Use of analytics in the ancient era: The Oracle of Delphi (hypothetical case study) - My Datafication

26 October, 2016

Use of analytics in the ancient era: The Oracle of Delphi (hypothetical case study)

Temple of Apollo at Delphi
During a short trip to Delphi recently, I had the opportunity to visit its well-known archaeological site, the ancient Oracle of Delphi. According to history, the pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Delphi, was the site of the omphalos, i.e. the center of the world. People from all over the known world traveled there in order to get advice from the oracle of Apollo (the god of prophecy) for a variety of issues, e.g. personal, war advice, family. In return, people expressed their gratitude via money and great gifts such as olive oil, animals for sacrifice and gold, as well as spreading the fame around the world.

From a macroeconomic point of view, the sanctuary of Apollo could be compared to a non-governmental organization (NGO) which provided social services, operating with donations. Alternatively, we could compare it with a profitable business, which offered prophecy services for a standard price (i.e. people had to pay at least a specific amount of money to get a prophecy from Pythia). In any of the two cases, the sanctuary could improve its operations using analytics in order to understand its "customers" (people looking for counseling) and their needs. 

If we look more carefully to the services provided, we observe that people who visited the sanctuary looked for advice for many sensitive issues. For example, they might ask Apollo whether they should start a war or not, whether they should proceed with a marriage to a specific person and so on. Even if the Pythia's responses were always vague and ambiguous, the questions could predict many future social-political events.

More specifically, the sanctuary of Delphi could collect the following data:
- Name of the questioner
- City of origin
- City representative or Individual (boolean value)
- Type of question (e.g. political, marriage, children)
- Question (text field)
- List of gifts
- Amount of money donated
- Date of visit
- Hour of visit

We assume that the answers were not collected, since according to historical references no Pythia's answers have been found. Using these data, ancient "analysts" would be able to answer questions (in order to improve the sanctuary's processes such as:
- Which months or parts of the day attract the highest number of visitors?
- Which is the level of wealth across different cities? Do nearby cities have the same level of income?
- Which are the main issues that concern the citizens / individuals? Family, children, love, wealth? 
- Which factors affect the value of gifts? What is the correlation of gifts with specific geographical areas? Or with months of the year?
- Do specific issues bring more money to the sanctuary?
- Can we identify any trending topics across the years?

On the other hand, the same data could be used to collect knowledge for the cities' ambitions and their future plans, so as the sanctuary to increase its geo-political influence. Interesting questions to be answered would be:
- Which are the main ambitions of the cities? War, expansion, conquests, etc.?
- Predict which cities will be participating in a war in the following years. 
- Predict which cities will be asking for loans so as to cover their war expenses.

In order to answer the above-mentioned questions, analysts could conduct text analytics on the questions, regression analysis to predict the value of gifts, clustering analysis on the questioners' characteristics so as to identify the main citizens' profiles and so on. Of course, even some descriptive statistics on the available data would answer plenty of the questions. 

All in all, according to this hypothetical case study we conclude that any business, organization or individual could gain knowledge, value and further insights from the available dataset. The benefits of such analysis could be cost reduction (e.g. hire more servants only for the periods with the highest demand), better decision making (e.g. decide which cities should be approved a loan should the sanctuary provide loan services), new products and services (the sanctuary of Delphi offered only prophecy services, but in any other case such knowledge could lead to new services).

If you liked the post, read also "What is Datafication" to learn about the origin of the term and what inspired me to use it for my blog! Don't forget to like "My Datafication" on Facebook  to stay up-to-date with the latest posts! 

Disclaimer:  This case study is hypothetical and does not stand on any historical facts, except for personal assumptions.
Representation of the ancient sanctuary of Delphi (Delphi Archaeological Museum)

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