Hall of Verulanus and Harbour Baths of Ephesus

GPS coordinates: 37.943473, 27.338602

Archaeological site: 

Bronze Statue of an Athlete
Bronze Statue of an Athlete

Description: 

The main square of the harbour district was the so-called Hall of Verulanus. This spacious square, measuring 200 by 240 meters, used to be the largest of the sports facilities situated along Harbour Street. Its name comes from the founder, Verulanus, who was the chief priest of Asia during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. He ordered paving and tiling of the greater of the palestrae of the Harbour Baths with marble slabs in 13 different shades. These panels have not been preserved to our times, but their existence is evidenced by the holes in the walls, where the panels were attached. This arcaded courtyard served as training grounds of the athletes. Called xystos in antiquity, the court was surrounded by a three-aisled colonnade with its broad middle aisle serving as a running track. The best opportunity to glimpse the ruined Hall of Verulanus is to look at its eastern corner, recently uncovered by the archaeologists next to the Church of Mary.

There is a widespread belief that the southern arcade was the place where Justin Martyr discussed with Trypho. Moreover, the famous Neopythagorean philosopher Apollonius of Tyana supposedly had a vision of Emperor Domitian's assassination, as recounted by Philostratus: "Although this deed was done in Rome, Apollonius was a spectator of it in Ephesus. For about midday he was delivering an address in the groves of the colonnade, just at the moment when it all happened in the palace at Rome; and first he dropped his voice, as if he were terrified, and then, though with less vigor than was usual with him, he continued his exposition, like one who between his words caught glimpses of something foreign to his subject, and at last he lapsed into silence, like one who has been interrupted in his discourse. And with an awful glance at the ground, and stepping forward three or four paces from his pulpit, he cried: "Smite the tyrant, smite him" -- not like one who derives from some looking glass a faint image of the truth, but as one who sees things with his own eyes, and is taking part in a tragedy."

The ruined Harbour Baths stand to the west of the Hall of Verulanus. However, only a small part of the complex has been excavated so far. Still, the visible remains of the largest architectural complex in the city of Ephesus make a big impression on the visitors. The construction of the Harbour Baths began, most probably, during the reign of Emperor Domitian (81-96 CE). It means that this baths complex is the oldest one that can be seen in Ephesus today as the other ones were erected in the 2nd century CE or later. The complex consisted of two palestrae, and its total length was 360 meters. The baths contained typical rooms of the Roman Baths such as a changing area, hot, warm, and cold rooms. The baths were repaired during the reign of Constantine II (337-361), so they are also known as the Constantine Baths.

The two-storied gymnasium building, measuring 40 to 20 meters has a palaestra in the centre, surrounded by rooms of different functions. The whole gymnasium was two-storied The apsidal hall in the northern part of the smaller palestra was dedicated to the imperial cult. The lectures and meetings were held in the southern part. In this place, a Roman copy of a Greek bronze statue of an athlete was found. Another life-size statue found in the excavations of the gymnasium is a marble statue of a child playing with a duck. Both of these artefacts are now on display in the Ephesus Museum in Vienna. Moreover, many architectural fragments of the baths were reused in later buildings.

In the late antique times, a residential quarter was erected within the gymnasium. It was then built over in the Byzantine houses, up to four meters above the earlier level. Not much is known about these buildings as the archaeologists removed them to reach the Roman levels below. However, it is known that a small church was inserted in the corner of the Marble Hall of the Gymnasium. It possibly served as a parish church of the residential district that sprang up on the ancient ruins near the harbour.

The harbour baths are presumed to be the stage of the meeting between the heretic Cerinthus and the apostle John. As Eusebius explains in "Church History": "And there are those that heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe in Ephesus and seeing Cerinthus within, ran out of the bath-house without bathing, crying, 'Let us flee, lest even the bath fall, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.'"

Another one of the fascinating histories related to Ephesus is linked with an inscription found in the harbour quarter, on the underside of a marble lintel of a building. This so-called Ephesian Abgar Inscription dates back to the 5th or the 6th century CE, and it contains the text of a letter that Jesus supposedly wrote to Abgar, king of Edessa in Syria. Abgar V is claimed to be one of the first Christian kings in history, and the church historian Eusebius recorded the existence in the Edessan archives of a copy of the correspondence exchanged between Abgar of Edessa and Jesus. However, many modern scholars treat this story only as a genealogical myth. The Abgar Inscription contains the text of a letter from Jesus to Abgar who invited him to cure his illness. Jesus declined the invitation but promised to send someone else instead. The original inscription is now in the Ephesus Museum in Vienna, but several copies exist, including one in the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk and one in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, donated by Janet V. Crisler in memory of her husband, B. Cobbey Crisler in 2014.

Copy of Abgar Inscription in the Ashmolean Museum
Copy of Abgar Inscription in the Ashmolean Museum

The finds from the Harbour Baths and Gymnasium exhibited in the Ephesos Museum in Vienna

Ideal portrait of the 'Striding Poet', Roman, late 1st century CE, after a Classical original from the 5th century BCE, made of marble, from the Marble Hall of the Harbour Gymnasium in Ephesus. This striking portrait of an old man with short curly hair and a thick beard depicts an anonymous poet who has much in common with the statue of the so-called Striding Poet in the Louvre. This ideal portrait depicts the restlessly roaming singer with the parted lips, a detail informed by portraits of Themistocles and Pindar known from Roman copies. This portrait was presumably part of the original decor of the so-called Marble Hall in the Harbour Gymnasium, dated in an inscription to the late-Flavian period.

Ideal portrait of the 'Striding Poet'
Ideal portrait of the 'Striding Poet'

Bronze Statue of an Athlete. After sports and competitions in the palestra, the athletes cleaned of oil and dust with the strigilis, a curved scraper. The bronze statue shows a young man, who cleans himself with the lost strigilis with his thumb and forefinger of the left hand. The whole attention of the youth is focussed on this activity. The statue, which has been reconstructed from 234 fragments, was found in the palestra of the Harbour Gymnasium of Ephesus. The statue is a copy from Roman times after a lost original of the later 4th century BCE. The statue can not be attributed to any Greek artist with certainty, but further Roman repetitions in marble and reproductions on clay reliefs and cut stones prove the high degree of popularity of the original.

Bronze Statue of an Athlete
Bronze Statue of an Athlete

Sphinx devouring a boy, Roman, 2nd century CE, after a Greek original c.440 BCE, found in the Marble Hall of the Harbour Gymnasium; plaster model of A. Rainbauer, 1959. Archaeologists were able to reconstruct two identical groups depicting a sphinx devouring a boy from over 70 extant fragments that are now in Vienna and London. The depiction references the myth that a sphinx guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes and would kill travellers unable to solve her riddle. The model for this group is a detail from the chryselephantine statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Around 440 BCE, the celebrated sculptor Phidias decorated the armrest of Zeus' throne with such a group.

Sphinx devouring a boy
Sphinx devouring a boy

Head of Hermes, Roman transformation, 2nd century CE, after a Greek original, made of marble, found in 1896 near the propylaea of the Harbour Gymnasium in Ephesus. The wings identify this youthful deity as Hermes, the messenger of the gods, his face is framed by his famous curls. This is the transformation of the head of a statue of Hercules produced by the Greek sculptor Polycleitus in the second half of the 5th century BCE. Although the wings change the figure's identity, and his turned head and the conception of his hairstyle have also been altered, this copy from the early Antonine period clearly references the Classical bronze model.

Head of Hermes
Head of Hermes

Head of a goddess, Roman, 1st century CE, after a Greek model from c.460 BCE, made of marble, found in the Marble Hall of the Harbour Gymnasium in Ephesus. This head belongs to the statue of an unidentified goddess; unfortunately none of the extant copies of this type - known as 'Candia' after one of the oldest examples which was discovered on Crete - have retained an attribute that would allow archaeologists to identify her. However, the large number of extant ancient copies suggests that all these statues are based on a well-known Greek model from the Classical period.

Head of a goddess
Head of a goddess

Mosaic emblem, late antique, 6th century CE, made of marble, limestone, glass and brick, from the Late-antique peristyle houses in the Harbour Gymnasium of Ephesus. This exceptional central emblem depicting a cupid driving a chariot (biga) drawn by dolphins across the sea is a rare example of a late-antique mosaic from Ephesus. In addition to local stones, the artist used tesserae made of brick and glass. The emblem originally functioned as the centre of a large floor mosaic that decorated the main public room of a private house in the late-antique metropolis. The 5th and 6th centuries CE were the glory years of these houses erected in the palaestra of the former Harbour Gymnasium at Ephesus, but they were destroyed and abandoned in the early 7th century.

Mosaic emblem
Mosaic emblem

Heracles battling a centaur, Hellenistic or Roman, made of bronze, found in the Marble Hall of the Harbour Gymnasium. Depictions of heroic battles were popular throughout classical antiquity, but the motif of Heracles grabbing the hoof of a centaur is unusual. The circular opening at the top of the gnarled tree trunk shown that it functioned as a luxurious candelabrum. However, we do not know for certain that the tree was part of the original composition because both the group's original plinth and some other pieces are lost. They were replaced following the group's discovery in the late 19th century.

Heracles battling a centaur
Heracles battling a centaur

Head of a satyr playing a pipe, Roman, 2nd century CE, after a Greek model from the 4th century BCE, made of marble, found in the propylaea of the Harbour Gymnasium in Ephesus. The head is that of a young satyr, a composite creature with the body of a man and goat legs. The satyr is playing a pipe, pieces of which are discernible on his pursed lips. The surface of this fragmented head is dull and discoloured in some places; the artefact was presumably damaged in the fire that also destroyed the propylaea, the entrance to the Harbour Gymnasium. Together with the satyr's head, the archaeologists found fragments of his hands clutching the pipe, and a foot on a plinth. This statue of a pipe-playing satyr was presumably informed by a Greek model that was frequently copied during the Roman Empire.

Head of a satyr playing a pipe
Head of a satyr playing a pipe

Capital of a lamp stand and a lamp with five nozzles, Roman, 1st century CE, made of bronze, found in the the Marble Hall of the Harbour Gymnasium in Ephesus. This elaborately decorated bronze capital was assembled from sixteen separately cast pieces; note also the traces of silver inlays. The double bust depicts Hercules sporting a veil while Omphale has donned his lion's skin, an image based on a myth that recounts how the hero had to exchange his martial attributes with the Lydian queen, receiving her distaff in return. The fact that the relief appliques featuring the recumbent Hercules being waited on by two cupids, and the Harekliskoi (Hercules' youths) growing from sepals were found near the capital suggests that they may have belonged together, but of this we have no certain proof. The lamp with five nozzles was reconstructed from extant fragments (missing pieces were replaced). Comparable objects recovered from the cities buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, however, suggest that the Romans used larger-than-life sized column candelabra.

Capital of a lamp stand and a lamp with five nozzles
Capital of a lamp stand and a lamp with five nozzles

Baby boy with an Egyptian goose, Roman, 2nd century CE, after a Greek original from the 3rd century BCE, made of marble, found in the Marble Hall of the Harbour Gymnasium. This remarkably realistic statue was reassembled from countless fragments: a child seated on the floor looks up at an imaginary counterpart and stretches out his right arm. Unthinkingly he leans on his pet bird, identified by its featers as a small Egyptian goose. Ancient written sources record a much-admired bronze group of a boy with a goose in the sanctuary of Asclepius on the Greek island of Kos. It was attributed to the sculptor Boethus of Chalcedon and may have served as the model for this marble group found in Ephesus.

Baby boy with an Egyptian goose
Baby boy with an Egyptian goose

This text is a fragment of a guidebook to Ephesus: "The Secrets of Ephesus".

Image gallery: 

Ideal portrait of the 'Striding Poet'
Ideal portrait of the 'Striding Poet'
Bronze Statue of an Athlete
Bronze Statue of an Athlete
Bronze Statue of an Athlete
Bronze Statue of an Athlete
Sphinx devouring a boy
Sphinx devouring a boy
Head of Hermes
Head of Hermes
Head of a goddess
Head of a goddess
Mosaic emblem
Mosaic emblem
Heracles battling a centaur
Heracles battling a centaur
Head of a satyr playing a pipe
Head of a satyr playing a pipe
Capital of a lamp stand and a lamp with five nozzles
Capital of a lamp stand and a lamp with five nozzles
Baby boy with an Egyptian goose
Baby boy with an Egyptian goose
Abgar Inscription, the cast from the Ashmolean Museum, King Abgar's letters are in blue and Jesus' response is in red.
Abgar Inscription, the cast from the Ashmolean Museum, King Abgar's letters are in blue and Jesus' response is in red.