Miletus, pronounced Milly-tos in Greek, is thought to have been inhabited from very ancient times. It was originally located on the tip of a peninsular on the western shore of Turkey overlooking a bay with good harbours. Over many years, however, silt from the nearby river Meander overflowed the bay and the city eventually lost access to the sea. By the 4thcentury AD the city had become abandoned.

According to Herodotus, Miletus was settled from Greece when a group from Athens killed the men living at Miletus and married the girls whose parents they killed. He remarks that these women refused to sit at the same table as their husbands or address them by name. At the turn of the 7th and the 6th centuries BC, the kings of Lydia, Sadyattes and Alyattes II, attempted to conquer Miletus, but were unsuccessful, even though they managed to burn the local crops 12 years in a row. Lydia and Miletus finally achieved peace around 560BC—about the same time Judah was experiencing a long captivity and Nebuchadnezzar was about to die.

Lydia then fell to Cyrus in 546BC and Miletus was the only Ionian city that was able to secure peace with Cyrus. Forty seven years later, in 499BC, Aristagoras, ruler of Miletus led the Ionian revolt against the Persian overlords and this event marked the beginning of the Greco-Persian Wars. The city was later retaken by the Persians in 494BC and then sacked.

Ten years later in 480 BC, Darius’ son, Xerxes I “by his strength through his riches” stirred up all against the realm of Grecia (Dan 11:2). After the Greeks defeated the Persians in 479BC, Miletus joined the Athenian-dominated Delian League.

Herodotus makes an interesting comment about a rumour that was being spread while the Ionians were fighting the Persians; namely that the Greeks on mainland Greece had already defeated the Persians. This news was premature, but Herodotus wrote: “Many things make it plain to me that the hand of God is active in human affairs—for how else could it be, when the Persian defeat at Mycale was about to take place on the same day as his defeat at Plataea, that a rumour of that kind should reach the Greek army, giving every man greater courage for the coming battle and a fiercer determination to risk his life for his country?”

Miletus was weakened by internal divisions when Alexander the Great seized it in a great battle in 334BC, but Greek rule ushered in a new era of trade and prosperity. After Alexander’s death, Miletus was ruled by his general Lysimachus, who made generous donations to the city.

The Romans annexed the area in 133BC and added several monumental structures to the city. The Emperor Trajan (2ndcentury AD) built the Sacred Way from Miletus to Didyma. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the Romans intervened to guarantee freedom of religion to Jews in Miletus; an inscription that seems to relate to this has been found in the theatre. The remains of the theatre are extensive, including the stone passageways leading up to the higher tier of seating. Other buildings are abundant, although in a ruined state.

At the time the Apostle Paul visited Miletus it was still accessible by ship. Here, Paul called the elders of the ecclesia of Ephesus to meet him (Acts 20:17). Most likely the messenger travelled 15km across the bay by boat and then travelled an additional 30km by road. When the elders arrived, Paul exhorted them to feed the ecclesia because grievous wolves were ready to enter into the ecclesia, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. At the conclusion of the meeting Paul gives a very moving speech knowing he would never see many of them again.

It seems Paul did travel to Miletus once again after this because in 2 Timothy 4:20 he says that he left Trophimus sick at Miletum. Trophimus was a Gentile believer from Ephesus who had previously accompanied Paul on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4; 21:29).

Some of my favourite words in the Bible were uttered at Miletus in Acts 20:35, “I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”