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Last Updated on 11 Jul 2019

Author: Andreas Victor Walser

CAPInv. 1047: Molpoi


i. Geographical area Western Asia Minor
ii. Region Ionia
iii. Site Miletus


i. Full name (original language) Μολποί (Milet I.3 133)
ii. Full name (transliterated) Molpoi


i. Date(s) l. vi BC - l. i AD


ii. Name elements
Cultic:The name Μολποί, Molpoi, is derived from μολπή, molpe, "song, dance" and describes the members of the association as (cultic) dancers and singers. Cf. Herda 2006: 80.


i. Source(s) Milet I.3 133
Milet I.3 134
Note For other editions of the texts see the bibliographies in Milet VI.1 133; 134.
Herda 2006 reedited and commented extensively Milet I.3 133.
i.a. Source type(s) Epigraphic source(s)
i.b. Document(s) typology & language/script Milet I.3 133, the famous Molpoi-statute, is a sacred law with regulations for different aspects of the cult of Apollon Delphinios. It was inscribed in the Hellenistic period, probably the early 2nd century, but the regulations go back to the late Archaic and early Classical period.
Milet I.3 134 is a decree of the Milesians from the late first c. AD with new regulations concerning inter alia the Molpoi.
Milet I.3 122-128 are the lists of the Milesian aisymnetai/stephanephoroi, reaching – with gaps – from the early 5th c. BC to the 1st c. AD.

Aisymnetai/stephanephoroi are mentioned in many other inscriptions from Miletus and Didyma.

i.c. Physical format(s) Milet I.3 133: Blueish marble stele.
Milet I3.134: White marble stele.
ii. Source(s) provenance Milet I.3 133: Delphinion, reused in the pavement.
Milet 1.3 134: Delphinion


ii. References to buildings/objects The sacred law Milet I.3, 133 mentions several times a Mολπόν, Molpon (ll. 12, 17, 20, 43). According to some commentators, this Molpon is the clubhouse of the Molpoi and probably identical with the Milesian prytaneion (Herda 2006: index s.v.). This interpretation, however, is controversial, and the Molpon is probably better understood as the designation of the ritual performed by the Molpoi (Chaniotis 2010).


ii. Leadership αἰσυμνήτης, aisymnetes

The aisymnetes, also called στεφανήφορος, stephanephoros, is the chairman of the cult association and also the eponymous magistrate of the polis. He held his office for a year.

The duties and privileges of the aisymnetes during the festival of Apollon Delphinios are described in detail in the Molopoi-statute.

According to Milet I.3 134 from late i. c. AD, the stephanephoros was obliged to offer banquets to the Molpoi.
Eponymous office The αἰσυμνήτης, aisymnetes, or στεφανήφορος, stephanephoros, is the eponymous official of Miletus.
iv. Officials προσέταιροι, prosetairoi

Together with the aisymnetes, the Molpoi-statute mentions five prosetairoi, "companions", as leaders of the association. They belong to three of the six ancient phylai of Miletus. As Herda 2006: 31-34 plausibly suggests, three of the six phylai designated two representatives (one for each chilastys). One acted as aisymnetes, the others as his prosetairoi. After half a year or rather a year, member of the other three phylai took charge of the offices.

According to Herda 2006, the aisymnetes and the prosetairoi were the Milesian prytaneis, but there is in fact little evidence for this view (Chaniotis 2010).
v. Other staff The Molpoi-statute also mentions a ἱέρ‹ε›ως, hier‹e›os. His status within the association is not clear.

A group called the Onitadai, which probably formed their own association (cf. CAPInv. 1046) – rather than being a subgroup of the Molpoi –, supported the Molpoi in the cultic activities.
vi. Laws and rules The Molpoi-statute documents a complex set of regulations for the rites (ὀργία, orgia) and festival celebrations of Apollon Delphinion. The statute goes back to late Archaic times but additions were made in the first half of the fifth century. The regulations must still have been valid in the 2nd c. BC, when the Molpoi decided to inscribe them.

In the late first century AD, a decree not by the Molpoi, but by the Milesian people confirmed at least partially the ancient duties and privileges of the Molpoi.


i. Treasury/Funds It is obvious from the Molpoi-statute that the association administered substantial resources. They received them, at least partially, from the polis, but sacrifices in the Delphinion were probably also a source of income.
iii. Income cf. above i. Treasury/funds.


ii. Gender Men
Note The Molpoi seemed to have been predominantly male. As aisymnetai, however, acted also several women, at least in the Roman period.
iv. Status In the Archaic period, the members of the Molpoi probably constituted the ruling oligarchy of Miletus. They lost most of their political power after the Persian wars, but membership always seemed to have retained highest reputation. This is proven by the fact that leading figures from Alexander the Great and Demetrios Poliorketes to the emperor Augustus acted as aisymnetes/stephanephoros.


i. Assemblies The Molpoi themselves decided (in the 5th c. BC) to enact the regulations in the Molpoi-statute. In the early 2nd c. BC they decided again themselves, without visible involvement of the people and most probably in their own assembly, to set up the Molpoi-statute in the early 2nd c. BC as an inscription in the Delphinion.
iii. Worship The Molpoi were, first of all, worshipers of Apollon Delphininos. On certain occassions, however, they worshipped other gods as well (Hestia, Hekate, Hermes, the nymphai, heroes, the θεοὶ ἐντεμένοι, theoi entemenoi, of the Delphinion).

The Molpoi played the central role in the festivities regulated in detail by the Molpoi-statute. They were also the most important actors in the yearly procession to Didyma, the most important public festival of Miletus.
Deities worshipped Apollon Delphinios
iv. Honours/Other activities According to documents dating ca. 200 BC (Milet I.3 143 l. 32; 146 l. 42; 150 l. 66), the Molpoi seem to have acted as a court (maybe only for preliminary proceedings) in litigations about the civic status.


i. Comments Almost all information we have about the Molpoi is derived from the so-called Molpoi-statute (Milet I.3 133). The interpretation of this document is difficult and controversial. By far the largest part of this text is concerned with rituals of the festival of Apollon which started on the 7th day of the month and continued to the 10th.

According to Herda's extensive re-interpretation of the text (Herda 2006; 2011), this celebration was the Milesian New Year festival in which the inauguration of the new aisymnetes and prosetairoi took a central place. Chaniotis 2010, however, identified critical flaws in Herda's interpretation of the text, which make his overall interpretation de facto untenable. With that, however, many central questions remain, again, open. Older interpretations of the text, which left many problems unsolved as well, are summarized in Poland 1935.

The exact nature of the Molpoi as an organization is still not clear. While they show features of a private cult association – ὀργίονες, orgiones, according to Herda 2006: 35-37 – they also play a central role in the Milesian polis and seem to be rather a public board of the state than a private association.

iii. Bibliography Chaniotis, A. (2010), 'The Molpoi Inscription: Ritual Prescription or Riddle?', Kernos 23, 2010, 375-9.
Herda, A.(2006), Der Apollon-Delphinios-Kult in Milet und die Neujahrsprozession nach Didyma (Milesische Forschungen 4). Mainz.
Herda, A. (2011), 'How to Run a State Cult. The Organization of the Cult of Apollo Delphinios in Miletos', in M. Haysom and J. Wallensten (eds.), Current Apporoaches to Religion in Ancient Greece. Stockholm: 57-93.
Poland, F. (1935), Μολποί, RE Suppl. VI: 509-520.


i. Private association Possible
Note The exact nature of the Molpoi as an organization is still not clear. While they show features of a private
cult association – ὀργίονες, orgiones, according to Herda 2006: 35-37 – they also play a central role in
the Milesian polis and seem to be rather a public board of the state than a private association.