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Some columns are still standing among the ruins of Aphrodisias. A snow-capped mountain can be seen in the background.
The ruins of Aphrodisias
Aphrodisias is located in Turkey
Shown within Turkey
Location Geyre, Aydın Province, Turkey
Region Caria
Coordinates Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
Type Settlement
Cultures Greek, Roman
Associated with Alexander of Aphrodisias, Chariton
Site notes
Excavation dates 1904–1905, 1962–present
Archaeologists Paul Augustin Gaudin, Kenan Erim, Christopher Ratté, R. R. R. Smith
Public access Yes
Website Aphrodisias Archaeological Site

Aphrodisias (/æfrˈdɪsiəs/; Ancient Greek: Ἀφροδισιάς Aphrodisiás) was a small ancient Greek city in the historic Caria cultural region of western Anatolia, Turkey. It is located near the modern village of Geyre, about 100 km (62 mi) west/inland from the coast of the Aegean Sea, and 230 km (140 mi) southeast of İzmir.

Aphrodisias was named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, who had here her unique cult image, the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias. According to the Suda, a Byzantine encyclopedic compilation, before the city became known as Aphrodisias (c.3rd century BCE) it had three previous names: Lelégōn Pólis (Λελέγων πόλις, "City of the Leleges"),[1] Megálē Pólis (Μεγάλη Πόλις, "Great City"), and Ninóē (Νινόη).[2]

Sometime before 640, in the Late Antiquity period when it was within the Byzantine Empire, the city was renamed Stauroúpolis (Σταυρούπολις, "City of the Cross").[3]


Modern Geyre.

White and blue grey Carian marble was extensively quarried from adjacent slopes in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, for building facades and sculptures. Marble sculptures and sculptors from Aphrodisias became famous in the Roman world. Many examples of statuary have been unearthed in Aphrodisias, and some representations of the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias also survive from other parts of the Roman world, as far afield as Pax Julia in Lusitania.[4]

Geologic history

The site is in an earthquake zone and has suffered a great deal of damage at various times, especially in severe tremors of the 4th and 7th centuries. An added complication was that one of the 4th century earthquakes altered the water table, making parts of the town prone to flooding. Evidence can be seen of emergency plumbing installed to combat this problem.

Aphrodisias never fully recovered from the 7th century earthquake, and fell into disrepair. Part of the town was covered by the modern village of Geyre; some of the cottages were removed in the 20th century to reveal the older city. A new Geyre has been built a short distance away.

Ecclesiastical history

Dioecesis Orientis 400 AD.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Stauropoli (Latin: Archidioecesis Stauropolitana) is a suppressed and titular See of the Roman Catholic Church. In Byzantine times the city was renamed "Stauropoli" meaning “the city of the cross”.

Le Quien (Oriens christianus, I, 899–904) mentions twenty bishops of this see, among whom were:

Another bishop, Theopropios, is mentioned by an inscription (Revue des études grecques, XIX, 298). Bishops are known from the Notitia Episcopatuum of pseudo-Epiphanius (about 640AD). The town was also home to the martyrs Diodorus and Rodopiano during the persecution of Diocletian.

In the 7th century Stauropolis had twenty-eight suffragan bishops and twenty-six at the beginning of the 10th century. Surviving acta record that between 1356 and 1368 it was without a metropolitan, but was under the administration of the metropolitan of Bizye. In 1369 metropolitan reappears as the recipient of the churches of Miletus and Antioch on the Maeander, and another is mentioned in 1399.[5] Isaias of Stauropolis attended the Council of Florence (1439) and fled to avoid signing the decree of union.

Stauropolis remains a Roman Catholic titular metropolitan see of the former Roman province of Caria.[6]

Buildings and other structures

The Temple of Aphrodite.
The monumental gateway or tetrapylon.
The odeon.

Temple of Aphrodite

The Temple of Aphrodite was a focal point of the town, but the character of the building was altered when it became a Christian basilica. The Aphrodisian sculptors became renowned and benefited from a plentiful supply of marble close at hand. The school of sculpture was very productive;[7] much of their work can be seen around the site and in the museum. Many full-length statues were discovered in the region of the agora, and trial and unfinished pieces pointing to a true school are in evidence. Sarcophagi were recovered in various locations, most frequently decorated with designs consisting of garland and columns. Pilasters have been found showing what are described as "peopled scrolls" with figures of people, birds and animals entwined in acanthus leaves.

Monumental gateway

A monumental gateway, or tetrapylon, leads from the main north-south street of the town into a large forecourt in front of the Temple or Sanctuary of Aphrodite. The gateway was built ca. A.D. 200.


The bouleuterion (council house), or odeon, is centered on the north side of the North Agora. As it stands today, it consists of a semicircular auditorium fronted by a shallow stage structure about 46 m wide. The lower part of the auditorium survives intact, with nine rows of marble seats divided into five wedges by radial stairways. The seating of the upper part, amounting to an additional twelve rows, has collapsed together with its supporting vaults. The plan is an extremely open one, with numerous entrances at ground level and several stairways giving access to the upper rows of seats. A system of massive parallel buttresses shows that the building was originally vaulted. The auditorium would have been lighted by a series of tall, arched windows in the curved outer wall. Seating capacity can be estimated at about 1750.

The available evidence indicates a construction date in the Antonine or early Severan period (late 2nd or early 3rd century AD). The scaenae frons (stage front) was certainly put up at this time, as the style of both sculpture and architectural ornament suggest. Statue bases terminating the retaining walls of the auditorium bore the names of two brothers, senators in the early Severan period, and two inscribed bases placed symmetrically against the exterior facade held statues of Aphrodisian benefactors, Claudia Antonia Tatiana and her uncle Lucius Antonius Dometinus, who were active at the end of the 2nd century.[8] Tatiana is known to have had close ties with Ephesus, and it is possible that the striking similarities between this building and the bouleuterion on the civic agora there, dated by inscription to the mid-2nd century, are due to some initiative on her part. We do not know what stood here before the 2nd century AD, but it is likely that the present building replaced a smaller one contemporary with the laying out of the agora in the late 1st century BC.

The bouleuterion at Aphrodisias remained in this form until the early 5th century, when a municipal official had it adapted as a palaestra, recording his achievement in an inscription on the upper molding of the pulpitum (stage). Palaestra usually refers to a wrestling ground, but in the 5th century it could be used to describe a hall for lectures, performances, and various kinds of competitive displays, as suggested by a number of factional inscriptions carved on the seats. Numerous additional cuttings in the surviving seats, probably for poles supporting awnings, suggest that by this time the building had lost its roof. The orchestra was lowered and provided with a marble pavement, reused, perhaps, from the earlier phase.[9]


The Sebasteion

The Sebasteion,[10] or Augusteum, was jointly dedicated, according to a 1st-century inscription on its propylon, "To Aphrodite, the Divine Augusti and the People". A relief found in the ruins of the south portico represented a personification of the polis making sacrifice to the cult image of Aphrodite of Aphrodisias, venerated as promētōr, "foremother" or "ancestral mother". "Aphrodite represents the cosmic force that integrates imperial power with the power of local elites," a reader of Chariton romance has noted.[11] This connection between the goddess and the imperial house was also a particularly politic one at the time, as the Gens Julia - the family of Julius Caesar, Octavian Augustus, and their immediate successors - claimed divine descent from Venus/Aphrodite.

The stadium


The stadium was used for athletic events until the theatre was badly damaged by a 7th-century earthquake, requiring part of the stadium to be converted for events previously staged in the theatre.

The stadium measures[12] approximately 270 m (890 ft) by 60 m (200 ft). With 30 rows of seats on each side, and around each end, it would have had a maximum capacity for around 30,000 spectators. The track measures approximately 225 m (738 ft) by 30 m (98 ft).

As the stadium is considerably larger and structurally more extensive than even the stadium at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, it is probably one of the best preserved structures of its kind in the Mediterranean.

Other finds


The quality of the marble in Aphrodisias has resulted in an unusually large number of inscribed items surviving in the city. As many pieces of monumental quarried stone were reused in the Late Antique city walls, many inscriptions could and can be easily read without any excavation; the city has therefore been visited and its inscriptions recorded repeatedly in modern times, starting from the early 18th century.

Upwards of 2000 inscriptions have been recorded by excavators under the aegis of New York University. Many of these inscriptions had been re-used in the city walls. Most inscriptions are from the Imperial period, with funerary and honorary texts being particularly well represented, but there are a handful of texts from all periods from the Hellenistic to Byzantine.

Excavations in Aphrodisias have also uncovered an important Jewish inscription whose context is unclear. The inscription, in Greek, lists donations made by numerous individuals, of whom several are classed as 'theosebeis', or Godfearers.[13] It seems clear through comparative evidence from the inscriptions in the Sardis synagogue and from the New Testament that such Godfearers were probably interested gentiles who attached themselves to the Jewish community, supporting and perhaps frequenting the synagogue. The geographical spread of the evidence suggests this was a widespread phenomenon in Asia Minor during the Roman period.


A frieze discovered in 1980 showing a bare breasted and helmeted female warrior labelled BRITANNIA writhing in agony under the knee of a Roman soldier with to the left and below the inscription TIBERIUS CLAUDIUS CAESAR is assumed to depict Britain subjugated by Rome.[14]

Aphrodite of Aphrodisias

The Aphrodite of Aphrodisias

The cult image that is particular to Aphrodisias, the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias, doubtless was once housed in the Temple of Aphrodite.[15] She was a distinctive local goddess who became, by interpretatio graeca, identified with the Greek Aphrodite. Her canonical image, typical of Anatolian cult images, shows that she is related to the Lady of Ephesus,[16] widely venerated in the Greco-Roman world as Artemis of Ephesus. The surviving images, from contexts where they must have been more civic than ritual, are without exception from the late phase of the cult, in Hellenistic and Roman times. They are rendered in the naturalistic style common to their culture, which gave the local goddess more universal appeal.[17] Like the Lady of Ephesus, the "Aphrodite" of Aphrodisia wears a thick, form-disguising tunic, encasing her as if in a columnar box, always with four registers of standardized imagery. Her feet are of necessity close together, her forearms stretched forward, to receive and to give. She is adorned with necklaces and wears a mural crown[18] together with a diadem and a wreath of myrtle, draped with a long veil that frames her face and extends to the ground. Beneath her overtunic she wears a floor-length chiton. The bands of decoration on the tunic, rendered in bas-relief, evoke the Goddess's cosmic powers: the Charites, the Three Graces that are the closest attendants of Aphrodite; heads of a married pair (the woman is veiled), identified by Lisa Brody as Gaia and Uranos, Earth and the Heavens, over which this goddess reigns, rather than as Zeus and Hera; Helios and Selene separated by a pillar; the marine Aphrodite,[19] riding a sea-goat, and at the base a group of Erotes performing cult rituals.


Roman, Antonine, Colossal bust of a goddess or personification, 160–190 A.D., in the Princeton University Art Museum

The first formal excavations were undertaken in 1904-5, by a French railroad engineer, Paul Augustin Gaudin. Some of the architectural finds (mostly friezes, pilasters and capitals) he discovered at the site are now in the British Museum.[20]

The most recent, ongoing excavations were begun by Kenan Erim under the aegis of New York University in 1962 and are currently led by Professor R. R. R. Smith (at Oxford University) and Professor Katharine Welch of the NYU Institute of Fine Arts. The findings reveal that the lavish building programme in the city's civic center was initiated and largely funded by one Gaius Julius Zoilus, a local who was a slave of Gaius Julius Caesar, set free by Octavian.[21] When Zoilus returned as a freedman to his native city, endowed with prestige and rich rewards for his service, he shrewdly directed it to align with Octavian in his power struggle against Mark Antony. This ensured Octavian's lasting favor in the form of financial privileges that allowed the city to prosper.

In September 2014, drones weighing about 0.5 kg were used to 3D map the above-ground ruins of Aphrodisias. The data is being analysed by the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Vienna.[22]

See also

References and sources

  1. For Greeks, "Leleges" denoted an ancient pre-Greek people.
  2. See Suda Online s.v. Ninoe, [1] (accessed 25-12-2006); the elite of Aphrodisias linked their founding to the Assyrian ruler called in Greek Ninus, the eponymous founder also of Nineveh.
  3. Siméon Vailhé, "Stauropolis" The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912 full text, citing Heinrich Gelzer, Ungedruckte ... Texte der Notitiæ episcopatuum, 534. The name Tauropolis, said to have been borne by the town prior to that of Stauropolis, is an error of several scholars, e.g. Revue des études grecques 19:228-30; the error 'Tauropolis' derives from inscription IAph 42: see discussion by Roueché at ALA VI.48
  4. Peter Noelke, "Zwei unbekännte Repliken der Aphrodite von Aphrosias in Köln" Arkäologischer Anzeiger 98.1:107-31.
  5. Speros Vryonis, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California, 1971), p. 296
  6. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  7. Kenan T. Erim, "The school of Aphrodisias, " Archaeology 20.1:18-27.
  8. Sculptures of the Bouleuterion.
  9. The architecture of the Bouleuterion is examined by Lionel Bier, "The Bouleuterion at Aphrodisias," Aphrodisias Papers 4
  10. Sebastós is the Greek equivalent of Latin Augustus.
  11. Douglas R. Edwards notes in, "Defining the Web of Power in Asia Minor: The Novelist Chariton and His City Aphrodisias" Journal of the American Academy of Religion 62.3 (Autumn 1994:699-718) p. 711.
  12. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  13. Published by J. M. Reynolds and R. F. Tannenbaum, Jews and Godfearers at Aphrodisias, Cambridge Philological Society Supplementary Volume 12, (Cambridge, 1987)
  14. Roman Britain By Timothy W. Potter and Catherine Johns, University of California Press, 1992 p. 40
  15. This section follows the dissertation by Lisa R. Brody, under the direction of Christopher Ratté, "The Iconography and Cult of the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias"; her upcoming book will present a catalogue of all surviving images.
  16. Lisa Brody notes other images of similar formula: the Artemis of Perge, the Artemis of Claros, the Kore of Sardis, Zeus Labraundeus, and Jupiter Heliopolitanus of Baalbek.
  17. Lisa Brody suggests the refounding of Artemisias as a Greek polis about the second century BCE as a possible context for the recreation in Hellenistic terms of a postulated archaic image.
  18. In the third century BCE, artists began to place a mural crown on images of the goddess Cybele, who had been represented since Hittite times with a cylindrical polos. The Artemis of Ephesus also wears a mural crown in Hellenistic-Roman images; such a substitution is likely also for the reinterpretation of the Lady of Aphrodisias.
  19. The marine Aphrodite, known to Greeks as Aphrodite Pelagia, to Romans as Venus Marina, is not elsewhere represented riding the sea-goat.
  20. British Museum Collection
  21. R. R. R. Smith, "The Monument of C. Julius Zoilos" Aphrodisias Papers 2 R. R. R. Smith, K. T. Erim (eds) 1993.
  22. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. [2] (Late Antique and Ecclesiastical History)

Further reading

  • Foss, C., S. Mitchell, et al. (2007), 'Aphrodisias/Ninoe', http://pleiades.stoa.org/places/638753/.
  • Erim, Kenan T., "Aphrodisias, Awakened City Of Ancient Art", National Geographic Magazine, 1972, June.
  • Erim, Kenan T., "Aphrodisias", Net Turistik Yayinlar A.S. (Istanbul, 1990).
  • Erim, Kenan T., Aphrodisias: City of Venus Aphrodite (New York: Facts on File, 1986).
  • Joukowsky, Martha Sharp, Pre-Historic Aphrodisias (Université Catholique de Louvain 1996) available at http://www.oxbowbooks.com/bookinfo.cfm/ID/6582//Location/DBBC
  • L. Herbert, "Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Aphrodisias," in Calvin B. Kendall, Oliver Nicholson, William D. Phillips, Jr., Marguerite Ragnow (eds.), Conversion to Christianity from Late Antiquity to the Modern Age: Considering the Process in Europe, Asia, and the Americas (Minneapolis: Center for Early Modern History, 2009) (Minnesota Studies in Early Modern History).
  • MacDonald, David, The Coinage of Aphrodisias (London: Royal Numismatic Society, 1992)
  • New York University, Aphrodisias Excavations website, available: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/aphrodisias/home.ti.htm
  • Ratté, Christopher, "Archaeological Computing at Aphrodisias, Turkey", Connect, Humanities Computing, New York University, Summer 1998, available: http://www.nyu.edu/its/pubs/connect/archives/98summer/rattearchaeological.html.
  • Ratté, Christopher and R. R. R. Smith (eds), Aphrodisias papers 4: new research on the city and its monuments (Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2008) (JRA supplementary series, 70).
  • Pleiades
  • Reynolds, Joyce, Charlotte Roueché and Gabriel Bodard (2007), Inscriptions of Aphrodisias, available http://insaph.kcl.ac.uk/iaph2007, ISBN 978-1-897747-19-3
  • Roueché, Charlotte (2004), Aphrodisias in Late Antiquity: The Late Roman and Byzantine Inscriptions, revised second edition, available: http://insaph.kcl.ac.uk/ala2004, ISBN 1-897747-17-9
  • Roueche, Charlotte, Erim, Kenan T. (edd.) (1991), Aphrodisias Papers: Recent Work on Architecture and Sculpture, Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series.

External links