Abstract: Ephesus in Late Antiquity and Beyond

Lecturer: Sabine Ladstätter

Ephesus, one of the largest, most populous and flourishing cities of the Roman Imperial period, experienced dramatic changes in the course of the 3rd century. Amongst other events, a series of earthquakes, which since the late Severan period are impressively apparent in the archaeological record, was responsible for these changes. A seismic catastrophe in the third quarter of the 3rd century represents the culmination of these processes; entire city regions were irreparably destroyed. In contrast to earlier earthquake destructions, however, the city was not immediately rebuilt; instead, the disastrous combination of natural catastrophe, plundering raids, and economic crises brought long-lasting consequences not only for the prosperity of the region but also for the urban appearance of Ephesus. For decades, people lived amongst ruins and masses of debris, so that although the building stock was indeed quickly repaired, this was done only in a makeshift fashion.

A distinct recovery, incorporating a building programme, was first instituted only towards the end of the 4th or the beginning of the 5th century. While the old city centre was indeed renovated, numerous public buildings lost their original function, were abandoned to ruin, or were transformed. The public space was relocated from the open plazas to the monumental streets, which were ostentatiously elaborated with statuary programmes and honorific inscriptions. The administrative buildings were relocated to the lower city, where a new city centre grew up and where, in the course of the 5th century, a building programme consisting of sacred and prestigious structures, yet also residential districts, was implemented. The Roman harbour, which was already connected to the sea in the Imperial period by means of an artificial channel, maintained its function until far into Late Antiquity and probably even longer. Along the channel a street of tombs developed throughout the 3rd century, which was in use until the end of the 5th century.

Numerous Christian chapels and churches characterised the Late Antique urban appearance of Ephesus, which also advanced to an important pilgrimage centre. Not only the Basilica of St. John, but also the Church of St. Mary, the Cemetery of the Seven Sleepers, and other sacred buildings attracted pilgrims in droves, and led finally to pilgrimage which developed into an important branch of the urban economy.

Probably in the course of the 7th century a transformation in the settlement can be detected. On the one hand, the core city in the Harbour area was protected by a wall, while on the other hand settlement concentrations developed in the immediate environs, in particular around Christian sacred buildings. The Curetes Street and the Terrace Houses now lay outside the fortified city, and in these regions only craftsmen now settled. The history of Ephesus after the 7th century can only be sporadically comprehended; nevertheless, the results of the most recent excavations reveal increasing evidence of a continuous settlement of the ancient site up until the 14th century, and the Harbour too seems to have maintained its function. Parallel to this, a Byzantine settlement around the Basilica of St. John and at the area of the sanctuary of Ephesian Artemis can also be assumed. The Selçuks also moved their settlement concentration to this area: during the following centuries mosques, baths and an impressive fortification construction grew up here.

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Ron Marchese is Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. He was also a member of the Center for Ancient... Read More

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