Tag Archives: Statues

Aphrodisias: The Theater and Its Artifacts

Like any respectable Greco-Roman City, Aphrodisias had a theater.  It is very well preserved because the “modern” village of Geyre was built on the theater and the acropolis and preserved what was underneath the village.  Geyre was moved to a different location around 1960 and some 120 ft. of debris under it was excavated away to reveal the theater.

View looking southeast at the interior of the theater at Aphrodisias, and beyond that, in the upper left of the image the Theater Agora.

In the theater, note that the seating area is slightly larger than a perfect semicircle.  This was characteristic of Greek, as opposed to Roman, theaters.  The brown semicircle is where the orchestra was located.  Note the high wall ringing it.  The orchestra was remodeled during the reign of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180) and turned into a venue for animal and gladiatorial contests.  Left of the center of the image the remains of the stage area and behind it, the first of the three levels of the skene are visible—with the Doric columns.

Originally the theater could hold 10,000 people.  The lower portion of the cavea is preserved.  Note the staircases that the divide the cavea into sections (cunei).

The theater was originally built by Ioulos Zoilos, a slave that was freed by Octavian who became a benefactor of the city— in the first century BC.  An inscription on the stage wall describes this.

Although it is well-known that theaters were filled with statues, at Aphrodisias some well-preserved statues were found in the theater.  Some samples follow:

This is a larger than “life-size” statue of a marble Muse holding a theatrical mask.

Muses were thought of as inspirational goddesses of poetry, lyric songs, and myths—a fitting piece to be installed in the theater of Aphrodisias.

This is a statue of one of the leading citizens of Aphrodisias.

Leading citizens were always on the alert to promote their, and their family’s, status—so what better place than the frequently-visited theater to remind the people of the town of your beneficence!   The statue dates to the second century A.D.

This statue is of a “life-size” Diadumenos (diadem-bearer).  It is a copy of an original bronze statue by Polyclitus in the 5th century BC.

The theme is that of an athlete who is tying the ribbon on his head that marks the winner of athletic contests (a diadem).  The figure is contrapposto with his weight on his right leg and the left leg slightly flexed.  His head is slightly inclined to his right in a contemplative mood.  This marble statue of a young athlete was found in the theater of Aphrodisias and dates to around AD 200.  Some original color survives in his eyes and hair.

A photograph of a large statue of Nike, the goddess of victory that was found by the skene in the theater of Aphrodisias.

And of course, all of the theaters would have been adorned with statues of gods and goddesses.  This Nike dates to the late first century BC and is one of the earliest marble statues produced at Aphrodisias.


So now we can begin to visualize how the one theater mentioned in the New Testament might have been “decorated.”

The Roles of the Roman Emperors

Groups traveling to Turkey will often fly into Istanbul and spend a day or two there before continuing on to other parts of the country.   One of the stops in Istanbul is typically the world-class Archaeological Museum located near the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.  For students of the Bible it houses some extremely important artifacts.  The main ones are located on the top floor of the museum including the Siloam Tunnel Inscription, The Second Temple Warning Inscription, and the Gezer Calendar (the first two from Jerusalem).

Bronze Statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. AD 117-138)
In Toga depicting him as “the first citizen” of Rome
Archaeological Museum in Istanbul
For additional information about this statue Click Here

When walking up to visit the gallery containing these precious objects you will usually pass a bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.   Because the lighting in the room is typically not too good, and the room really looks “dated,” most groups will bypass this statute.

However, it is worthy to pause for a minute or two to view it.  First of all, it is very rare to have a statue preserved in bronze from ancient times!  Most of the statues that are preserved are marble copies from the Roman Period—but here a real bronze original is on display.  And secondly, it is worthy to notice the dress of the emperor—in a toga that depicts him as the first among Roman Citizens.

On other statues, for example several on display in the Archaeological Museum in Antalya,

Roman Emperor Hadrian in Military Garb
Depicting him as the head of the Roman armies
Antalya Archaeological Museum
From Perge — Second Century AD
For additional information about this image Click Here

Hadrian is depicted in military garb as the head of the Roman army

Roman Emperor Hadrian in the Nude — Reflecting His Divine Status
Antalya Archaeological Museum
From Perge – near Antalya
For additional information about this statue Click Here

and in others he appears in the nude—depicting his divine status!

Thus back at the bronze statue in the Istanbul Museum, this is a great place  to begin to introduce your group to the various roles played by the Roman Emperors—for certainly you will be “bumping into them” again and again in your travels in Turkey.

Olympics and Statues from the Time of The Apostle Paul

With the Olympic games in progress and Bible History Daily featuring a 2004 article entitled “Ancient Combat Sports” my mind drifted back to a trip to Rome in which seventy(!) world-class statues from all over Italy had been gathered in the hallways of the Colosseum in Rome.  The display was called “Nike. Il gioco e la vittoria”   (Nike, joy and victory)—it had nothing to do with the shoe company!  The following are three of the 23 images that I have posted on my web site.

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Discus Thrower (Diskobolos)

This is a first century A.D. life-size (61 in. [1.54 m.]) marble statue copied from a bronze statue originally done by the sculptor Myron of Greece ca. 450 B.C.  This piece is normally displayed in the Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome.

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View of the “Terme Boxer” (Pugile delle Terme).  This contestant participated in pancratium (a combination of boxing and wrestling that allowed such tactics as kicking and strangling)

This bronze statue of a boxer, a pugilist, is signed by Apollonius.  He is seated, weary, and battered.  The realism of this statute is characteristic of the Hellenistic period.  It was found in Rome.  It is a first century A.D. copy of a third or second century B.C. original.  If you enlarge the image the leather gloves that the boxers wore—sometimes with metal bands, as in this case—are clearly visible.

1 Cor. 9:26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

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Runners (Corridoi)

Two bronze runners from the villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum.  These are first century A.D. copies of third century B.C. statues.