The Erotes Frieze from the Theater in Ephesos

The frieze adorned the back wall of the stage of the theater in Ephesos. It shows erotes hunting for wild animals and celebrating in a sacred landscape alongside individual reclining satyrs. The publication is being carried out by the OeAI (M. Aurenhammer) in cooperation with the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (G. A. Plattner).

The numerous fragments of the frieze were recovered during the first years of the Austrian excavations in Ephesos in front of the stage of the theater and by decree of the sultan Abdul Hamid II they were brought to Vienna where the bulk is now kept in the store rooms of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM). Four reassembled panels are on exhibit in the Ephesos Museum of the KHM. Several fragments were already discovered by J. T. Wood in the mid-19th century and are now located in the British Museum.

The frieze adorned the base of the middle story of the back wall of the theater stage where the thinner frieze panels were set in front of the construction of the theater facade. Traces of primer and paint have been preserved on the figures and on the relief background. 

The frieze presents erotes hunting for wild animals in nature, transporting the prey, and celebrating with drinking vessels as well as panels with individual reclining satyrs which were affixed on the projecting elements of the theater facade. The frieze uses Classical but also Hellenistic figure types and motifs and connects them with elements of a sacred landscape such as temple, altar, and statuettes of gods. The representations are of the highest artistic quality and stand out from the numerous other erotes hunt scenes on theaters of Asia Minor. The Ephesian frieze is on the same level as the erotes depiction on the Venus Genetrix temple from the Forum of Caesar in Rome which was renewed in the Trajanic period. 

Because the panels of the Ephesian frieze were set in front of the stage facade, it could have been installed at the same time as the late Flavian facade or also later. The work on the south and north wing of the theater was completed in the late Flavian/Trajanic period. 

Animal hunts (venationes) are mentioned for the first time for Ephesos in an inscription on the south wing of the theater during the Trajanic period. T. Flavius Montanus, the benefactor of the building measures on this wing and the »completor« of the theater, organized venationes and gladiatorial combats on the occasion. The installation of the erotes hunt frieze could possibly also be associated with the completion of the construction of the theater.