From our bus we took a brief tractor trolley to the entrance of Aphrodisias. Our first ancient architectural view was that of the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias. This Sebasteion and its sculptural display and imperial reliefs acts as a processional before entering what would have been a temple. The Sebasteion was dedicated to Aphrodite, but also to the Julio-Claudian emperors which emphasizes and illustrates the importance of imperial cults.
Two elite Aphrodisian families were the patrons of the Sebasteion. Two brothers, Menander and Eusebes with Eusebes' wife Apphias dedicated the propylon and north portico, whereas brothers Diogenes and Attalus, really Attalis Apphion (Attalus' wife) dedicated the temple and south portico. These families, along with other upper-class Aphrodisian families, we're trying to appease and gain favor with Rome while simultaneously showing loyalty to and trying to attract Rome's attention by means of these dedications. This exemplifies how Aphrodisias is a cultural crossroads. Rather than the west reaching out to the east as we saw in the Temple of Augustus, we now see the east reaching out to the west.
Not only does the creation of the Sebasteion illustrate a cultural crossroads but so too does the architecture and sculptural detail of the complex. The Sebasteion echoes Roman structures such as the Ara Pacis, but also is uniquely Hellenistic in the intense, theatrical-like emotions expressed in the faces of the imperial reliefs even though it is past this time period, resulting in a creation that is solely Aphrodisian. The Sebasteion has three levels each containing a different columnar order. The base of the Sebasteion employs modified Doric columns, the second level employs modified Ionic columns, and the third level employs modified Corinthian columns. Each columnar order is specific to a different time in history so by using all three orders it reflects a sense of grandeur because the people's creating this architectural piece knew of each of these styles. The Sebasteion is completely unique because there was no model for a Sebasteion. As a result the imperial cult was instituted in this space by the adaptation of Hellenistic myths and structural forms and Roman components that were reflected in both the architecture and iconography of the complex.
As we travelled deeper into Aphrodisias we came upon the Temple of Aphrodite and learned that both the temple and the Sebasteion are viewed as sacred spaces. Not only did citizens worship Julio-Claudian emperors through imperial cults, but they also worshipped gods and goddesses such as Aphrodite - the patron cult. However, there was a gradual progression during this time in which people transitioned from worshipping ancient Greek and Roman gods and goddesses to worshipping the single true God. In fact, we discovered that the Temple of Aphrodite was converted into a church in which the altar can still be seen today. This again brought to light the prevalence of crossroads at Aphrodisias for the history ties back to ancient beliefs and the transition of these beliefs to modern day religion.
As we walked through Aphrodisias crossroads continually emerged. We past ancient agoras, theaters, odeons, baths, and stadiums. The more we saw and the greater details we learned made it easy to imagine the complete architectural buildings and features of this great ancient city. As we climbed the steps of the theater and examined the imperial reliefs from the Sebasteion in the museum we were able to envision what it might be like to live in this moment of history.