Didyma was an ancient Greek sanctuary on the coast of Ionia. It contained a temple and oracle of Apollo, the Didymaion. In Greek didyma means “twin”, but the Greeks who sought a “twin” at Didyma ignored the Carian origin of the name. Next to Delphi, Didyma was the most renowned oracle of the Hellenic world, first mentioned among the Greeks in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, but an establishment preceding literacy and even the Hellenic colonization of Ionia. Mythic genealogies of the origins of the Branchidae line of priests, designed to capture the origins of Didyma as a Hellenic tradition, date to the Hellenistic period. The ruins of Didyma are located at a short distance to the northwest of modern Didim in Aydin Province,Turkey,
Didyma was the largest and most significant sanctuary on the territory of the great classical city Miletus. To approach it, visitors would follow the Sacred Way to Didyma, about 17 km long. Along the way, were ritual waystations, and statues of members of the Branchidae family, male and female, as well as animal figures. Some of these statues, dating to the 6th century BC are now in the British Museum, taken by Charles Newton in the 19th century.
Greek and Roman authors laboured to refer the name Didyma to “twin” temples — not a feature of the site — or to temples of the twins,Apollo and Artemis, whose own cult center at Didyma was only recently established, or whether, as Wilamowitz suggested there is a connection to Cybele Dindymene,“Cybele of Mount Dindymon”, is mooted. Recent excavations by the German team of archaeologists have uncovered a major sanctuary dedicated to Artemis, with the key ritual focus being water.
The 6th century Didymaion, dedicated to Apollo, enclosed its smaller predecessor, which archaeologists have identified. Its treasury was enriched by gifts from Croesus.
Until its destruction by the Persians in 494 BC, Didyma’s sanctuary was administered by the family of the Branchidae, who claimed descent from a purely eponymous Branchos, a youth beloved of Apollo. The priestess, seated above the sacred spring, gave utterances that were interpreted by the Branchidae. Both Herodotus and Pausanias dated the origins of the oracle at Didyma before the Ionian colonization of this coast. The Branchidae were expelled by Darius’ Persians, who burned the temple in 493 BC and carried away to Ecbatana the archaic bronze statue of Apollo, traditionally made by Canachus of Sicyonin the 6th century; the spring dried up, it was reported, and the archaic oracle was silenced. Though the sanctuaries of Delphi andEphesus were swiftly rebuilt, Didyma remained a ruin until the first steps of restoration were undertaken, in 334 BC. Callisthenes, a court historian of Alexander, reported that the spring began once more to flow after Alexander passed through, but there had been a complete break in the oracles’ personnel and tradition. Inscriptions, including inquiries and responses, and literary testimony record Didyma’s role as an oracle, with the “grim epilogue” of Apollo’s supposed sanction of Diocletian’s persecution of Christians, until the closing of the temples underTheodosius I.
After his capture of Miletus in 334 BC, Alexander the Great reconsecrated the oracle but placed its administration of the oracle in the hands of the city, where the priest in charge was annually elected. About 300 BC, Seleucus I Nicator brought the bronze cult image back, and the Milesians began to build a new temple, which, if it had ever been completed, would have been the largest in the Hellenic world. Vitruvius recorded a tradition that the architects were Paeonius of Ephesus, whom Vitruvius credited with the rebuilding of the Temple of Artemis there, and Daphnis of Miletus. The peripteraltemple was surrounded by a double file of Ionic columns. With a pronaos of three rows of four columns, the approaching visitor passed through a regularized grove formed of columns. The usual door leading to a cella was replaced by a blank wall with a large upper opening through which one could glimpse the upper part of the naiskos in the inner court (adyton). The entry route lay down either of two long constricted sloping passageways built within the thickness of the walls which gave access to the inner court, still open to the sky but isolated from the world by the high walls of the cella: there was the ancient spring, the naiskos— which was a small temple itself, containing in its own small cella the bronze cult image of the god—and a grove of laurels, sacred to Apollo. The inner walls of the cella were articulated by pilasters standing on a base the height of a man (1.94 m). Turning back again, the visitor saw a monumental staircase that led up to three openings to a room whose roof was supported by two columns on the central cross-axis. The oracular procedure, so well documented at Delphi, is unknown at Didyma and must be reconstructed on the basis of the temple’s construction, but it appears that several features of Delphi were now adopted: a priestess and answers delivered in classical hexameters. At Delphi, nothing was written; at Didyma, inquiries and answers were written; a small structure, the Chresmographion featured in this process: it was meticulously disassembled in the Christian period.
The annual festival held there under the auspices of Miletus was the Didymeia; it was made a Panhellenic festival in the beginning of the 2nd century BC.