3 Things I Learned About Ancient Turkey
Walking through the tunnel onto the floor of the arena I was noticeably in awe of what was in front of me. The weathered stone stair-stepped up to dizzying heights and I immediately could picture the stands full of people cheering at a gladiator fight below.
That was the thought running through my head, in several locations, as Appian Media’s film crew traveled through eastern Turkey. Having traveled to Israel three times, on past productions, for Following the Messiah and Searching for a King, we had become familiar with the lay of the land and knew what we were looking at when we’d roll into a location to film a scene.
For the newest project, Trial & Triumph: Revelation’s Churches we were in a different world. While still geographically close to Israel this part of the world felt very different, the architecture was different, the culture was different, so much was different.
These are the top three things I learned about the 7 churches of Asia from filming in Turkey.
1. A lot of cities had a theatre
I had seen pictures of the amphitheater at Ephesus or the colosseum in Rome. I knew the big metropolitan areas, of the first century, had these major feats of architecture and engineering but what I didn’t realize was the trend of having a theatre was something that transcended city size and wealth. Cities like Philadelphia which were neither large nor wealthy had small theaters. These structures were outside and were often built into the side of a hill. The stages were elaborate and in larger venues, even included sublevels where props, actors, animals, or other parts of the show could be moved unbeknownst to the audience. These facilities were used for theatrical productions, sporting events, and in later centuries – gladiator games became very popular. Theatres were also places for political or social discussion. Acts 19 shows us one such occasion where a dispute, involving the silversmiths of Ephesus, spills into the theatre. You can draw a mental picture of the seats filled with angry merchants and Ephesians all screaming at Paul and his companions. The theatre became a centralized place of art, culture, and debate.
2. Greek gods & Roman emperors loomed over society
Theatres and temples were big structures. They were big by 1st century AD standards and they would still dominate the skyline in the 21st century. Temples to Zeus, Artemis, and other Greek gods dotted the Turkish landscape in cities and on mountaintops and would have been unmistakable as you traveled the road through the valley between towns. The only thing that competed with the grandeur of Greek temples would be the temples and statues honoring the Roman emperors. In the museum at Ephesus, pieces of a statue of the emperor Domitian fill a room. They would have been part of a statue, honoring the emperor, that was perched on top of a temple to him in Ephesus. It would have been easily visible from the harbor as ships came in from the Aegean Sea. Imagine being an Ephesian Christian and looking up to see an oppressive emperor dominating the landscape above the city where you live.
3. Ephesus wasn’t always an inland city
If you look at Google Earth you wouldn’t say Ephesus was a port city. In fact, the ruins of the ancient city sit about 5.5 miles from the modern-day coast. Hardly beachfront property. However, this city had one of the wealthiest, highest trafficked harbors in the Roman empire. Trade was massively important to the city of roughly 250,000 people and three major roads were going in and out of the city. One leading to Smyrna in the north, one going south into the Meander valley, and one headed east out of town (pictured above) toward Persia passing right through Laodicea. Today the harbor has silted over with the erosion of the surrounding mountains the currents pulling mud into the shallow waters. It’s a testament to how times change and once-great cities and powers are leveled before God’s creation.
These are only a few of the observations we made while filming for Trial & Triumph. Once released hopefully you will also have the opportunity to see these cities and this part of the world in a way that allows for appreciation of the scripture and the lands of the Bible.