1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aspendus
ASPENDUS (mod. Balkis Kalé, or, more anciently in the native language, Estvedys (whence the adjective Estvedijys on coins), an ancient city of Pamphylia, very strongly situated on an isolated hill on the right bank of the Eurymedon at the point where the river issues from the Taurus. The sea is now about 7 m. distant, and the river is navigable only for about 2 m. from the mouth; but in the time of Thucydides ships could anchor off Aspendus. Really of pre-Hellenic date, the place claimed to be an Argive colony. It derived wealth from great salines and from a trade in oil and wool, to which the wide range of its admirable coinage bears witness from the 5th century B.C. onwards. There Alcibiades met the satrap Tissaphernes in 411 B.C., and thence succeeded in getting the Phoenician fleet, intended to co-operate with Sparta, sent back home. The Athenian, Thrasybulus, after obtaining contributions from Aspendus in 389, was murdered by the inhabitants. The city bought off Alexander in 333, but, not keeping faith, was forcibly occupied by the conqueror. In due course it passed from Pergamene to Roman dominion, and according to Cicero, was plundered of many artistic treasures by Verres. It was ranked by Philostratus the third city of Pamphylia, and in Byzantine times seems to have been known as Primopolis, under which name its bishop signed at Ephesus in A.D. 431. In medieval times it was evidently still a strong place, but it has now sunk, in the general decay of Pamphylia, to a wretched hamlet.
The ruins still extant are very remarkable, and, with the noble Roman theatre, the finest in the world, have earned for the place (as is the case with certain other great monuments) a legendary connexion with Solomon’s Sheban queen. On the summit of the hillock, surrounded by a wall with three gates, lie the remains of the city. The public buildings round the forum can all be traced, and parts of them are standing to a considerable height. They consist of a fine nympheum on the north with a covered theatre behind it, covered market halls on the west, and a peristyle hall and a basilica on the east. In the plain below are large thermae, and ruins of a splendid aqueduct. But all else seems insignificant beside the huge theatre, half hollowed out of the north-east flank of the hill. This was first published by C. F. M. Texier in 1849, and has now been completely planned, &c., by Count Lanckoronski’s expedition in 1884. It is built of local conglomerate and is in marvellous preservation. Erected to the honour of the emperors Marcus Aurelius and L. Verus by the architect Zeno, for the heirs of a local Roman citizen (as an inscription repeated over both portals attests), its auditorium has a circuit of 313.17 feet. There are forty tiers of seating, divided by one diazoma, and crowned by an arched gallery of rather later date, repaired in places with brick. This auditorium held 7500 spectators. The seats are not perfect, but so nearly so as to appear practically intact. The wooden stage has, of course, perished, but all its supporting structures are in place, and the great scena wall stands to its full height, and produces a magnificent impression whether from within or from without. Inwardly it was decorated with two orders of columns one above the other, with rich entablatures, much of which survives. In the tympanum is a relief of Bacchus (wrongly supposed to be of a female, and called the Bal-Kis, i.e. “Honey Girl”). The position of the sounding board above the stage is apparent. Under the forepart of the auditorium, built out from the hill, are immense vaults. The whole structure was enclosed within one great wall, pierced with numerous windows. This structure was probably put to some ecclesiastical Byzantine use, as certain mutilated heads of saints appear upon it; and later it became a fortress and received certain additions. It is now under the care of the local aghá and not allowed to be plundered for building stone.