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Middle East Team Dispatch

What the Gods Have Joined Man Has Put Asunder: The Ancient City of Miletus
February 12, 2000

It's another hot, sunny, ancient day on the shores of the Aegean, and you and your Greek mercenary pals are just hanging out, patrolling the hill that is the thriving port city of Miletus. You're under Persian rule but you don't mind so much: the Persians are pretty cool about letting you do as you please here on the southwest edge of Turkey.

"Hey," you say to your buddies. "Look, out there, over the horizon. There's a ship flying our flag!"

"Excellent," replies a comrade. "Perhaps visitors from the motherland. Maybe they bring food from home!"

"Look! Another sail!" yells a soldier. "Perhaps news!"

"Still another!" is shouted out.

What's going on, that all these ships are lining up offshore? You look at each other in expectant amazement…

Suddenly-KAA-BOOOOOMMMMM!!!! The earth all around you rumbles and shakes!

CRRRAAAASSSSSHHHHH!!!! A great hole sinks into a coastal temple below! The stone walls collapse inward while great boulders and showers of rock explode up and out in every direction!

Your shocking, terrifying answer has been delivered: Alexander the Great-menace of the Mediterranean, persecutor of ancient Persia-has come calling…on his own brothers!

What drives a man to do such a thing? What lurks in his mind that rages him on so?

Can't think about that now-there's not a second to lose! Alexander, having wisely decided not to confront Memnon-commander of the Persian fleet and lord of 400 warships-on the high seas, is determined to conquer Miletus, and is laying siege to the very ground you stand on-by land!!

You and your men fight valiantly, first at the outer walls, then when forced back into the city streets. But thick stone fortifications and a warrior's spirit cannot defend Miletus against the punishing blows of Alexander's war machine. She succumbs within days, and, cut off from replenishing supplies and fearing the seemingly invincible Alexander, Memnon shoves off and retreats to Helicarnassus.

Holy smoke! No wonder this place is in ruins! Almost 2,300 years later and you can still almost smell the smoke and see the crumbled, smouldering piles of stone.

Welcome to Miletus: much-contested jewel of ancient Mediterranean commerce, shining cultural capital and hometown of great historians, philosophers, mathematicians and scientists-now playground to the Odyssey World Trek!

We're surrounded by rocks and rubble that tell the tale of Miletus's storied past. First settled in 1500 BCE by travelers from Crete, Miletus has hosted mainland Greeks and Ionians (1000 BCE), Persians (546 BCE), Greeks and Persians again, Romans (133 BCE) and Seljuks (1328 AD). The enormous theatre on the city outskirts was first built in the fourth century BCE and enlarged during the Hellenistic period (second century BCE) to seat 5,300; later, the Romans reconstructed the theatre to hold as many as 15,000 people! Important types had their names carved into stone-kind of like an ancient Hollywood "Walk of Fame!"

There probably weren't any dolphins in ancient Miletus, but don't tell Apollo. An altar and three base stones still rest in that Greek god's Apollon Delphinion (temple to Apollo), which was believed to protect sailors from heavy seas and thurderstorms (delphis means "dolphin" in ancient Greek).

Not to be outdone, Faustina, wife of Emperor Marcus Aurelius during the second century BCE, built the Bath of Faustina. Not too modest, was she! The main bath is now about six feet below ground, but we can still imagine where the tepidarium (warm bath), frigidarium (cold bath) and caldarium (hot bath) might have been. As if those Romans didn't have enough water, there were also a swimming pool and a sauna (ancient style, of course)!!

Rumor has it that on the Ionian leader Neileus's watch, the men of Miletus were killed and their wives made to marry the killers, thus repopulating the city the way Neilus wanted. The wives protested by refusing to sit at the table with their new husbands! [Didn't they get hungry?] Other "tyrants" later ruled the city and its four harbors, bringing Miletus to great heights by starting up colonies on the shores of the Marmara and Black Seas, even reaching as far as Egypt.

Miletus was also known as a breeding ground for thinkers of high thoughts. Great historians such as Anaximander and Aneximenes, geographers such as Kadmos and Hecataeus, and The Man Who Despite All His Rumored Accomplishments Left No Paper Trail-the philosopher, mathematician and scientist Thales-all lived in Miletus at the same time (roughly 600 BCE).


succumb - to give way to
bisect - to divide into two equal parts
diameter - a straight line passing through the center of a circle
isosceles - a triangle with two equal sides

Thales is believed to have lived between 624 BCE and 547 BCE, working as an engineer but thinking on the side. None of his work survives, but later Thinkers Of Big Thoughts, including Aristotle, wrote about him.

Thales is credited with introducing geometry to Greece, and with measuring the height of pyramids by observing the length of their shadows right when his own shadow was equal to his height. Try that next time you're outside at the end of a sunny day!

Thales came up with those wonderful geometric theorems we all know (or used to know!) and love-that circles are bisected by any diameter, and that the base angles of and isosceles triangle are equal. Thales was so certain of some of his ideas that he sacrificed an ox to prove it! You don't have to go around killing an animal every time one of those geometry ideas finally clicks, but next time your eyes glaze over while you're memorizing those pesky angles, remember that you're in great company!

Not just a man of numbers, our ancient mathematician was also a man of science. It is said he predicted an eclipse of the sun in 585 BCE, but most people say that was no big deal since the earth was due for one around that time anyway! Thales didn't give up, though: he lowered his sights and foretold that the next season's olive crop would be huge. It was, and Thales made a lot of money. Take that, you skeptics!

Just goes to show what Thales-who was also a philosopher-always said: "The skillful man is always superior to the strong man." He also said, "A small spark is enough to burn down a whole forest," which might apply to the end of Miletus: a buildup of silt in the River Meander (now Menderes) flowed down to Miletus little by little over a long period of time, eventually filling in the water around the city with land and ending its dominance of the sea.


Abeja - The Many Faces of God Here in Ephesus
Andrew - Black Magic, Fat Rhymes, and Dead Tongues
Jasmine - Walking Through History: A Journey Along the Turquoise Coast
Monica - Now, THAT's Old! Remains of the City of Çatalhöyük
Kavi Gets MAD With Art

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