Originally famed for its philosophers of nature, Miletus became one of the great cities of commerce of the ancient world. Its four harbors and strategic location on the west coast of Asia Minor gave the city unique advantages as a vital port in both peace and war. Yet these factors also were the cause of repeated periods of invasion and destruction. Eventually Miletus ceased to be a major player in world affairs, not because of the fortunes of war, but because of the slower but deadlier effects of the gentle Meander River, which silted its harbors and created malaria-ridden marshes. Miletus is easily reached from Izmir by taking E87 south to Selçuk, then proceeding on highway 525 through Söke to Akköy, then north through Balat to the site of Miletus. Today it is difficult to imagine that Miletus once was situated on a narrow peninsula and boasted of four harbors, three on the west and one on the east. Due to the continual silting effects of the Meander River, the ruins of Miletus now are situated in a broad plain some 5 miles from the sea. The island of Lade, where the Persian armada burned and destroyed the Ionian fleet in 494 B.C.E., was once to the west of the coast of Miletus. Now it is merely a hill 4 miles west of Miletus. A Mycenaean colony that had cultural contacts with Crete and Greece existed in this location from 1400 B.C.E. Greeks settled in the area by at least the 10th century B.C.E. The city prospered and grew wealthy from its colonies on the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and even in Egypt. It was one of the first cities in the ancient world to mint coins. Soon Miletus became the most important of the twelve cities of the region of Ionia. The city came under Persian control in 546 B.C.E. and later opposed them in the Battle of Lade, but the result was the loss of their fleet and the complete destruction of their city in 494 B.C.E. Herodotus, in fact, said that Miletus was reduced to slavery. Subsequently, Ephesus surpassed Miletus as the first city of the region.
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