#Aphrodisias is a remarkably preserved Roman-period city in ancient Caria, SW Turkey, which was famous in antiquity for its sanctuary of Aphrodite and its marble sculptors. Known to tourists and travellers since the 18th century, it has been the subject of scientific exploration since the early 20th century. New York University has conducted extensive excavations since 1961 under the aegis of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and since 1995 with the collaboration of Oxford University. The archaeological site of Aphrodisias was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List at the 41st World Heritage Committee session held in Krakow on July 9, 2017.
The Importance of Aphrodisias Excavations
The excavated monuments of Aphrodisias and their associated sculptures and inscribed texts document the social history and visual culture of an ancient city in unusual detail. Aphrodisias sheds valuable light on larger issues such as the interaction between Greek and Roman identity, the functioning of empire, religious conflict and accommodation, and the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages. It makes a major difference to our understanding of the ancient world.
The site has been known to European travellers since the 18th century, when several expeditions came to record the wealth of inscriptions built into the city walls. First and most important was William Sherard in 1705. The city and its monuments were drawn by an expedition sponsored by the London-based Society of Dilettanti in 1812 and published in Antiquities of Ionia III (1840). A French expedition of C.-F. M. Texier came in 1835, recorded some of the main monuments, and published them in volume III of Texier’s Description de l'Asie Mineure faite par ordre du Gouvernement Français, de 1833 à 1837 (Paris, 1839-49). A French team directed by Paul Gaudin and Gustave Mendel excavated at the site in 1904 and 1905 in the temple of Aphrodite and especially in the Hadrianic Baths, where a number of well-preserved portrait statues were found. The finds from 1904 were removed and sold in Izmir and in Europe. The finds from Mendel’s campaign in 1905 were brought to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum under the leadership of Osman Hamdi Bey. Another French team came again for one campaign in 1913 under André Boulanger but it was interrupted by the convulsion of World War I. An Italian expedition directed by G. Jacopi came for one campaign in 1937 and excavated the Portico of Tiberius in the Place of Palms (formerly known as the South Agora) with its important series of mask and garland friezes.
The first systematic and continuous excavations at the site were begun in 1961 under the aegis of New York University, and were directed by the late Kenan Erim until his death in 1990. These excavations concentrated on the city’s central monuments, with spectacular results. Major areas of excavation included: the Temple of Aphrodite, the Theatre, the Place of Palms, the Council House, the Basilica, and the Sebasteion. The most important finds from these excavations are on display in the Aphrodisias Museum, built on the site in 1979.
Prof. R.R.R. Smith and the Current Project
Since the death of Professor Erim in 1990, the project has been based at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and directed by R.R.R. Smith, and since 1995 in collaboration with Oxford University with the invaluable permission of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the General Directorate of Monuments and Museums. The current project led by R.R.R. Smith, Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art at the University of Oxford, focuses on documentation and conservation of previously excavated monuments, on targeted new excavations, and on scientific research and publication.
In the current project initiated in 1991, firstly the inventories were taken of all contents of the excavation depots, new depots were built both for the excavation house and the museum. A geophysical survey of the whole site was carried out in line with small soundings to understand the urban settlement. This work showed that the Late Hellenistic city grid continued to be used in later periods. Excavation, conservation, restoration and publication work continue to the present day without interruption. The project is also concerned with exhibiting the finds. A new museum hall (Sevgi Gönül Salonu) for the sculptures of the Sebasteion was built as an annex to the Aphrodisias Museum and was inaugurated in 2008.
As of 2021, six major projects are in process: (1) Excavation, restoration and publication of the Tetrapylon Street and making it accessible to the public, (2) The partial anastylosis of the Civil Basilica and making it accessible to the public, (3) The conservation of the Hadrianic Baths, (4) The conservation, restoration and publication of the pool in the Place of Palms and making it accessible to the public, (5) The partial anastylosis of the Sebasteion Temple, (6) The construction of two new exhibition halls in the Aphrodisias Museum.
Aphrodisias was a free and autonomous city within the Roman province of Asia. It was best known for the sanctuary of its patron goddess, Aphrodite, and for its marble sculptors. The community prospered under the early and middle Roman empire (first-second centuries AD), when it built the complete set of marble buildings that made the town a proper city in ancient eyes. In the later third century, Aphrodisias was chosen to be the capital, the metropolis, of a new Roman province of Caria, and was able in the late antique period (fourth-sixth centuries) to maintain its classical life and fabric until the widespread urban collapse of the seventh century.
The Aphrodisians were fortunate in their history: they created a spectacular marble city and an astonishing abundance of high-quality marble sculpture and statuary to decorate it. The settlement was fortunate too in its relative isolation from the main through-roads of medieval and modern Anatolia: it is due to this circumstance that the city and its sculpture are uniquely well preserved. Aphrodisias is the best place to study the distinctive marble culture of the Roman period in Asia.
Aphrodisias was, in ancient terms, a medium-sized town (72 hectares, with a population of maybe 10,000 inhabitants), but one with a metropolitan grandeur of architectural design. Its monuments and marble sculpture define a distinctive period of ancient city life. After the international political turmoil in the Mediterranean (the Roman Revolution) of the first century BC, the city’s engagements with outside events were few. We have an archaeological and epigraphic history of a thriving local community, whose inscriptions, statues, and buildings were their history. In this period, civic benefaction and honorific rewards (statues, tombs) were the stuff of local politics.
Pre-History (c. 4500 BC – 2nd century BC)
The site has a long prehistory. The earliest intensive occupation dates to the Late Chalcolithic and early Bronze Ages (mid-fifth to third millennium BC). In this period, a small agricultural settlement was established on two low mounds (the Pekmez hill and the Theatre hill). These mounds were then continually occupied until the modern period. Excavations carried out here in the late 1960s and early 1970s found a sequence of occupation levels and remains of small mudbrick houses and burials in large jars (pithoi). The Early Bronze Age pottery (third millennium BC) is especially important: it fills a significant gap in our knowledge of southwest Anatolia in this period, and attests to contact both with the Aegean coast and with sites further to the east, such as Beycesultan. Other finds of interest include a number of marble goddess-figurines, made from the same local stone that would supply the Aphrodisian sculpture workshops in later periods.
From the end of the Bronze Age (c. 1200 BC) until the founding of the city (early second century BC), pottery finds show that a small settlement continued to exist at the site, centred on the Theatre hill. Abundant archaic Lydian and Carian pottery of the later seventh and sixth centuries was found here. The earliest archaeological evidence in the sanctuary of Aphrodite (or whatever the local goddess of the site was called before she became known as Aphrodite, in the later Hellenistic period) also dates to the sixth century BC. Fragments of large marble lions, seated terracotta goddess figurines, and fine imported pottery are probably from votive offerings. Interaction with Lydia is attested by two inscriptions of the fourth century BC in the Lydian language and perhaps by prominent burial tumuli in the environs. The earliest architectural remains in the sanctuary of Aphrodite, under the temple, are later, of the third century BC.
Hellenistic & Augustan periods (2nd century BC – 14 AD)
Aphrodisias was founded as a Greek city-state in the early second century BC, in the wake of the intensive urbanization of the Meander valley region promoted by the Seleucid kings based in Hellenistic Syria. Unlike nearby Antioch on the Meander, however, Aphrodisias was not a royal colony. It probably owed its existence instead to the initiative of leading local landowners, who wanted the perceived benefits of city-status. As an important local source of communal identity, the pre-existing sanctuary of Aphrodite was an obvious choice for the site of the new town.
In the first century, Aphrodisias appears a few times on the stage of ‘international’ history, already as a loyal friend to Rome. In 88 BC the city sent help to a Roman commander besieged in nearby Laodikeia by Mithradates VI of Pontos. The Roman general Cornelius Sulla sent a gold crown and an axe with a dedication to Aphrodite. Julius Caesar also made an expensive offering to Aphrodite, a golden statue of Eros, perhaps when he was campaigning in Asia Minor in 47 BC. As Sulla before him, Caesar was exploiting a perceived connection between the Aphrodisian Aphrodite and the Roman Venus-Aphrodite, mother of Trojan Aineias and foremother of the Julian family. In 41/40 BC, the city fiercely resisted the invasion of Labienus, a renegade Roman commander backed by Parthia, and was rewarded for its outstanding loyalty in 39 BC by the Roman Senate with privileges that were the basis of the city’s future prosperity: autonomy (‘freedom’) within the Roman province of Asia; exemption from all taxes paid to Rome; and asylum rights for its sanctuary (eleutheria, ateleia, asylia).
In 39 BC we first meet a remarkable Aphrodisian, C. Julius Zoilos, a former slave of Octavian-Augustus who was probably instrumental in securing the coveted privileges and who was sent back to his home city to run things there. He was clearly the most powerful figure in town through the 30s and into the 20s BC. The earliest large marble buildings at Aphrodisias belong to this time and were his work. He built the Theatre’s marble stage building, the north stoa of the Agora, and the first marble temple of Aphrodite. And he received at least two honorific statues. It was with Zoilos that Aphrodisias began its urgent programme of public building, to bring a small polis community focused on its famous temple up to speed, to give the city a proper urban profile. The only other surviving dated monument of this period is, significantly, the great frieze from Zoilos’ own tomb monument.
Early Imperial period (first century AD)
The city enjoyed privileged relations with the Julio-Claudian family and pursued a massive programme of urban building on the Hellenistic city plan. After the period of Zoilos, epigraphy records the prominence and activity of aristocratic local families, some with the Roman citizenship and names, such as Tiberius Claudius Diogenes. Under the emperor Tiberius, in AD 22, representatives of the city participated in the great review of temple asylum rights in Asia before the senate in Rome (Tacitus, Annals 3.62). They successfully defended their city’s privilege.
During the first century AD, the buildings begun by Zoilos were completed and expanded, and a number of new projects were inaugurated. For the assembly and festivals, the Theatre auditorium was rebuilt in marble, and the vast Stadium was constructed on the northern edge of town. The area between the Agora and the Theatre was developed as a secondary public square (Place of Palms, formerly known as the South Agora). The city goddess also received a new Roman-style Corinthian temple, the Sebasteion, for the combined worship of Aphrodite and the Roman emperors. The Sebasteion, built c. AD 20-60, is a defining monument of the period. Its reliefs feature successive emperors over two generatons -- Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Nero -- and was a concrete representation of the city's special relationship with the ruling Julio-Claudian family.
Work soon began on another huge monumental building, the Civil Basilica, which opens off the Place of Palms at its south-west corner. It is clear from technical features and details of architectural design that the building crews of the Sebasteion were re-formed for, or simply moved to, the Basilica project. When completed in the later first century AD, it was dedicated to the Flavian emperor(s), the new imperial dynasty at Rome.
Not all cities had such buildings and few had them built of marble and with such obvious architectural ‘design’ and scale. The Stadium, for example, accommodated 30,000 spectators to watch athletic contests associated with major religious festivals, far more than the population of Aphrodisias. It was a bold speculative investment, designed to enhance the prestige of the city and to attract visitors who would spend money during the festivals.
High Imperial period (AD 100-300)
Major construction continued in the city in the second century AD. This was the period of the most intense competitive building in the cities of Roman Asia. The Hellenistic-style colonnaded townscape was equipped now with grand, more Roman-style monuments. In the religious sector, the entrance to the outer Sanctuary of Aphrodite was marked by the Tetrapylon, and the Temple itself was encased in a close-fitting colonnaded court or temenos. At the same time, the west end of the Place of Palms was redesigned with a new stoa, behind which rose a massive bathing facility, the Hadrianic Baths. And in the mid-second century, the two-storeyed display facade called the East Gate (formerly known as the Agora Gate) was built to close the east end of the Place of Palms. In the later second century, the elaborate, roofed Bouleuterion or Council House was built on the axis of the North Agora, and another set of baths was constructed, southeast of the Theatre (Theatre Baths).
Grand marble building at Aphrodisias continued without interruption through the middle and later second century. This was the period of the Antonine emperors at Rome and of the greatest economic prosperity in the provinces. The public culture of benefaction and honours, of settled festival calendars, and of conspicuous marble building were at their height.
By c. AD 200 the city centre was fully built-up in monumental marble style, and there was little new construction in the third century. The inscriptions record vigorous, even intensified operation of the honorific process, now focused on the calendar of festivals and competitions. The first half of the third century was, according to the epigraphic record, a great age of new festival foundations and of honorific activity.
A powerful local impact was also felt in the third century from the empire-wide extension by the emperor Caracalla in AD 212 of Roman citizenship to all freeborn inhabitants of the empire who did not already have it (the Constitutio Antoniniana). The use of the emperor's nomen Aurelius by the new citizens was widespread and shows that a large body of civic epigraphy and activity belongs to this period, the early and middle third century. Most notable is a sudden surge in the early third century in the production and use of marble sarcophagi: the new citizens enfranchised by Caracalla’s Edict seem to have been keen to participate in the elevating civic life represented by carved marble.
Late Antiquity (AD 300-600)
The flourishing city of the early and high empire had a long and prosperous second life in late antiquity, AD 300-600, from the reign of Constantine to that of Heraclius, until the urban collapse of the seventh century. This was a distinctive and different life, and archaeology and images can help us to grasp some of its essential features. Constantinople became the new capital of the eastern empire. There was a new style of Roman government, and Aphrodisias became part of it in c. AD 300 as, the metropolis or capital of the new province of Caria, and so the seat of a governor sent by the imperial administration. Christianity became the state religion, and traditional pagan polytheism in the city fought hard to preserve its ancient soul.
In large part due to its status as a provincial capital, Aphrodisias was able to maintain the basic fabric of a functioning classical-looking cityscape up to c. AD 600. There was enough built already. The emphasis was now on maintenance, adaptation, and remodelling for new functions. This could be more or less far-reaching, depending on the function. Many buildings were maintained, repaired after periodic earthquakes and kept as they were. The Tetrastoon in front of the Theatre, for example, was restored by a governor in c. AD 360. And the second-century Tetrapylon was taken down, restored, and put back up in c. AD 400 -- a major feat of engineering. The community's pride remained connected to the welfare of its monuments.
The only significant new building project after the mid-third century was the City Walls, constructed on the governor's initiative in the AD 350s. The walls were built, however, not with newly cut stone from the quarries, but from spolia, that is, re-used blocks taken from decommissioned buildings in the city and its cemeteries. The wall-building project was thus typical of late antique building in two respects: spolia construction, and the role of the governor.
Some buildings were adapted to new functions. After the decline of traditional athletics, the Stadium, for example, was turned into an amphitheatre in c. AD 400 by building a curved arena wall across its east end. The most highly charged and far-reaching adaptation of an old building, however, was the eventual conversion of the old Temple of Aphrodite into a Christian church (of St Michael) in the middle or later fifth century. The new power of the Christian authorities in the city (there was a bishop in residence from the fourth century) is seen too in the defacing in this period of offensive pagan cult images and images of sacrifice -- for example, in some of the reliefs of the Sebasteion.
Late antiquity was a period in which local notables spent more on their houses, and the domestic archaeology shows intensive architectural refurbishing and decoration in this period in several town houses, including the Atrium House, the North Temenos House, the Bishop's Palace, and House of Kybele (formerly known as the Water Channel House).
Byzantine, Beylik, Ottoman and the modern period (7th century AD – present)
Just like in other rural areas of Western Anatolia, the buildings and monuments of the city center was abandoned at the beginning of the seventh century AD. The roof tiles and wooden beams of the stoas were dismantled but the monumental marble architecture of the public buildings remained. In time, these monuments also started to collapse. The existing data does not explain this collapse by a natural disaster or attack. Instead, the collapse is related to the repeated Persian and Arab invasions and the unsuccessful policies of the imperial government in Costantinople in maintaining peace and dominance over the cities.
By AD 600, the classical lifestyle in Aphrodisias had ceased. Its new name Stauropolis was recorded for the first time in the Council of Constantinople in AD 680. In the Middle Byzantine Period (AD 843-1204) the city returned to its humble lifestyle similar to the pre-Roman period and once again became a small village on the Theater Hill, with its religious centre at the Cathedral of St. Michael (the former Temple of Aphrodite). The city came to be known simply as Karia from the eighth century onwards and in the ninth century, as a result of the Byzantine emperors’ attempts to revive classical cities, the population saw a certain increase – a fact that can be followed in the archaeology of the site. Until 1188 the city lived on as a small settlement focused on its cathedral with a resident bishop. In 1188 a nobleman from Philadelphia (modern day Manisa – Alaşehir) nobleman named Theodoros Mankaphas rebelled against the Byzantine empire during which he burnt down the cathedral of Stauropolis/Karia causing once again a great loss of population.
In 1197 the Seljuk Sultan Kaykhusraw I made an assault on the city and transferred 5000 Christians to Philomelium (Konya-Akşehir). This was followed by repeated conflicts in the region between the Byzantine and the Seljuk Empires until the third quarter of the thirteenth century. The Beylik of Menteşe conquered the Meander Valley in 1280-1282. This date is thus the beginning of the Beylik period in Karia (formerly Aphrodisias). A short time after this conquest, in 1308, the area was taken over by the Aydınoğulları Beylik. By 1356, the city had lost its title as a metropolitan see within the church hierarchy and started to be cited alongside other cities in official documents.
The earliest Ottoman attack on the city was carried out by Bayezid II in 1390 but it wasn’t until 1415-1416 that Mehmet I maintained full dominion over the area. According to archaeological data the city went through a period of relative prosperity and development in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. However, in the seventeenth century, when Izmir became the new main commercial center of the region, the trade routes in the Meander Valley lost their importance, and after this period the population went into major decline, never to be revived again, and in time the name Karia evolved into Geyre. The remaining small population of the village of Geyre slowly started abandoning the site in the 1950s and the few remaining families moved to new Geyre, founded just outside the ancient city walls. Today the villagers of modern Geyre contribute greatly to the excavation project.
Site & buildings
Aphrodisias was, in ancient terms, a medium-sized town (72 hectares, with a population of maybe 10,000 inhabitants), but one with a typically metropolitan grandeur of architectural design. Its monuments and marble sculpture define a distinctive period of ancient city life. After the international political turmoil in the Mediterranean (the Roman Revolution) of the first century BC, the city’s engagements with outside events were few. We have an archaeological and epigraphic history of a thriving local community, whose inscriptions, statues, and buildings were their history.
City grid, plan & streets
Aphrodisias was laid out on a new plan in the later Hellenistic period, within which later urban development was determined. An orthogonal grid of urban blocks was laid out over the entire site on a north-south orientation, and the major public buildings of the city centre, including the North Agora and Place of Palms, were designed to fit within this regular plan. Individual city blocks measured 35.5 x 39 m (= 120 x 132 Roman feet) and were separated by streets 3.5 m wide (= 12 Roman feet). Individual housing units seem to have been 60 x 60 Roman feet. The grid was laid around the sanctuary of Aphrodite and the Theatre (both of which have different orientations), and an area of six blocks between the sanctuary and the Theatre was reserved for the Agora. An earlier, unplanned settlement may have occupied the area east of the Agora. This would explain the diverging orientations of the Sebasteion and Atrium House.
The Sebasteion, excavated in 1979-81, was a grandiose temple complex dedicated to Aphrodite and the Julio-Claudian emperors. Its construction stretched over two generations, from c. AD 20 to 60, from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero. The complex was paid for by two prominent Aphrodisian families. It consisted of a Corinthian temple and a narrow processional avenue (90 x 14 m) flanked by two portico-like buildings, each three-storeyed (12 m high), with superimposed Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders. These North and South Buildings, which defined the processional avenue, carried marble reliefs in their upper two storeys for their whole length. The reliefs were framed by the columnar architecture so that the two facades looked like closed picture-walls. Some 200 reliefs were required for the whole project, and more than 80 were recovered in the excavation. They featured Roman emperors, Greek myths, and a series of personified ethne or 'nations' of Augustus' world empire, from the Ethiopians of eastern Africa to the Callaeci of western Spain. The Sebasteion reliefs are close to contemporary historical interest in the visual culture and city life of the Greek East under the Roman empire. A new museum hall displaying the Sebasteion reliefs was opened at the Aphrodisias Museum in 2008.
Finds: Sebasteion Reliefs
South Building reliefs: emperors and heroes
The South Building was sponsored by two brothers, Attalos and Diogenes, and their family. Some eighty per cent of its reliefs survive, and its programme can be followed in detail. The third storey juxtaposed figures of the traditional gods with figures of the early Roman emperors and scenes of their conquests (Claudius over Britannia, Nero over Armenia). The emperors are here shown as new, active members of the traditional Olympian pantheon. In the lower storey, there was a remarkable series of mythological scenes, featuring Greek and local heroes and their exploits (Herakles, Telephos, Bellerophon, Achilles, Aineias). The heroes, great benefactors of mankind, make clear points of comparison for the emperors above. Some of the reliefs also make closer connections between the local goddess Aphrodite, her son Aineias, and the Julian emperors in Rome. The sequence of the reliefs can be reconstructed from their find-places in the excavation.
The subjects of the reliefs in the third storey are Roman emperors, imperial victory, and the Olympian gods. The emperors are represented as powerful warrior divinities and are mixed with the old gods as near-equal partners. They are, as one of the building inscriptions calls them, Theoi Sebastoi Olympioi, or 'Olympian Emperor Gods'. World rule is secured by the pantheon of old and new divinities. The reliefs were arranged in groups of three: a wider relief flanked by two narrower ones, with the wider relief placed above the doorway into each of the 15 rooms behind the façade. The main early Roman emperors are present: Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero, with younger princes and imperial women. Their most important activity is victorious war over barbarians, and they are represented in Hellenistic heroic style.
North Building reliefs: peoples of empire
The North Building was built by two brothers, Eusebes and Menandros, and their family. Its third storey featured a series of universal allegories (Day, Ocean) mixed with imperial scenes (Nero with his mother Agrippina). This series is the least well-preserved of the complex. The second storey contained the long series of personified nations of the Augustan empire, each pictured as a statue between the columns of the architecture. An inscribed label named each figure -- for example, ethnous Dakōn, 'of the people of the Dacians'. The idea was a visual listing of Augustan world empire. The places and peoples were among those claimed as conquered or brought into the empire under Augustus. The selection emphasised wilder peoples on the edges of empire. Few in Aphrodisias can have heard of many of them. The idea, the list, and the images were probably borrowed directly from a monument in Rome.
The Tetrapylon Street ran north-south from the Tetrapylon to the Theatre, and was the main public thoroughfare on the east side of the city centre. Part of the street immediately south of the Tetrapylon was excavated in the 1980s and showed that there was also a desirable residential area adjoining the area to the east of the street. In the street colonnades and associated with rich apartments above were found a series of some twenty late antique figured pilaster capitals with putti engaged in various rustic activities.
The street paving and colonnade are late antique, of c. AD 400. The east colonnade was two-storeyed with new or re-used columns below between new brick and masonry piers. The upper storey was arcaded and some of its double half-columns and brick arches were found collapsed on or embedded in the street paving. The lower storey housed tiled retail spaces, while rich finds from the upper floors include further pilaster capitals, coloured wall mosaics, elaborate bronze door knobs, bronze vessels, intaglio gems, and abundant window glass.
A tall masonry structure stands on the western line of the street, and an inscribed statue base that belongs in its single central niche was found in front of it in 2013. The text honours one Myon Eusebes Philopatris, one of the builders of the Sebasteion, for his construction of ‘the first bathhouse for the Council of Elders’ (to balaneion to gerousion prōton). A high-quality himation statue of the same period (early-mid first century AD) was found nearby in 2011 and probably belongs on the base. The Gerousian Baths were probably located behind the niched structure and the wall to its south.
The street colonnade collapsed in a violent conflagration in the early seventh century (610-617), after which medieval life resumed on top of the partly-cleared collapse. Further to the south, between the niched building and the Sebasteion, a Byzantine glass factory was found with large quantities of late Roman cullet, and an Ottoman installation probably for cloth dyeing.
The Tetrapylon was the monumental columnar entrance to the sanctuary of Aphrodite. It has sixteen columns (4 x 4) supporting elaborate pediments on each side. A complete stone-for-stone reconstruction or anastylosis of the structure, using 85% original blocks, was completed in 1991. It is a richly ornamented prestige building in the style of the Antonine period (mid-later second century AD). One entered on the east side, from a major north-south street, and passed through the gate into a large open forecourt before the sanctuary proper. Looking back from the inside at the west façade of the gate, the visitor would see an even richer elaboration of the architecture that marked this as the interior. One moved through the gate from the public space of the street to the space of Aphrodite. The broken-recessed west pediment is decorated with high-quality relief work of Erotes hunting in acanthus foliage and with deeply carved architectural ornament in an encrusted imperial style that represented majesty and grandeur. A figure of Aphrodite framed in an acanthus calyx in the central lunette was erased in the Christian period and replaced with a crudely engraved cross.
Temple of Aphrodite and Church
What remains today of the Temple of Aphrodite is really the Church into which it was converted in late antiquity. Both the Temple and the Church were imposing monuments whose separate forms can be reconstructed in detail.
The sanctuary of Aphrodite was the heart of the community, and its central focus was a traditional Greek-style temple surrounded by columns and built entirely of marble. The temple was the house of the goddess and accommodated her cult statue. It was an Ionic temple and designed in the Hellenistic manner of the architect Hermogenes. In technical terms, it was pseudodipteral, octostyle, and pycnostyle. That is, the temple chamber (cella) was surrounded by a wide colonnade (pseudodipteral); it has an eight-column facade (octostyle); and its columns are set close together (pycnostyle). The long sides had thirteen columns. Its outside dimensions were 8.5 x 31 m.
The chronology of the temple is secured by inscriptions. The first phase, dated to the 30s BC by a dedication of C. Julius Zoilos inscribed on the door lintel, probably included the cella with a columned porch. Around this the outer columns were added during the first century AD, as recorded in individual donor inscriptions on the columns. In the second century AD, the temple was enclosed in an elaborate colonnaded court, framed by a two-storeyed columnar façade on the east side, and by porticos on the north, west, and south. Soundings beneath the temple have revealed archaic pottery and some early structures on a different orientation, including a large piece of early Hellenistic pebble mosaic, but nothing to demonstrate an archaic predecessor of the Roman temple.
Around c. AD 500, the temple was converted into a church. It was a thoughtful, thorough, and economic conversion, and it was a colossal undertaking. The temple was literally turned inside out and back to front. The lateral columns were left in position to form the nave, while the columns from the ends were moved to extend the length of the nave both east and west. The cella walls were dismantled and remounted outside the columns to form the handsome exterior walls of the church that are partly preserved today. The entrance was changed to the west and an apse built at the east end. Finally, the architecture of the surrounding colonnades of the sanctuary was re-used to make a narthex and forecourt. In this way, the Temple of Aphrodite was converted into the Cathedral of St. Michael, a church of basilical plan and one much larger than the columnar pagan temple it replaced (28 x 60 m). The manner in which this change was effected is unique among known temple-to-church conversions. The church remained in use until the Seljuk conquest of the region around Aphrodisias in c. AD 1200.
The Temple-Church is a superbly preserved monument that has been standing in its present state since the medieval period. It was destroyed by fire, and the burning of its massive roof timbers created an intense heat that badly fractured the columns of the nave on their inner faces but did not bring them down. Fourteen columns and large parts of the outer walls and the apse remain standing. Some architraves are still in position on top of the columns but shifted by earthquakes.
The Stadium was built in the later first century AD and with the Theatre completed the town's need for large-capacity spectator buildings. Unusually for a Greek stadium, it is closed at both ends. It measures c. 270 x 60 m, and has thirty tiers of marble seats intact. Its capacity was c. 30,000. The long sides are slightly elliptical - a practical refinement that improved the spectators' view. Spectators entered the stadium by monumental stairways on the south side, facing the town; these stairs aligned with north-south streets in the city grid. That is, the stadium was carefully planned as an integral part of the city. Competitors entered through tunnels under the seating on both short ends. The Aphrodisias stadium is the best preserved of all ancient Greek stadia and also one of the largest.
The Stadium accommodated traditional Greek athletic contests such as foot races, long-jumping, wrestling, discus, and javelin throwing. It was also used for gladiatorial combats and wild-beast fights that were part of the regular programme of festivals held in honour of the Roman emperors. In late antiquity, when the traditional Greek games and naked athletics had declined in importance, the east end of the building was turned into an amphitheatre and arena specifically designed for Roman-style entertainments of this kind. Recent investigation has shown that this conversion of the stadium into an amphitheatre was made in c. AD 400. The seating preserves a fascinating body of ‘place’ inscriptions carved on the marble seats, reserving space for various groups (such as the associations of tanners and goldsmiths) and for wealthy individuals (men and women) both from Aphrodisias and from nearby communities such as Antioch on the Meander. The spectators mapped out their social and political affiliations on the seats of this great public forum.
The Theatre was a central building and institution of the developed Greek city state. It was used for a wide range of dramatic and other kinds of entertainment, but it was also here that the demos, the people, met in assembly. The Aphrodisias theatre preserves its full twenty-seven tiers of seats below the walkway (diazōma) and a few rows of seats above it, as well as much of the stage architecture. It originally seated c. 7,000 persons.
The auditorium (cavea) was built against the prehistoric settlement hill (höyük) in the late Hellenistic period, and an elaborate three-storeyed marble stage building was added by Zoilos before 28 BC. The architecture of this new facade is notable for its light, playful aedicular design and for its high-quality and highly varied ornament. The dedication of the stage building, inscribed in large letters on the Doric architrave of the stage and again in the second storey, records that ‘the stage building (skēnē) and the stage in front (proskēnion), as well as all the ornaments on it (proskosmēmata)’ were paid for by Gaius Julius Zoilos, who is identified as a freed slave of Augustus, the first Roman emperor. A series of major statues was discovered fallen on the stage and in the orchestra. An Apollo, two Muses, portrait figures, and several Victories belonged to the stage building. Two statues of boxers stood on the ends of the retaining (analemma) walls for the auditorium.
In the first century AD, the auditorium seating was extended upwards on substructures and re-lined throughout with marble seating. On the north side, its great ashlar retaining wall continued to a much lower level, where it formed the back wall of part of the south stoa of the Place of Palms. There was direct access to the Theatre from the stoa below by a large vaulted stairway through the retaining wall to the cavea above. In the second century AD, the orchestra level in the Theatre was lowered to form a safe arena-pit for gladiatorial and animal shows. Finally in the seventh century, a massive wall of re-used material was built along the line of the back of the stage building, blocking the entrances. This wall continued around the whole Theatre hill and turned it into a well-defended fortification, an early Byzantine kastro.
Finds: Boxers statues
The marble-paved and colonnaded square in front of the Theatre, known as the Tetrastoon (Four Porticoes), was built in the first or second century AD, but its current form is due to a restoration in the AD 360s by a provincial governor called Antonius Tatianus. The east side of the square became at this time a place of honour for newly erected portrait statues of emperors and governors. Several were set up in the later fourth and fifth centuries. Two of these statues survive, one for Theodosius I or II and one for a governor called Flavius Palmatus.
Finds: Flavius Palmatus statue
Directly south of the Tetrastoon and southeast of the Theatre lies a large public bath, today called the Theatre Baths. As excavated, its principal components include (from west to east): a square caldarium (hot room) with a domed roof; a large vaulted hall, probably the frigidarium (cold room); and an all-purpose basilical hall. The architectural decoration of the basilical hall includes two richly carved piers, featuring putti hunting animals in a luxuriant and brilliantly carved acanthus scroll. These relief piers are typical of the best marble craftsmanship of the mid-second century AD.
A well-preserved hall located immediately south of the Theatre Baths was excavated in 1904 by Paul Gaudin who identified it (without good reason) as a gymnasium. It is most likely a fragment of a grand high-imperial town residence. The excavated parts include an apsidal hall or court facing north, flanked by grey monolithic columns on pedestal bases and carrying deluxe white marble composite capitals of the second century, and a narrower side aisle to the east with small apses at each end. Christian crosses were later engraved on the pedestal bases of the columns to either side of the apse of the main hall.
In 1904 Paul Gaudin located a building in the southeast quarter of the city from which he retrieved the three gigantomachy relief panels now in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums. Part of the building itself was excavated in 1989, and it was found to be a Corinthian tetrastyle facade, re-used in its present position, as a fountain fronting onto an east-west paved street. It was originally a temple facade that had been dismantled, moved, and re-erected in this position. The reliefs were also re-used from another context (as at the East Gate), and filled the spaces between the pedestals of the columns and formed the walls of the fountain's basin. The four pedestals are each formed from two column pedestals placed one on top of the other in a curious manner that confirms the late antique character of the arrangement.
The high imperial architecture of the facade is extremely well-preserved. Two of the great monolithic columns have been re-erected with their capitals, and the complete entablature and pediment has been reconstructed on the ground south of the trench for drawing and study. The pediment contains a small arched shell-head niche which originally contained a frontal relief bust, now deliberately chiseled off. The bust no doubt represented the divinity from whose temple (or propylon) this architecture originally came. In its new late antique position the building sat at a crossroads in the early city grid closing off and facing up the north-south street that runs south from the front of the Sebasteion temple.
Place of Palms
The Place of Palms was the city's second public square and lies back to back with the North Agora. It is a long colonnaded piazza (215 x 70 m), whose earliest part, the north stoa, was dedicated by a local aristocrat Diogenes to the emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37). The frieze of this colonnade was carved with a repeated motif of fruit garlands draped over a huge variety of masks.
The south side was defined at its east end by the great masonry retaining wall of the Theatre, some 20m high. Originally, the Theatre hill probably spread up to half way across the planned space and had to be cut back in a major feat of labour and engineering. This was a coordinated scheme, required both for the planned Theatre auditorium and for the Place of Palms piazza. The south side of the square at its west end was closed by the facade of the Civil Basilica (and much later by a portico in front of it). The short, west end of the square was defined by a new colonnade built in the early second century to make the transition to the Hadrianic Baths. Finally, the east end was closed in the mid-second century by the colossal columnar facade known as the East Gate. The surviving Ionic stoa on the south side was added in a major renovation of the whole complex in the sixth century AD.
Excavations in the 1980s revealed an extraordinary monumental water-basin (170 x 30m) in the centre of the square with a sophisticated system of water circulation within its double wall-casing. A hypothesis that the complex was not an agora at all but ‘the place of palms’ (…χώρῳ φυνικόεντι…) mentioned by a sixth-century benefactor in an inscription on the East Gate was tested by excavation with a generous grant by Mica Ertegun in 2012. The pool seems to have been flanked by palm trees and the whole complex was a kind of urban park familiar from similar complexes or porticus in early imperial Rome.
Finds: Mask and garland frieze blocks
The last great project in the Place of Palms was the East Gate (formerly known as the Agora Gate), a monumental columnar facade designed to close the urban scenography of this great public piazza.
The so-called East Gate was a colossal baroque facade which closed the east end of the Place of Palms. It was built in the mid-second century AD and consisted of an eight-bayed, two-storeyed columnar scaenae frons (stage front) framed by two pyrgoi (towers), beneath which ran two barrel-vaulted entrance tunnels. This façade accumulated a great display of portrait statuary representing Antonine emperors and local benefactors. A deep basin or nymphaeum was constructed in front of the façade in the fifth century AD from re-used material, including a remarkable series of balustrade reliefs with mythological subjects taken from an unknown second-century building.
In the later first century AD, major construction continued probably without a break. The extravagantly decorated Sebasteion was the main building project in the city in the mid-first century AD and had been finished in c. AD 60 in the reign of Nero. Work soon began on another huge monumental building, the Civil Basilica, which opens off the Place of Palms at its south-west corner. It is clear from details of technique and design that the building crews of the Sebasteion were re-formed for, or simply moved to, the Basilica project. When completed in the later first century AD, it was dedicated to the Flavian emperor(s), the new imperial dynasty at Rome.
The Civil Basilica was a long, three-aisled public hall (c. 145 x 30 m) that opened off the Place of Palms at its south-west corner. Its architectural decoration and a surviving part of its dedication suggest it was completed and dedicated in the late first century AD. The building was entered on its short end, which opened onto the Place of Palms. The entrance wall was an elaborate, engaged columnar façade closed by extensive marble panelling. It was on this panelling that Diocletian’s famous Edict of Maximum Prices and his Currency Edict were later inscribed, in Latin, in AD 301.
The interior was divided by two-storyed colonnades (of the Ionic and Corinthian orders) into two side aisles and a central, paved nave. The interior culminated in a grand south hall (c. 20 x 30 m and over 10 m high), like that of the basilica at Aspendos. The inside walls of this south chamber were articulated with elaborate columnar architecture. The upper storeys of the nave colonnades were fitted with sculptured reliefs that formed a balustrade. These reliefs feature a variety of decorative motifs as well as scenes of local mythology, including one of Ninos, a legendary founder of Aphrodisias.
The building was restored by a governor named Flavius Constantius in the mid-fourth century AD, when mosaics were laid in the side aisles. It may have been in connection with this restoration that two old and imposing statue monuments were moved here and set up at the north end of the building, facing down the nave. One was a colossal figure of a draped goddess, the other was an extraordinary horse monument made of blue-grey marble.
Finds: Blue Horse, Colossal Goddess
The Hadrianic Baths were the largest public bath building at Aphrodisias. They were built in the early second century AD and dedicated to the emperor Hadrian (AD 117-38). The baths took up two full city blocks on the west side of the Place of Palms, and connect directly with its west colonnade. They have two distinct parts: a series of barrel-vaulted bathing chambers and a great colonnaded forecourt with grand marble architecture. The vaulted chambers were built of massive limestone blocks covered with marble revetment; the floors and pools were lined with marble; and the hot rooms have floors raised on under-floor supports (hypocausts). The huge limestone walls have been standing since antiquity.
The baths were an important centre of public life designed for cultured relaxation. They were carefully maintained throughout antiquity and were still functioning as baths in the sixth century when they continued to attract wealthy sponsorship for re-modelling and re-decoration. The architectural decoration of the forecourt is on a huge scale and of the highest quality, and a striking quantity of the best figured sculpture from the site was found here, both portrait statues and mythological groups, such as the Achilles and Penthesileia. The complex was both a bathing facility and a museum of marble statues.
Finds: Achilles and Penthesileia
At the same time the construction of the colonnades framing the agora, the civic and commercial centre of the city, was begun. This was the first public construction on the new city grid of which we have clear evidence.
The Agora was the main civic square of the town and was one of the first components of the late Hellenistic city plan to be built up in marble architectural style. It was an enclosed space (c. 202 x 72 m) surrounded by Ionic porticos on all sides. A fragmentary architrave inscription from the double north colonnade records its dedication by C. Julius Zoilos, the leading figure in the town in the 30s and 20s BC. The south colonnade of the Agora was added later, under the emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37), to whom it was dedicated. This double colonnade was built in a single unit, back to back, with the Ionic colonnade on the north side of the South Agora. New archaeological investigation of the Agora in 1994 discovered the position and line of the west colonnade of the square and showed that the Agora was laid out with the Council House on its central axis.
Finds: Oecumenius statue
Council House (Bouleuterion)
The Council House or Bouleuterion was completely rebuilt in the second century AD as a small, marble-lined covered theatre. This marked the Council as a prized political institution. It was the chief body of democratic city government but was controlled by a relatively few wealthy families who were close to Rome and the imperial government and made the domination of civic politics their business. Control of the Council was marked by the family that paid for it: their members received prominent statue honours set up inside and outside of the building. This is the period of the densest statue production and the use of portrait statues as active political symbols. The Council House preserves one of the best examples of the dynamic statue life of a major civic complex.
The Council House/Bouleuterion was the centre of political power in the city. It was here that the boule (city council) met, composed of the wealthiest citizens and dominated by a few of the most powerful families. The present Council House was an elaborate new structure built in the later second century by the family of Tiberius Claudius Attalos, a Roman senator, and his brother Diogenes. Its rich marble architecture marked the importance of the Council as an institution and the position of this family within it: their statues dominated both the interior and the exterior.
The building was connected directly with the North Agora in an urban ensemble common in Asia Minor (found also, for example, at Ephesos). It was a covered, theatre-like structure, lined with marble seating for a maximum of about 1,700 persons, with a two-storey columnar marble stage-façade. This façade faced the auditorium and carried statues of important civic benefactors between its columns.
The seating was supported by a series of radial barrel vaults. The lower part of the seating (nine rows) survives in excellent condition; of the upper part (a further twelve rows) only the walls for the supporting vaults remain. The Council House was large enough to serve, as a modern town hall does, for a variety of other purposes and entertainments (music and performance oratory, for example), as well as for meetings of the Council. The building remained in use into late antiquity when its interior was lightly re-modelled by the removal of two rows of seats and the creation of sunken orchestra. The form of this re-modelling is referred to as a palaistra in a prominent fifth-century inscription on the upper moulding of the stage.
The statues of the two brothers stood on the ends of the walls that support the seating and thus framed and dominated the stage. Statues of their father, Dometeinos, and his niece Tatiana stood outside, looking towards the North Agora and framing the entrances to the Council House. The statues of Dometeinos and Tatiana survive virtually complete with their bases. Eight of the statues from the stage façade inside the building also survive.
Finds: Aphrodite of Aphrodisias, Dometeinos and Tatiana
The Sculptor’s Workshop occupied two rooms of a small stoa north of the Council House, together with the open area immediately south of these rooms. This was a central location, just north of the Agora and south of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite. Excavations conducted in the late 1960’s uncovered the workshop as it must have appeared at the time it was abandoned or destroyed, probably in the late fourth or early fifth century AD. In addition to the workshop itself, the finds from the excavation included a set of stone-carving tools, a large quantity of sculpture in various states of completion (approximately twenty-five well-preserved statues including both portraits and ideal or mythological figures and 325 fragments), and several ‘practice pieces’ carved by apprentice sculptors as part of their training.
The date of the establishment of the workshop is uncertain, but it is unlikely to be earlier than the re-building of the Council House in the mid- or late second century AD. It is possible that marble-workers first moved into this area to participate in the construction and decoration of the Council House, and that a group of sculptors simply stayed on after the completion of the building, establishing a permanent facility. The workshop remained active at least until c. AD 400, as is shown by the costume and style of an unfinished portrait statue found in the main room of the workshop.
Finds: Unfinished portrait, Dionysos and Satyr groups
The archaeology of Aphrodisias in its later period, from the third to the sixth century, is particularly dense outside the monumental city centre in the residential parts of town, at the new city walls, and in the cemeteries. A variety of houses have been excavated, mostly of the late Roman period. They range from more modest, outlying houses built against the south city-wall, to compact town houses near the Tetrapylon, to great mansions with peristyles and spacious apsidal halls. One such mansion lies to the north of the Temple (the North Temenos House) and another, more impressive, adjoins the Sebasteion (the Atrium House).
The Atrium House is a large private residence directly north of the Sebasteion. It had a long history, extending from the early Roman period until late antiquity. In its existing, late Roman state, it consists of two large suites of rooms: one, to the south, organized around a large apsidal courtyard; the other, to the north, organized around a smaller, square columnar court (the Atrium). The architectural and sculptural decoration of the apsidal court was especially rich, including a figured pediment and some twelve late Roman shield portraits of pagan philosophers. They are dramatic visual evidence, complementing our surviving literary testimony, for the persistence of pagan traditions at Aphrodisias well into the Christian period.
Finds: Shield portraits
The North Temenos House
The North Temenos House is situated directly north of the Temple of Aphrodite, a prime location. The main surviving elements of the house are two small courtyards surrounded by suites of rooms and a large, apsidal hall. The marble floor of the apsidal hall is well-preserved, and many fragments of its elaborate marble wall decoration were found during the excavations, including a number of high-quality figured pilaster capitals. Pottery finds show that the house remained in use at least until the sixth century AD.
To the west of the Council House is a well-preserved peristyle building completely refurbished in late antiquity and known as the Bishop's Palace, and it may indeed have been an official residence of some kind in the late period. It was one of the largest houses in the city: it occupied a whole city-block (c. 35 x 40 m). As was usual for an elite Roman house, the plan was centred on a columned courtyard. Opening off the courtyard are large reception rooms, a triple-apsed dining room to the east, and an apsidal hall to the north. Coin finds indicate these core parts of the late Roman house were built around AD 400. It was richly decorated with mosaics, cut-marble floors, sculptures, and figured wall paintings. In late antiquity, the house may have been used as the residence of the provincial governor, and in the middle ages, when the house underwent extensive re-modelling, it probably became the residence of the bishop. It was occupied through to c. AD 1200, when Aphrodisias was finally abandoned.
The city wall of Aphrodisias is extensive, well preserved, and securely dated. The wall is approximately 3.5 km long, enclosing an area of about 72 hectares. It was at least 10 m high, and 2.5 to 3.5 m thick. Inscriptions on two of the gates name the governors who paid for their construction and thereby give a date of the 350s or 360s AD. Before this time, Aphrodisias seems to have been entirely unfortified. The construction of the walls would have radically changed both the image of the city, and traffic patterns in and out of town (only seven gates are known). The interior face of the wall is built of regularly coursed, mortared, sub-ashlar masonry, while the exterior face consists almost entirely of large re-used marble blocks, carefully arranged so as to give the appearance of a megalithic marble wall. Most of these re-used blocks came from monumental tombs near which the wall passed. The cemeteries were thus extensively pillaged for the construction of the wall, which was an event of great significance, a caesura in the social and topographical history of Aphrodisias.
Finds: Zoilos frieze
Funerary monuments were a major business for the local marble workshops. Tomb buildings could carry portraits statues and busts. More modest burials were marked by stelai. Aphrodisias also has a large collection of gladiator reliefs from the tombs of entrepreneurs who owned gladiator and beast-hunter 'schools'. (These trained fighters were for hire to the providers of the Roman-style games put on in the city in honour of the emperors.) By far the largest category of funerary monument, however, was marble sarcophagi -- large, expensive, often richly decorated marble coffins.
The marble quarries lie at a distance of 2-4 km from Aphrodisias, in the hills to the northeast, with a gentle gradient down to the site that would have greatly facilitated transport. They cover an area of about 3-4 sq. km and were sufficient to provide the needs of the city for its building and statuary material, but were not of a scale that could have supported wide export of the marble as a raw material. There was probably long-distance export of some expensive, finished products, and local/regional export of some larger categories, such as statues and sarcophagi.
The marble at Aphrodisias was first exploited in the late Hellenistic period by opportunistic ad hoc surface quarrying, visible in some parts. Most of the main quarries were opened in the early and high imperial period, but some remained active into the late antique period, albeit on a much reduced scale. The quarries, combined with the marble buildings and monuments of the city, provide an excellent case study of an active local quarry and its products together.
Statues & reliefs
Aphrodisias is perhaps best known for its extraordinary marble sculpture. Good marble quarries are located a few kilometres from the site, and by the late Hellenistic period, a strong local tradition of marble sculpture had taken root. The surviving body of sculpture is rich and varied. There are statues of gods, heroes, emperors, benefactors, philosophers, and athletes, as well as mythological groups, decorative figures, and ornamental and figured relief sculptures. Many of the pieces occupy key positions in the history of Roman art. The sculpture of the city is a legacy of unrivalled importance in this field.
Aphrodite of Aphrodisias
This is the largest and most complete copy of the cult statue of the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias, the image of the goddess created in the Hellenistic period for the sanctuary. It marks the point at which an earlier local fertility goddess was identified with the Aphrodite of the Hellenic pantheon. The statue stands stiffly and frontally, like an old Anatolian goddess, and was designed to recall that earlier identity of the goddess now subsumed in Aphrodite. The figure wears a tall headdress and veil and a thin dress covered by thick hard cladding. The cladding is divided into a chest area and four lower decorated zones. Each of these four zones contain figured decoration that concerns different aspects of Aphrodite: (1) three Graces, her handmaids; (2) Selene (Moon) and Helios (Sun), the permanent temporal extent of her realm; (3) Aphrodite in classical form on a sea-goat with tritons; and (4) three winged Erotes, her children and agents, involved in sacrifice. The iconography of the statue was designed to combine the archaic aspects of the old local goddess with ideas of the classical and Hellenistic Aphrodite.
Found at: Council House (Bouleuterion)
Dometeinos & Tatiana
The statue was found directly in front of its base which identifies it as L. Antonius Claudius Diogenes Dometeinos. Dometeinos is portrayed as a mature man with handsome, regular features, a full beard, and the long hair of a priest. He wears tunic, himation, and sandals together with an unusually large priestly crown. He holds a book roll in his left hand, and has a bundle of eight more at his feet. Dometeinos’ stance, with the right arm caught in the sling of his cloak, represents the most common choice for portrait statues of locals in Aphrodisias and throughout the entire Greek world.
Dometeinos’ long beard and his thick, luxuriant hair recall metropolitan Roman fashions -- evident not so much in the length and cut of the hair as in the favored styling of the locks, well-known from Antonine court portraits. He also has the arching eyebrows, heavy upper-eyelids, and almond-shaped eyes of Marcus Aurelius. His priestly headdress is decorated with a series of busts that represent Aphrodite in the centre surrounded by members of the imperial family. Dometeinos belonged to the noble Aphrodisian family of the Antonii Claudii, well-attested at the site. He is grandly described here as ‘law-giver’. Other inscriptions record that he was appointed gymnasiarch for life, overseeing and maintaining the Aphrodisian gymnasion at his own expense; and he was honored for other benefactions to the city too. He was eventually granted the title ‘High Priest of Asia’, thus joining a select group that numbered among its members some of the wealthiest and best-connected families of the province. His statue stood in the north stoa of the North Agora beside one of the two main entrances into the Bouleuterion. Beside the other entrance stood the statue of Tatiana, Dometeinos' niece, on a near-identical base.
Found at: Council House (Bouleuterion)
The statue represents a leading local woman, Claudia Tatiana Antonia, who was active at Aphrodisias and in the province of Asia in the late second and early third century. The statue is identified by the tall inscribed base on which it stood immediately to the right of the easternmost entrance to the Council House, inside the double stoa of the North Agora. The statue was paired with the monument of Tatiana’s uncle, Dometeinos.
The figure wears a thin dress (chiton), a mantle (himation), sandals, and an open-work crown. A small figure of Eros once stood on the base beside her. It is now broken off and only its feet remain. The Eros and the thin dress allude to the subject’s beauty and desirability. The hairstyle follows contemporary imperial fashion closely: it is close to the wig-like hairstyles worn by women of the Severan imperial family in Rome. The moulded plinth is elegantly carved and bears the signature of the statue’s maker, one Alexander son of Zenon.
Found at: Council House (Bouleuterion)
The statue, head, and base were all found together. The base is re-used, but the statue and the portrait were carved new for the subject honoured. He was a man called Flavius Palmatus, a high-ranking provincial governor. He is wearing a late Roman senatorial toga and cross-strapped ankle boots, and he carries a mappa (handkerchief) in one hand and a consular baton in the other. The upper part of the baton is missing: it would have ended in a bust of the reigning emperor. The portrait has striking and memorable features: fixed staring eyes, a dour expression created by deep naso-labial folds and bags under the eyes, and a stubble beard. He is portrayed as the stern, incorruptible, all-seeing, and hard-working judge that good governors were meant to be in this period. The mop hairstyle was highly fashionable at the imperial centres of power in the late fifth and sixth centuries.
Found at: Tetrastoon
The statue represents a provincial governor called Oecumenius of the later fourth or early fifth century AD. He is identified by the inscribed base, and wears soft boots and a long cloak (chlamys) over a long-sleeved tunic. The military cloak was pinned at the shoulder with a broach (now missing), and was worn by members of the civil administration when on duty away from the capital. The base tells us that he was a lawyer, bilingual in Greek and Latin, and incorruptible (‘pure in hand, pure in mind’). He holds a scroll in his right hand and is animated by the right turn of the head and a slight smile in his plump, bearded face. He wears a fashionable hairstyle of the period, brushed forward into a wreath of locks around the face. An inscription on top of the head – three letters, XMΓ, inscribed neatly on top of the head are a common abbreviation of the phrase ‘Christ was born to Mary’ and probably indicate that the sculptor was a Christian.
Found at: North Agora
The statue represents a mature man wearing three garments (a long-sleeved tunic, a short-sleeved tunic, and a toga) and thin-soled, soft leather boots with straps that wrap around the ankles. This was the distinctive toga costume of a late Roman senator, and the subject was probably a provincial governor. In the outstretched left hand he holds an inkpot, and the now-missing right hand might have held a scroll or a pen. A bundle of scrolls serves as a support for the statue. These allude to the subject’s education and literary culture.
The carving is technically daring; neither of the outstretched arms, which are worked from the same block as the body, are reinforced by struts. Yet the portrait head was never fully finished and thus appears too large in proportion to the body: much marble still remained to be removed in the final cutting. The features, which have been worked only to an intermediate stage, are nonetheless already specific, and the hairstyle roughly sketched. It is therefore unlikely that the statue was a pre-fabricated work awaiting a buyer. The same form of the toga also appears in two statues from Aphrodisias that represent the emperors Valentinian II and Arcadius (AD 388-392) and shows the statue belongs in the later fourth century.
Found at: Sculptor's Workshop
The boxer is identified by the inscribed base as the champion Kandidianos, a victor on the international festival circuit. Like Piseas, he is naked apart from his long boxing gloves and wears the characteristic hairstyle of the professional athlete. The statue was set up on the north side of the theatre stage, on the opposite side from that of Piseas. Kandidianos, however, stands in a different, more relaxed posture, turning to his left, with his gloved hands held lower, closer to his sides. The two statues also show considerable differences in workmanship and have different kinds of inscribed bases: they were not manufactured as a pair (Kandidianos’ statue re-uses an old base for a bronze statue). Their similar inscriptions, identical scale, and close general appearance, however, as well as their similar extensive ancient repairs, make it certain that they were set up as pendants to one another.
Found at: Theatre
The statue of a boxer is identified as one Piseas, son of Piseas, by its inscribed base. Except for the arm-length boxing gloves, he is fully naked, the standard costume for Greek athletes in art and life. His head is partly shaved with a long lock of hair left on top (cirrus in vertice), a distinctive hairstyle of the professional athlete in the Roman period. The statue is one of a pair of boxers that were set up, one on each side of the stage of the Theatre, probably on the ends of the retaining walls of the auditorium (analemma walls). Piseas’ statue was on the south side. The statue-maker, Polyneikes, placed his signature on the front face of the statue’s plinth. The two boxer statues, placed in such prominent positions in the Theatre, are testimony to the intense prestige enjoyed by champion athletes in their hometowns.
Found at: Theatre
The galloping horse of dark blue-grey marble was found in 1970 in the Civil Basilica beside the remains of its pedestal. The monument was a daring composition that had already been restored once in antiquity. The horse wore a gilded bronze saddle cloth in the form of a feline skin attached to its back with small iron pins. It was ridden by the figure of a naked heroic youth in white marble of which only one thigh survives. From the clamp fixing in his buttock, it can be seen that the youth was falling off the horse.
The monument was placed on an L-shaped base, facing down the interior nave of the Basilica. The lower part of the base remains in situ in the Basilica. Its upper plinth is restored beneath the horse in the Aphrodisias Museum. The plinth has a cutting for a figure standing beside the horse. This was a three-figure group of horse, heroic rider, and standing figure. Its subject was probably Troilos and Achilles. The young Trojan prince Troilos was ambushed and killed by Achilles when he rode out to a fountain outside the walls of Troy. The group probably showed Achilles in a well-known composition, pulling the young Troilos from his galloping horse by his hair.
An inscribed block from a statue base built into the north city wall records a statue monument with precisely this subject: The people set up the Troilos, and the horse, and the Achilles. The block does not fit the base in the Basilica, but its dimensions are so close that the two should be connected in some way. The present base was part of a later, second display of the monument, set up when the Basilica was refurbished in the mid-fourth century. The horse was extensively repaired at this time: the front legs and parts of the mane were carved anew and in different marble. The inscribed block from the wall would then be from the original, first display. Public statues had long lives and could be moved to new settings. The monument is unique among ancient statues in representing a large galloping horse in marble.
Found at: Civil Basilica
The colossal headless female statue was found in 1970 apparently in situ fallen from its pedestal inside the Basilica. With its head, it would have been approximately 3.5 m tall. The head was separately worked and added to a prepared hollow socket at the neck; it was held in place by a dowel. The presumed base for the statue is made from a single block of gray striated marble that rests directly on the floor with no additional foundations. Because the base is smaller than the statue, it seems that the two were brought together – gathered from elsewhere – to form as a single monument only in Late Antiquity.
Found at: Civil Basilica
Achilles and Penthesileia
The statue group represents Achilles supporting the dying Amazon queen Penthesileia: he has killed her but at the same time has fallen in love with her. The group copies a famous Hellenistic work, which was popular both for the beauty of the figures and the pathos of the story. The Aphrodisian version is a careful and high-quality work that aims to be true to the simple style of the original group. It had earlier been displayed elsewhere in Aphrodisias and was only brought to decorate the four-column pool at the Hadrianic Baths in late antiquity. The re-used base on which it stood is in situ: it was also brought from elsewhere. The Achilles and Penthesileia then was a venerable antiquity that had been lovingly cared for, restored, and re-displayed in a new setting.
Found at: Hadrianic Baths, Tetrastyle Court
Dionysos & Satyr Groups
The large (over life-size) statue represents a satyr standing on tiptoe and carrying the child Dionysos on his raised left arm and a throwing stick in his right hand. The satyr is nude, with a goatskin draped over his left upper arm to cushion the infant divinity; his head turns up to grin at Dionysos. The divine child seems to have been grasping the satyr’s hair: traces of the child’s fingers are preserved on the left side of the satyr’s head. The small version of a satyr carrying the baby Dionysos is of same design, detail, and technique as the ‘Large Satyr’ but at approximately half the size. Both were found in the Sculptor's Workshop. The statue composition is known in yet another even smaller version at Aphrodisias and in another large version found on the Esquiline Hill in Rome, which bears the signature of one Flavius Zeno from Aphrodisias.
Found at: Sculptor's Workshop
The shield portraits were discovered in 1981 in the excavation of the Atrium House. They formed part of the decoration of an apsidal court and were set within an elaborate revetment of grey and white marble. They are portraits of great figures of classical philosophy and literature (Pythagoras, Sokrates, Pindar), together with famous students of philosophy (Alkibiades and Alexander the Great). These are new versions, carved in the late Roman period, of portraits originally created in the classical period (fifth-fourth centuries BC). Only one, an unidentified portrait, shows a contemporary late antique philosopher, a pagan sage. The portraits are notable for the highly expressive style of the carving and for a new visionary quality seen in the eyes and faces. As a group, they are a vivid reflection of intellectual life at Aphrodisias and of enduring pagan culture and education in late antiquity.
Found at: Atrium House
The large figured reliefs from a tomb monument to C. Julius Zoilos, a great benefactor of Aphrodisias who lived in the time of Julius Caesar and Augustus, were discovered in 1956 and succeeding years. They were restored once in 1979, and were re-restored and installed in their correct sequence in a new display in the Aphrodisias Museum in 1993-1994. The frieze is the earliest figured marble monument in the city.
C. Julius Zoilos had an extraordinary career. A native of Aphrodisias, he was enslaved and spent much of his life away from the city. Eventually he was freed and became the freedman and trusted agent of Octavian, later called Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. Zoilos returned to Aphrodisias in c. 40 BC an extremely wealthy man, and played a prominent role in the life of the city. He was priest of Aphrodite and paid for at least three major marble buildings: the first phase of the temple of Aphrodite, the elaborate stage building of the theatre, and the north colonnade of the North Agora in the city centre. He was honoured at Aphrodisias with at least two public statues, and died sometime after 28 BC. He was also honoured with the monumental tomb which the frieze decorated.
Nothing of the tomb building itself has been found, but it can be deduced that the frieze occupied the sides of a square mausoleum. It presents an allegorical account of Zoilos' life and virtues. The main preserved frieze is composed of two groups of three figures, all identified by inscriptions. Zoilos himself is seen in two different costumes in the centre of each group. In the left-hand group Bravery (ANDREIA) presents a shield to Zoilos, who wears a Roman toga, while Honour (TIMĒ) crowns him from the right. The scene celebrates Zoilos' military courage and his status as a Roman citizen. In the right-hand group, the personification of the People (DĒMOS) stretches out his hand to greet Zoilos, who wears a long travelling cloak and cap, while the City (POLIS) crowns him from behind. This scene is an elevated representation of Zoilos' return home from Rome. Subjects represented in other surviving panels included: Eternity (AIŌN), Roma (inscription not preserved), Remembrance (MNĒMĒ), Minos, judge in the underworld (MEINŌS), Excellence (ARETĒ), and Loyalty (PISTIS).
Found at: City Walls
Aineias' flight from Troy. Sebasteion, south building
The armored figure of Aineias moves to the right, carrying his aged father on his shoulder and leading his young son Iulus by the hand. Old Anchises carries a round base or box that held images of Troy’s ancestral gods. These three figures constituted the regular iconographic scheme of Aineias' flight from Troy, on his way to Italy, which was widespread in the early imperial period. The local designers have added a floating figure of Aphrodite behind to give the scene a more specific, local meaning. The relief was carved from a large block that contained serious flaws in the stone, resulting in the oblique brown-stained breaks; they represent the fault-lines.
Found at: Sebasteion
Agon (personification of competition). Sebasteion, south building.
The scene is an allegory of athletic contest (or agōn). The pillar with bearded head is Hermes, the god of the gymnasium. Nearby is a palm of victory and a prize table with a victory ribbon on it. Two Eros figures, shown as winged babies, are struggling over a second palm branch (now mostly broken): they act out the idea of contest, which is personified in the youthful figure of Agon himself behind. He holds a third palm of victory and oversees the struggle. The Erotes fight on an allegorical plane: they do not compete in any specific athletic or gymnasium sport, but wrestle directly for the palm, the highest symbol of victory.
Found at: Sebasteion
Prometheus and Herakles. Sebasteion, south building.
A twisting naked figure of Prometheus hangs near the centre of the panel against a mountainous background, his hands manacled to the rocks above. His mouth is open, screaming in pain, as he looks with a distressed, emotional expression towards Herakles, his liberator. Zeus had meted out a terrible punishment to Prometheus for giving fire to man: he was tied to the Caucasus mountains and had his liver pecked out daily by an eagle. Herakles has shot the eagle and is undoing the first manacle from Prometheus' left hand. Herakles is naked except for a lionskin worn as combined cap and cloak, and his club lies below, across the lower right corner. At the lower left, the body of the dead eagle, shot by Herakles, is slumped over the rocks. A small mountain nymph, holding a throwing stick, appears among the rocks above the eagle. This is a highly effective Hellenistic-style pictorial composition.
Found at: Sebasteion
Claudius and Britannia, with inscribed base. Sebasteion, south building
The naked warrior Claudius is about to deliver a death blow to a slumped figure of Britannia. He wears helmet, cloak, and sword belt with scabbard. Britannia wears a tunic with one breast bare -- like the Amazon figures on which she was modelled. The subject of the relief is identified by the inscribed base and the imperial portrait. The inscription reads: Tiberios Klaudios Kaisar -- Bretannia. The invasion of Britain in AD 43 was the ‘signature’ conquest of Claudius’ regime.
Found at: Sebasteion
Claudius with allegories of land and sea. Sebasteion, south building
The emperor strides across the panel in vigorous motion, framed behind by a billow of drapery, which in ancient iconography indicated floating, flying, and as here, divine epiphany. He receives in his right hand a cornucopia with the fruits of the earth from a small figure emerging from the ground. On the right he receives a steering oar from a sea figure or marine tritoness. She has fish legs and a fish-scale skirt. The cornucopia and the steering oar symbolize the prosperity of land and sea under the emperor's rule. The composition is an arresting visualization of the Roman emperor as an all-powerful Hellenistic-style divinity as seen from the eastern provinces. The awkward, rather gauche handling of the proportions of the emperor's body indicates that the composition was designed locally. There were no public monuments in Rome that portrayed such an elevated, panegyrical conception of the emperor's role.
Found at: Sebasteion
Nero and Agrippina. Sebasteion, north building
Agrippina crowns her son Nero with a laurel wreath. Agrippina carries a cornucopia, symbol of Fortune and Plenty, and Nero wears the armour and cloak of a Roman commander. He held a spear, now broken off, in his right hand and probably an orb (symbol of world rule) in his left hand. His helmet (removed for the crowning) lies on the ground at the side. Both figures are clearly identifiable by their portraits. The scene refers to the emperor’s accession in AD 54 and belongs before AD 59, the year in which Nero had Agrippina murdered.
Found at: Sebasteion
Personification of Pirousti. Sebasteion, north building
The figure personifies a Balkan warrior tribe, defeated by Tiberius in AD 6-8, before he became emperor. She wears classical dress, cloak, and helmet, and carries a small shield and probably once a spear. A builder's inscription (Piroustōn: engraved lightly in small letters on the background above and to the right of the figure’s shield) ensured that the relief was put on the correct base, inscribed ETHNOUS PIROUSTŌN.
Found at: Sebasteion
Mask and Garland Frieze Blocks
The frieze blocks come from the long Ionic colonnades that framed the Place of Palms. The earliest are from the north colonnade dedicated to the emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37). Others were made in the second century and later. The motif of a fruit garland hung between two masks was popular at Aphrodisias. The masks represent a fascinating variety of subjects: athletes, heroes, gods, as well as a wide range of stock characters from ancient drama. The masks and garlands evoke ideas of festival and public celebration. Found at: Place of Palms
Aphrodisias preserves an extensive body of sarcophagi from a single urban community of the Roman period. There are some 700 pieces: whole sarcophagi, lids, and fragments. The earliest are of the first century BC, the latest of the fourth century AD, and many were re-used for new burials in late antiquity. Many carry detailed inscriptions that tell about who had them made, who owned them, and who was to be buried in them. This body of material offers a wide field for the investigation of a local, propertied society through its burial monuments and its self-representation on them.
Sarcophagi come from all around the city, mainly from the main roads into and out of the town to the northwest, east and southeast. Some sarcophagi, worked on all sides, were displayed on platforms in the open; most are worked only on three sides and were displayed in tomb buildings. The great majority of the sarcophagi are local products, made in two main stereotyped formats, arcaded and garlanded, that are slightly and endlessly varied in scale, quality, and decoration. The arcaded chests carry a single figure in each intercolumniation: divine figures, portrait figures, or a combination of both -- for example, Muses with a husband and wife, where the wife can take the place of the ninth Muse. The garland sarcophagi follow a narrow range of designs. Typically the chests are decorated with a central tabula supported by two putti and a garland to each side, which is carried by a Nike figure at each corner.
Aphrodisias has a well-preserved body of more than 2,000 inscriptions, ranging for the most part from c. 200 BC to c. AD 600. There is an extraordinary density of public inscriptions in the early and middle imperial period. They provide a crucial written ancient commentary on the political, religious, and social structures of which the buildings and statues were physical representations. The ideas and cultural values of local society are articulated in the inscriptions with extraordinary clarity. Honorific texts inscribed on statue bases are abundant, while three unusual monuments of ancient public writing stand out: the Archive Wall, Diocletian’s Price Edict, and the unique Jewish Community List.
Archive Wall, Theatre
In the mid-third century AD, the short end-wall of the stage building (the so-called Archive Wall), viewed by spectators entering the Theatre by its northern entrance (parodos), was inscribed with various documents from the city archive. They are copies of documents relating to the privileges granted by the Roman senate and by Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) to Aphrodisias in 37 BC and confirmed by successive emperors in Rome, up to Gordian III in the AD 230s. The most dramatic document s are private letters written in a short, clipped style by Octavian to agents in the region: they were never meant for publication. One, positioned in the upper centre of the wall, under the large heading 'For Good Fortune' (Agathe Tychei) concerns C. Julius Zoilos (Octavian warns that he wants good care taken of the city of ‘my Zoilos’). The whole archive wall is an extraordinary monument of public writing and political memory.
Found at: Theatre
Diocletian’s Price Edict
In AD 301, the emperor Diocletian issued his famous Edict of Maximum Prices, which attempted to curb rampant inflation by stipulating maximum prices that could be charged for a huge array of raw materials, finished goods, and services available around the empire. The edict was introduced by a moralising and highly rhetorical preamble that imposed severe punishments for infringements. It was inscribed in a number of cities of the empire, and one of the best-preserved copies was inscribed in Latin on the facade of the Civil Basilica at Aphrodisias. Its entrance wall was an elaborate, engaged columnar facade closed by extensive marble paneling, and it was on this paneling that Diocletian’s Edict (along with his Currency Edict of the same year) was inscribed.
Found at: Civil Basilica
Text: R.R.R. Smith – Translated by S. Somersan and S. Somersan – Edited by O. Yıldırım