MILETUS (mod. Palatia), an ancient city of Asia Minor, on the southern shore of the Latmic Gulf near the mouth of the Maeander. Before the Ionic migration it was inhabited by Carians (Iliad ii. 876; Herod. i. 146), and pottery, found by Th. Wiegand on the spot proves that the site was inhabited, and had relations with the Aegean world, in the latest Minoan age. The Greek settlers from Pylos under Neleus are said to have massacred all the men in the old city, and built for themselves a new one on the coast. Miletus occupied a very favourable situation at the mouth of the rich valley of the Maeander, and was the natural outlet for the trade of southern Phrygia (Hipponax, Fr. 45). It had four harbours, one of considerable size, and its power extended inland for some distance up the valley of the Maeander, and along the coast to the south, where it founded the city of Iasus. Its enterprise extended to Egypt, where it had much to do with the settlement of Naucratis (q.v.). Very little “ Naucratiti ” pottery, however, was found on the site by Wiegand, and only in the Athena temple. The Black Sea trade, however, was the greatest source of wealth to the Ionian cities. Miletus, like the rest, turned its attention chiefly to the north, and succeeded in almost monopolizing the traffic. Along the Hellespont, the Propontis and the Black Sea coasts it founded more than sixty cities—among them Abydus, Cyzicus, Sinope, Dioscurias, Panticapaeum and Olbia. All these cities were founded before the middle of the 7th century; and before 500 B.C. Miletus was decidedly the greatest Greek city. During the time when the enterprise of the seafaring population raised Miletus to such power and wealth nothing is known of its internal history, though the analogy of all Greek cities, and some casual statements in later writers, suggest that the usual struggles took place between oligarchy and democracy, and that tyrants sometimes raised themselves to supreme power. Miletus was equally distinguished at this early time as a seat of literature. The Ionian epic and lyric poetry indeed had its home farther north; philosophy and history were more akin to the practical race of Miletus, and Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes and Hecataeus all belonged to this city. The poet Timotheus and the famous Aspasia were also natives. The three Ionian cities of Caria—Miletus, Myus and Priene—spoke a peculiar dialect of Ionic.
The Mermnad kings of Lydia found in Miletus their strongest adversary. War was carried on for many years, till Alyattes III. concluded a peace with Thralsybulus, tyrant of Miletus; the Milesians afterwards seem to have acknowledged peaceably the rule of Croesus. On the Persian conquest Miletus passed under a new master; it headed the Ionian revolt of 500 B.C., and was taken by storm after the battle of Lade (see Ionia). Darius massacred most of the inhabitants, transported the rest to Ampe at the mouth of the Tigris, and gave up the city to the Carians. This disaster was long remembered in Greece and made the theme of a tragedy by Phrynichus. Henceforth the history of Miletus has no special interest. It revived indeed when the Persians were expelled from the coast in 479 B.C., became a member of the Delian League (q.v.), revolted to Sparta in 412, passed into Carian hands, and opposed Alexander on his southward march, succumbing only to a siege in form (334 B.C.). It was a town of commercial importance throughout the Graeco-Roman period, and received special attention from Trajan. Its harbours, once protected by Lade and the other Tragasaean islands, were gradually silted up by the Maeander, and Lade is now a hill some miles from the coast. Ephesus took its place as the great Ionian harbor in Hellenistic and Roman times. Miletus became the seat of a Christian bishopric and was strengthened by a Byzantine castle (καστρον τῶν Παλατίων) built above the theatre; but its decay was inevitable, and its site is now a marsh.
Since 1899 Miletus has been the scene of extensive excavations directed by Dr Th. Wiegand for the Berlin Academy. The ruins lie about the base of a hillock projecting north-east into a bend of the Maeander. On the north is a well-preserved theatre of Roman times on the site of an older Greek building. When complete it had 54 rows of seats. It was as large as any theatre in Asia Minor, and is still imposing, the auditorium, though deprived of its upper ranks and colonnade, rising nearly 100 ft. Cyriac of Ancona described the building as practically complete in his day (1446). The front is over 150 yds. long. East of this was the ancient north harbour, now silted up, and on the hillside above it stood a large heroon of Hellenistic time remarkable for being, like the tomb of Brasidas at Amphipolis, within the walls. South of the harbour head lies the Hellenistic agora with ruins of large magazines of Doric style. South of these again lie a nymphaeum of the age of Titus, and a senate-house of theatral form. On the east opens a great hall surrounded by porticoes and enclosing a high altar of Artemis, once richly adorned with reliefs. The Roman agora lies beyond this again. A straight street leads south-west from the north harbour to the Didyma Gate in the wall, which runs across the neck of the peninsula and was rebuilt by Trajan, when he undertook to raise the level of the outer quarters of the city; and streets cross this at right angles in the geometric Hellenistic manner. A Sacred Way lined with tombs, led to Didymi. Two temples have been discovered by Dr Wiegand, one, on the south-east, being a large sanctuary of Apollo Delphinius with triple colonnade enclosing a court with central tripod. This seems to have been the chief temple of the city and the place where public records, treaties, &c., were engraved. The other temple, an archaic sanctuary of Athena, lies west of the stadium.
See O. Rayet and A. Thomas, Milet et le golfe Latmique (1877); Th. Wiegand, “ Vorlaufige Berichte über die Ausgrabungen in Milet," in Sitzungsberichte of the Berlin Academy (1900, foll.); A. von Salis, “ Die Ausgrabungen in Milet und Didyma ” in Neue Jahrb. f. d. la. Alt., xxv. 2, 1910. (D. G. H.)