Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.09.11

David Parrish (ed.), Urbanism in Western Asia Minor, New Studies on Aphrodisias, Ephesos, Hierapolis, Pergamon, Perge and Xanthos. JRA Suppl. 45.   Portsmouth:  JRA, 2001.  Pp. 191.  ISBN 1-887829-45-8.  $119.50.  

Contributors: David Parrish, Wolfgang Radt, Peter Scherrer, Francesco D'Andria, Christopher Ratté, Jacques des Courtils, Laurence Cavalier and Halük Abbasoglu

Reviewed by Frédérique Landuyt, CSAD, Oxford University (
Word count: 1719 words

This book contains the proceedings of a colloquium held at the 100th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Washington, D.C., in 1998. It summarises the current state of archaeological research into urbanism in six cities of western Asia Minor, mainly during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Each author, who is also responsible for the excavations he or she discusses, summarises the developments in the overall layout and architectural history of one of these cities.

There is a long tradition in urbanistic studies in Asia Minor (for instance on Miletos or Priene, and see more recently Hoepfner and Schwander's studies1) which has often concentrated on the Hellenistic period and the second and third centuries AD. In recent times, however, the late Hellenistic/early Imperial and late antique cities have received more attention, and some articles in this book attempt indeed to convey a more general idea of what the cities were like during these periods. Moreover, the reconstructions of city plans are now based on more detailed information, obtained through excavation or geophysical survey, as at Aphrodisias, rather than on theoretical constructs.

The book deals with some of the most extensively excavated and explored cities in western Asia Minor, allowing for a detailed study of changes in each city throughout the centuries. Research on well-known cities, such as Priene and Miletos, having already been published elsewhere is therefore not missed in this volume. But, although the introductory chapter draws parallels with some of the better-known cities in the region, reference to other less well-known cities such as Herakleia by Latmos could have been made too. The book comprises different approaches to urbanism, some chapters laying the emphasis on architectural history and others on planning and the development and interplay of monumental complexes. Although the Greek and Roman cities were generally laid out on a regular plan, different adaptations existed, which were bound up with political arrangements. This diversity in layout and in reasons for it emerges from the discussion of the individual cities.

The editor's introductory chapter (8-41) brings out the constituent elements which most cities had in common. He shows the variations in application of the grid plan, which not only depended on topographical conditions but sometimes changed between the Hellenistic and Imperial period due to a shift in emphasis from the city and its cults to the emperors and their cults. There is also a clear demonstration of the importance of, usually colonnaded, streets as the main constituent of the urban armature. The essential buildings making up a (mainly Roman) city are logically divided into several groups, and for each one their function is explained and their distribution within the city compared with the other cities and with parallels drawn more widely from western Asia Minor. They show the diversity in solutions applied in each city according to topographical and historical circumstances. Although the contributors have given accounts of earlier and later developments in each individual city, Parrish has concentrated on the Imperial period. He could have been more explicit on the change in patrons and the shift in emphasis this brought about: from the citizens in the Hellenistic period, with public buildings and temples dedicated to the polis deities, to the emperors and influential Romans, with the addition of sanctuaries for the imperial cult, and finally the Church in the Byzantine period. His introduction ends with a very useful, though select, bibliography.

W. Radt's "The urban development of Pergamon" (43-56) briefly synthesises the results of the research into the Archaic and Classical period, which had not been previously examined. So far, only fortifications have been identified. He goes on to discuss the grid system, which contained some irregularities, as introduced by Philetairos at the beginning of the Hellenistic period, and its expansion under Eumenes II. It thus appears that the textbook example of terraced planning, taking topographical conditions into account, had a regular grid imposed on it, like many cities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Radt also discusses the layout of the Roman city, when a new orientation was given to the grid, and shows that it remained in existence through Byzantine times. Unfortunately, the buildings that make up the city and determine its appearance are not discussed here because they were excavated long ago. The fold-out city plan and other illustrations are of a high standard.

P. Scherrer's "The historical topography of Ephesos" (57-93) is a report on the newest topographical and architectural research carried out in Ephesos since 1994/5. As such it is very useful and complete and assembles all the bibliography on the subject. It reveals the complex history of the early city, developing out of several separate settlements. At the same time it shows how little is known about the pre-Roman city, despite more than a century of research at the site. Scherrer gives a clear account of how in the Imperial period a new grid was laid out, mainly for public spaces, and had to be integrated into the existing Hellenistic grid and how the public spaces were totally reorganised. His theoretical explanation for the grid dimensions, which were based on the net of streets crossing rather than on the smallest unit as is usually thought, seems plausible. The illustrations, especially the ones in colour, clearly show the different phases in the development of the monumental ensembles.

F. D'Andria's "Hierapolis of Phrygia: its evolution in Hellenistic and Roman times" (94-115) demonstrates that little is known about the Hellenistic and early Imperial city and that what is now visible of it took shape in Flavian times as a result of imperial favours. D'Andria describes how activity continued in the fifth and sixth centuries with Christian buildings and houses which respected the layout of the Roman city until an earthquake in the middle of the seventh century put a stop to its development. Two centuries later the city was ruralised, and scattered nuclei appeared on its site. The article contains several detailed reconstruction drawings of the city which give a good idea of its appearance at different periods of its history.

C. Ratté's "New research on the urban development of Aphrodisias in late antiquity" (116-147) discusses the new research into the development of the city in the late Imperial and Byzantine periods. The magnetic prospection and electrical resistivity survey carried out in recent years has proven very useful for research into the layout of the city. A brief overview of the urban development from the second century BC through the third century AD shows that the city was Hellenistic in overall conception but with influence of Roman ideas from the beginning of the Imperial period onward. The second part of the article, which relies mostly on epigraphic evidence, reveals that building activity diminished drastically in the later part of the third century AD until the middle of the fourth century, when the shift in patronage to provincial authorities and the Church caused a resurgence in activity in the form of repair or transformation of existing buildings. The seventh century was a period of radical transformation, with the cessation of public building. The author also refutes K. Erim's suggestion that earthquakes played an important role in the urban evolution of the city in the mid-fourth and early seventh centuries.

The contribution by J. des Courtils and L. Cavalier, "The city of Xanthos from Archaic to Byzantine times" (148-171), discusses the evolution of Xanthos from a typically Lycian town into a Hellenised, and later Roman, city, as well as its connection with the extra-urban sanctuary of Leto. Xanthos knew three main phases of urban development. Two elements of the earliest period are characteristic of Lycian settlements:2 the buildings and tombs, erected on and around the acropolis, were indigenous in nature, as was the mixing of tombs and housing in the same areas. The authors argue that the city was culturally Hellenised but that, despite their Greek names, the institutions could be different from those expected in a Greek polis. Although this is certainly true until the beginning of the fourth century, important changes seem to have taken place, particularly during the period of the Hekatomnid hegemony and thereafter. Excavations have not yet revealed any important Hellenistic or early Imperial structures, and consequently there is no evidence of transformation in the general appearance of the town. However, the apparent lack of building activity in the city contrasts with the boom at the Letoon, which at that time became one of the foremost sanctuaries of Lycia. In the later Roman period the city was finally laid out with main axes and large squares, and was basically Romanised. It remained largely unchanged in the Byzantine period. The article argues that the grid was probably introduced earlier, perhaps by Mark Antony at the end of the first century BC. The illustrations are well chosen, but a more detailed city plan, resembling the excellent plan of the Letoon, would have been useful.

H. Abbasoglu's "The founding of Perge and its development in the Hellenistic and Roman periods" (173-188) briefly discusses the settlement history of Perge. Excavations on the acropolis have demonstrated that the original settlement dates back to the end of the fourth or the third millennium, i.e. much earlier than the second- or third-millennium date suggested by the literary and philological evidence. From the end of the third century settlement descended towards the plain, but Abbasoglu does not go into the details of the layout of this expanded city, partly because not much is known about this phase yet. The development during the prosperous period of the first and second centuries AD and the impoverishment of the late third and fourth centuries are described in more detail, and the many photographs added to this paper provide a good illustration of this point. This article is more about recent excavation results than urbanism, with almost no historical information, but has the advantage of assembling all the bibliography in one place.

As a conclusion I would say that, although in general historians may find that some of the articles lack historical information explaining the changes throughout the centuries, the book will appeal to archaeologists working on urbanism from the point of view of building history and historical topography as it gives an up-to-date picture of research in these six cities of western Asia Minor and contains extensive bibliographies on each city.


1.   W. Hoepfner, E.-L. Schwandner, Haus und Stadt im klassichen Griechenland, Munich 1986; E.-L. Schwandner, K. Rheidt (ed.), Stadt und Umland: neue Ergebnisse der archäologischen Bau- und Siedlungsforschung, Mainz 1999.
2.   See for instance W. Wurster, "Antike Siedlungen in Lykien. Vorbericht über ein Survey-Unternehmen im Sommer 1974", AA, 1976, 23-49.

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