A Hellenistic palace complex above the Theater of Ephesos and its development throughout late antiquity

Contrary to its cultural and architectural historical importance a palace-like residential house on the western slopes of the Panayırdağ has received very little attention in scholarship. For our general understanding of Hellenistic urban planning and development of monumental architecture in Ephesos the building is of utmost interest.

Interdisciplinary research has demonstrated that above the Great Theater of Ephesos a quarter developed in the 2nd century BCE that in many ways stood out from the urban landscape. Over the centuries it was marked by monumental building measures that resemble contemporary palace architecture. The central building of the district was an imposing town house that had already been partially excavated in 1929/1930 and was again examined from 2009 to 2015.

A Hellenistic palace complex

On an artificial terrace above the theater a large peristyle house covering an area of at least 2,400 m2 was constructed in the mid-2nd century BCE or shortly before. Its architectural design with a spacious peristyle courtyard and large formal rooms are reminiscent of Hellenistic palace complexes as is its prominent location within the city which was aimed at an imposing long-distance effect from the harbor. Based on its dating and the strong influence of Pergamene building traditions the complex could have served as an Attalid administrative residence.

The imperial period domus as an administrative residence

In the first half of the 2nd century CE the town house was expanded into an imposing building complex covering an area of over 10,000 m2 through the implementation of a massive construction program. Individual building elements, such as the monumental apsidal hall or a nymphaeum fitted with fountains later turned into a bathing complex, stand out due to the shape of the rooms and luxurious furnishings. In view of the architectural and urban characteristics it appears to be plausible that the building figured as the official residence and office of a Roman magistrate, possibly even of the proconsul Asiae.

The urban context

Almost simultaneously an elongated assembly hall was constructed to the south of the town house on a high platform. The building typological similarities with cult assembly places, epigraphic indications of imperial cult acts within the district as well as the imposing location of the building within the urban fabric indicate that it served as an important sacred and/or political meeting place. Just like a probably Hellenistic pedestal monument just above the theater, the assembly hall illustrates a close connection between the town house and to other buildings of collective importance.

The late antique reconstruction

In the late 4th or early 5th century CE all studied areas of the domus were affected by a large scale rebuilding measure that might need to be understood as a reaction to devastating earthquake damages. Clear references to the building of the preceding phases – such as the spatial structure, luxurious furnishings, and the targeted preservation of the most formal historical building elements – lead to the conclusion that the late antique domus continued to be used as an administrative residence.

The domus during early Christianity

The continued outstanding social position of the master of the house is also reflected in the establishment of a small chapel in the northeast wing of the house in the course of the 5th or early 6th century. It was used for holding church services for a selected group of people in the presence of clerics. The final abandonment of the town house likely took place at the latest in the early 7th century. A connection to the large scale changes within the settlement structure of Ephesos seems obvious but any causal relations cannot be definitively identified at this point.