| In the Field

Monuments of Aphrodisias

The Bouleuterion

The Bouleuterion, or Council House, is centered on the north side of the North Agora. As it stands today, it consists of a semicircular auditorium fronted by a shallow stage structure about 46 meters wide. The lower part of the auditorium survives intact, with nine rows of marble seats divided into five wedges by radial stairways. The seating of the upper part, amounting to an additional twelve rows, has collapsed together with its supporting vaults. The plan is an extremely open one, with numerous entrances at ground level and several stairways giving access to the upper rows of seats. A system of massive parallel buttresses shows that the building was originally fully roofed. The auditorium would have been lighted by a series of tall, arched windows in the curved outer wall. Seating capacity is estimated at about 1750.

The available evidence indicates a construction date in the Antonine or early Severan period (late second or early third century CE). The scaenae frons (stage front) was certainly put up at this time, based on the style of both the sculpture and architectural ornament. Two inscribed statue bases placed symmetrically against the exterior facade held images of the Aphrodisian benefactors Claudia Antonia Tatiana and her uncle Lucius Antonius Dometinus, who lived at the end of the second century. Tatiana is known to have had close ties with Ephesus and it is possible that the striking similarities between this building and the Bouleuterion on the Civic Agora at Ephesus, dated by inscription to the mid-second century, are due to some initiative on her part. We do not know what stood here before the second century CE, but it is likely that the present building replaced a smaller one dating to the late first century BCE.

The Bouleuterion remained in this form until the early fifth century, when a municipal official had it adapted as a palaestra, recording his achievement on the upper molding of the stage. This term usually refers to a wrestling ground, but in the fifth century it could be used to describe a hall for lectures, performances, and various kinds of competitive displays, as suggested by a number of inscriptions carved into the seats. Numerous additional cuttings in the surviving seats, probably for poles to support awnings, suggest that by this time the building had lost its roof. The orchestra was lowered and provided with marble pavement, reused, perhaps, from the earlier phase.