Basilica: Sculpture


The series of marble reliefs known as the Ninos frieze was found during the excavation of the Roman Civil Basilica (Architecture of the Basilica) at the southwest corner of the South Agora. The Basilica is dated to the mid- or late first century A.D., but the Ninos frieze, which decorated the parapets of the upper storeys of the building's two long (90 m) interior colonnades, belongs to a major late-antique refurbishment, probably of the late third or fourth century.

The imagery of the reliefs consists of floral and acanthus motifs, as well as decorative objects and figures. Dionysian scenes are common, featuring satyrs, a panther with a kantharos, and Silenos with Corybantes. Erotes also figure prominently, holding garlands, riding a hippocamp, and holding a torch in a scene of Leda and the Swan. The Cult-image of Aphrodite of Aphrodisias is depicted on a recently identified fragment in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

The main focus of the parapet frieze appears to have been a set of figured reliefs in the center of the east colonnade which depict various foundation scenes. Important figures are identified by inscribed labels as Ninos, Semeiramis, Gordis, Bellerophon, Pegasos, and Apollo. The discovery of the Ninos parapet provides archaeological corroboration of a text of Stephanos of Byzantium, which states that Aphrodisias was at an early period in its history named Ninoe after Ninos.

The scene of the eponymous founder sacrificing at an altar on which is perched an eagle may refer specifically to the local cult of Zeus Nineudios, attested in late Hellenistic and Roman inscriptions. The barren tree found frequently on the local coinage of Aphrodisias of the second and third centuries A.D. is here associated with the foundation narrative of Ninos. A recently discovered inscription naming Bellerophon as a local founder suggests that the other figures depicted on the parapets were also associated with the founding of Aphrodisias and related communities. The activities of local historians such as Apollonios of Aphrodisias ensured the preservation and promotion of these foundation stories, which were probably incorporated into late-antique works such as the now lost Patria of Aphrodisias by Christodoros of Coptos.

The imagery of these reliefs reflects a long-standing tradition among Greek communities of venerating their mythological and legendary founders. The parapets decorating the Basilica of Aphrodisias offered the ancient viewer a remarkable panorama of the community's self-representation in the late Roman period.

The sculptures of the Basilica are being studied by Dr. Bahadir Yildirim, a graduate of the Institute of Fine Arts.