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Sebasteion – temple of cult of Roman emperors

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

The attacking legionnaire unit - already on a T-shirt!
The attacking legionnaire unit - already on a T-shirt!

Aphrodisias – an ancient city in the area of present-day Turkey, was already known in the Hellenistic era due to the numerous marble deposits and dynamically operating sculptural workshops. In addition, crowds of the faithful drew this city because of the temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite.

The greatest prosperity and richness of Aphrodisias was in the Roman period, especially in the years 20-60 CE. This time the Sebasteion was built – a place of worship of Roman emperors Julio-Claudian dynasty, which according to tradition originated precisely from Aphrodite. Built began under the rule of the emperor Tiberius and lasted for many decades.

Original reliefs are presented in a nearby museum.

The temple complex consisted of a procession alley long at 90 m and wide at 14 m, on both sides there were three-storey porticos with richly carved panels depicting mythological scenes, heroes, gods surrounded by individual emperors (Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Nero) spouse, children and impersonation of conquered peoples. Each storey was made in a different architectural order (looking from below: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian). The establishment of Sebasteion was aimed at celebrating close relations between Aphrodisias and Roman emperors from the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

In 1979, excavation and reconstruction work began. Only half of the bas-reliefs have survived to our times, in addition, practically most of the pieces. In the years 1999-2007 fragments of the reliefs were dismantled again, the old fixing clamps were removed and replaced with stainless steel pins. In addition, the reliefs were cleaned and in some cases the missing elements of the lime mortar were added. Original reliefs are presented in a nearby museum, while replicas are found on the reconstructed Sebasteion building.

In terms of iconography, the most interesting seems to be an almost preserved, huge relief (172 cm high and 142.5 cm wide) depicting a chick-dressed Agrippina the Younger holding a horn of abundance in one hand and the other hand imposing his son Nero (dressed in military clothes) laurel wreath. It would seem that there is nothing standout in this performance – this is the representation of a mother posed as the goddess Demeter with a horn of abundance who puts the laurels on the temples of her son posed as an invincible commander in armor. Nothing could be more wrong. This scene carries a powerful iconographic cargo. Because dear reader, this is one of the first known performances where one member of the family crowns the other, which is better – the woman / mother crowns her son. Until now, in performances showing the coronation, god or personification was putting on the laurels. In this case, Agrippina appropriates the role of the master of ceremonies. He is no longer an obedient spouse (which can be observed on another relief also located in Sebasteion, where he holds emperor Claudius’ hand – this gesture according to Roman canons symbolized marital and political agreement – although the giggle of history, taking into account the fact that it is Agrippina using a mushroom dish, poisoned Claudius). The power of the relief of Agrippina and Nero is enormous. At this point Agrippina’s position becomes almost equal to the man’s position. Let us add that such a performance clearly tells Nero that he owes his ascension to the imperial throne.

Author: Roger Rytter
  • A. Freisenbruch, Pierwsze damy antycznego Rzymu

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