Roman-Era Shops, Statues of Greek Deities Found in Ancient City in Turkey

Researchers in Aizanoi unearthed traces of a bone workshop and an oil lamp store, as well as the heads of sculptures depicting Aphrodite and Dionysus

Worker excavating stone head of Aphrodite
The heads belong to statues previously discovered in the ancient city. Aizanoi Excavation

Archaeologists working in the ancient city of Aizanoi, in what’s now western Turkey, have found the remains of two Roman-era shops, as well as the heads of two statues representing the ancient Greek gods Aphrodite and Dionysus.

The shops were part of the city’s agora, a public space used for assemblies and markets in the ancient world, excavation coordinator Gökhan Coşkun, an archaeologist at Kütahya Dumlupinar University, tells the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA). The finds appear to date to the era when the Roman Empire controlled the city.

“As far as we understand from this, there was a local bone workshop in Aizanoi during the Roman period,” Coşkun says. “... It served as both a workshop and a sales place. Among the processed bone artifacts [found] were mostly women’s hairpins and spoons.”

Researchers also discovered unprocessed cattle bones and half-finished projects at the site.

The second shop appears to have sold oil lamps. The team unearthed many examples of both broken and intact lamps. Like the bone artifacts, the lamps were made locally in Aizanoi, the Hurriyet Daily News reports.

The stone heads of Aphrodite, goddess of love, and Dionysus, god of wine, were recovered from a creek bed in the ancient city. The heads belong to statues found during a previous dig, Coşkun tells AA’s Muharrem Cin.

Zeus temple
The city is home to one of the best-preserved temples of Zeus in the world. Dosseman via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

“These are important findings for us, as they show that the polytheistic culture of ancient Greece existed for a long time without losing its importance in the Roman era,” he says. “The findings suggest that there may have been a sculpture workshop in the region.”

As Laura Geggel writes for Live Science, Aphrodite and Dionysus were lovers in some Greek myths, so “perhaps it’s fitting that archaeologists found the ancient statuary heads of the goddess of love and the drunk reveler near each other.”

Aizanoi is located about 30 miles southwest of the modern Turkish city of Kütahya. Per Unesco, it was settled as early as the third millennium B.C.E. and controlled at different times by Anatolia’s Phrygian people and the kingdoms of Pergamon and Bithynia. The city came under Rome’s control in 133 B.C.E., emerging as an important commercial hub for the empire. It produced cereals, wine, wool and stone products.

The city remained a significant player in the region through the early Byzantine Period, but most of its impressive architecture dates to the time of the Roman Empire. It’s known for housing one of the best-preserved temples of Zeus in the world and is also home to a theater and stadium complex, Roman baths, and remnants of ancient infrastructure such as a dam and bridges. 

Archaeologists have been investigating the city on and off since the 1830s. It was placed on the Unesco World Heritage Tentative List in 2012. This February, experts working in Aizanoi found 650 coins minted between 75 and 4 B.C.E., as the Hurriyet Daily News reported at the time. Even more recently, an excavation at the site unearthed a headless statue of the Greek health goddess Hygieia.

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