“It is marvellous expanding one’s comprehension like this – it gives one’s ‘historical imagination’ real strong meat to crunch. Pompeii may be more perfectly preserved – but that is a shoddy watering place of the first century A.D. – while the place I am in now was the chief mart of the world for a century: here one is at the centre of things (even if there are boats to Mykonos only twice a week).”
The tiny Cycladic island was the meeting place of the Delian League, the Athens-dominated union against Persia, 478-404.
But the century to which Toynbee is referring must be from 166 BC, when the Romans made Delos into a free port in order to punish Rhodes, to 69, when it was sacked by pirates. Delos is now almost uninhabited, but then supported a population of 30,000: Greeks, Italians, Phoenicians, Syrians, Egyptians, Palestinians, Jews and Persians who came to trade without risk to life or property.
Letter to his mother, December 6 1911, quoted in McNeill