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The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

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site located in a fertile upland plain south of the Maeander River valley, about 200 km (124 mi) southeast of Izmir, in modern Turkey (37°43′N, 28°44′ E). The city was part of ancient Caria and was best known for its cult of Aphrodite and the high-quality work of its sculptors in marble. The site was visited in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by such learned travelers as William Sherard, the Dilettante, and Charles Texier). Excavations were first conducted In 1914 by Paul Gaudin and In 1937 by Giulio Jacopi. Systematic investigation has been carried out since 1961 by New York University, led, until his death In 1990, by Kenan T. Erim.

The site's buildings and monuments, predominantly of the Roman period, are exceptionally well preserved and unusually well documented by inscriptions. This material gives a detailed picture of the city and its people from the first to the sixth century.

Aphrodisias was founded, according to a legend recorded by Stephanus of Byzantium, by the Babylonian king Ninos, husband of Semiramis. There are considerable prehistoric and Bronze Age remains, but fewer for the archaic and classical periods. The town grew up around its sanctuary of Aphrodite in the second century BCE and began rapid urbanization in the mid-first century BCE. Sulla and Caesar patronized the sanctuary, and In 39 BCE the city gained lasting favor and privileges through Octavian. Loyalty to Rome in the War of Labienus (41/40 BCE) was rewarded by the granting of autonomy, tax-free status, and new asylum rights for the Temple of Aphrodite. The nearby marble quarries were opened and, during the first and second centuries, the city saw continuous building.

Aphrodisias retained its urban vitality far into late antiquity, when it was the seat of the Roman governor of the new (Diocletianic) province of Caria. For a long period, Aphrodite and the old religion remained strong alongside rising Christianity. The city had a Christian bishop in the fourth century, and in the fifth century it was still home to a leading school of pagan Neoplatonic philosophy.

The North Agora and Portico of Tiberius were two great colonnaded piazzas that together defined the orthogonal center of the city's urban plan, laid out probably in the late first century BCE and under construction throughout the first century CE. The Council House (Odeion, first–second century CE) formed, with the North Agora, an agora-bouleuterion complex typical of civic planning of the early imperial period in Asia Minor. It was decorated with a scaenae frons and a rich display of marble statuary.

The Temple of Aphrodite, rebuilt in the 30s BCE as a prostyle temple, was surrounded during the first century CE with a great Ionic peripteral colonnade (8 × 13 m). It was later turned into a Christian basilica, with considerable care and economy, and is one of the best examples of such a temple-church conversion. A monumental columnar Tetrapylon (mid-second century CE), in the style of the Antonine baroque, formed the entrance gate to the sanctuary area. Its full restoration, using 85% of its original blocks, was completed In 1991.

The Sebasteion, built in the mid-first century CE, was a remarkable temple complex dedicated to Aphrodite and the Julio-Claudian emperors. It was excavated between 1979 and 1982. The complex consisted of a raised prostyle Corinthian temple approached by a narrow processional way flanked by two porticos 90 m long, each three-storied and decorated with a series of figural marble reliefs. The more than eighty surviving reliefs represent scenes both from Greek mythology and of Roman imperial subjects.

The Hadrianic Baths, built across the end of the Portico of Tiberius, were a massive construction and have been standing since antiquity. They are composed of five great barrel-vaulted parallel chambers, with an imposing colonnaded court in front. A stadium, built in the first-second centuries CE, was encompassed by the later city wall (mid-fourth century), and is virtually intact. It is 262 m long with thirty tiers of seats and could hold up to thirty thousand people.

The theater, built into the site's main prehistoric höyük in the later Hellenistic period, was equipped in the 30s BCE with an elaborate columnar stage facade donated by a powerful local benefactor, one C. Julius Zoilos, an ex-slave and agent of the emperor Augustus, as recorded in the inscribed dedication of the building. Marble seating and other monumental work were added in the first century CE. The building remained in use until the seventh century, when the theater hill was converted into a fort.

Aphrodisian sculptors were well known abroad—they provided sculpture for Hadrian's villa at Tivoli, for example—and held in high repute at home. A large sculptor's workshop has been excavated in the heart of the city (between the Council House and the Temple), and the range of fine statuary recovered from other buildings gives a complete cross section of the sculpture production of a Greek city in the Roman period. The sculptures range from second-century BCE grave reliefs to fifth-century CE statues of Late Roman governors.


  • Erim, Kenan T. Aphrodisias: City of Venus Aphrodite. London and New York, 1986. A well-illustrated introduction to the history and monuments of the site, with full bibliography of earlier work.
  • Joukowsky, Martha S. Prehistoric Aphrodisias. 2 vols. Rhode Island and Louvain, 1986. Detailed publication of all aspects of the site in the Bronze Age and earlier.
  • Reynolds, J. M. Aphrodisias and Rome. London, 1983. Publication of an important series of inscriptions, including several imperial letters, detailing the city's special relationship with Rome.
  • Roueché, Charlotte. Aphrodisias in Late Antiquity. London, 1989. Publication of the Late Antique inscriptions (after 250 CE), with full historical commentary on the city in this period.
  • Roueché, Charlotte. Performers and Partisans at Aphrodisias. London, 1993. A publication of inscriptions and graffiti relating to the athletic festivals and games held in the city.
  • Roueché, Charlotte, and Kenan T. Erim, eds. Aphrodisias Papers 1. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series, no. 1. Ann Arbor, 1990. Studies on the temple of Aphrodite and various groups of sculpture.
  • Smith, R. R. R. Aphrodisias I. The Monument of C. Julius Zoilos. Mainz, 1993. A detailed publication of the allegorical frieze from the tomb of Zoilos, the freedman and agent of Octavian in the city in the 30s BCE. The first in a new series publishing the major monuments of the site.
  • Smith, R. R. R., and Kenan T. Erim, eds. Aphrodisias Papers 2. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series, no. 2. Ann Arbor, 1991. Studies on the theater, coins, and further groups of sculpture.

R. R. R. Smith

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