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Ephesus History: The Prytaneion of Ephesus, Turkey

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Ephesus History: The Prytaneion of Ephesus, Turkey

 Since its discovery in 1955, the Prytaneion of Ephesos, and its appearance, function and relationship to the neighbouring administrative quarter, have been a focus of research at Ephesos. Due to the fact that it was not possible to evaluate fully the building and its stratigraphic findings after its excavation, the individual building phases, its structure and the later usage of the area had not been satisfactorily clarified.

The newly – conceived research project at the Prytaneion included, under consideration of the results of the old excavations, a fundamental analysis of the structure’s architectural state and its fittings.

The study of the structure was thereby supported by a far – reaching archaeological investigation of the site, which should define the individual construction phases and post – construction periods of usage and identify a possible precursor of the structure.

Furthermore, the building underwent a cultura l- historical analysis, which would shed light on its architectonic and functional relationship to the adjoining administrative quarter. Comparative studies on other Prytaneia of Asia Minor provided specific characteristics of this type of building. 

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The 1.170 m² large Prytaneion of Ephesos was constructed in the Augustan period and has a clearly defined floor plan that was only altered in Late Antiquity: The entrance to the south of the building leads into the 18 × 22 m measuring courtyard in the form of a triporticus of Ionic order. The imposing Doric façade of the 7 × 22 m large stoa that is situated to the north of the courtyard leads into the heart of the prytaneion. The columns of this stoa were restored and set up in the 1960s. The 13,50 × 13,50 m large ‘Hestia Hall’ to the north-east of the building could be accessed through the hall. A 13,50 × 4 m large room (rooms 2, 3, 4) to the north of the ‘Hestia Hall’ was closed off in Late Antiquity. To the west of the ‘Hestia Hall’ originally two rooms were located, measuring 8 × 6,50 m (room 6, in the south) and 9 × 6,50 m (room 5, in the north). The northern part of room 5 was divided into two smaller room sections in Late Antiquity (room 5A and 5B).

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According to the epigraphic material, indicating that the building was the sanctuary of Hestia Boulaia, we are dealing with one of the very few securely identified Prytaneia of the ancient world. The interpretation of the building as a Prytaneion is supported by its integration into the city, i. e. right on the ‘State Agora’, the political center of the city, as well as through its immediate proximity to the bouleuterion. In the Prytaneion of Ephesos many of the important functions of such an institution can be verified: Among these are the home of the hearth of Hestia, the seat of the prytaneis as well as the reception and provision of meals for honored citizens financed by the government.

The functional analysis of the separate rooms of the Prytaneion demonstrates that in addition to this main function the building had incorporated many other functions:
In addition to the cult of Hestia Boulaia, the Prytaneion was home to numerous other cults. Demeter Karpophoros and her daughter Kore, Sosipolis, Apollon Klarios, Apollon Manteios, Theos Kinnaios, Tyche and the personified holy fire are attested. They demonstrate the immense cultic and religious importance of the building that was intensified especially after the early 2nd century A.D. through the integration of these new cults.

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Hestia Boulaia and the afore mentioned secondary cults, the Ephesian Prytaneion seems to have served as a dependence of the Artemision indicated by the essential meaning and presence of Artemis Ephesia in the building.
After a series of smaller modifications the Augustan edifice had been substantially rebuilt in the middle of the 3rd century. In the 4th century the building was abandoned and its building material gradually transported to the lower ‘Curetes Street’ and re-used as spoils.
The building was drastically altered during the 5th and 6th century and in the following used as an area for craftsmen and simple residential structures. The existence of a water reservoir in rooms 3 and 4 in connection with its usage through craftsmen was attested from the 5th century up until the middle of the 7th century.

 The research resumed at the Prytaneion beginning in January 2007 with the aim of filling a gap in Ephesian research history and concentrated on one of the most important buildings in the administrative centre of the city, in a region in which fundamental questions of topography and chronology are still unanswered.

The final results of this project decisively enrich our knowledge concerning these questions, and form a significant contribution to the understanding of urban, architectural, and cultural processes.

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