Lycian Journals - Aiazanoi
Aizanoi, one of the more remote archaeological sites in western Anatolia, lies nestled amongst the modern day Turkish town of Cavdarhisar. The ancient city in its day boasted one of the finest temples in Asia Minor, a full bath complex and a highly original selection of entertainment venues. Much of the visible remains were built due to the patronage of the emperor Hadrian and other Romans of high rank. This large scale funding of many cities in Asia Minor was probably due to the support that these cities had shown to Rome during the Syrian and Mythradic wars. Aizanoi would have been a special case as Pergamum, which ruled it for much of the late Hellenistic period was a strong ally of the Romans, perhaps the most loyal city in this region. The city was probably handed over with other Pergamene possessions to Rome in 133 BC due to the will of the last ruler of Pergamum, Attalus III. There is evidence of a site on the area dating from early bronze times (around 2800 BC). There is also later evidence of Hittite and Phrygian influence, and its position between the Hittite and Arzawan empires would have rendered its status in Homeric times (around 1500 BC) to be one of a highly fluctuating nature. Much of this evidence of the early history of Aizanoi is due to the remains which were recovered from the lower foundations of the temple. This heavy archaeology activity on the site is why it is so rewarding to clamber around the ruins for a few hours, as one can see (presumably only in the summer months) German archaeological excavations near many of the major areas in progress. Religiously, the city was extremely important and, even into Roman times, the site was significant. The city was from early times a cult centre of Meter Steunene, more commonly known as Kybele - the Anatolian mother goddess of nature and fertility. Terracotta found at the site show that it was in use well before the 1st Century BC for the worship of this goddess, and, according to Mythology, the goddess had a grotto near the city in which she occasionally resided. Incidentally, near the hills where this grotto is supposed to be located, there have been found remains of Phrygian sacrificial pits, indicating that the hills had a very early religious significance, although perhaps not necessarily to Kybele.
The Theatre at Aizanoi
The absolute apex of Aizanoi’s architecture and religious development was the temple of Jupiter, built in the reign of the emperor Hadrian on an earlier religious site. Measuring a massive 53 by 35 metres, this beautiful composite temple is one of a kind. Artistically and religiously, it is possible that two gods, Jupiter and Kybele, were worshipped here, although this is unlikely, the popularity of the Kybele cult well into Roman times makes it plausible. Like its more famous counterpart at Pergamum, an arched vault cut into the ground below to provide a solid and stable area for construction to begin supported it. This arched vault could possibly have also served as a storehouse for the many elaborate festivals that would have occurred here or, perhaps, even an oracle. It’s also possible that it served as a second smaller religious area for the cult of Kybele, although this would be unlikely. The distance between the columns and the walls of the inner rooms is twice as much as the distance between each column around the outside, making this building a “Pseudodipteros”. This architectural unity brings a feeling of internal security and perhaps even architectural, as many of the upper supporting marble beams that once held up the roof between the columns and the inner walls still remain. The entire temple is in superb condition, entire sections of wall up to where the roof was still remain, and it’s not hard to picture what went on in each section of the temple with such superbly preserved structures surrounding you. The upper section of rooms in the temple is called the “Cella” - one singular, large room at the entrance where festivals and some religious activities may have taken place. The real nerve centre of the entire building, however, was the “Pronaos”, behind the “Cella” and at the very back of the temple. It was in this smaller room, surrounded by still legible inscriptions, that libations would have been poured and the cult statue was placed. The entire outside of the walls are covered with inscriptions by one M. Apuleius Eurykles - a man who was responsible for funding many building projects and represented Aizanoi at the “Panhellion” conference of imperial Roman times (a conference of all the Hellenic municipal leaders). The north and west sides of the temple are more or less intact, with many of the Corinthian columns still standing. The East and South sides, however, have been almost completely ruined, and the remains of them have caused a huge gash in the earth near the temple several metres deep and filled with rubble.
The theatre in particular is a highly interesting piece of the site which is very unusual for the period. The area consists of a large two-staged amphitheatre from the 3d century AD (much of which is buried), the front of which forms the “Carceres” or starting point for a hippodrome. The amphitheatre essentially forms one of the ends of the hippodrome, also looping around into the sides, presumably built to one plan. Both have been seriously ruined to the combined power of earthquakes and age, which have left almost all the stalls in the amphitheatre broken, the stages completely collapsed and much of the hippodrome covered by subsidation and liquefaction. These actions caused by the volatile tectonics of the region have also caused the curtain wall to be obscured by earth (some of which has been removed by the German archaeological institute working at the site) and the “Spinae” or centerpiece of the Hippodrome to have been broken up and covered with earth. The skill and patience of the German archaeologists has, yet again, shown itself as they have rescued many pieces and have managed to place them near their original locations. The Hippodrome probably continued right into early Byzantine times, but the fairly late Amphitheatre only had around 100 years of use before Constantine banned the Gladiatorial games. Although I did not manage to see much else apart from the bath house (which, incidentally is in fine condition and has a brilliant mosaic), there were several other areas that would have been just as rewarding as much of what I saw, the colonnaded street and necropolis being just some other examples. Aizanoi boasted a brilliant monopoly in cereals, wines and wool, so it is hardly surprising that the town was in possession of a large forum and many “Tabernae” or vaulted warehouses. Many of the prices were fixed late in the empire by Diocletian and Maxentian (the pair of emperors who, incidentally, divided the empire into east and west), in an attempt to prevent inflation. These most illustrious emperors inscribed these prices on a column in the centre of the business district to ensure that nobody could escape their imperial decree.
The necropolis, dated between 155 and 165 AD, is also an impressive site. Many of the tombstones are on display near the temple and they and the Sarcophagi show many of the interesting Phrygian and other eastern influences such as Sphinxes, Lions, Tigers, Eagles, Bulls and floral decorations (see my other journal entry on Lycian tombs for my interpretation of these symbols). One of the tombs is a”Heroon” - a small mausoleum belonging to a deserving citizen of the city. Besides these main areas, there is much more unexcavated material poking up through the fields - the temple of Artemis (built in the reign of Claudius, some of which was demolished) still has its foundations left to be found. The occasional column pokes through a field or makes up part of a house, or a piece of inscribed masonry is used as a brick in a mosque. Aizanoi is a thoroughly rewarding experience that I would recommend to any classical enthusiast or any member of Allempires.com (or anybody else for that matter…) to visit if in the vicinity.
Side view of the Temple