In 2001 an archaeological investigation undertaken at the ancient Hellenistic city of Aphrodisias in western Anatolia, Turkey, unearthed some rather extraordinary finds. One of the most fascinating finds of all was a one metre tall statue-base bearing an inscription that read as follows:
‘In accordance with a decree of the council and people, Titus Aurelius Alexandros, a philosopher, one of the Diadochs at Athens (honoured) Titus Aurelius Alexander, a philosopher, his father.’
The statue-base with its inscription, and the statue that would once have stood atop it, are certain to have been on public display in the city. The statue was a tribute from a loving son to an esteemed father, and it was one of the most prestigious ways of honouring an individual at the time.
In this case the son was the illustrious philosopher Alexandros – now known as Alexandros of Aphrodisias – who held the chair at the Lyceum, one of the schools of Aristotelian philosophy in Athens. Alexandros’ father was also a philosopher, though of the two it is the son that has made the greater mark in the history books.
To date there have been more than 250 inscribed statue-bases uncovered at Aphrodisias, and more than 2000 inscriptions of all different kinds have been found.
Which means the discovery of yet another statue-base, even with its connection to a much celebrated individual, was perhaps not that extraordinary after all.
People have been living in the valley formed by the River Maeander – the famously serpentine water course gave the word meander its meaning – from as far back as the 5th Millennium BCE.
Aphrodisias earned its place on the map when it became a Hellenistic city state in the early 2nd Century BCE. The city became renowned for the quality of its marble carvings, and eventually developed several highly-regarded statue carving schools.
The well-preserved Tetrapylon, which stands proudly near the entrance to the ruined city, is one of the symbols of Aphrodisias, and could be a temple in itself. But it is merely the entrance portal to the forecourt of the Temple of Aphrodite.
The Temple of Aphrodite
The Temple of Aphrodite was the heart of the Aphrodisias. It contained the cult image of Aphrodite, who, on top of being the goddess of love, was worshipped as a symbol of fertility, and viewed as the celestial mother force.
In 500 CE or thereabouts the temple was converted into a Christian Church, known as the Cathedral of St. Michael.
The Sebasteion was a temple dedicated to both the god Aphrodite and the semi-divine Roman emperors (Aphrodisias was a Hellenistic city-state within the Roman Empire).
The temple was reached via a grand avenue flanked on both sides by tall, marble-relief-lined buildings – as seen in the picture above. There were more than 200 reliefs in total used in the temple – 80 of these reliefs have been recovered and can be viewed in the on-site museum (see final photo in this post).
The Theatre includes 27 tiers of seating and was capable of seating 7,000 audience members. It would have been used for entertainment purposes, hosting plays, comedies, and dramas; as well as providing a forum for political assemblies.
Inscriptions in the architrave of the Theatre reveal that the building was paid for by one Gaius Julius Zoilos, an emancipated slave of Augustus, the first Roman emperor.
The Stadium of Aphrodisias is one of the largest and best preserved Greek stadia in the world. The Stadium is 270 metres long by 60 metres wide, and would have been used for athletic events, such as footraces, discus, and javelin, as well as for gladiator sports.
What happened to Aphrodisias?
Aphrodisias had already been suffering a long, slow decline in popularity when, in the 7th Century, a major earthquake rocked the city, damaging or destroying many of its structures.
People continued to live in the city – and they did so all the way up until the current day; the settlement came to be known as Geyre – but Aphrodisias’ days as a distinguished Hellenistic city-state had come to an end.
Practical information and how to reach Aphrodisias:
You can get a dolmush (minibus) to Aphrodisias from Denizli or Pamukkale. Services usually depart in the morning and return in the afternoon.
Read more on Aphrodisias in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.