glyph 410: freezone, freeport . Mediterranean Sea trade ... history of the emergence of freeorder . refuges ... early cosmopolitan regions . Greeks, Italians, Phoenicians, Syrians, Egyptians, Palestinians, Jews, Persians... ... Delian league ... Greece, Macedonia, Egypt, Persia, Rhodes, Rome ... World Economic Processing Zones Association (WEPZA) ... Robert (Bob) Haywood, Richard Bolan
First published in the World Export Processing Zones Association Newsletter, March 2003
"One of the earliest documented cases of a free zone was in the Island of Delos in the Mediterranean Sea. In order to punish the commercial center of Rhodes for not aiding it in its war with Perseus, successor to the throne of Philip V of Macedonia, the Romans declared the nearby island of Delos a freeport in 166 B.C. The strategy appears to have worked, for the harbor revenues of Rhodes, which were 2% of cargo value, fell from 1 million Rhodian Drachmas to just 150,000 within a few years. Rhodes was forced to sign a disastrous treaty with Rome requiring it to have the same enemies and allies as Rome. Delos was also aided by the destruction of Greek Corinth in 146 B.C. Corinthian merchants, who were able to escape the slaughter of every Corinthian male, and enslavement of the women and children, were given refuge in Delos."
In researching the history of Delos it became clear that the island was not only a commercial free zone, but also a rather open society. Delos is only 5 sq km, but supported a population of nearly 30,000. Greeks, Italians, Phoenicians, Syrians, Egyptians, Palestinians, Jews and Persians came together to trade in Delos without risk to there life or property. Among the ruins are temples to the Gods of it diverse residents. The remains of one of the oldest (some say oldest, others say oldest outside of Palestine) Jewish Synagogue are among the ruins.
That is not to say that Delos had an enlightened human rights policy. There are records that say Delos was a major source of slaves, particularly Greek slaves, for Rome. There are records that indicate than 10,000 slaves were sold in a single day. (However, 10,000 was also used as a symbolic number to indicate very many, so the exact numbers are in fact uncertain.) The slaves were apparently brought to Delos by "pirates" who raided villages throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. The Freeport status of Delos apparently protected the pirates from sanction while selling their human and non-human booty.
Prior to becoming a free zone Delos was said to be the birthplace of the Greek gods Apollo and Artemis, and had religious significance. The oracle at Delos was second only to the one at Delphi. The island was purified, it was forbidden to be born or die on the island, and a all the old tombs were dug up and moved to a nearby island. Elaborate religious festivals, which had drawn participants from throughout the Greek world, were transformed into trade fairs after Delos became a free zone. Delos had also been used by Athens as the treasury for the Delian League (478-454 BC), which was an alliance of Greek states against the threat of Persian invasion. The treasury was subsequently relocated to Athens and partially misappropriated for rebuilding the city. One feature that made Delos attractive for a treasury and trade sanctuary was that the Greeks believed it was divinely protected from earthquakes.
Whether Delos was the primary reason for Rhodes collapse can be debated. In 226 B.C. an earthquake struck Rhodes and toppled the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Ptolemaic Egypt offered to fund the repair of the statue, but the Oracle of Delphi implied that the city had offended the god Helios in erecting the glittering 30 m (100 ft) tall bronze statue and let it stay on the ground. Rhodes had been in gradual decline since then. It is also claimed by some that the tariff in Rhodes, which was 2% ad valorum, was used to control pirates in the Eastern Mediterranean, an activity they could no longer afford after the establishment of Delos. It is further asserted that the increase in piracy resulted in the rise to power of Pompeii and thus, eventually, to the end of the Roman Republic. This connection seems highly speculative. It is more likely that local control by Carthage, Ptolemaic Egypt, Seleucid Syria and even Macedonian Greece had a much greater impact in controlling pirates than the relatively small Rhodes navy. These powers were all weakened or defeated by wars with Rome over the same period of time. It was in this chaos that the pirates flourished. Rome had become the sole Mediterranean superpower and the allure of empire was more likely what moved Rome to commission Pompeii to defeat the pirate states.
Delos was sacked in 89 B.C., rebuilt, but almost totally destroyed in 66 B.C. By the fourth century A.D. the island was offered for sale but found no buyers, and was deserted by the seventh century. Over the centuries many of the magnificent temples were torn down and carted off as building materials for other cities and empires. The Ottoman Empire was particularly active in turning the marble block into dust for reuse as marble cement and in recycling the bronze fasteners found in the ruins.
Delos is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
This note was contributed by Robert Haywood, World Export Processing Zones Association
October 25, 2007