*Includes ancient accounts of Miletus
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
Miletus was an ancient city located on the west coast of present-day Turkey. It was the main city in the land of Ionia, a territory that stretched over 2,000 square kilometers of western Anatolia. With its four great harbors and a strategic location, Miletus became one of the most important coastal cities of western Anatolia, linking the Hellenistic world with the great civilizations of Babylon, Egypt, and eventually Persia. Over time, Miletus was ruled by the Minoans, Mycenaeans, Hittites, Ionians, Persians, Seleucids, Attalids, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuk Turks, and Ottomans.
Western civilization is directly linked to the incredible things that happened in Miletus during the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. In the context of the dynamic political and mercantile interactions between different lands, philosophy and science were able to arise in Miletus because of the presence of a group of rich traders who, as an extremely rare luxury, had spare time to ponder about things beyond the necessities of life - to take an interest in knowledge for knowledge's sake. A revolution in human thinking took place there, most notably thanks to a man named Thales, who is widely recognized as the first philosopher - at least within the Western tradition. Little is known for certain about the life of Thales, other than what was said about him by other philosophers, but he is renowned to this day for being the first recognized pre-Socratic philosopher. He developed a new, incredibly optimistic idea from the conflicting mythologies that existed in Miletus: the belief that human beings can uncover the true workings of nature through their minds and senses. This was the basic premise of the pre-Socratics, who paved the way for the Classical Athenian philosophers that would go on to establish the major themes in Western philosophy.
Philosophy is meaningless without science, and science is without direction when devoid of philosophy, but Thales was a polymath, with an interest in describing life as a whole, in its broadest sense. He tried to explain how life is structured according to an over-arching and all-encompassing principle. Considered by Aristotle to be the founder of physical science, Thales was the first named individual in the Western tradition that searched for the ultimate substance of things - in his case, water. This was the basis of the theory of atomism, which was formulated by Democritus 150 years after the life of Thales.
Miletus was conquered two generations after Thales, and it was never the same again, but fortunately, the philosophical tradition was passed on to the Greek mainland and survived. After being sacked by the Persians in 494 BCE, the city was rebuilt, and it was during this restoration that one of its most famous town-planners, a native named Hippodamus, made his mark on history. He invented the so-called "Hippodamian grid," which still influences city-planning in the modern age.
The Milesians went on to play a key role in the Peloponnesian Wars between Sparta, Athens, and the Persians, but by the end of the conflict Miletus was in a weakened state. It was captured by Alexander the Great after a massive battle in 334 BCE, and following Alexander's death, Miletus was ruled by the Seleucids, but over time Miletus gradually turned its back to the East and became closely influenced by Roman culture. It became an important Christian city in the Byzantine Empire, but by the Seljuk conquests of the 11th century, Miletus had already began to irreversibly decline.
Miletus: The History and Legacy of the Ancient Greek City in Anatolia chronicles the history of this oft-forgotten but incredibly consequential city. Along with pictures depicting important people, places, and events, you will learn about Miletus like never before.