Abstract: Ephesus: Harbor, City and Hinterland

Lecturer: 

Ephesus was one of the most important ancient harbour cities, yet it nevertheless had to contend with a continually progressive silting up caused by natural sedimentation processes. In order to guarantee an optimal connection to the sea, the settlement was moved on numerous occasions, until an artificial landing was created with the construction of the late Hellenistic-Roman harbour which was connected to the sea by an originally broad canal. An impressive scenario was offered to visitors: the northern slope of the Bülbüldağ was bordered by tomb buildings, and after the 3rd century A.D. a necropolis also grew up along both sides of the canal. From the harbour basin, which was framed by both functional and prestigious buildings, the visitor arrived at the city via three gates. The harbour region was without doubt the pulsating centre of the city with markets, baths, sacred structures and numerous administrative buildings.

A distinct upswing and cultural transformation went hand in hand with the establishment of the Province of Asia and the designation of Ephesus as its capital city. In the archaeological record, this development is particularly impressively manifested during the Augustan period, after which time a significantly Roman character of the material culture can be observed. The urban appearance of Ephesus in the Roman Imperial period was stamped by numerous private foundations and honorific monuments which bordered the public plazas and streets. A number of factors are responsible for the economic prosperity of the city. Thus, for example, the city had an extremely fertile hinterland at its disposal, where agriculture, above all the cultivation of olives and wine, could be intensively practiced. The abundance of raw materials in the hinterland of Ephesus was also of great significance; the presence of marble in particular can be pointed to. The harbour of Ephesus, where tariffs were also collected, served as trading hub and reloading point for goods of every description. Wares from Asia Minor were shipped from here, while imports from the entire empire and beyond were delivered to the city and the wider region. An additional factor of economic importance was the Artemision, which – as large-scale landholder, as the “bank of Asia”, and also as a pilgrimage sanctuary – contributed measurably to the prosperity of the city and its population. The provision of a metropolis such as Ephesus, whose inhabitants made high demands for consumption, was a logistical challenge: sites of production and transportation routes needed to be maintained in a functioning capacity, markets had to be adequately supplied, and distribution guaranteed.

As capital city and seat of a bishop of the now significantly smaller Province of Asia, Ephesus retained its key function as trading hub throughout Late Antiquity, even when with the founding of Constantinople the focal point of activity was now transferred to the new capital. Great consideration was still paid to maintaining the harbour basin and the canal. By means of the construction of outer harbours, large ships could anchor offshore and unload their cargo, which would be brought into the city on smaller boats. The numerous Christian sanctuaries, above all the Basilica of St. John and the Church of St. Mary, attracted hordes of pilgrims, and thus a brisk trade in tourism and eulogies was developed.

Finally, the medieval town of Ayasoluk, which extended around the Basilica of St. John and the area of the Artemision, also profited from previously existing trading connections, and was equally as attractive for Italian, Jewish and Armenian merchants as it was for the resident Byzantines and Turks.

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