Abstract: Terrace House 2 in Ephesus

Lecturer: Sabine Ladstätter

Terrace House 2 is the name given to a ca. 4,000 m² insula lying directly in the Roman city centre of Ephesus. Due to its exceptionally good state of preservation – not only are the rich furnishings of the ground floors of the individual residences partially preserved, but also those of the upper storeys – Terrace House 2 counts amongst the most scientifically important and moreover most remarkable monuments of its type. The special state of preservation results in the fact that the structure not only allows a classification and analysis based on ground plan, chronology and history of style, but also represents an almost inexhaustible source for the material culture of the Roman period, for analyses of function, and for sociological and psychological aspects in the study of domestic architecture.

Already the location of Terrace House 2, nestled within public complexes as well as within sacred and funerary monuments of prestigious character in the city centre of Roman Ephesus, suggests that its residents belonged to the civic élites who could afford property in this prominent area. These are municipal residences of prominent and wealthy Ephesian citizens, whose houses served as spaces in which business was conducted and clients and guests were received, and which in short promoted the prestige of their owners.

Of particular interest in the Ephesian situation is the fact that alterations in the history of usage can be followed for almost 200 years – from the creation of the residential insula in the 1st century up to its destruction by earthquakes in the final third of the 3rd century. In this manner, changes in domestic taste can be perceived from the building history of the houses and the modifications carried out in their ground plans and furnishings; at the same time, altered economic and therefore social relationships of the residents are also discernible. External influences, such as for example earthquake destruction which had to be repaired, are generally to be clearly differentiated from building phases which were voluntarily carried out and which put altered living concepts into effect.

The series of earthquakes in the third quarter of the 3rd century, with its abrupt moment of destruction, allows an insight into the most recent concepts of decoration and phases of usage of the Roman domestic structures. Due to the profound destruction and the abandonment of the complex, a set of in situ evidence which is unique to the eastern Mediterranean is available. The finds lay in the burnt layers directly above the floor level and therefore belong without doubt to the most recent Imperial phase of usage. In the course of mapping the types of finds, it was for example possible to form general statements regarding the widely different aspects of daily life in the period of the soldier emperors.

In addition to its undisputed relevance for science and cultural history, Terrace House 2 also represents a great challenge in terms of conservation and restoration. It was already clear during the extensive excavation work of the 1970s and 1980s that the amazingly well-preserved painted and mosaic decoration should remain in situ and that a roof should be erected over the monument. With the protective structure over Terrace House 2, which was opened in 2000, a museum in the excavated city itself was set up; the ancient ruins preserved beneath it provide both specialist and layman alike with an insight into the ancient living environment. The protective structure therefore conserves not only a monument of immense cultural-historical and scientific significance, but it also has given back to the ruins a part of their original living function. As a large-scale, living restoration workshop and as a magnet for visitors, the monument today is frequented by large numbers of people; alone in 2011 more than 100,000 interested individuals found their way to Terrace House 2.

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Professor Brian Rose is the James B. Pritchard Professor of Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, and is Past President of the AIA.  He holds his degrees from Columbia University (Ph.D... Read More

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