Charles Fellows in Aphrodisias

An Early Account of Turkey's Roman and Christian City

British archaeologist and explorer Sir Charles Fellows (1799–1860) discovered the ruins of a number of ancient cities in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), including Xanthus, the ancient capital of Lycia, which he excavated under the sponsorship of the British Museum but he funded personally. He was knighted in 1845 for his assistance in having marble reliefs and monuments from this area brought to England. Public response to their London exhibit was sensational.

On his way to Lycia, Fellows spent three days at Aphrodisias. The following account of his visit to Aphrodisias is taken from the meticulously documented and illustrated report he presented to the British Museum, published as An Account of Discoveries in Lycia, being a Journal Kept during a Second Excursion in Asia Minor (1840). In it he describes the relationship of the pagan and Christian ruins at the site.


The Temple of Aphrodite at Aphrodisias, as drawn by Charles Fellows, Esq.

I must endeavour to describe in some degree the interesting objects that detain us here. Aphrodisias lies to the east of the head of the valley which gives rise to the Mosynus, and is beautifully bounded by mountains of considerable importance. Cadmus rises majestically on the east, while the distant summits of Mount Tmolus towering above the range of Messogis, are seen in the north: the elevation of the city above the sea is about a thousand feet, the air healthy and cool, and the water excellent. I see no river or stream, but the old fountains are supplied from distant sources in the hills.

Aphrodisias is not in appearance the site of an ancient Greek city; it lies low, and its principal buildings are not, as usual, elevated above the rest of the town. It is difficult to describe the ruins of this city; I never saw in one place so many perfect remains, although by no means of a good age of the arts. The opinion I shall venture to give is founded wholly upon my observation of the ruins as they exist, in perfect ignorance of any historical accounts. I have copied many of the inscriptions, and hope to increase my knowledge by their after-examination…

The stadium on the north side of the city is still magnificent, running from east to west, and having both ends circular; most of its seats are still remaining, and in itself this building alone would repay the trouble of a visit to this city. On the south side is a small hill, artificially formed, probably to contain a theatre, the ruins of which face the south-east; a few foundations would lead us to suppose that temples may have ornamented this little acropolis. In the centre of the city stood a beautiful Ionic temple; fifteen of its white, marble, fluted columns are still standing, and some have tablets left uncut where the shaft was fluted, telling by their inscriptions that they were offerings to the temple of Venus or Aphrodite, the goddess to whom the city was dedicated…

Angelos Chaniotis’s article “Godfearers in the City of Love” from the May/June 2010 issue of BAR details the breathtaking marble ruins of Aphrodisias, which boast numerous inscriptions and graffiti by Christians, Jews and pagans from the Byzantine period (fourth–sixth centuries C.E.). A 9–foot–high synagogue inscription contains the names of Jews, proselytes and Godfearers, people who were members of the jewish community but had not converted. Many of them were apparently Christian. Read the full article in the BAS Library.

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Many other remains, showing different orders of architecture, in columns and friezes, attest, without doubt, the existence of numerous temples, and indicate a beautiful city built wholly of white marble, large blocks of which are found in all parts of the ruins, many measuring nine or ten feet in length. Slabs, probably from the cellas of temples, covered with inscriptions, are used as material to a very great extent. I copied inscriptions from upwards of fifty of these, all of an age perhaps one or two centuries before our era. The sarcophagi, which extend half a mile to the west, must also rank with this state of the city. A few Greek coins are found in the ruins, but they are very scarce.

My next description carries us to an age probably two or three centuries subsequent to the Christian era. The whole of the temples and public buildings, excepting only the stadium (which, by a wall built across it near the circular end, seems to have been converted into an amphitheatre) must have been demolished; for a city arose…composed of the remains of temples, tombs, and theatres, removed, although uninjured. The reversed inscriptions and inverted bas-reliefs bear testimony to the change…Even the Pagan name of the city was changed, for in [one] inscription it appears to be called Tauropolis…

The Cross, with the alpha and omega, and other monograms used by the early Christians, are the emblems over the gates. Sarcophagi within the walls tell the end of many of the wealthy Christian inhabitants; and others are registered upon the bases and columns of temples which were afterwards used to support Christian churches…

The walls of the town, in their present decay, show better the extent of depredation and size of the former city than any other remains; it is equally a study for the lover of art, of history, or of morality…

In the free eBook Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, learn about early Christianity in Turkey and the cultural contexts for the theology of Paul.

From this sarcophagus, which stood close by the side of one less ornamented and without inscriptions, we copied the following interesting record, which shows how carefully the owners of the tombs endeavoured to secure their preservation and sole occupancy…These sarcophagi stood upon a stone substructure, too much buried for our examination; but in many others we saw, and in some were able to enter, a low apartment beneath; this seems to be called here the platas, and to be appropriated to the less honoured individuals of the family

The substructure (Platas) is (the property) of Adrastos Polychronios, the son of Glykon, the son of Glykon, the son of Leon, the son of Hekatomnon…on that substructure he built a monument, lying upon the substructure, and both the sarcophagus (Soros) and the compartments (Isostae) in it, and the other things in it. In that sarcophagus I buried Barilla, my wife; and likewise I wish myself to be put into the sarcophagus, but nobody else. Into the first compartment, lying under the sarcophagus, I wish my (second) wife, and Polychronios my son to be buried. But in the other compartment I wish to be put Tatianos and Adrastos, my children; but nobody else to be put either into the sarcophagus or into the compartments…But if, contrary to the directions, anybody shall bury another (in the monument), let him be accursed, and besides pay into the most holy treasury five thousand denaria, of which one-third is to be his, who institutes proceedings.*

Some of the sarcophagi of the Byzantine age are richly wrought, and, although many of them are of Christian date, they appear to have retained the Pagan devices: at the end of the one represented appears an altar burning in front of a door…
We had provisions with us, and our only want of firewood was supplied by these civil but simple people. It was amusing to see their curiosity when we were copying inscriptions, by beating wet pulpy paper into the hollowed letters in the marble, and allowing it to dry in the sun; they showed great delight, and soon learned to assist us. I regretted my not understanding the words in which they indicated their surprise, but I read it in their unaffected and expressive countenances. The instruments, and their use in making observations of our latitude and longitude, as well as the taking our altitude by boiling the thermometer, were of course all objects of wonder to them, and I dare say will be long talked of by these simple people. Three days appeared but a short time to remain in this interesting place.


* Published by Boeckh, 2824, from the manuscript of Sherard, who saw the monument in a more perfect state.

Additional Resources

In the BAS Library

Angelos Chaniotis. “Godfearers in the City of LoveBiblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2010, 32–44, 77.

In Bible History Daily

Exposing St. Nicholas’ Christian Capital at Myra

The Lost Sites of Ancient Cilicia

Apostle Philip’s Tomb Found in Turkey

Of Pirates and Virgins: Greek and Turkish Scholars Colloquiating

Newly Established Hiking Trail Guides Adventurous Travelers Through Turkey’s Archaeological Wonders

Explore for Yourself

Join Dr. Mark Wilson on the BAS tour Abraham’s Country: The Ancient Civilizations of Turkey from September 14-28, 2013.

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