A Byzantine business district

Excavations in the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey have uncovered the remains of early Byzantine shops and businesses.

Archaeologists from the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) working this year in Domitian Square, next to the Upper Agora, focused their investigations on a small area (c.170m2) that once housed several businesses.

They found that the rooms of this building complex had been sealed by a thick burnt destruction layer dating to AD 614/615, and beneath this layer was a rich assemblage of well-preserved objects. Among the many finds were c.600 Christian pilgrim bottles (below) and numerous oil lamps; thousands of pieces of pottery, some of which once contained seafood or wine; other food remains such as peach and olive stones; and four gold coins (solidi) and several cash tills containing over 700 coppers. The finds revealed the function of each room: a shop selling Christian pilgrim souvenirs and lamps, a workshop with an adjoining sales room, a cookshop, a tavern, and a storage room.

The event that caused the area’s sudden destruction remains uncertain, but arrowheads and spearheads found here point to a military conflict, possibly connected to the Byzantine-Sasanian Wars. Previous archaeological work in Ephesus has suggested that the city declined in the 7th century, and this discovery could provide new clues about the reasons for this.

The stunningly well-preserved finds also offer a unique glimpse into everyday life in the city at the time, and project leader Sabine Ladstätter has described this as ‘the most significant discovery in the city since the now famous hillside houses were found 50 years ago.’

Text: Amy Brunskill Images: ÖAW-ÖAI/Niki Gail
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