Delphi was the site of the most popular sanctuary in ancient Greece, located on the slopes of mount Parnassus. Originally the oracle at Delphi was a sanctuary to the deity called the Python. In time it became the chief centre for Apollo.
The oracle at Delphi was regarded as the omphalos, the great mystical navel of the world, marked by carved circular stones.
The oracle was presided over by a priestess known as the Pythia, who for a fee foretold the future while in a state of ecstasy, believed to be induced by Apollo, possibly aided with the ingestion of psychoactive drugs. This priestess remained chaste throughout her lifetime of service.
Delphi was also linked to the cult of Dionyius, which featured ritual purification known as katharsis. The famous Pythian Games helped to promote social unity among a somewhat divided population always at risk of conflict. The entire cult was shut down by the Christian Theodosius in 390 CE, although it was endorsed by the Christian Emperor Constantine and his sons Constantine II and Constans shortly before that time.
Delphi was still honored even by Christian emperors into the fourth century ce, as is revealed by a series of dedications in the names of Constantine and his sons Constantine II and Constans from 317 to c.338 ce , which describe Delphi as “the sacred city.” The oracle appears to have ceased to function by the end of the fourth century, when the site was abandoned.¹
¹ Hugh Bowden , John R. Hale “Delphi” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Ed. Michael Gagarin. © Oxford University Press 2010. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press. Toronto Public Library. 4 July 2012 http://www.oxford-greecerome.com/entry?entry=t294.e355-s1
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