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The famous Roman theater at Aspendos, Turkey.

Ancient Mall Found in Famous Theater City of Aspendos Shows Commerce and Entertainment Went Hand-in-Hand

The ancient city of Aspendos was a major commercial center in Roman times. The recent excavations of a large shop complex with offices and storage facilities dating back some 2,000 years provide more insight on the products that were stored and sold near the city’s famous theater. Akin to cinemas found in shopping malls today, the Romans here combined both commerce and entertainment too.

A 2000-year-old two-story shop complex has been excavated at Aspendos, Turkey.

A 2000-year-old two-story shop complex has been excavated at Aspendos, Turkey. ( CROSS)

Many coins were discovered in the shops from the Hellenistic and Roman eras. Aspendos coins, minted from the 5th century BC, were often used in the Hellenistic era. The recently unearthed coins had the figure of a slingshot stone on one side and a horse depicted on the other. The appearance of a horse can be connected to Aspendos’ recognition for horse breeding.

Example of a silver stater coin from Aspendos dating to 370-333 BC. Obverse: Olympic games-type scene: two wrestlers grappling, the letters delta and alpha between their legs; Reverse: Olympic games-type scene of a slinger, wearing short chiton, discharging sling to right, triskeles on right with feet clockwise.

Example of a silver stater coin from Aspendos dating to 370-333 BC. Obverse: Olympic games-type scene: two wrestlers grappling, the letters delta and alpha between their legs; Reverse: Olympic games-type scene of a slinger, wearing short chiton, discharging sling to right, triskeles on right with feet clockwise. (Ancientcointraders/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

Hacettepe University Archaeology Department’s Veli Köse is currently heading the excavations at Antalya and told Hurriyet Daily   “We think valuable materials were sold or held in these stores. Some were used as offices. The fact that such a unique structure was unearthed right next to the agora in the city center supports this idea.”

Some of the products that were apparently stored and sold in the complex include: a small glass amphora, pieces of oil and perfume bottles, candles, a bronze belt buckle, a bone hair pin, and lots of studs and rings.

Some of the artifacts found at the shop complex location of the site of Aspendos, Turkey.

Some of the artifacts found at the shop complex location of the site of Aspendos, Turkey. ( Daily Sabah )

The shops were the focus of the recent excavations, yet the team also found hundreds of mussel shells in a field and some wall painting remnants at other locations around the site.

“The existence of two-storey shops and a structure complex in an ancient city symbolizes that this place was an important commercial center. We also know it from the inscriptions. Aspendos is famous especially for grain harvest and horse breeding,” Köse concluded

The ancient city of Aspendos was established in the 10th century BC. It was likely the most important city in Pamphylia, with its golden age being the Roman period – a great time for trade and commerce.  Legends say the famous Greek diviner Mopsos founded the city, however, evidence of a Hittite settlement brings up some debate about the first inhabitants. The city came under Persian rule in the 6th century BC. It was then taken by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. By the Roman period, Aspendos was an important harbor city. Yet, it fell from grace in the Byzantine period with the empire’s centralization policies. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015.

Ruins of the Basilica at Aspendos, Turkey.

Ruins of the Basilica at Aspendos, Turkey. (Saffron Blaze/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

The city is most famous for its Roman theater, the Aspendos Ancient Theater, which seats 7,000 people. The theater is one of the most visited historic sites in Turkey's Antalya province and it is the best preserved ancient theater in the country. Another feature that makes the theater famous is its remarkable acoustics. Even the slightest sound made at the center of the orchestra can be easily heard as far as the uppermost galleries. The theater hosts events by the Aspendos Opera and a ballet festival in the summer.

The theater at Aspendos, Turkey.

The theater at Aspendos, Turkey. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Apart from the theater, the Aspendos archaeological site also contains the ruins of a small temple, a nymphaeum (fountain shrine), the foundations of a bouleuterion (council chamber), and a Roman aqueduct .

Roman aqueduct of Aspendos, Turkey.

Roman aqueduct of Aspendos, Turkey. (Bernard Gagnon/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Top Image: The famous Roman theater at Aspendos, Turkey. Source: Saffron Blaze/ CC BY SA 3.0

By Alicia McDermott

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