Delphi, lying in the foothills of Mount Parnassus, was the most famous oracle of ancient Greece and, for many centuries, was its spiritual and religious center.
The history of Delphi has been lost in prehistory and mythology. From the 8th century BCE, when the worship of Apollo was at its peak, the sanctuary of Delphi acquired an important role in the ancient Greek world, while its influence expanded by stages to a large portion of the Eastern Mediterranean. It reached its zenith between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. No one doubted the credibility of its oracles, uttered by the priestess of the oracle, Pythia. Before giving her oracles, Pythia cleansed herself, imbibed water from the Castalian spring, chewed on bay leaves and sat on a tripod, as fumes arose from the burning of various psychotropic herbs. Pythia would enter an ecstatic trance and made incoherent utterances, which the priests of Apollo would translate into oracular verse and whose meaning was almost always ambiguous. Cities, leaders and ordinary people consulted with the god and gave rich offerings to the oracle. Delphi maintained its important position until the end of the 4th century CE, at which point the oracular rites were terminated by decree of the Byzantine emperor Theodosius the First.