The Ionian city of Miletus was one of the most important of the cities in the east of the Greek Empire, flourishing from circa 700 BC. It was influential in founding colonies along the Black Sea coastline. Under various Greek, Persian and Roman rulers it maintained importance as a commercial centre for almost 1400 years. At this time its two harbours silted up and the city was gradually abandoned. It was one of the first Greek cities, in the 5th century BC, to have a town plan based on a grid system. The Graeco-Roman theatre was one of the most important buildings in the city. The original stage was built on the city walls and the seating was built into the hill behind. In Roman times a typical stage building was added and the theatre capacity grew to seat 25,000. In this period the stage was richly decorated with columns, statues, reliefs and capitals, of which this is no doubt an example. Excavations did not begin at the site until 1899, for the Berlin Museum.
There are three photographs from Miletus in the photographer's archive, of which this is one. Another similar shows a capital detail, the third is a panorama depicting a frieze. One other daguerreotype from the same site is in the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.