Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World

Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World


By (author) Michael Scott

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  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Format: Hardback | 440 pages
  • Dimensions: 158mm x 238mm x 36mm | 740g
  • Publication date: 10 March 2014
  • Publication City/Country: New Jersey
  • ISBN 10: 0691150818
  • ISBN 13: 9780691150819
  • Illustrations note: 8 color illus. 41 halftones. 3 maps.
  • Sales rank: 65,585

Product description

The oracle and sanctuary of the Greek god Apollo at Delphi were known as the "omphalos"-the "center" or "navel"-of the ancient world for more than 1000 years. Individuals, city leaders, and kings came from all over the Mediterranean and beyond to consult Delphi's oracular priestess; to set up monuments to the gods in gold, ivory, bronze, marble, and stone; and to take part in athletic and musical competitions. This book provides the first comprehensive narrative history of this extraordinary sanctuary and city, from its founding to its modern rediscovery, to show more clearly than ever before why Delphi was one of the most important places in the ancient world for so long. In this richly illustrated account, Michael Scott covers the whole history and nature of Delphi, from the literary and archaeological evidence surrounding the site, to its rise as a center of worship with a wide variety of religious practices, to the constant appeal of the oracle despite her cryptic prophecies. He describes how Delphi became a contested sacred site for Greeks and Romans and a storehouse for the treasures of rival city-states and foreign kings. He also examines the eventual decline of the site and how its meaning and importance have continued to be reshaped right up to the present. Finally, for the modern visitor to Delphi, he includes a brief guide that highlights key things to see and little-known treasures. A unique window into the center of the ancient world, Delphi will appeal to general readers, tourists, students, and specialists.

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Author information

Michael Scott is assistant professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Warwick. His books include From Democrats to Kings: The Brutal Dawn of a New World from the Downfall of Athens to the Rise of Alexander the Great (Overlook). He has also written and presented a number of ancient history documentaries for National Geographic, the History channel, Nova, and the BBC, including one on Delphi. His website is

Review quote

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014 "[D]eftly combines literary and material evidence... Overall, Scott offers a broad and well-documented history of the Delphic oracle, including an (excellent) epilogue on how the site was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century."--Barbara Graziosi, Times Higher Education "[O]f absorbing interest... I doubt whether there's a single archaeological report or relevant inscription, however obscure, that has escaped his notice, and no other scholar known to me keeps one so constantly conscious of the realities ... that leave him with the nagging question: 'What motivated the continuation of settlement in this otherwise rather difficult physical habitat clinging to the mountainside?'... [Scott's] final chapters give the fullest and most vivid general account of Delphi's slow excavation over the past century that I've seen... Scott's narrative never falters."--Peter Green, London Review of Books "Judicious, measured and thorough ... Mr. Scott, like Pausanias before him, is a handy companion to what remains--and what we can only wish was still to be seen."--Brendan Boyle, Wall Street Journal "Scott's passion and expertise are readily apparent... An enjoyable resource for scholars and students. Additionally, prospective visitors to the modern site of Delphi will be interested in Scott's brief guide, which is included at the back of the book."--Publishers Weekly "Tells you everything there is to know about Delphi."--Sam Leith, Spectator "A traveler on a typical ten-hour flight to Greece from the United States will find this book to be a valuable and entertaining companion." Greece Travel "The story is told clearly and engagingly."--Peter Jones, Literary Review "I don't think there can be much about Delphi's history that Dr. Scott has missed out on in this book. I needn't have worried that only one book on the subject wouldn't be enough to give me enough information for my visit. I wanted the definitive book and as far as I'm concerned I picked the right one."--Tales from A Tour Guide "The oracle is not the main concern of this fine, scholarly book. Although you can hardly write about Delphi without writing about the Pythia, Scott's interest is much more in the site itself, the way it developed from a couple of buildings on a mountainside into the elaborate sanctuary of the classical period and beyond... Because Delphi was the focus of so much ancient attention, this rich but remote archaeological site gives us a keyhole view of the history of the ancient world as a whole, as cities are founded and proclaim their existence to the international community; as cities fall and find their monuments encroached on, buried or pecked at by prophetic crows; as dedications to commemorate victories over foreigners at Salamis give way to trophies of victories over other Greeks; as the Spartans inscribe their name on a gift of Croesus and hope no one will notice."--James Davidson, The Guardian "This is an engaging tribute to a site that enjoined its visitors to know themselves--a demand that, in turn, requires us to know the Greeks."--Alex Clapp, Ekathimerini "Excellent... The more important question for [Scott] is not how the oracle functioned, but why it endured as an institution for over a thousand years. For the scholar who wants to see the full range of evidence and possible interpretations--a rounded view--this approach is particularly useful."--Daisy Dunn, History Today "[A] comprehensive and sympathetic history... Scott puts it beautifully: both as an idea and an historical conundrum, Delphi ensures we keep the ground 'insecure' beneath our feet."--Bettany Hughes, BBC History Magazine "Scott's erudition is balanced by a lively style, making for a thoroughly readable work. Copies endnotes, bibliography, and illustrations (including eight in color) accompany the text, as does a brief guide to the site's museum."--Choice "[T]here is much to commend in this new history, which deserves to be widely read."--Hugh Bowden, Anglo-Hellenic Review

Flap copy

"Like the two eagles released by Zeus from opposite ends of the world who then met in Delphi, Michael Scott gets to the heart of antiquity's most celebrated and enigmatic oracle. A vivid and lucid study that reanimates the mentality of those who consulted Apollo more convincingly than any other I have read."--Tom Holland, author of "Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West""Learned and elegant, Michael Scott's "Delphi" offers an in-the-round study of the heart of ancient Greece, a focus of religion, art, athletics, intrigue, and treasure so potent that it still gives us an adjective for enigmatic--'Delphic.' Scott's irresistible narrative brings it all back to life."--Barry Strauss, author of "Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership""Few scholars know the history of ancient Delphi as intimately as Michael Scott does. Apollo's injunction to 'know yourself' is as hard to obey now as it was in ancient times, but readers seeking enlightenment will surely be encouraged to learn that the unsettling Delphic effect is good for them. On a more earthly plane, they will find Scott's expert guidance to the site and its museum invaluable."--Paul Cartledge, author of "After Thermopylae: The Oath of Plataea and the End of the Graeco-Persian Wars"

Table of contents

Acknowledgments xi Maps xiii Prologue: Why Delphi? 1 Part I: Some are born great 1: Oracle 9 2: Beginnings 31 3: Transformation 51 4: Rebirth 71 Part II : Some achieve greatness 5: Fire 93 6: Domination 119 7: Renewal 139 8: Transition 163 Part III: Some have greatness thrust upon them 9: A New World 183 10: Renaissance 203 11: Final Glory? 223 12: The Journey Continues 245 Epilogue: Unearthing Delphi 269 Conclusion 285 Guide: A Brief Tour of the Delphi Site and Museum 291 Abbreviations 303 Notes 309 Bibliography 375 Index 401