Cult Places in Hellenistic and Roman Ephesos (3rd cent. BCE – 4th cent. CE): A Case Study on Urban Growth and Religious Change
In the beginning of the 3rd century BCE, when Lysimachos gave up the old dwelling area of Ephesos towards a new city centre between Panayır Dağı and Bülbül Dağı, this, necessarily, had an effect on age old religious traditions: the new city of Ephesos required new gods/goddesses, sanctuaries, and meaningful narratives about the changed local topography and its (remote) past. During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, Ephesos, which is located at the western coast of Asia Minor, grew to be an antique ‘megacity’ and the administrative centre of the rich province of Asia. Undeniably, these processes led to adjustments of religious infrastructure and cultic practices. This reciprocal relationship between ‘urbanization’ and ‘religion’, which is taken from the model of ‘urbanizing / urbanized religion’ (Rüpke 2020), is the key interest of my Ph.D.-project. For such questions, Hellenistic and Roman Ephesos represents a unique field of research, because, firstly, it is one of the few ancient ‘megacities’ that did not become modern living areas and, secondly, over the course of more than hundred years of archaeological research by the Austrian Archaeological Institute it is particularly well documented.
Under the premise that places are not only products of individual and societal actions, but also producers of such actions themselves, it seems plausible to focus on Ephesos’ archaeologically, epigraphically, numismatically, and literarily documented topographically and socially defined cult places (definitions in Wiemer 2017) as indicators of urbanistic and religious dynamics. To what extent were they separated from their immediate environment or other cult places through architecture or the use of media? Or is it possible to discern entanglements, which indicate the creation of, at times, supra-local cultic landscapes? With what degree of intensity were they sacralized and, therefore, potentially withdrawn from ‘profane’ actions? Last but not least, how were they used by ‘private’ individuals, magistrates, groups, and the polis for cultic or eventually other purposes? By identifying and interpreting as comprehensively as possible these cult spaces, the project aims at understanding more thoroughly, to what extent religion, on the one hand, was shaped by changeable urban manifestations, networks, and life styles, and, on the other hand, was itself a decisive factor in the development of the urban area as well as the penetration of the rural hinterland. Finally, the case study will hopefully lead to an increased knowledge of Greek religion in the post-classical polis.