The Evolving Lifestyles of Ancient Ephesus

The ancient city of Ephesus stands as a testament to the cultural blend of two great civilizations, the Greek and the Roman: This article explores the lifestyles, beliefs, and practices that defined the lives of the Ephesians as they navigated between these cultures.

Ephesian Attire: From Greek Togas to Roman Elegance

Ephesian cloating

The inhabitants of Ephesus were no strangers to evolving fashion. Young men in their adolescence donned white togas during the Roman era, a sartorial choice that symbolized their transition into adulthood. While the Greeks had their own variant of the toga, the essence of its representation remained similar. Notably, boys reached puberty at 14, while for girls, this milestone arrived at 12.

How Did the Ancient Romans Actually Dress?

Measuring Time: Sundials and Water Clocks

A Sundial from the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selcuk
A Sundial from the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selcuk

Timekeeping in Ephesus was both a science and an art. Sundials were common, but on days when the weather was less than cooperative, water clocks took center stage. The presence of such a timepiece was not just functional but indicative of a family’s affluence. The Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selcuk today houses remarkable examples of these sundials. As for daily routines, both Greek and Roman inhabitants typically started their day with the sun’s first light. However, the Romans injected more energy into city life with their various festivals.

Education and Childhood in Ephesus

The Bath part of the upper gymnasium of Ephesus
The Bath part of the upper gymnasium of Ephesus

Greek society primarily emphasized the education of boys, sending them to gymnasiums at seven to absorb knowledge spanning music, reading, and writing. The Romans, on the other hand, were more egalitarian. Both genders began their primary education journey together at the same age. Gymnasium syllabi were comprehensive, encompassing subjects like history, logic, mathematics, and mythology. Reading and writing were skills many Romans took pride in. However, Roman society had its darker facets: a disabled child could be disowned by his father, leading to tragic fates for these innocent lives.

Mathematics and Trade: Finger Calculations

Trade was an integral aspect of both Greek and Roman cultures. Everyday transactions often involved finger counting. For grander sums, a more complex system was employed: different fingers symbolized particular organs, each representing a specific numeric value.

Religious Practices: Sacrifices and Sanctuaries

Festivals at the temple of Artemis illustration

The spiritual realm deeply influenced daily life in Ephesus. Ritual animal sacrifices were routine during ceremonies and festivals, especially for the goddess Artemis. Almost every ancient city, Ephesus included, had a religious epicenter. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus stands as a tribute to the city’s revered goddess.

Life, Death, and Reincarnation

Belief in reincarnation was pervasive. Upon death, Ephesians often took measures to ensure the deceased’s journey into the next life was comfortable, placing loved belongings alongside them. Whether through burial or cremation, honoring the departed was of essential importance.

Public Baths: A Roman Legacy

Skolastika Baths in Ephesus Ancient City
Skolastika Baths in Ephesus Ancient City

While public baths in Ephesus were absent during the early Greek era, their popularity soared in Roman times. These baths, operational both day and night, adhered to strict gender timings. Women and children had free access for the first seven hours post-sunrise, after which men could enter for a fee. For Romans, these baths were not just for cleansing but also for socializing, often accompanied by lavish feasts.

Brothels: More than Just Houses of Sins

So-Called Brothel in Ephesus
So-Called Brothel in Ephesus

In ancient Ephesus, brothels weren’t just establishments of sin; they played a more nuanced role. Ephesus, being a major trade and cultural hub, had its share of brothels. They served as spaces for companionship, entertainment, and yes, erotic pleasure. However, it’s important to understand these establishments in their socio-cultural context. They were regulated by law and were often situated near entertainment districts, making them accessible to visitors and locals alike. The so-called brothel in Ephesus is situated across from the Library of Celsus.

The Terracotta Tokens: A System of Commerce

Special tokens were used in brothels to prevent prostitutes from embezzling money.
Special tokens were used in brothels to prevent prostitutes from embezzling money, via the University of Illinois

Terracotta tokens have been discovered in archaeological excavations in Ephesus. These tokens, bearing erotic scenes, are believed to have been a form of currency for services in brothels. A client would purchase a token and exchange it for a specific service, providing an organized system within the brothel’s walls.

Sexuality: Fluid and Diverse

Sexuality in ancient Ephesus was not as strictly defined as it is in many modern societies. The Greeks had their own unique perspectives on same-sex relationships, often viewing them as expressions of love, mentorship, and companionship. While the Romans were generally more conservative, they too had layers of complexity in their views on sexuality. For instance, it wasn’t the gender of one’s partner that mattered but rather one’s role in the sexual act. Dominance was valued, while passivity could be criticized.

Prostitution: A Profession with Social Implications

An uncomfortable-looking stone bed from an ancient Roman brothel.
An uncomfortable-looking stone bed from an ancient Roman brothel.

Prostitutes in Ephesus came from varied backgrounds. Some were slaves, sold into the profession, while others entered willingly, drawn by the potential for economic independence. Respect and treatment of prostitutes varied, often dependent on their origins and the reasons for their entry into the profession. High-class mistresses, known for their beauty, humor, and charm, could achieve significant social status and even associate with the elite of Ephesian society.

Religion and Sexuality

The Great Artemis and the Beautiful Artemis statues from the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selcuk
The Great Artemis and the Beautiful Artemis statues from the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selcuk

The intertwining of religious practices and sexuality was also evident in ancient Ephesus. The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was said to have housed temple prostitutes. These sacred prostitutes, or “hierodules,” believed that their services offered a form of divine communion and were an essential part of certain religious rituals and ceremonies.

Final Words

The rich tapestry of life in ancient Ephesus from Greek and Roman cultures offers us invaluable insights into the evolution of social norms and practices. From fashion and education to religious rituals and public amenities, the city of Ephesus stands as a fascinating testament to a bygone era

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