Research Article

DOI :10.26650/artsanat.2023.20.1116670   IUP :10.26650/artsanat.2023.20.1116670    Full Text (PDF)

A Striking Example of Early Byzantine Painting: Caunus Domed Basilica

Gizem Öncelen

The Domed Basilica, dated to the 6th century, is one of the critical buildings of Caunus belonging to the Early Christian period. There are two chapels on the East of the Basilica, adjacent the main walls of the building. These buildings are called the North Chapel and the South Chapel. It is known that the walls of the Chapels and the Domed Basilica are decorated. Although the wall level has been largely preserved, traces of the mural painting in the Domed Basilica are also quite limited. In situ, examples found on all four walls of the structure show that all the walls are covered with Wall painting. In the South Chapel, the only painted surface is the apse semicircle. We know the most about the decoration in the North Chapel. Since a very limited part of the main walls of the North Chapel has been preserved, in situ surfaces offer very few ideas for decoration. However, during the excavations carried out in 2007, a large number of painted blocks were found in the middle of the structure. These findings reveal the painting repertoire of the North Chapel. Based on in situ, only the depiction of the pedestal of a column has been found, on which animal, plant and religious symbolic depictions were included in the painted blocks recovered from the excavations. In this study, the murals of the Domed Basilica of Kaunos, the North Chapel and the South Chapel are examined iconographically and the Northern Chapel wall paintings are suggested to be dated to the Early Byzantine period.

DOI :10.26650/artsanat.2023.20.1116670   IUP :10.26650/artsanat.2023.20.1116670    Full Text (PDF)

Erken Bizans Resmine Çarpıcı Bir Örnek: Kaunos Kubbeli Bazilika

Gizem Öncelen

6. yüzyıla tarihlendirilen Kubbeli Bazilika Kaunos’un Erken Hristiyanlık dönemine ait önemli yapılarından biridir. Bu yapının doğusunda, yapının beden duvarlarına bitişik iki Şapel bulunmaktadır. Kuzey Şapel ve Güney Şapel olarak adlandırılan bu yapıların ve Kubbeli Bazilika’nın duvarlarının bezemeli olduğu bilinmektedir. Duvar seviyesi büyük oranda korunmuş olmasına rağmen Kubbeli Bazilika’daki duvar resmine ait izler de oldukça sınırlıdır. Yapının dört bir yanında bulunan tahribatamaruz kalmış olan in situ örnekler, bu yapının duvarlarının tamamının resimlerle kaplı olduğunu göstermektedir. Güney Şapel’in ise yalnızca apsis yarım dairesinde resimli yüzeylere rastlanmaktadır. Süslemesi hakkında en fazla bilgi sahibi olunan yapı Kuzey Şapel’dir. Kuzey Şapel’in beden duvarlarının çok sınırlı bir kısmı korunabildiğinden dolayı in situ yüzeyler resim programına ilişkin çok az fikir sunmaktadır. Ancak 2007 yılında gerçekleştirilen kazı çalışmaları sırasında yapının ortasında bir yığıntı olarak ele geçen çok sayıda resimli blok, Kuzey Şapel’in resim repertuarını gözler önüne sermektedir. İn situ olarak yalnızca bir sütunun kaidesinin tasvirinin bulunduğu yapının kazılarından ele geçirilen resimli bloklarda hayvan, bitki ve dinî sembolik tasvirlere yer verilmiştir. Bu çalışmada erken Bizans dönemine tarihlenen Kaunos Kubbeli Bazilika, Kuzey Şapel ve Güney Şapel duvar resimleri ikonografik açıdan incelenmekte ve eldeki veriler ışığında Kuzey Şapel duvar resimlerinin Erken Bizans dönemine tarihlenmesi önerilmektedir.


Kaunos is located in the district of Dalyan, in the town of Muğla, within the bordersof Çandır Village. The area between the theatre and “hamam” is called Palaestra Terrace, which is a vast plain.

There is a Domed Basilica as well as the North and South Chapels adjacent to it on the terrace from ancient times. There are wall paintings on these buildings. However, in situ, murals have not been well preserved. One of the reasons for this is that the wall height of the chapel is high. However, although the walls of the Domed Basilica are well preserved, the murals in this structure have also fallen into ruin. The available in situ data only shows that the entire structure is decorated and gives information about the use of color. In situ, ruins offer limited information about the painting program, but the data provided by the excavations are more illuminating.

During the 2007 excavations, blocks were found stacked in the centre of the North Chapel. These blocks, which are spolia, reveal the repertoire of decoration of the North Chapel. On the surface of the blocks, there are animal motifs (duck and horse), floral motifs (lily) and religious symbols. Apart from the blocks, small finds with inscriptions were recovered during the excavation. However, the scarcity of the available data is an obstacle in order to reach an understandable text.

There are fourteen depictions of ducks and four horses on these blocks. The figures were made using the printing mold technique. These animals are placed in a standalone geometric design. Both of them have been pictured more than once within the same block. Ducks are depicted facing each other or facing away and depicted in a flying style. The details are not obvious. They are depicted in the form of a black silhouette on white. Horse depictions are also placed in pairs on the same block. The horses are oriented to the right side that are pictured sideways. They are shown with their left forelimbs in the air. The fact that one out of the two animals found in the North Chapel is a land animal and the other is a water animal, which may be related to the city’s geography. However, these depictions likely represent heaven. At Kaunos, the depicted horses and ducks are not in war or any struggle. Here, we can understand the calm composition of the depiction of the animals as god’s diverse creation aboveground.

Important symbols of Christianity are included in the North Chapel mural. These are depictions of the cross and christograms. One of the important elements is the formation of each arm of the cross in the form of an anchor. This puts the exampleof Kaunos in a separate place among the numerous known depictions of the cross. The anchor, which was used extensively in the early Christian period, is a symbol of seafaring. But in Christian art, the functional state of the anchor takes on a symbolic meaning. In theology, the idea of the soul’s hope for salvation is symbolized as the anchor. This depiction is common in catacombs dating to the 3rd century and the fact that the anchor image is placed together with the cross is probably an expression of the believers’ hope to go to heaven. Thusly, in the 2007 studies, it was concluded that the chapel was used as a martyrium by burying the bodies of three saints in it after the building lost its function. This situation explains the existence of the depiction.

Floral motifs were also found on the surface of the block depicting a cross and a christogram. The motif that comes across here is the lily flower, which has various symbolic meanings in Christian art. In iconography, the lily finds a place in art as a symbolic expression of the Virgin Mary, and therefore of the Christian faith.

One of the remarking factors in Kauno’s pictures is the background. In light of the examples found, it can be seen that the paintings were made without giving place to an element that will emphasize neither outdoor nor indoor space. According to the distribution of the color used in the murals, it is understood that the surface of the blocks is predominantly black. The outer frames that are thick on the borders are red, and the inner frames that are thinner than it is light pink. In the illustrated blocks, the contrast has been used to emphasize the depiction. The figures are placed on a white background on a black surface.

One of the important pieces of information offered by the finds of the North Chapel is the existence of a two-stage wall painting here. A recovered block confirms that the mural paintings here belong to the second stage. This also helps in dating the decoration. The Northern Chapel murals must be from the earlierst period close to the date of construction of the structure, Considering that the chapel was built after the Domed Basilica, it belongs after the 6th century. However, the painting program here does not reflect the characteristics of the Middle and Late Byzantine period wall painting. In light of the available data, it can be put forward that the North Chapel murals are dated to the Early Byzantine period. Since we have very little data about the early Byzantine period, Kaunos wall paintings are a very important contribution to Byzantine art research.

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Öncelen, G. (2023). A Striking Example of Early Byzantine Painting: Caunus Domed Basilica. Art-Sanat, 0(20), 485-504.


Öncelen G. A Striking Example of Early Byzantine Painting: Caunus Domed Basilica. Art-Sanat. 2023;0(20):485-504.


Öncelen, G. A Striking Example of Early Byzantine Painting: Caunus Domed Basilica. Art-Sanat, [Publisher Location], v. 0, n. 20, p. 485-504, 2023.

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Öncelen, Gizem,. 2023. “A Striking Example of Early Byzantine Painting: Caunus Domed Basilica.” Art-Sanat 0, no. 20: 485-504.

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Öncelen, Gizem,. A Striking Example of Early Byzantine Painting: Caunus Domed Basilica.” Art-Sanat 0, no. 20 (Dec. 2023): 485-504.

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Öncelen, G 2023, 'A Striking Example of Early Byzantine Painting: Caunus Domed Basilica', Art-Sanat, vol. 0, no. 20, pp. 485-504, viewed 3 Dec. 2023,

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Öncelen, Gizem,. A Striking Example of Early Byzantine Painting: Caunus Domed Basilica.” Art-Sanat, vol. 0, no. 20, 2023, pp. 485-504. [Database Container],


Öncelen G. A Striking Example of Early Byzantine Painting: Caunus Domed Basilica. Art-Sanat [Internet]. 3 Dec. 2023 [cited 3 Dec. 2023];0(20):485-504. Available from: doi: 10.26650/artsanat.2023.20.1116670


Öncelen, Gizem. A Striking Example of Early Byzantine Painting: Caunus Domed Basilica”. Art-Sanat 0/20 (Dec. 2023): 485-504.


Published Online01.08.2023


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