Today I tour what may be the most spectacularly preserved ancient Greek city, Ephesus. And I show one of the oldest coins there is.
Coin of the Day: Lydian 1/6 Stater 560-546 BCE
Izmir, Turkey, which I flew to this morning, is on the west coast of the somewhat rectangular Asian part of Turkey.
This area, in the 500s BCE, was part of the Lydian empire, ruled by Croesus (yes, that Croesus), and is where money was invented in the Mediterranean area. (Apparently, money was independently invented in the Indus Valley and China.) This tiny blob (I warned the photographer not to sneeze) of metal, probably electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, was minted in Sardis.
Update: I discovered today (3 Nov ’14) that Croesus actually paid for the construction of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. That makes this coin more relevant to this day’s activities than I had realized.
Since this is an example of the very first type of coin minted in the West, it gets pride of place in my chronologically-arranged Box of Ancients.
Izmir and Ephesus
So, you might ask, why go to such an obscure location in Turkey? Because, paradoxically, it’s one of the best places to see ancient Greek ruins. Izmir is an easy gateway to the area the ancient Greeks knew as Ionia, which was home to many famous Greeks, such as Herodotus, Anximander, Anaxagoras, Heraclitus, and Thales. The “Ionian League” of about a dozen cities lay almost entirely on what is now Turkish soil.
The most famous (today) of those cities is Ephesus. The Turks dropped the -us suffix and, spelling phonetically, call it Efes.
St. Paul went there, one of his epistles to the church that was there is in the New Testament (though many modern scholars believe it’s a forgery, i.e., that Paul wasn’t the actual author of the Letter to the Ephesians), and it’s reputed to be the place where the Virgin Mary died. It was also the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis.
Ephesus was once a seaport on the Litle Meander (now Küçükmenderes) river. This river was on a flat plain, meaning it, like its big brother the Meander, was a prototypical meandering river (big brother Meander gave its name to the word), and that it dumped lots of silt at its mouth. Ephesus is therefore quite a ways inland now. Today, its major claim to fame is that it is one of the best-preserved ancient Greek sites. There is a LOT to see here, including what was probably the largest Greek theater ever, and I am told ninety percent of it still has not been excavated!
I’m spending two days in this area. Today I visit Ephesus; tomorrow I visit two other Ionian cities and a sanctuary to Apollo second in importance only to Delphi.
As I hinted at, this area is in Asia. This marks the first time I’ve ever been to Asia. Now, if you are like me, the word “Asia” brings up visions of the Orient. But the word was first applied to this region, what is today Western Turkey. (It’s still called “Asia Minor.”) In fact the Roman province here was simply named “Asia.” How the word came to be applied to the entire continent, all the way to the tip of Siberia, is probably a very long story, but you’re safe, because I don’t know it.
I was picked up at the airport by a van, which met another van, which went to Ephesus. (Apparently people have to be collected from various places, brought to a central place and then sent on to the actual tour they paid for; the folks who run these all these different tours picking people up from all sorts of different places do a heck of a job organizing all this.) One of these vans blew right through a small cluster of ruins, the town of Magnesia. I realized with a start that this place gave the metal “magnesium” its name. It’s not every day you go through a settlement a common element was named after. (Unless of course you live in a certain place near Stockholm that has four elements named after it. In which case, feel free to laugh now.)
The tour started with the Virgin Mary’s last house. She, according to legend (a tradition passed down outside of the New Testament, I believe), spent her last years here with John the Evangelist. Of course many other places also claim that honor, so I took that with a dose of skepticism. But there is a specific building here, largely reconstructed (you can see the color change in the stones on the left side of the first picture), and of course it is now a shrine you’re not allowed to photograph the inside of.
From there you can see this, which is NOT the Ephesus theater, it’s a much smaller structure called an odeon (if memory serves, the distinction is that odeons were roofed). You’ll note the archway on the left, a tunnel that brings people directly to the upper levels. (There’s another matching one on the right, but the opening is facing away from the camera.) That’s a Roman innovation; Greeks didn’t do that with their odeons and theaters, but Romans often did a retrofit.
The tour then went to Ephesus itself. It’s somewhat useful to check out this map of the site. (The one Turkish word is the name of the nearby hill, which they call a mountain but I am from Colorado, so it’s a hill. Turkey does have mountains but they keep them far away from here.) The tour started near location 3, and I’ll blow up (or rather, crop and not shrink as much) the area actually toured here:
The tour starts out near the old baths, and you see a bunch of stuff like this and hear about the tepidarium (lukewarm pool), caldarium (hot pool) and frigidarium (you get to guess what that one means).
Somewhere along the Royal Walk, the excavators placed this backgammon board they had dug up. It’s interesting to think that that game has been played for thousands of years and is still very popular in this area. I wonder how much the rules have changed? I’m pretty sure the doubling cube didn’t exist back then.
And so far it’s no really big deal. It was to me because this was my very first ancient Greek city, but in hindsight, nothing so far has been especially spectacular.
But then you get to the bend in the road between 3 and 4 on our map.
Our guide told us to look down until we got to this overlook then look, he wanted it to be a surprise. And he was right. In the immediate foreground is the Monument of Memmius, behind it is a bunch of other stuff.
And here, ΑΥΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡΙ (autocrat) and ΕΦΕΣΙΩΝ ΔΗΜΩΣ (Ephesion Demos, though I didn’t get the final Σ in the frame). Picking out words I recognized (though I don’t speak Greek at all) became an occasional pastime.
The same monumental edifice I first spotted “Ephesion” on also has ΑΥΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡΙ ΝΕΡΟΥ ΤΡΑΙΑΝΟ ΚΑΙΣΑΡΙΑ which I’d guess means “Autocrat Nero Trajan Caesar” and indicates he paid for this fountain. Trajan and Hadrian (we’ll hear more about Hadrian in a moment) were both well known for funding such projects, especially in Rome itself.
You’ll notice four little pedestals in front of the Temple. About a hundred and fifty years after Hadrian, during the reconstruction following the earthquake of 262 CE, someone put these pedestals in, and put statues of the Tetrarchs here. The statues are gone, of course. The most famous of those tetrarchs was the future emperor Constantine, and here is his name (in Latin this time).
Moving along, we find… the public restroom!
This is actually quite typically Roman. No privacy walls; I guess people relied on their togas to conceal what was going on. A stream of water flowed under all the seats to carry the smelly stuff away. The trench in front carried clean water to wash hands with. (I have no idea how they handled the paperwork.)
And now for the most famous single ruin in Ephesus…
The Library of Celsus, constructed by Senator Celsus Julius Aquila, with it being completed in 117CE. Celsus was a native of Sardis (where our coin for today was minted), and was among the first purely Greek individuals to become a proconsul in the Roman Empire Perhaps because there are apparently two full stories of the edifice here. It suffered earthquake damage in 262 CE and was completely knocked down by another earthquake sometime during the middle ages. What you see here was reassembled in the 1960s and 70s from the original pieces found on site. (I suppose some might call that cheating, but I don’t think so. They made every effort to be true to the original.)
Barely visible in that picture are four statues of personified virtuas, of Sophia (wisdom), Episteme (knowledge), Ennoia (intelligence), and Arete (excellence or moral virtue). The statues are copies (originals in Vienna). Here is ΣΟΦΙΑ–Sophia and some of the incidental decoration surrounding her niche:
You can walk into what remains of the interior of the library, but look up as you walk through the archways, and you’ll see that Romans decorated their ceilings too. The lighting you see, however, probably wasn’t theirs.
You then reach the theater. Capable of seating 25,000, and back in its day, every single one of those people could hear those standing in the center of the orchestra (the large flat area we’d probably call a “stage” today) perfectly, without amplification.
And now for something completely depressing.
I mentioned the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It actually took a short bus ride after the “main” tour of Ephesus to see it.
Here it is.
The only one of the seven in any kind of good shape today is the Great Pyramid of Egypt. The others all fell due to earthquakes or other disasters. (The Great Pyramid is a pile of stone blocks, in no danger of being toppled by anything.) In addition to the Temple of Artemis and the Great Pyramids, the others were: Colossus of Rhodes, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Statue of Zeus at Olympus, and the Lighthouse (Pharos) of Alexandria.
I left out a lot that I got to see (I took 244 pictures). One thing anyone familiar with Ephesus will wonder is why I didn’t include the houses on the slope. These are excavated upper-middle-class houses built in terraces right above the area I showed you. I would love to have included them, but for whatever reason, they weren’t part of this tour. (Perhaps to make time for us to be taken to a leather store and a rug shop (grrr…), which I spared you.) I need to go back someday to see them, they were probably as interesting as everything else put together.
Tomorrow, it’s more of the Ionian region.