APHRODISIAS (More services on www.greeceturkeytours.com)
Between Sultanhisar and Nazilli, the sluggish Maeander winds lazily westwards towards the sea. It flows through the lush, green landscape which it has created, its reed-clothed banks sometimes approaching, sometimes drawing away from the highway. The eroded peaks of the Aydın Dağları become increasingly strange and bizarre and contrast violently with the pastoral calm of the river valley.

Excavation of the hüyüks in the centre of the city have revealed traces occupation dating back to c 5800 BC. Finds include a number of small violin shaped idols of marble and stone from the Bronze Age (c 2900-1200 Bc). It would seem that from very early times there was a fertility cult at Aphrodisias which probably sprang from the desire of the early farmers in the river valley. to placate the Megale Meter and so ensure rich harvests and fruitful animals. According to Stephanus, writing in the 6C AD, the settlement was at first called Ninoe after Ninus, the legendary founder of the Assyrian Empire. He was credited with having conquered most of western Anatolia. There is archaeological evidence to show that this foundation-legend was current earlier. Figures on a relief from the end of the 3C AD found in the city are captioned as Ninus and his consort, Semiramis. An interesting connection has been suggested between Ninus and Nin, the Akkadian goddess of love and
war, who was better known by the Semitic name of Ishtar. It is not impossible that the Assyrians established a shrine dedicated to Ishtar at Aphrodisias and that in time she adopted further characteristics and took on the duties of the Great Mother who had long been worshipped here. Later Ishtar became Aphrodite. “Behind the figure of Aphrodite there clearly stands the ancient Semitic goddess of love. Ishtar-Astarte, divine consort of the king, queen of heaven, and hetaera in one. (Burkert. Greek Religio) The development of Aphrodisias was probably assisted by its position on the borders of Caria. Lydia and Phrygia and its proximity to the great east-west and north-south trade routes. However, for many centuries it appears to have been no more than a shrine, albeit an important one, dedicated to the goddess of love and war. Ishtar-Aphrodite. No doubt the settlement around the shrine housed the priests, their attendants and the servants of the goddess. By the 2C Bc it was certainly known as Aphrodisias, but no description of it as a city has come to light before the second half of the century and then it was coupled with its neighbour Plarasa, with which it was joined in a sympolity. Plarasa has been identified with the unexcavated site of Bingec south of Karacasu town.
There was a dramatic change in the fortunes of Aphrodisias under Roman rule. During the horrors of the war against Mithridates VI Eupator (120-63 Bc), king of Pontus, when more than 80.000 Romans were slaughtered in the province of Asia. Aphrodisias gave unstinted support to the Roman cause. Its citizens, declaring that life without the shield of Roman power would be impossible. voted to muster an army to assist the Romans in Caria. Such loyalty did not go unrewarded, In 85 BC, after he had defeated Mithridates, the dictator Sulla sent gifts to the shrine of Aphrodite. These included a double axe, a traditional symbol of power in Caria, and a gold crown. Later Julius Caesar, whose family claimed Venus (Aphrodite) as an ancestress, had a gold statue of Eros dedicated at her shrine in Aphrodisias. He also granted the temple certain rights of asylum. Sacked by Labienus and his Parthians in 40 Bc, the city was assisted in its recovery by Octavian who arranged that Aphrodisias became an ally of Rome and received the status of a free city. This meant in effect that it was removed from the control of the governor of the Roman Province of Asia. When, as Augustus, Octavian had assumed the supreme power, he continued to display a warm interest in the welfare of Aphrodisias and of its citizens and this benevolent attitude was continued by many of his successors.
Under the empire Aphrodisias was an important intellectual and cultural centre. Its schools attracted students not only from Asia Minor but from other parts of the Roman Empire.Towards the end of the 1C AD Xenocrates. the author of several treatises on medicine, taught here. At about the same time, the author of the oldest extant Greek novel, Chaereas and Callirhoe, began his romantic story of star-crossed lovers with a reference to his native city. I, Chariton of Aphrodisias, clerk to the rhetor Athenagoras will relate the love affair .. Aphrodisias was close to a quarry which produced fine pale white marble capable of taking a high polish. A school of sculpture, which acquired wide-spread fame in antiquity. grew and developed here. The work of sculptors from Aphrodisias reached Rome and other great centres of the empire. Fine examples have been found as far away as Leptis Magna in North Africa on an arch which was erected in honour of Septimius Severus and in a basilica built by him at the beginning of the 3C AD. Two centaurs from Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli (Italy) have been identified as the creation of craftsmen from Aphrodisias while a handsome relief of Antinous, that emperor’s Bithynian lover, discovered at Lanuvium near Rome, was signed by Antoninianus of Aphrodisias. Christianity made some progres in the city before the edict of Milan in 313 put an end to persecution. Two Aphrodisian martyrs, either under Decius or Diocletian, are recorded. A bishop from Aphrodisias attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. However. pagan influence continued for a very long time. In AD 391 Theodosius I banned paganism. This ban was repeated and extended by several of his successors, but there is evidence that in Aphrodisias sacrifice to the ancient gods continued for at least another century Even in the 6C missionaries were still converting pagans in this area, but the prosperity and influence of the Christians is indicated by the conversion of the temple of Aphrodite into a Christian church.
Christianity’s problems were not limited to conflicts with paganism. Heterodox Christian beliefs flourished in Aphrodisias and at the beginning of the 6C its bishop was removed from his see for his stubborn adherence to the Monophysite heresy. At the end of that century or the beginning of the next, in an attempt to break away from its pagan associations, Aphrodisias was renamed Stavropolis, the City of the Cross. Later it was simply known as Caria, a name recalled by its corrupt from Geyre.
Apparently in the middle of the 4C a wall was constructed for the first time around the city. About AD 350 Aphrodisias was badly damaged by an earthquake which devastated much of Caria and the neighbouring provinces. The 7C was marked by further calamities Persian incursions into Anatolia and another disastrous earthquake. This time the city was too impoverished to repair the damage and many buildings were left in ruins. A citadel was constructed around the hüyük behind the theatre to provide the inhabitants with a place of refuge in times of danger. At the end of the 12C the city was captured by the Selçuk Turks. Changing hands several times during the following century, its inhabitants were dispersed by its Turkish rulers c 1279 and the site was abandoned. Some time
later farmers returned to the area and established the small village of Geyre among the ruins of the shattered buildings. One of the first travellers from Western Europe to visit Aphrodisias was the
British botanist William Sherard who explored the site in 1705. He was mainly interested in the inscriptions. W.R. Hamilton came to Aphrodisias in 1803. He was followed nine years later by members of the Society of Dilettanti under the leadership of William Gel. Their discoveries were published in Ionian Antiquities between 1821 and 1915. Charles Texier, who examined the ruins in 1835, wrote of his visit in Description de l’Asie Mineure, published in 1849. The first excavations were conducted by a French engineer Paul Gaudin in 1904. In 1937 an Italian team discovered a beautifully carved frieze from the Ionic portico dedicated to Tiberius in the Agora. This is now in the garden of the Archaeological Museum at Izmir. Professor Erim, who started at the site in 1961, continued to add to our knowledge of the city until his untimely death in 1990. His work is being continued by Professor Smith and his colleagues.