Nymphaeum of Trajan at Ephesus (102-114 CE)

Tiberius Claudius Aristion
Original Location/Place: 

Ephesus, Curetes Street

Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 

In loco.

Original Inscription/Graffito: 

See Hermann Wankel 1979-84, Die Inschriften von Ephesos, Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien 2, R. Habelt, Bonn 1979-1984, No. 424.

[Ἀρτέμιδι ʼΕφ[ε]σίᾳ κα[ὶ] Αὐ[τοκράτορι] Νέρυοᾳ Τρα[ιανῶι Κα]ίσα[ρι Σεβαστῶ]ι Γερμ[ανικ]ῷ Δακικῶι καὶ τῇ πατρίδι Κλαύδιος Ἀριστίων τρὶς ἀσιάρχης καὶ νεοκό[ρος] | [με]τα ʼΙουλίας Λυδίας Λα[τεραῆς – ίλ]λη[ς] τῆ[ς γυναικός,] θυγα[τ]ρὸς ʼΑσίας, ἀρχιε[ρείας καὶ πρυτάνεως [] ὕδωρ [εἰσαγαγών διʼοὖ κ[ατεσκεύασεν ὀχετοῦ διακοσίων καὶ δέκα σταδίων καὶ τὸ ὑδρεκδοχῖον σὺν παντὶ τῷ κόσμῳ ἀνέθηκεν ἐκ τῶν ἰδί[ων].

Claudius Aristion, thrice asiarch and neokoros, with his wife Julia Lydia Laterane,….ille, daughter of Asia, high-priestess and prytanis, he dedicated the [-] water, having brought it 210 stadia through the water conduit he constructed, and the water reservoir, with all its decorations, at his own expense, to Ephesian Artemis and to the Emperor Nerva Trajan Caesar Augustus Germanicus Dacicus and to the fatherland.

102 CE to 114 CE



17 m length  

Building Typology: 

Nymphaeum/Water reservoir


The Nymphaeum of Trajan is a huge public fountain located in the city center of Ephesus. The monument stands on the main thoroughfare of the city, the Curetes Street, on its northern side, dominating its main stretch. As the street was shaped as a colonnaded street, with two parallel rows of columns running from the beginning to the end of the roadway, the monument, slightly jutting outwards, dwarfed all the surrounding area. The huge monument, 17 m in length, shaped as the Greek letter Π, consisted of a water basin surrounded on three sides by a two-storey monumental façade. The main facing wing, broken in two at the entrance, was flanked by two wings protruding outwards, surrounding the basin. Each lateral wing presented a tetrastyle front, formed by the column located on each corner of the main façade, together with three more columns. Moreover, each wing presented an outer façade, composed of two columns, the second one in fact supported by the back wall. The plan of the second upper storey is similar to that of the first. Thus, in the main facing wing, the central niche, or aedicula, also formed by two columns, standing on pediments, and crowned by Corinthian capitals, is topped by a triangular pediment. The two other quasi-identical niches, albeit slightly smaller, are, however, topped by a flat gable. On the side wings, the two front columns form together an outer niche, which is crowned by a semicircular gable. The fragments of at least ten statues, located in the various aediculae, attest the presence of an ambitious sculptural program. The main statue, which was located in the central niche on the upper storey, dominated the whole building. This was a huge statue of Trajan, twice the size of a normal statue, depicting the emperor completely naked but for a mantle, possibly a chlamys, possibly a paludamentum, which fell from his left shoulder. The statue probably held a spear in its right hand. The inscription near the statue of Trajan refers to him as emperor Caesar, Nerva, Trajan, Augustus, Germanicus, Dacicus, son of a god. Together with the emperor, depicted in a nude heroic posture following the Greek tradition, stood other statues depicting various members of the imperial family, including its female members. Thus, a statue of a woman, dressed in a long tunic, and probably draped in a peplos had been found. Besides, various other fragments point to the presence of statues of gods, such as Aphrodite, Dionysus, and the Greek hero Androcles, the mythical founder of Ephesus (Longfellow, Roman Imperialism and Civic Patronage, p.  77-95).


This huge public fountain was the gift of Tiberius Claudius Aristion, one of the most powerful citizens of Ephesus, together with his wife, Julia Lydia Laterane. Aristion, known through various inscriptions, started his career as a prominent citizen of Ephesus, as grammateus, or secretary of the people,  as attested in an inscription dated from the rule of Cornelius Ruso, proconsul of Asia in 92-93 CE. Afterwards, Aristion was appointed prytanis, the eponymous magistrate of Ephesus, and gymnasiarchos. This task incurred great expense, as it demanded the provision of oil for the city’s main gymnasium. However, the most important position reached by Ariston was that of archiereus, or high priest of the imperial cult, and neokoros, or guardian of the imperial temple. It seems that Aristion in fact financed the erection of the Temple of Domitian, later converted in a Temple of the Sebastoi, or of the whole Flavian imperial family (Aphrodisias and the imperial temple of Ephesus under Domitian). Pliny mentions him in his Letters, narrating that Aristion, princeps Ephesiorum was once accused of abusing the benevolence of city, but he was acquitted (Pliny the Younger, Letters VI.31.3). The Nymphaeum of Trajan was part of an ambitious project which also included the erection of a huge aqueduct. Until then, Ephesus in the Roman period possessed three aqueducts. The first two, the Aqua Julia sponsored by Augustus, and the Throessitica Aqueduct, sponsored by Augustus and Tiberius, erected under the governorships of Gaius Sextilius Pollio and Gaius Offilius Proculus, dated to the Augustan period. A third aqueduct, the Marnas Aqueduct, sponsored by Domitian, erected under the governorships of Calvisius Ruso, was erected under the rule of Domitian himself. Thus, Tiberius Claudius Aristion, together with his wife Julia Lydia Laterane, provided a new fourth aqueduct. The waterline, which started in the Kücük Menderes River in Tire, followed a course stretching for 20 miles to its terminal, the Nymphaeum of Trajan. The titles attributed to Trajan indicate that the building was erected between 102 and 114 CE, as by then Trajan had adopted the title Dacicus, and the two titles Parthicus and Optimus, assumed in 114 CE, are lacking in the inscription. As clearly demonstrated by Pliny’s correspondence, these projects necessitated the approval of the emperor, yet were not always dedicated to him. Thus, in Ephesus, on the one hand a huge fountain, erected some years previously, was dedicated to Domitian; on the other hand, Aristion, in roughly the same period, sponsored the construction of a further public fountain, located near the Magnesia Gate, perhaps more impressive than the Nymphaeum of Trajan (I.Eph. 424a). Yet, the Nymphaeum of Trajan is an important example of a monument which emphasizes the relationship between the emperor and the city of Ephesus. Aristion, a holder of Roman citizenship, as made evident by his name, was not only an euergetès, or sponsor, and one of the most important citizens of Ephesus, he also fulfilled the task of high priest and guardian of the imperial cult. The statuary program can help us understand the ideology behind the erection of this expensive, albeit useful monument. The emperor, whose statue dominates the whole building, is in fact the main figure. The posture of the statue emphasizes that the emperor was portrayed as divus, or divine. As such, he was associated first and foremost with Androcles, the mythical founder of Ephesus, but also with Dionysus and Aphrodite. While the cult of Dionysus was associated with the surrounding area, dominated by Kuretes Street, Aphrodite was one of the patron goddesses of Ephesus. Thus, the statue emphasizes the close association between the emperor and the city. Moreover, choosing to depict Trajan as a god, Aristion and his wife wished to emphasize their association, as sponsors, with a god. As once remarked by Simon Price, imperial images such as this statue set in the Nympheum, were central to the imperial discourse. Thus, a statue of the ruler did not mirror the imperial ideology, but it was its main catalyzer (Price, Rituals and Power, p. 205). When Trajan visited Ephesus in 113 CE, he may have admired the building, by then probably completed. This building, therefore, is an important example of the adaptation of imperial technology in a Greek city, as it was the terminal point of an aqueduct. However, the Nymphaeum of Trajan is also an important example of the perception of imperial rule.

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Nymphaeum of Trajan at Ephesus (102-114 CE)
Author(s) of this publication: Samuele Rocca
Publishing date: Wed, 07/12/2017 - 19:13
URL: https://www.judaism-and-rome.org/nymphaeum-trajan-ephesus-102-114-ce
Visited: Tue, 02/27/2024 - 04:34

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