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Aphrodisias Papers 5: Excavation and Research at Aphrodisias, 2006–2012

Aphrodisias Papers 5: Excavation and Research at Aphrodisias, 2006–2012

Edited by Roland R.R. Smith, Julia Lenaghan, Alexander Sokolicek, and Katherine Welch (JRA Suppl. 103). Pp. 380, figs. 437. Journal of Roman Archaeology, Portsmouth, R.I. 2016. $149. ISBN 978-0-9913730-7-9 (cloth).

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Carian Aphrodisias has been a focus of research since 1961 under the direction of New York University (NYU). The work is conducted by an international team and makes Aphrodisias one of the most important archaeological research projects in modern-day Turkey. As is typical of many excavations with a rich tradition, this excavation history represents not only an impressive amount of research and knowledge but also a burden regarding the processing of past projects and the responsibilities for conservational issues. The book under review primarily deals with the more recent period of archaeological work, 2006–2012, with a focus on the “periods of its densest remains, on the classical city” (Smith, [7] from the Late Hellenistic to the Late Roman period. It is a detailed report of the fieldwork carried out in these years. Additional comprehensive publications on different topics have been published during this period and up until the publication date of this volume (e.g., on the reliefs of the Sebasteion, the Civil Basilica, the Aphrodisias Regional Survey).

The range of field projects discussed in this volume is impressive. It includes the excavations in the Tetrapylon Street and “South Agora,” conservation and research in the Hadrianic Baths, anastylosis and study of the Sebasteion, as well as the Atrium House, North Agora, basilica, city grid, marble quarries, sarcophagi, inscriptions, and jewelry. This breadth reflects a very rich and open research concept uniting topics that can be subsumed under the term “urban archaeology.” It also shows a characteristic of many long-term projects in archaeology that appear to be in a way heterogeneous and more focused on selective research interests than on overarching questions. Despite this heterogeneous character, Smith’s overview in chapter 1 of the recent archaeological work demonstrates that scholars in Aphrodisias have been successful in joining the topics together.

Chapters 2 (Yıldırım), 3 (Öğüş), and 4 (Sokolicek) deal with the excavations in the Tetrapylon Street. These three closely related excavations have been published separately to allow the individual excavators and supervisors the opportunity to describe their own trenches (Smith, chapter 1 [14]). Sokolicek has brought the data together, providing important information about the different periods of construction and the use, transformation, abandonment, and reoccupation of the street area over a period of almost two millennia.

One of the most fascinating results of the recent research in Aphrodisias that will permanently change our view of the urban fabric of the Carian city is provided by chapters 5 (Wilson, Russell, and Ward), 6 (Robinson), and 7 (Wilson) discussing the “South Agora.” It appears that this area of the city is not an agora at all but instead might better be compared to a great urban park with tree plantings. The convincing interpretation of this area as the “place of palms” mentioned in various Aphrodisian inscriptions will raise awareness among scholars working on other excavation sites to look more thoroughly at comparable archaeological features. In addition, the general overview of the public distribution of water within the city in chapter 7 provides a long-needed explanation of this important urban feature.

Chapters 8 (De Staebler) and 9 (Öğüş) present the results of the targeted excavations that took place in connection with the construction of an addition to the Aphrodisias Museum as well as in the Atrium House and the North Agora to support the broader investigation of particular features of the city. Excavations that are not always fully hypothesis-based and that are subject to reservations among some scholars because of their positivist character are not only a reality in archaeology but may also reveal important information about a city’s or a monument’s history or layout. The excavations in the area of the new museum (De Staebler) have suggested that structures in the so-called Northeast Sector were not built on the same grid as that used for the city center. Indeed, the possibility of different grid systems being used at different times is very likely. Given the fact that the city plan is not yet fully understood, subsequent research to check the orientation and plan of the early urban grid, possibly dating to the late first century B.C.E., was carried out in 2011–2012, and the results are discussed in chapter 10 (Eren). As any thorough research on ancient city grids shows, there is significant flexibility and adaptability immanent in these city designs that we often neglect to consider. As is the case for many other sites, the city grid of Aphrodisias will remain a subject of debate, and the targeted excavations presented here will substantially contribute to this discussion.

Three chapters deal with the so-called Hadrianic Baths, which have been the subject of a major recent conservation, architectural, and archaeological study project: chapters 11 (Wilson), 12 (Öztürk), and 13 (McDavid). Wilson correctly refers to these by their ancient name “Olympian Baths,” even in his chapter title, but the more prevalent name in this volume is “Hadrianic Bath” or “Baths.” The reconstruction of the partially excavated building as a “reverse-circulation-with-U-shaped-ambulatory” type (171) is convincing and fits into the group of contemporary baths of this type in Ephesos and Alexandria Troas. While questions regarding the appearance of the western part of this impressive structure can only be resolved through excavations (or possibly geophysical survey), Wilson’s thoughts on the functional operation of water supply and heating as well as on the financing of the building are of outstanding value for anyone interested in this building type so typical in Imperial-period Asia Minor. A closer look at the architecture of the original phase by Öztürk and later structural and functional interventions by McDavid give a full picture of the history of use of this building. Research on these baths fits perfectly into the diachronic research concept of the excavations in Aphrodisias demonstrated throughout the volume under review.

Incised architectural drawings have always attracted scholars interested in ancient building processes, as do the drawings from the South Hall of the Roman Civil Basilica presented in chapter 14 (Stinson). The three drawings show an entablature, part of an arch, and a sloping roof, most likely in section; another drawing of an entablature in profile; and a fragmentary drawing of the top part of a cornice in profile. Stinson concludes, after a thorough evaluation, that the drawings do not depict aspects of the basilica itself but rather 1:1 scale parts of as yet unidentified urban projects. His observations are certainly correct, and they do not surprise. Architectural drawings with apparently no connection to the building in which they were found appear in other places not far from Aphrodisias, for example in the Prytaneum of Ephesos (M. Steskal, “Konstruktionszeichnungen zweier Voluten aus dem Prytaneion in Ephesos,” Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes in Wien 76 [2007] 371–92).

Lockey, in chapter 15, focuses on the chronology of the Atrium House already mentioned in chapter 8 (De Staebler). This domestic structure was used from at least the Early Imperial period, but not until the fourth century did the house take on the basic appearance that survives today regarding its ground plan and furnishings. Detailed observations of the architecture and furnishings of the house allow for a clear diachronic reconstruction of its history of use.

An indispensable survey of the stone quarries is presented in chapter 16 (Russell). This study follows recent research on the Aphrodisian marble quarries with a new focus on their capacity and output in relation to the city’s consumption. It is indispensable for two reasons, the first being that it provides an updated map of the quarry zone endangered by current building projects, and secondly, it reappraises the building industry of the city. Russell argues conclusively that the Aphrodisian quarries were mainly opened to satisfy local demand and not for the export market, with the exception of finished sculptures. One hopes that the petrographic analysis of the quarries promised in this chapter will substantiate that assumption.

Anastylosis and architectural conservation in Aphrodisias are performed at a very high level and are exemplary for other ancient sites. Important observations on Roman architectural practice in marble are presented on a variety of buildings in chapter 17 (Paul) and more specifically on the Sebasteion in chapter 18 (Kaefer). Both contributions show convincingly that, more than the mere restoration of an ancient structure, anastylosis provides an understanding of construction processes.

Chapters 19–24 are dedicated to new discoveries: four new finds of public statuary (Smith); 11 new sarcophagi, mostly inscribed (Smith and Chaniotis); new epigraphic finds from 2006–2009 (Chaniotis); the second Lydian inscription ever to be found in Aphrodisias (Chaniotis and Rojas); and three partially revisited inscriptions revealing the importance of education in the city (Chaniotis). The presentation of the material is of the high quality one can expect from some of the most accomplished experts in the study of sculpture and epigraphy.

Two contributions containing observations on two fragmentary sarcophagi (Öğüş [ch. 21]) and on middle Byzantine jewelry assemblages (Caruso [ch. 25]) complement the volume. Both chapters deal with finds from older excavations. Öğüş tries to track traveling sculptors who worked in the local stone medium based on the example of two fragmentary sarcophagi, arguing that “a few” elite patrons chose to hire sculptors from other major centers (331). It will be interesting to see whether this turns out to be true of other materials as well. Caruso’s chapter is a re-evaluation of finds with the merit of putting them into a functional context.

The print quality and layout of the book are mostly good, as can be expected from a prominent series. However, the number of blurred images (i.e., figs. 2.3, 2.10, 3.8, 4.5, 4.13, 7.9, 7.11, 7.31, 7.32, 7.37, 11.3, 22.4a, 22.5) or images that are too dark (i.e., figs. 8.17, 13.8–10, 13.12, 13.13) is high. Slightly larger images in some illustrations would be preferable so that the details described in the text and the captions might also be better identified. The smaller font size in descriptive paragraphs may discourage readers from examining these sections in depth.

The book is an important addition to the literature on Aphrodisias and will no doubt attract a wide audience. It is full of rich up-to-date information and will be of great value for researchers in Asia Minor and beyond. The review greatly anticipates the timely presentation of the other material remains from these projects, including the minor objects, pottery, and glass.

Martin Steskal
Austrian Archaeological Institute
Austrian Academy of Sciences

Book Review of Aphrodisias Papers 5: Excavation and Research at Aphrodisias, 2006–2012, edited by Roland R.R. Smith, Julia Lenaghan, Alexander Sokolicek, and Katherine Welch

Reviewed by Martin Steskal

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 1 (January 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1231.steskal

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