiken Welten Afro-Eurasiens, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. His most important books are: The Western Pontic Cities: History and Political Organization (A.M. Hakkert 1997); Alexander the Great (CSP 2010); Boule and Demos in Miletus and its Pontic Colonies (Harrassowitz 2014); The Alexander Romance by Ps.-Callisthenes: A Historical Commentary (Brill 2017). His most recent edited volume is Epigraphic Culture in the Eastern Mediterranean in Antiquity (Routledge 2020).