Authors: Lenagham, Julia - R.R.R. Smith
Title: Aphrodisias. City & Sculpture in Roman Asia. Architecture, Monuments & Sculpture
Publisher: Ertug & Kocabiyik Publications

From the book Is published with the kind permission of Mr. Murat Ertug, Marketing Director, Ertug & Kocabiyik Publications
Aphrodisias. City & Sculpture: Introduction

A Aphrodisias was a free and autonomous city within the Roman
province of Asia (approximately, western Turkey). 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 general 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 circum-
stance 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 (90
hectares, with a population of maybe 15,000 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. In
this period,civic benefaction and honorific rewards (statues,tombs)
were the stuff of local politics.
The monuments of the city are documented in great detail
by texts inscribed on them. They tell us who paid for the monu-
ments,what they were for,and what those honoured had done for
the community. Public writing was a major feature of the ancient
cityscape in this period. This documentation allows a fine-grained
chronology of the city’s evolution, in terms of both its building
history and its social history. We can see how monuments and
images define the particular character of distinct periods within
the city’s long life: late hellenistic (second-first century BC), early
democratic city life and the realities of local power and control.
On the one hand there was a massive symbolic edifice of demo-
cratic appearances (council, people, laws, accountability, published
documents) which the buildings,spaces,and monuments expressed,
and on the other hand there was the reality of local elite control
by a few wealthy landowning families backed by the power of
Rome. This power was all the more effective because so rarely
used, at least visibly. The long road from a hellenistic-style polis
community of the second century BC to the authoritarian power
of direct Roman rule through a provincial governor in the fourth
century is represented, negotiated, and camouflaged in the rich
appearance ofa handsome marble city and its astonishing sculpture.

Exploration and excavation

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.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. These were brought to the Istanbul Archaeological
Museum under the leadership of Osman Hamdi Bey. Another
French team came again for one campaign in 1913 under André
Boulanger. An Italian expedition directed by G. Jacopi excavated
the Portico of Tiberius in the South Agora in 1937 and discovered
the important series of mask and garland friezes which is now on
display in the Izmir Archaeological Museum. 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 South Agora, 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. Since 1990, major new fieldwork of the
New York University team has investigated the city’s urban
development and discovered the rectangular grid on which the
late hellenistic city was laid out. Research has also concen-
trated on documentation, conservation, publication, and museum
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.

Sebastieion, North Building, mid-First Century AD

Agrippina crowns her son Nero with a laurel wreath.
 Agrippina carries a cornucopia, symbol of Fortune and Plenty,
and Nerowears the armour and cloak of a Roman commander.
He held a spear, nowbroken 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. Inv. 82-250. Relief. H: 1.71 m.
 Found in room 9 of the North
Building. Smith, JRS1987,
 127-32, no. 11, pls. 24-26.1-2
The heavily shadowed eyes have engraved irises.The centre
 of the brow and root of the nose have a pronounced contraction.
 The garland has mostly apple-like fruits and some pine cones. The 
mask represented some rustic or woodland spirit that characterised
the people or place whose name is lost.
 South Building reliefs:emperors and heroes
. The South Building was sponsored by two brothers, Attalos and
Diogenes, and their family. Some eighty per cent ofits reliefs survive,
 1987, 101-4, no. 1, pls. 4-5.
The naked emperor stands in majesty with a winged Victory (Nike-).
 He carried a spear and has an eagle, the bird of Zeus, at his feet.
 Victory is crowning a military trophy – a rough post with enemy
armour attached to it (helmet, cuirass, greaves, shield). Beneath
the trophy, a barbarian captive, his hands tied behind his back, is
‘sunk’into the plinth.The awkward junction of this figure and the
plinth would not be visible from below, and for the same reason
the feet of the figures are not well finished.
and distinctive hairstyles,which are taken from the official portrait
types in use at Rome. On the right stands a figure wearing a
Roman toga who crowns the emperor with a wreath of oak leaves
(the corona civica,a common imperial symbol,originally awarded to
Roman leaders for the saving ofthe lives ofother Roman citizens.).
This figure should be a personification of either the People or the
Senate of the Romans.
In the construction of the ancient building, this relief was
placed on a base for Nero whose inscription reads: [Nero-n].


No. 3 CLAUDIUS AND BRITANNIA with inscribed base claudius_britannia02
Sebasteion, South Building, mid-First Century AD
Inv. 80-137 (relief), 80-159
(base). Combined H: 2.36 m.
Found inside Room 3 of South
Building. Smith, JRS1987
The naked warrior Claudius is about to deliver a death blow to a
slumped figure ofBritannia.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 ofthe 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.
elevation with reliefs.









from Hadrianic baths,second century AD
Inv. 66-269. Over life-size head. H: 52 cm.

Found in the doorway to chamber 7 in the
Hadrianic Baths. The skin is polished, and
the unmarked eyes preserve traces of paint.
Smith, ‘Statue Life’, 224, A 18, fig. 16.
The over life-size head represents a goddess
with her thick hairstyle tied up in a bow-shaped knot on top of
the head. Two thick, twisting locks escape on either side of the
neck. The face has the regular, idealized form of a divinity. The
head is one of several of the same kind found in the Baths, and
they probably belonged to a series of dedications made by
wealthy women of the city for which the inscribed bases survive.






From Hadrianic baths, Second-Third century AD

Found in central drainage tunnel under forecourt
of Baths, as it passes beneath steps and under
the west stoa of South Agora.Inv. 65-236. Fragmentary head. H: 32.5 cm. Smith, AphPapers3, 61 and 64, fig. 63; Smith, ‘Statue
Life’, 224, A 26, fig. 18.The back was
separately worked; the pin is still extant in the
smooth join surface. A lock of hair on the left side was also added s
eparately. The high-quality head represents a satyr blowing the double flutes.
It is of the same high-level workmanship and polished finish as a
group of sculptures associated with the workshop situated behind
the Council House. It is a typically virtuoso interpretation of a
hellenistic subject.



No 13
Sebasteion.South building,mid-century AD

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 ofTroy’s
ancestral gods. Inv: 80-140. Relief. H: 1.73 m.
Main parts found in middle of 
Room 1 of South Building.
 Erim, ‘Aphrodisias 1980’, 23.These three figures constituted the regular icono-
graphic 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.


First Century AD and later

The frieze blocks come from the long Ionic colonnades that framed
the South Agora. The earliest are from the north colonnade dedi-
cated to the emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37). Others were made in the
second century and later. The motifofa fruit garland hung between
twomasks 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

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