Since 2011, research at Ephesos has also focussed on the transformation of the imperial-period metropolis into a Late Antique city and a mediaeval settlement. Extensive excavations in recent years in a city quarter to the south of the Church of St Mary and at the plaza of Domitian enable profound insights into the development of the city, from its centuries–long history as a political and economic centre, up to the abandonment of urban structures at the end of antiquity. The studies allow fundamental insights for the first time into the ›Dark Ages‹ of Ephesos and its material culture.
Towards the end of the 4th century / beginning of the 5th century AD, Ephesos established itself as a supraregional political and economic centre, and the increased prominence of the Christian religion also left its mark on the city. Thus, in the framework of a building programme which was probably centrally controlled, prominent buildings of both profane and sacred nature were erected in the lower city of Ephesos. In both a chronological as well as a spatial proximity, generously laid out private buildings arose; in the design of their groundplans they were the successors of the imperial–period Terrace Slope Houses. At the same time, plaza areas were redesigned, in part being reduced in size or being used as spolia.
Between 2011–2018, it was possible to excavate a section of the city quarter (4./5.–14. c. A.D.) to the south of the Church of St Mary. The exacavated area encompasses ca. 2,000 m², and a number of complexes, independent of each other, can be identified in the findings. A prestigious residential building can be singled out, which was furnished with decorated floors, wall paintings and marble incrustations. In addition, rooms were brought to light which were dedicated to household activities. The large dimensions of the installations in individual rooms suggest that agricultural products, such as grapes, grain and olives, were processed here at a greater scale than required by individual home requirements. In addition, it is possible to reconstruct workshops for the processing of bone. Furthermore, many thousands of coins, weighing scales and weights provide evidence of trading activities which were primarily carried out in roadside tavernae.
In the second half of the 7th century, the usage of these buildings came to a sudden end. A fire, probably caused by an earthquake, led to an extensive destruction; thereafter, many of the buildings were again put into use. It is nevertheless noteworthy that the entire destruction level was not removed – either due to lack of capability or lack of will. In part, rooms were filled with debris and walled off, while in other areas the debris was spread out within the rooms, thereby creating new floor levels. In individual areas, this was carried out to such an extent during the successive period of usage that the indoor level was gradually heightened.
Only after the 12th century do the Late Antique structures appear to have been completely abandoned; in selected areas they were also built over. While residential activities have been identified up until that time, afterwards the area seems to have been used primarily for agrarian purposes. Isolated storage buildings provide evidence of these enterprises. The final traces of human activity can be dated to the 14th century, although no architectural evidence can be associated with this. As findings from other sites in the urban area indicate, Ephesos was completely abandoned at this time.
The new research and excavations at the Plaza of Domitian concern questions regarding the transformation of the plaza, from the time of its erection in the late 1st century A.D. until its abandonment in Late Antiquity. Of particular significance is the expected decrease in its size, and the building up of free surfaces, already observed elsewhere, after the 5th century A.D. The course of a road that leads from the Plaza of Domitian to the north side of the Terrace Slope Houses should also be clarified.
At both excavation sites, transformation processes of urban structures, as well as the incorporation of rural settlement elements, can be observed over a long period of time. The new results of the settlement history of Ephesos are paradigmatic for other sites in Asia Minor. The precise appraisal of the material legacy enables a new view of the late phases of the city up until the establishment of a new, displaced centre – Ayasoluk, which would later become Selçuk.