- The ancient city of
Ephesus is located outside the
modern city of
the Mediterranean coast of present-day Turkey. Although
the region was settled as early as 5000 BC,
city whose ruins we see today dates from the 3rd
BC and are the
product of Hellenistic city planning and Roman
renovations. Lysimachus, the Thessalian general of
Alexander the Great, relocated Ephesus to its present
site and constructed the city using the then modern
principles of urban development envisioned by Hippodamus
of Miletus. Although Lysimachus is often credited with
building the "Great Theatre" at this time, there is no
evidence of a theatre in the initial construction phase
of the city. Stefan Karwiese of the Österreichisches
Archaologisches Insitut questions the existence of a
theatre at Ephesus prior to 100 BC but acknowledges the
possibility that Lysimachus may have chosen the building
site prior to his death in 281 BC.
magnificent theatre is set into the side of a steep hill
at the center of the ancient
city. Its design,
location and conception may have benefited from
Hellenistic influences but its size and ornamentations
are the products of Empirical Rome. The theatre was built
at the end of the Hellenistic period, but it was
significantly altered and enlarged by the Romans during
the following five centuries. The theatre remained in use
until the 5th century AD.
- A major Hellenistic
construction phase in Ephesus at the end of the 3rd
century BC most likely produced the
initial theatre that featured a cavea with a single tier
of seats, an orchestra with a drainage channel, and a
simple one-story scaenae (stage
house). Under the
Romans, beginning about 40 AD, the theatre was expanded
and renovated to become the
massive structure that we see today.
city of Ephesus grew considerably during the reign of
Augustus and the
Theatre expanded accordingly. During the reign of Nero in
54 BC, the scaenae was enlarged to eight rooms opening
off of a central hallway. This phase of renovation was
finished in 66 AD.
- Between 87 and 92 AD, a
renovation of the theatre, dedicated to the Emperor
the stage (pulpitum) and included a richly decorated
two-story façade (scaenae
open pardoi of the Hellenistic theatre were enclosed to
produce covered side entrances (aditus maximus) to the
cavea. At this
time, the size of the cavea was increased by adding an
additional tier of seating supported by vaulted
substructures and reinforced by external retaining walls
(analemmata). Sometime prior to 262 AD, a third story was
added to the scaena and a third tier of seats was added
to the cavea.
between 359 and 366 destroyed the upper cavea, and
although repairs to the northern retaining walls were
completed Under Arkadios (395-408 AD),
the upper cavea
was abandoned. An epigram celebrates the proconsul
Messalinus, who was responsible for the completion of the
the 8th century AD the theatre had been incorporated into
the defensive fortifications for the
city. The theatre
continues to be used each May at the Selçuk
Ephesus Festival of Culture and Art.
Roman cavea at Ephesus is larger than a
three tiers of seats separated into wedges (cunei) by two
diazomata and 58
first tier of seats has twelve staircases, while the
second and third tiers had twenty-three each.
of marble, the cavea held 17,000 to 22,000 spectators and
measured 140 by 95 meters.
The steepness of
the rows increases above each diazomata for the benefit
of those sitting at the back of the theatre. There was a
colonnade above and behind the uppermost tier of cavea
seating. An awning (velum) that provided weather
protection to the cavea was added in the middle of the
second century AD. The velum was still in use a century
later as records show repairs to the awning in 205 and
240 AD. The theatre was never covered by a roof.
Vitruvius writes that theatres in Asia Minor also
featured bronze or clay sounding vessels placed around
the cavea to help improve acoustics. These may have been
present at Ephesus.
run-off channels surrounded the semicircular
Roman times the orchestra was covered with slabs of
marble, some of which were green. When the Roman stage
was completed it projected twenty feet into the
compared with Vitruvius' model scheme of the Hellenistic
theatre, the proscenium cuts into the "basic circle" of
the orchestra by three and a quarter feet; however, this
amount is made up for almost exactly by the reduction in
the radius of the orchestra caused by the water
drain. The stage
was eight and a half feet tall and rested on supporting
proscaenium, which was the same length as the stage,
featured Doric columns five and a half feet high that
rested on three-foot wide stone
columns were spaced
at twenty-one foot
central interval was wider than the rest, and held a
stairway leading from the stage into the orchestra. The
colonnade architecture of the scaenae frons included
niches for statues and seven large rectangular openings
(thyromata), which may have been used as doors or
contained scenic elements, depending on the production
the 4th century a high peripheral wall was built around
the orchestra to protect the audience from injury during
the often-violent gladiatorial contests and circus-like
entertainments that had become
orchestra was also made waterproof and served as a
kolymbethra (water filled pool used for aquatic
displays). Before the wall was built there had been an
iron railing between the orchestra and the
- St. Paul argued with the
silversmith Demetrius at the theatre at Ephesus.
Demetrius responded to Paul's preaching by encouraging
the crowd in a chant of "Great is Artemis of the
Ephesians!" Demetrius' alleged motive was to protect the
business he had selling silver statues of the Goddess.
The theatre was probably still under construction when
Paul spoke at Ephesus in the mid-1st century
- Ephesus was first
excavated by British archaeologist J.T. Wood from
1863-1874. He was primarily concerned with the Artemision
(Temple of Artemis), which he located in 1869. Austrian
excavations of the site began in 1894 under W. Wiberg.
The theatre was one of the first sites the Austrians
excavated. Austrian excavations continued until the
outbreak of World War I, resumed 1926-35 and have
continued from 1954 to the present in connection with the
Österreichisches Archäeologisches Institut. In
the 1970s and from 1993-8, the cavea was excavated and
restored. Since 1997 the work on the theatre has focused
on the reconstruction of the scaenae frons. Excavators
are photographing, drawing, and cataloguing all the
fragments of the scaenae frons that were found collapsed
in the orchestra. Austrian teams will analyze this
information to determine how the reconstruction of the
scaenae frons should proceed. As of 2001, the Ephesus
excavations were under the direction of Fritz
- - Author: Amanda
Heffernan (student research assistant), Whitman College.
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