The Roman Heroon II is located around 120 meters to the north of the Temple of Athena, standing on a spur above the ancient coastline. We can still draw reasonable conclusions about the prominent location of the burial site following the drying-up of the Menderes Delta, but there are no first-hand sources to corroborate this theory. Nonetheless, Heroon II must have been visible from the sea during antiquity, offering approaching seafarers quite an impressive sight to behold. Because heroa were built inside cities as tombs for especially important people, the person to whom this building was dedicated must have been of outstanding status (on the significance and naming of the Milesian heroa, see the entries for Heroon I and Heroon III). The—unfortunately unknown—deceased received the greatest possible public honors here.
Anyone approaching the site of Heroon II today first faces the high walls of a residential tower from the Middle Byzantine period, built on top of the Roman burial site between the ninth and twelfth century CE. The heroon itself must have been destroyed by an earthquake towards the end of the fifth century. Ceramic finds unearthed in the context of the corresponding layers of debris and rubble indicate this period.
Heroon II once consisted of an antae temple, i.e., a temple with two protruding division walls and a small antechamber with columns. The temple stood on a tall podium and was accessible via a free-standing staircase on the northern side. Two columns of the Ionian order, placed between the division walls, completed the temple front. Considering the exposed location of the building, towering high above the sea, the ensemble of temple and podium described here must have been chosen deliberately to ensure a striking impact on approaching seafarers. In contrast, the actual burial chamber was concealed inside the podium underneath the temple, accessible through a staircase in its interior. There as another, more direct entrance on the southern side of the podium, level with the ancient streets.
Apart from its remarkable architectural design and highly visible location, Heroon II also featured rich decorations on the outside and inside. While the external tablature had a frieze displaying frolicking erotes (depicted as small figures of winged children), the interior walls of the antechamber and the inside of the temple were decorated with an intricate lotus-and-palmette frieze and a garland frieze. Stylistic analyses of these decorative architectural elements on Heroon II allowed researchers to date the burial structure to the reign of Trajan and the early years of Hadrian’s reign, i.e., the first quarter of the second century CE.
Text: Fabian Sliwka
B. F. Weber, Die römischen Heroa von Milet, Milet 1,10 (Berlin 2004) 3–100.
M. Maischberger, in: P. Niewöhner, Milet/Balat (Istanbul 2016) 129–132.