All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page added in April 2006.
(inscription in the Library built by Consul Julius Aquila to celebrate his father Julius Celsus Polemenus, proconsul of Asia)
Ephesus shows very interesting signs of the transition from the Roman to the Byzantine period. In 395 Emperor Theodosius left the empire to his sons Arcadius and Honorius: the former received its eastern part, while the latter had the western one. It was a formal partition of the empire, not just an allocation of responsibilities. For this reason a restoration by Arcadius of the large street between the theatre and the harbour was celebrated by dedicating the street to him. It is interesting to observe that in Rome inscriptions on the gates restored by Honorius celebrated both emperors.
During the reign of Justinian, Eastern Roman Emperor from 527 to 565, five columns, taken from the ancient buildings, were rearranged along Via Arcadiana: four of them supported statues of the four Evangelists, while the fifth one was placed upon a high base and most likely supported a cross (the image used as background for this page shows a relief of this base).
Maybe because Ephesus had been so important to the worshippers of the ancient gods, it was chosen in 431 and 449 to host two ecumenical councils. They were held inside a long Roman building, located near the harbour, which most likely was used as a covered market: in the early Vth century some of the buildings had been turned into a church which included a baptistery. The ceremony required the full immersion of the neophyte and the steps leading down to the sunken receptacle are still visible. The councils declared that Nestorianism (in 431) and Monophysitism (in 449) were heretical doctrines; both decisions led to divisions among the Christians.
Nestorianism: doctrine stating that there were two separate persons in Christ, one human and one divine.
Monophysitism: doctrine stating that there is only one inseparable nature (partly divine, partly and subordinately human) in the person of Christ.
Seljuc and St. John's Cathedral
Some of the inhabitants of Ephesus lived near the Artemision, which was located a couple of miles out of town. The sanctuary was surrounded by facilities for the visitors such as inns, baths, shops and by the houses of those who worked at the sanctuary. In the IIIrd century for the first time barbarian tribes managed to cross the borders of the empire and to raid the rich province of Asia. These raids became more frequent in the following centuries and gangs of local bandits increased the risk of living near the Artemision. The site was abandoned in favour of a more defendable nearby hill (today's Seljuc). The ancient sanctuary was dismantled stone by stone (in a process which lasted centuries) and its columns, reliefs, entablatures and arches can be seen in the walls and buildings of Seljuc.
In the VIth century Emperor Justinian in an effort both to stamp out paganism and to compensate the Ephesians for the economic loss due to the closure of the Artemision, decided to build a large basilica on the assumed tomb of St. John Evangelist. The gate leading to the church was most likely the result of relocating there the entrance of a Roman building (including the relief which decorated it). It portrayed Achilles killing an enemy, but eventually it was thought to depict a gladiator killing a Christian martyr, hence the name given to the gate.
The basilica was a very large building divided into three naves with an apse at its western end. The red and white masonry reminds the viewer of the walls of Constantinople owing to the typical Byzantine practice of alternating layers of stones or marbles and layers of bricks.
For a certain time St. John's Basilica attracted pilgrims and contributed to the growth of Aghia Theologos, as the small town was most likely known (when it fell in Ottoman hands the name was turned into Ayasoluk and eventually into Seljuc). It attracted the remaining inhabitants of Ephesus, the harbour of which was completely silted. Another factor which greatly reduced the population was a pestilence recorded as the Plague of Justinian. The initial outbreak originated in Egypt which supplied massive amount of grain to Constantinople (and Rome): in 541 the plague spread to port cities around the Mediterranean; the exact population loss is difficult to assess, but it was very significant and it greatly weakened the Byzantine Empire.
In St. John's basilica a screen separated the aisles from the choir: it was made of plutei or transennae, marble slabs decorated with a very light relief, usually of a very simple albeit elegant design. These plutei are peculiar to Byzantine art as well as the simple and low capitals which supplemented those taken from the Artemision.
Return to Roman Ephesus.
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