ancient city of Aphrodisias was built over the remains of
dating back to the Early Bronze period. Prior to the
founding of Aphrodisias, the city names of Lelegonopolis,
Megalopolis, and the Assyrian city of Ninoe have all been
associated with this ancient site. The Hellenistic city
of Aphrodisias was named for Venus Aphrodite, and is
located near the modern
town of Karacasu in
the 200-acre site was inhabited as early as 2700 BC, the
ruins we see today date from the third century BC and
reflect the influence of Rome from the first century BC
to the seventh century AD.
theater was built
on the eastern slope of the larger of two prehistoric
settlement mounds surrounded by the otherwise flat and
plain of the Meander River
adjacent to the South Agora,
or public square of the ancient city, the theatre was
ideally located for public performances, forums, and the
circus-like entertainment of blood sports.
have revealed the lower section of the cavea (27 rows of
seats) and much
of the theatre's architecture.
original theatre dates from the Late Hellenistic period,
but it was extensively renovated between 38 and 28
BC. An architrave
inscription records that the remodeled theater was
dedicated to Aphrodite and to the Demos (people) by G.
Iulius Zoilos, during the reign of Octavian. Zoilos was
an Aphrodisian slave freed by Octavian. By the 30s BC
Zoilos had become wealthy and influential in his
hometown. Though the inscription is not dated, historical
data on Zoilos and Octavian allows us to place the
renovation between 38 and 28 BC. We know that the
renovation occurred later than 38 BC because Zoilos was
not active in Aphrodisias until that year, and we know
that the renovation predates 27 BC because the architrave
inscription does not call Octavian Augustus, a name he
adopted in 27 BC.
renovation completed by Zoilos included a three-story
stage building with a logeion, proskenion, and decorated
There may have been no stone cavea at this point; the
seating may have been made of wood except for
prohedria (seats for wealthy and aristocratic
guests) in the
- The theater underwent
another phase of construction sometime during the reigns
of Claudius and Nero (40-68 AD). Inscriptions from this
period show that the wealthy benefactor Aristokles
Molossos and his son Hermas built an entrance, the two
parodoi (side entrance into the orchestra of the
theater), the analemmata (retaining walls) of the
possibly the third set of seats above the second diazoma
(horizontal walkway separating sections of cavea
enlarged cavea was furnished with marble seating and
could accommodate between ten and fifteen thousand
- In the late 2nd century
AD, under Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD), the theatre was
further renovated to make the space suitable for
gladiator contests. The
orchestra was expanded by removing the first two or three
rows of seats, and a high wall was built around the
wood or iron railings on top to protect spectators in the
front rows. A
Tibunalia (seat of
honor) was built
in the lower cavea and an access staircase leading from
the orchestra allowed victorious gladiators to approach
presiding officials to receive recognition and honors.
two covered parodoi built by Molossos lead directly to
the Agora as did
central arched entrance in the
skene. When the
theater was used for political gatherings, politicians
could speak to the cavea or turn around and speak to
those gathered in the public square of the
- Later, the orchestra was
lowered and a water channel was dug around its edge to
facilitate cleaning following fights and hunts.
skene and stage were enlarged and connected to the cavea,
and a complex of hallways and rooms that housed animals
and equipment (via venatorium or pathway of the hunter)
The theater continued to be used through the early
Byzantine period, when chapels were built at each end of
the proskenion. The theater collapsed in an earthquake
during the reign of Herclius (610-641AD) and was never
repaired. The site was used as a fort during the
Byzantine period, and later houses were built on top of
- The theater at
Aphrodisias preserves a unique record of Hellenistic as
well as Roman artifacts. Because the stage building fell
forward on itself during the earthquake, and because
later builders on the site simply built on top of the
rubble, the scaenae frons is remarkably well preserved
with much of its decoration and statuary intact. It is
also one of the few theaters with an extant skene (stage
building); the structure commissioned by G. Iulius Zoilos
remains intact. The stage building has four rooms
off of a vaulted central hallway (portus post
of the stage building contains three doorways opening
onto the stage, the porta regia (center entrance) flanked
by a door on either side (the portae
Inscriptions cut in the doorways show that the space
behind was reserved for the equipment of popular actors.
front, the lower level of scaenae frons has been
reconstructed, with Doric columns and niches for
of Nike, Aphrodite, the Muses of Tragedy, a youth, and
the Emperor Domitian have been found at the site, as well
as several statues of pugilists (boxers) complete with
scarred bodies and cauliflower ears. These artifacts are
on display at the site museum.
- Another unique feature
of the theater is the so-called "archive wall" found in
the North parodos (side entrance into the orchestra). The
parodos wall, measuring five by fifteen meters, is
covered with inscriptions in Greek that record the
history of the city. Most inscriptions are letters and
decrees from Roman Emperors, including the Roman
senatorial decree that granted the city special rank and
- Paul Gaudin, a Frenchman
in charge of the Smyrna-Kassaba railway, first excavated
Aphrodisias in 1904. French excavations continued
1905-1913, and Italians excavated under Giulio Jacopi
from 1937-39. In 1961 Dr. Kenan Erim began excavating the
site under the auspices of New York University;
Aphrodisias was Dr. Erim's life work and passion until
his death in 1990. Excavations of the theater began in
earnest in 1966 with a grant from the National Geographic
Society, and this first phase of the theatre's excavation
was completed by 1976. In 1988 the effort to reconstruct
the stage building began. Research and excavations at the
site have continued since 1990 and are jointly directed
by Christopher Ratté, Associate Professor of
Classics and Fine Arts at New York University and R.R.R.
Smith, Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology at the
University of Oxford.
- - Author: Amanda
Heffernan (student research assistant), Whitman College.
- Akurgal, Ekrem.
Ancient Civilization and Ruins of Turkey. 9th ed.
Istanbul: Net Turistik Yayinlar, 2001.
- Aphrodisias. New
York University. Online document. Accessed 12 November,
2003. Available from http://www.nyu.edu/projects/aphrodisias/
- Aphrodisias Papers 2:
The Theater, A Sculptor's Workshop, Philosophers, and
Coin-types. Ed. R.R.R. Smith and Kenan T. Erim.
Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series No. 2.
Ann Arbor, MI: 1991.
- Erim, Kenan.
Aphrodisias: City of Venus Aphrodite. New York:
Facts on File Publications, 1986.
- McDonagh, Bernard.
Blue Guide Turkey. London: A&C Black,