Dismantling Pride: An Interpretation of the Destruction of the Imperial Cult Monuments in Ephesus in Late Antiquity

Topal H. V.

METU Architectural History Graduate Symposium 12 - Spaces / Times / Peoples: “Dispossession” and Architectural History, Ankara, Turkey, 24 December 2021

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • City: Ankara
  • Country: Turkey
  • Dokuz Eylül University Affiliated: Yes


Ephesus’ identity in Roman times was defined by its legendary past and by the contemporary circumstances mostly defined by the realities of the imperial rule. This led to the adorning of the urban spaces with the conjoined representations and cults of the imperial family and those of Ephesus’ ancestral goddess, Artemis. One of the most conspicuous material expressions of imperial presence in the urban spaces of Ephesus was the imperial temples, which were significant centers and sources of civic pride. However, the advent of Christianity caused a shift in paradigm. The official imperial temples, once proud architectural expressions in the cityscape, were razed and the imperial imagery faced iconoclasm. In this vein, I aim to highlight how the dismantling (sometimes the purge) of the former forms of material manifestations of civic pride – the dispossession of the imperial cult from its respective context in the urban spaces and the religious milieu of Ephesus – was a novel and avid assertion of collective identity. Indeed, abandoning or destroying a monument, as well as building one, is a collective and a monumental practice. However, this tends to be overlooked in scholarly research, which can be viewed as a consequence of a prevalent conception of violence as devoid of content, exterior to and/or contradictory to meaning and culture and having a marginalized place in human praxis. In turn, the perception of violence and culture as inimical or irrelevant phenomena results in disregarding the significance of the destruction phases of monuments compared to their construction and intended use following their establishment. Yet, as well as their dedication, destruction of monuments has a lot to offer. Monuments are expected to last. Therefore, conscious violence towards these public structures is imbued with significant connotations. In this regard, the aim of this presentation is to provide a perspective on the nature of the dispossession of the imperial cult from the cityscape in Ephesus as keen expressions of identity and monumental reactions of the local population to a new context.