Ephesus: A Turkish Pompeii and Tourist Homing Beacon

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In my recent adventures in Turkey we were lucky enough to visit the amazing site of Ephesus on the Western coast of the country. This site is a must see and I certainly understand the hype but as an academic a few things struck me which need to be addressed. Namely the lack of accurate information that is actually given by the tour guides we pasted. So here is some accurate information on this awesome site. And remember (I see this everywhere) the tour guides are not always right, do your research before you go.


Before I tell you about the site’s amazing archaeology, let me give you some background. Ephesus was established in the Greek period and was a major city all through to the later Roman periods. In Turkish it is now called Efes (yes like the beer) but the original Greek was Ἔφεσος which is where we take our English transliteration. In its height it was one of the largest cities in the Graeco-Roman world with a population of around 250,000 people in the first century BCE which certainly accounts for the large amount of material on the site. This site is huge!

There are two modern entrances to the site at either end but the main entrance is down at the bottom of the hills in the valley where you are immediately struck by the massive theatre which sits at the end of a long colonnaded street leading to the city’s harbour. To the right of this theatre is the entrance to the main part of the site, the paved streets that are lined with houses, shops, bath houses, toilets, government buildings and of course the famous library of Celsus. If you do get a chance to visit this site then be warned it is easy to miss this path to the main site because of the huge number of tourists that dwell in the shade in that area and block the entrance. It took us three attempts to find it.

The site itself has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic age. Excavations at the mounds in the area have demonstrated this. The habitation appears to be continuous as excavations at the Ayasuluk hill in the 1950s also turned up Bronze age material and a burial ground from the Mycenaean period. Artefacts included ceramics and tools around the ruins of the later site of the basilica of St John which you can still visit today. Hittite sources also tell us that the area held a settlement named Abasa which was in use under the rule of the Ahhiyawans before the Greek migrations took over the area in the 13th and 14th Centuries and established a new settlement. Ephesus was eventually founded as a colony in the 10th century BC. The mythical story of its origins involved King Kadros who was led to the place of Ephesus by the famous Delphic oracle. Though there are several other origin stories including those discussed by Pausanias and Strabo concerning the queen of the Amazons, Ephos, as a founder.

Over the centuries the city saw many conflicts including attacks by the Cimmerians and the Lysians. The city though continued to prosper and became the base of and producing a number of significant historical figures. For instance, the poets Cllainus and Hipponax, the philosopher Heraclitus and the physicians Soranus and Rufus whos writings we still have today. The Classical period saw more conflicts with the Ionian revolt and the Peloponnesian war, in which Ephesus originally allied with Athens and then switched to Sparta in the later stages. During this time though it continued its upward climb and produced even great female artists like Timarate who is mentioned in Pliny the Elder as the painter who produced a fabulous representation of the goddess Diana.

Alexander the Great liberated the site from Persian rule at the end of the Classical period and is said to have entered Ephesus in triumph. He even proposed to rebuild the Temple of Artemis which had been burned down in previous conflicts. After the death of Alexander though turmoil retuned under the rule of his general Lysimachus but after his eventual death, Ephesus became part of the Seleucis Empire and then was governed under Egyptian rule from the late 2nd century BC. Ephesus eventually became a part of the Roman Republic. All these influences and changes certainly led to a diverse site with establishments of buildings and institutions in all these periods. And the diversity continued as the site continued to function as part of the Byzantine era when Constantine I rebuilt much of the city and built a new public bath after the conflicts of the Roman period. Unfortunately though Ephesus has one enemy which they couldn’t defeat, the area is often troubled by earthquakes and one in 614 partially destroyed the city again.

Considering all the conflicts it has seen, all the people and leaders, it is both understandable and surprising that so much is left of this site. And so now we have got through the date part and you have some background information let me tell you about the site itself from an archaeologist’s perspective.

Ephesus - Efes
Library of Celsus

This site really is the archaeologist’s dream, I would happily dig on this site for years and years. You can see obviously that much of the site has been reconstructed which is fabulous and appears to be very well done. There are certain areas though that obviously stand out. The first of these being Celsus’ library. Apart from witnessing teen girls posing doing duck faces next to a status of wisdom (I’m so glad these statues are replicas because i can see the real ones throwing themselves out of their niches in horror), this is by far the most magnificent part of the site. It is truly a shame that the majority of people who visit the site do not know much about it. The library was built at the beginning of the second century CE for Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, who was the governor of the province, by his son Galius Julius Aquila and was actually built as a tomb rather than specifically a library. The façade is all that really remains today but once upon a time this building is thought to have been able to hold over 12,000 scrolls. As such it is thought to have once been the third richest library of the ancient world following the libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum. The library is an amazing building and to someone who understands its significance it really does stand for the virtues that are inscribed on its walls including knowledge, wisdom, intelligence and valour. Just ignore the posing tourists who are updating their Facebook profile pictures.

While it appears that most people go round, look at the theatre and the library and then have an ice cream, this site has some truly amazing parts that you only really appreciate if you have researched them before hand or know about archaeology. The agora for instance, which was built in the Roman period played an important role as a social and political meeting place but the archaeology shows that the area was in use far before these functions. Excavations have brought to light graves from the seventh and sixth centuries BCE including an archaic sarcophagus made from terracotta. There is also a well preserved water reservoir in the corner of the ahora which demonstrates just how technically accomplished these people were. Its water was supplied by the Pollio Aqueduct which supplied the whole city from 5km away. The agora also contained stoas and a temple with dedications to the cult of Isis and evidence of rebuilding in different periods indicative of the turmoil the city suffered.

The emphasis on the large theatre is well justified but the odeon is also a significant area. Unfortunately it was while looking at this I heard a tour guide tell tourists incorrectly that they used to have gladiator fights here…It’s an odeon, it is tiny, just no. First of all this area was used as a Bouletarion (a meeting place) for meetings of the Bouleia (council) and members of the Demos. It was also used for performances. The building is impressive though fairly small in size and demonstrates the wealth of its benefactors. It was orders by Publicus Vedius Antonius and his wife in the second century.

Among other impressive areas of the site is the well reconstructed fountain of Trajan built at the start of the second century CE. It’s columns and pediments really give you an idea of what it would have looked like in its prime. It is an excellent tool for giving the visitors more of an idea of the ancient city and its statues are now in the museum. It is just a real shame that the Ephesus Archaeology Museum is shut for renovations for an entire year!

There is so so much to this site it can not be written down. I could tell you about the temples, the gateways, fountains, houses, whole city but you have to visit it to appreciate everything. Either way I encourage that you look up this site and read more because this really was a site to remember.

Odeon at Ephesus
Inscriptions at the Library of Celsus
Colonnaded street
Gateway with Greek Inscriptions

Ancient Sites of Cilicia, Anatolia: Part 2

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The wonderful thing about Cilicia is the pure number of fantastic sites that exist. So here is the second part of my preliminary research into sites in Cilicia in Anatolia.

If you haven’t already read PART 1 I suggest you start there 🙂


Evidence of occupation for Adana dates as far back as the Neolithic period and is considered to be the oldest city in the region. The city was of minor importance in the Roman Period but was used during the period of Pompey as a prison for the pirates of Cilicia. It also acted as a way station for troops of the Roman military heading eastwards. It split from the Roman Empire in 395 AD and received some development during the time of Julian the Apostate. Construction included large bridges, roads, government buildings and irrigation systems which allowed Adana to function more securely as an important trade centre.

Cilicia Campestris:

Campestris is located in the area of modern Mopsuestia, 20 km east of Antiochia ad Cragum. Its foundations are said to lie in the legend of the soothsayer Mopsus who lived there before the Trojan War. Pliny the Elder mentions the city as Mopsos in 5.22. It was named thus also by Stephanus of Byzantium and the Christian geographers. In the Seleucid Period it took the name Seleucia on the Pyramus and then in the Roman conquest it was named under Hadrian as Hadriana and under Decius as Decia.

Its main history lies in the Byzantine Period when Constantius II built a magnificent bridge over the Pyramus which was later restored by Justinian as told by Procopius. Christianity was introduced to the city in the third century AD and its association with Christianity continued until it was taken over by the Arabs and became Islam. Forts were also constructed in this period. Efforts were made by the Byzantines to re-Christianise the city in the eleventh century.


South Gate of Anazarbus

Anazarbus is also known as Ain Zarba, and is located in the present Cukurova. It is famous as the treasure city in the wars of Eumenes of Cardia as expressed by Suda but this claim is likely false in light of Strabo’s ideas. In the Roman period it was know as Caesarea and was part of Cilicia Secunda. It was rebuilt by Justin I in the 6th century and was thus renamed Justinopolis. Archaeological remains include a triumphal arch and colonnades of two streets, a gymnasium and a stadium and theatre. Acropolis fortifications also remain and the ruins of two churches, a gatehouse, and keep built by Thoros I in the twelve century. Aqueducts and a necropolis also remain.


Nephelium/Nephelion is located in the area of modern day Muzkent about 38km WNW of Anemurium on the coast at the foot of Mount Cragus. Nephelium is mentioned by Ptolemy and in the Stadiasmus maris magni. It was at one point the seat of a bishopric atthe council of Calchedon in 451 AD.

Antiochia ad Cragum:

Cove at Antiochia ad Cragum

And finally to the most important site, well to me because this is where my dig is. Antiochia ad Cragum has also been called Antiochetta and Antiohia Parva which basically translate to ‘little Antiochia’. Its name ‘Cragum’ comes from its position on the Cragus mountain overlooking the coast. It is located in the area of modern Guney about 12km from the modern city of Gazipasa. The city was officially founded after by Antiochis IV around 170BC when he came to rule over Rough Cilicia. The site covers an area of around three hectares and contains the remains of baths, market places, colonnaded streets with a gateway, an early Christian basilica, monumental tombs, a temple and several structures which are yet to be identified. Excavations are currently being undertaken by the Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project headed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The site and its harbour likely served as one of the many havens for Cilician pirates along the South Anatolian coast, likely because of its small coves and hidden inlets. Unfortunately no definite pirate remains are visible in the modern day. Its pirate past ended with Pompey’s victory in the first century BC and the take over by Antiochis IV. Initial occupation appears to have occurred in the Classical and Hellenistic periods followed by a surge of activity in these Roman periods. The city itself was built on the sloping ground that comes down from the Taurus mountain range which terminates at the shore creating steep cliffs; in some places several hundred metres high. The temple complex is situated on the highest point of the city and most of the building material remains though in a collapsed state. There is also evidence of a gymnasium complex nearby.

The harbour at Antiochia ad Cragum measures about 250,000m squared and is one of the few large, safe harbours along the coast between Alanya and Selinus. On its Eastern side are two small coves suitable for one or two ships but with limited opportunity for shipping and fishing due to wave activities. The area is well situated as a defensible position against invaders. Recent Terrestrial survey at Antiochia ad Cragum has had emphasis on finding evidence of pirate activity which has been limited, but it has turned up pottery principally from the Byzantine period with additional pottery from the late Bronze Age, the Hellenistic and some from the Roman periods. There is little evidence of pre-Roman occupation at the fortress or pirate’s cove at Antiochia ad Cragum. Banana terracing may have caused much of the evidence to have been erased. The maritime survey has turned up shipping jars, transport Amphoraes and anchors from the Byzantine, Roman and Hellenistic periods as well as a range of miscellaneous items. The assemblage appears to indicate early activity to the West of the harbour moving East over time.


Remains at Hamaxia

Hamaxia is located in Western Cilicia in the area of modern Sinekkale about 6km from Coracesium. There is little literature about the site but the archaeology includes well-preserved evidence of a walled-in settlement with an arched gate on its South side and a three-naved church in its West. There is also a necropolis in the North-West. Hamaxia is mentioned in Strabo 668 and in Stadiasmus 208. Inscriptions indicate that Hamaxia only achieved a city status in the early third century BC. Even the few pieces of literature we do have mentioning Hamaxia appear confused. Strabo says that the city lies to the East of Coracesium while Stadiasmus says it lies to the West.

Hamaxia is situated on a high hill which is now heavily overgrown. The archaeology that remains includes ashlar masonry of the walls which is preserved in a large part and some remains of the interior of temples, one of Hermes, the other unknown. Two exedras have been located facing one another and the inscriptions are numerous. The inscriptions detail names mostly of an epichoric nature and a few with Roman personal names. According to Strabo there was also a port on the coast nearby where the timber for shipbuilding was brought, but this port is yet to be found if it exists.


The Lamos is a river which formed the boundaries between Cilicia Campestris and Cilicia Trachea and later between Cilicia Aspera and Propria. Antiochia Lamotis is the city closesly associated with the Lamos at its mouth. Antiochis Lamotis was itself originally called Lamos and is formerly the capital of the surrounding region known as the Lamotis during the Roman period. The city Lamos/Antiochis Lamotis is located a few km southwest of Modern Erdemli. It was founded in the Hellenistic period.


Maiden’s Castle at Korykos

Korykos/Corcus is located at the mouth of the river Şeytan deresi in the area of Modern Kızkalesi. Korykos is mentioned in the ancient literature by Pliny, Livy, Pomponius Mela and Stephanus of Byzantium, but curiously not Strabo who provides comments on most of the other major cities in Cilicia. The city was an important habour and commerce area and was a port of the Seleucids before the Romans took over when it became a lookout for Romans to look out for pirates.

Korykos was later controlled by the Byzantine Empire when Justinian I constructed the public baths and hospital. Alexios I Komnenos constructed the later fortress and in the 12th century a castle was built nearby on a small island known as ‘Maiden’s Castle’. The archaeology of Korykos is vast and includes a triumphal arch and necropolis with Christian tombs and sarcophagi. In addition to the Roman archaeology there are two medieval castles in Korykos, one on the shore and the ‘Maiden’s Castle’ which is connected to the shore by the ruins of a pier. The mainland castle walls contain many pieces of columns from previous buildings. Three churches have also been excavated, one of which still had the remains of frescos. The city walls can also still be traced.

Strabo may not mention the city of Korykos but he does mention a Corycian cave in which he says grows the best Saffron (Crocus). The Coryian Cave was a circular hollow filled with shrubs and containing a spring. It is famed in Greek mythology as the cave of Pindar and Aeschylus as the lair of Zeus’ opponent, the giant Typhon.


Castle at Analya/Coracesium

Coracesium was located in the area of Alanya about 160km from modern Antalya. Archaeology indicates that there was occupation in the area as far back as the Paleolithic period with subsequent evidence for the bronze age. There is evidence for Phoenician interaction dating to around 625BC with the existence of Phaenician language tablets and the city is found in the Greek record in a fourth century BC geography manuscript known as the periplus of Pseudo-Scylax. The rock where the castle is now situated was probably first inhabited by the Hittites and then under the Achaemenid Empire. It was only first fortified though in the Hellenistic period following the conquest of Alexander the Great. Coracesium later came under the control of the Ptolemies and later a popular port of refuge for the notorious Cilician pirates. Like much of the surrounding area, the piracy in Coracesium ended with the victory of Pompey in the first century BC, with the battle of Korakesion fought in the city’s harbour.

Coracesium later moved into the control of the Byzantine Empire and then Islam arrived in the seventh century with the Arab raids. This also led to additional fortifications being built. Numerous bishoprics and battles were undertaken throughout the medieval period onwards. The medieval period also saw the construction of the impressive Alanya castle and the Ottomans also brought with them an array of architecture.

And with that I run out of time for the day but I’m sure if I get round to it there will be more on the way 🙂

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Holey Cranium Batman! The Archaeology of Trephination

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When I woke up this morning I had one of my unfortunate and very painful migraines, oh my! Pain pounding in my temples and the feeling of a truck’s worth of cotton wool being pressed into the back or my eye balls. Not fun, day ruined. But it got me thinking, not for the first time, the prehistoric people had definite method behind their madness. Trephination has been practiced since, well who knows when, but we have evidence for it from as far back ad 6500 BC! When one suffers from headaches sometimes it feels like if you could just relieve that pressure all would be good. Don’t go drilling holes in your head please but do listen to one of the many medical traditions which links the ancient to the modern periods.

Trephination from the 15th Century The Cure of Folly, by Hieronymus Bosch

Trephination (AKA. Trepanning or burr holing) is a surgical intervention where a hole is drilled, incised or scraped into the skull using simple surgical tools. In drilling into the skull and removing a piece of the bone, the dura mater is exposed without damage to the underlying blood-vessels, meninges and brain. Trephination has been used to treat health problems associated with intracranial diseases, epileptic seizures, migraines and mental disorders by relieving pressure. There is also evidence it was used as a primitive form of emergency surgery to remove shattered pieces of bone from fractured skulls after receiving a head wound, and cleaning out the pools of blood that would form underneath the skull.

Evidence for trephination occurs from prehistoric times from the Neolithic onwards. The main pieces of archaeological evidence are in the forms of cave paintings and human remains; the skulls themselves from the prehistoric times. It is the oldest surgical procedure for which we actually have archaeological evidence. At one site in France, burials included forty instances of trephination from around 6500 BC; one third of the skulls found at the site. The percentage of occurrences though here is fairly high and percentages largely differ between sites and continents. It is from the human remains found at such sites that we know that the surgery had a fair survival rate. Many skulls show signs of healing that indicate that the patient lived for years after the event, even sometimes having trephination performed again later in life and again surviving the experience.

Skull with multiple trephination holes showing signs of healing from pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

From pre-Columbian Mesoamerica we find evidence on physical cranial remains in burials in addition to iconographic artworks and reports from the post-colonial period. The occurrences are widespread throughout South America, from the Andean civilisations and pre-Incan cultures such as the Paracas culture in Ica in South Lima where burials show signs of trephination, skull mutilation and modification. In Mexico, Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula, archaeological evidence dates from between 950 and 1400 AD. The earliest archaeological survey from the American continent published is from the late nineteenth century when the Norwegian ethnogapher Carl Lumholtz performed surveys of the Tarahumara mountains. Lumholtz’s publications were the precurser to documented cases from Oaxaca, Central Mexico and the Tlatilco civilisation.

From Europe in the Classical and Renaissance periods we have evidence of trephination from archaeological and literary sources; including within the famous and essential writings of Hippocrates and Galen where it is termed in the Greek ἀνάτρησιζ. One thing that strikes one when dealing with evidence from both America and Europe is just how widespread this technique was and how it appeared as a major surgical technique on both continents independent of influence and association.

The Hippocratic Treatises make mention of trepanning in the chapter on the injuries of the Head, which states:

‘For a person wounded to the same . . . extent . . . will sustain a much greater injury, provided he has received the blow at the sutures, than if it was elsewhere. And many of these require trepanning.’

Galen also makes mention by explaining the technique of trephination and the risks involved to the patient:

‘For when we chisel out the fragments of bone we are compelled for safety to put underneath the so-called protectors of the meninx, and if these are pressed too heavily on the brain, the effect is to render the person senseless as well as incapable of all voluntary motion.’

Much of the archaeological evidence from Europe for trephination comes from south-western Germany dating to as early as the stone age. But the cranial evidence for the procedure is widespread throughout Europe; Ireland, Denmark, France and Italy in particular. And there is considerable evidence from Russia and China. The early documents from classical Greece and anthropologist’s observations of pre-modern people in Peru has shown that the people involved had a knowledge of the risk involved in the procedure. Publications detailing the technique from Mote Alban conclude that there was a process of non-therapeutic experimentation for some time which explored the use of different techniques and sizes of burr hole.

Han and Chen have completed a particularly interesting study of the archaeological evidence of trephination in early China. They looked as six specimens from five sites ranging from 5000-2000 BP which showed cranial perforation in prehistoric China. The earliest skull analysed by Han and Chen was the M382 Cranium from Fuikia aite, Guangrao, Shandong. M382 was the skull of an adult male of the Dawenkou culture which shows a hole which was 31mm at the widest point. Evidence of healing shows that the patient recovered and lived for a considerable time before he later died. M382 was radiocarbomn dated to around 5000 BP. Han and Chen bring up one particularly interesting hypothesis to why trephination was performed: to obtain bone discs from people alive or dead for protection from demons. This would suggest, if correct, that in prehistoric China there was a cohabitation of ideas concerning human and supernatural intervention in association with illness and disease.

Incan Skull

What we can conclude about trephination is that this ancient surgical technique was astonishingly widespread and was practiced on the living and the dead in association with head trauma and for other reasons including the spiritual and the experimental. The cranial evidence which appears is from a range of patients of different ages and sexes, showing that the operation was performed on men, women and children. Evidence of healing and multiple burr holes indicate that there was a survival rate and some were even operated on repeatedly. But some skulls show us the risks of the operation as well. Some skulls uncovered have had evidence that the procedure was abandoned mid-operation as the trephining is incomplete.

It may seem a strange thing that this technique was used throughout the world in different places and periods unrelated to one another. But there is a logic in the way a wish to relieve pressure may naturally lead to trephination as an accepted answer. After all, in theory trephination works, and in some cases in practice. This is why the technique is still used for multiple reasons in modern medicine. For instance, trephination is used in some modern eye surgeries such as a corneal transplant; it is just termed differently as a form of pseudoscience called a craniotomy. It is also modern in modern intracranial pressure monitoring and in surgery for subungal hematoma (blood under the nail) because one can also refer to trephination in reference to the nails and other bones.

Well there you go, there are my pearls of wisdom for the day. Trephination. Oldest surgical technique supported by archaeological evidence. Still used today. That’s pretty cool 🙂 And my headache is better.

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Recommended Reading:

Han, K., and Chen X., The Archaeological Evidence of Trepanation in Early China

Lisowski, F.P. 1967. Prehistoric and early historic trepanation. In Don Brothwell and A.T.Sandison (eds.), Diseases in Antiquity, pp. 651-672. Springfield: Charles C Thomas.

Oakley, K.P., W. Brooke, R. Akester, and D.R. Brothwell 1959. Contributions on trepanning or trephination in ancient and modern times. Man 59 (133):93.

Piggott, S. 1940. A trepanned skull of the beaker period from Dorset and the practice of trepanning in Prehistoric Europe. Proceedings of Prehistoric Society n. s. 6(3): 112-132.

Wehrli, G.A. 1937. Die trepanation in fruheren jahrhunderten. Ciba-Ziho 91:15-22.

Wölfel, D.J. 1937. Sinn der trepanation. Ciba-Ziho 91: 2-6.