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The Roman Odeum at Ephesus, Turkey:

There are two theatre structures at Ephesus, the Great Theatre and the smaller Odeum (Bouleuterion). An inscription tells us that the theatre was commissioned around 150 AD by the wealthy benefactor Publius Vedius Antoninus and his wife Flavia Papiane. The building is located at the northern edge of the State Agora in close proximity to the Pryteneion (the town hall), and has been interpreted both as a city council chamber (Bouleuterion) and as a small concert hall (Odeum). The structure, which resembles a small theatre, most likely served both functions.

The building features a relatively small cavea (seating approximately 1500), a sunken semi-circular orchestra, and a shallow stage (pulpitum). The stage could be approached from either side using sloping parodos ramps and was backed by five doors leading to the Basilica Stoa (Royal Colonnade). The building could be accessed through doors in the Basilica; through large arched doors at the end of the parodoi; and through an arched passageway leading to the top of the lower cavea seating area.

An audience was provided with two tiers of marble seating separated by a single walkway (diazoma) and divided into thirteen wedge-shaped sections (kerkides or cunei). The bottom and top tiers of seating consist of thirteen and ten rows of seats respectively, and the kerkides are accessed by radiating stairways spaced throughout the cavea. The cavea is enclosed by a curved outer wall and most likely had a red marble colonnade above and behind the seating area. Evidence of this colonnade consists of cuttings in the floor for pilaster bases and numerous fragments of red marble.

A small semi-circular, sunken orchestra measuring 9 meters by 4.5 meters is backed by a shallow (4 meters deep) stage or pulpitum. Covered parodoi (aditus maximus) form the two main side entrances to the stage, and several doors at the back of the stage lead to the adjoining building, the Basilica Stoa. At one time, a decorative façade, or scaenae frons, with columns and statuary once stood. The archeologist J.T. Wood sent the surviving statuary to the British Museum in the nineteenth century. The statuary includes a dynastic group of Emperor Lucius Verus and Empress Faustina the Younger, a silenus torso, and the Muse Erato.

Greek and Roman theatres typically provided little protection from the weather other than retractable awnings (velum). Smaller structures such as the Odeion and Bouleuterion however, were typically covered with a roof, comprised of wooden battens covered with clay tiles, supported by large triangular wooden trusses. As there are no water runoff channels in the orchestra, the Odeum was probably covered with such a roof. A narrow corridor with its deep drain separating the Odeum from the Basilica was a trough for rainwater shed by the roofs of both buildings.

Restoration work was begun on the Odeum in 1970 by the Selçuk Museum. Before the work was done, only six rows of seats were visible and the ruins were deteriorating. In 1970 and later in 1990, the museum paved the stage and used concrete to stabilize the support under the seating. The work also reconstructed the entire two-tiered seating area above the first few rows, which were the only rows of marble seating to have remained intact.

- Author: Amanda Heffernan (student research assistant), Whitman College. 2003


Akurgal, Ekrem. Ancient Civilization and Ruins of Turkey. 9th ed. Istanbul: Net Turistik Yayinlar, 2001.

Cimrin, Hüseyin. Ephesus: The Metropolis of the Antique Age. Izmir, Turkey: Güney Books, 2002.

Ephesus: The New Guide. Ed. Peter Scherrer. Trans. Lionel Bier and George Luxon. Rev. ed. Zero Productions, Ltd., 2000.

McDonagh, Bernard. Blue Guide Turkey. London: A&C Black, 2001.

Waugh, John K. "Roman Ephesus: An Architectural Investigation of Immense Proportions." Thesis, Reed College, 1999.

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Copyright © 2003 Thomas G. Hines, Department of Theatre, Whitman College. All Rights Reserved. The Ancient Theatre Archive is a non-profit, educational project, located at Whitman College, USA. Research and Publication Partially Funded Through Grants from Whitman College, The United States Institute for Theatre Technology, The Benson Foundation, and The National Endowment for the Humanities.
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