Friday, March 18, 2022
The Sacred War To End All Sacred Wars
Monday, March 7, 2022
The Shotgun Wedding That Started A Holy War
In the name of liberty, to Apollon's temple once again!
The bones of the first two sacred wars were now lying still in the soil, but as has been said, only the dead have seen the end of war.
Historians would more than likely conclude that the conflict had been brewing for a while, but this part of the story starts on the day of a wedding at the sanctuary. A father by the name of Crates became outraged, to say the least, perhaps even insane when his soon-to-be son in law Orsilaus got cold feet and cancelled the marriage. Not only did the father have the groom executed, he also murdered the groom's family members right in the sacred areas of Delphi itself, which was the worst religious offense. The fact that the father supported Theban domination at Delphi and Orsilaus supported Phocis, probably did not aid in resolving tension between the families either. Some say the execution and murders likely had political ends as well as revenge. We will remember that in the last Sacred War, Phocis remained in control of Delphi, and the power struggles between the Cities were far from over.
As punishment for the pollution of murder in a sacred area, Crates and his family were faced with heavy fines, and the feud between Thebes and Phocis over Delphi would only intensify from this point. It all came to a head when the League of Delphi, who has been victorious in the past wars, came to support Theban power, and Phocis, unlike in the last Sacred War, was losing strength and support fast.
At a meeting between the League and Phocis, which no doubt included talks about the actions of Crates against Osrilaus, the Phocians found themselves to be charged with basically the same thing Crates had been convicted of, impiety, blasphemy, sacrilege, etc. Phocis faced heavy fines as a result. Phocis, however, refused to bow to the League or the emerging Theban power, but at the same time, knew that defiance would inevitably lead to physical confrontation. Therefore, they attempted to end another war before it began. In 356 BCE they conquered Delphi. However, they surely knew that this was not the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning. If they had expected Greece to remain passive, they were wishful thinkers.
That summer, the League forces reunified, retook Delphi, and dethroned Phocis from its position of supremacy. Because of their eventual defeat, and probably their desire to remain important at Delphi, they began to comply with the original demands of the League. But the Third Sacred War was far from even a remote close.
In 355 BCE, the League decided to punish Phocis even more for their actions one year prior and attacked them with military force. The conflict was apparently too much for some of the Phocian leaders to handle, as their General committed suicide and even his replacement was killed in action. Nevertheless, Phocis was determined to take the war to whatever ends necessary to win. They robbed the temple's treasury and broke down valuable metal objects they could find in the sanctuary. This resulted in the immense loss of much of Delphi's history, story and economic stability. The theft was, in large part, to fund their army, but it probably also struck a blow to the spirit of the City, or so they might have thought. Religious work and consultations of the Oracle went on uninhibited.
As the fourth year of the war came in, it was clear that it was only a matter of time before Phocis collapsed, both from bankruptcy and military setbacks. However, a friend of Delphi to the far north would be the one to put the final nail in the coffin: Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. He had received word from the League and was asked to intervene on their behalf, which he did because of his dealings with and great respect for Delphi. By 346, Phocis was not only thrown completely out of the temple and sanctuary, but banned from having anymore influence over it. Even what remained of the Phocian City State was divided up into small neighborhoods, probably an effort by the League and Philip to ensure they could never again unify in power. Finally, Phocis was forced to pay monetary compensation for all they had destroyed and defiled.
Delphi emerged the victor once again, although they could never get back the originality of their geographical glory. What had been destroyed, was destroyed. But if there's one thing to always remember about ancient Greeks, it is that they will press on despite any obstacles.
In the Goodness of the Gods,
Source: Scott, Michael, Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World, Princeton Publishing, 2014.
Thursday, February 24, 2022
Holy War That Shook Ancient Greece To The Core
As we saw in the First Sacred War, the victory of the League of Delphi resulted in the destruction of the town occupying its harbor and the restoration of Apollon's Temple. Delphi had won her first holy conflict, but it would be only the beginning of religious and economic fights over the center of the Greek world.
Athens has always taken powerful and pivotal roles in ancient Greek history, and even today they hold tremendous influence as the capital of modern Greece and the most populated City of the nation. Although, we must remember that in ancient times, Greece or Hellas was not a unified land. Each City State had its own government, laws and religious observances. In the decade of the 440s BCE, the imperial power of the City of Athens began to flex its muscle into central Greece, and the fact that Delphi was there did not go unnoticed, neither by Athens or its biggest rival City, Sparta.
Not only had Athens spent a lot of time, money and effort dominating the Delphic sanctuary with their own dedications and even a treasury whose ruins still stand today, but Athens also started to control and influence all the areas around or within proximity of Delphi, and the people who would strike this match were the Phocians. Phocis was a central region of Greece in which Delphi resided, and the people wanted to incorporate it into their jurisdiction, probably not only because of the influence it held over the Greek world, but the immense amount of wealth that was accumulating there. But it appeared as though the Phocians were not strong enough to do it on their own. They managed to enlist the powerful aid of Athens in removing the independence of Delphi.
Sparta had frequently consulted the Oracle of Delphi and had begun establishing their presence in the sanctuary. They did not like the fact that Athens was literally the master of the Temple and the City, so they decided to send troops to overthrow the Phocian control and return Delphi to its full independent state in 449 BCE. Sparta succeeded and Delphi was again ruled by Delphi alone, which the people of the City and Temple were extremely grateful for. They even erected dedications to the Spartans for their liberty.
However, the victory was brief. Two years after the Spartans left, Athens sent its troops under the command of Perikles and restored Phocian rule, establishing a tug of war in central Greece. But by 445 BCE, independence was again won by Delphi, noting the fact that Athens had to eventually turn its attention fully to Sparta in the Peloponnesian War by 431. Athens, at that point, simply did not have the time or power to keep Delphi locked, and would end up losing the war to Sparta after nearly 30 years of brutal fighting. Further conflict would not return to the City of Delphi for around 100 years later, what would come to be known as the Third Sacred War. For the time being, Delphi would once again remain a free State.
Read my post on the First Sacred War here.
In the Goodness of the Gods,
Scott, Michael, Delphi, A History of the Center of the Ancient World, Princeton Publishing, 2014.
Wednesday, February 9, 2022
The Ancient Greeks Had Holy Wars, But For Different Reasons (1)
For a long time I've been wanting to write about the Sacred Wars of Delphi and what they mean to our Western world even today. In recent years, it's been a subject that has fascinated me. We think of Holy Wars as modern inventions of radical and extremist Christians and Muslims. The ancient Greeks fought them too at times, but the interesting part is that they were for far different reasons. They were not waged to eliminate another belief system, or to force another culture to adopt Greek religion.
Largely, there were four conflicts that took place over Delphi (the center of the ancient Greek world and seat of Apollon's renowned Oracle). The First Sacred War unfolded from 595 to 585 BCE, between the League of Delphi, consisting of religious tribes that included Athens, Thessaly and Sikyon, and the town of Kirrha (the League being allies against Kirrha). Kirrha was the harbor of Delphi, which meant that it held considerable influence over who and what came and went from the Temple Of Apollon and the Oracle therein. One must keep in mind that the Oracle of Delphi was not only vitally important to her locality, but all of the Greek world who went to her for counsel.
Tensions began to mount when Kirrha basically turned into a region of bandits and extortionists. Not only were people who were going to see the Oracle being attacked and robbed, but the town itself began charging astronomical tolls for those coming through their harbor to consult the Oracle or pay homage to Delphi (this likely also resulted in the theft of valuable gifts being brought for dedication to the sanctuary). Not only were they taking money and resources from Delphi, but also property that rightfully belonged to the God. The last straw probably came when Kirrha started to raid parts of Delphi directly.
The tribes who would form the League of Delphi decided they would unite in Delphi's defense. Along with Athens, Thessaly and Sikyon, the League likely included soldiers from many other parts of Greece that shared in Delphi's sphere of influence, including troops from Delphi herself. The War lasted for ten years. On advice from the Oracle, the League launched merciless and relentless war on the town. But what brought the conflict to an end was the first recorded use of chemical warfare. The League put hellebore into the water supply of Kirrha. It was an herb that simply gave everyone really bad diarrhea to the point that they could not fight. The League was victorious in the end. The result was the complete destruction of the town and the confiscation of its land by Delphi. Said land was left uncultivated and dedicated to Pythian Apollon, His sister Artemis, their mother Leto, and Athena Pronaia. The confiscation was also probably done to make sure the town could not reemerge. It's lack of virtue and justice meant that it had forfeited its right to exist in the eyes of its fellow Greeks.
The remaining people of Kirrha who managed to escape, went to Mount Kirphe, which is the southern part of Mount Parnassos that overlooks Delphi. The Games of Delphi, or Pythian Games, were born after this, to celebrate the victory, and members of the League would remain as protectors of Delphi.
The First Sacred War was fought in support of religious freedom, not against like modern Holy Wars. Delphi and the League had no interest in the beliefs of Kirrha nor her lifestyles. The League simply wanted Delphi to remain free, open and possess its property, and for everyone to have the safe right to go there for their pilgrimages. I think the War is a reminder to us in the West still today that freedom is not free and that it can be easily impeded if we don't protect it, especially from those who have the money and power to extort it. This factor plays out in our own American government where lawmakers are constantly bribed for their votes, and influential powers that can effect our country if they have a corner on something. However, if enough people simply stand for what's right and use their united powers (through things like voting and community organizing), they cannot be drowned out by the unjust.
In the Goodness of the Gods,
Sources, Citations and Credits
Photo: Ruins of Sikyon, Photo by Carole Raddato, Copyright of Author, Not The Creation of Chris Aldridge. Licensed Under Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/). Location (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sicyon#/media/File:Sikyon,_Greece_(23187324446).jpg)
Book: Scott, Michael, Delphi, A History of the Center of the Ancient World, Princeton Publishing, 2014.
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