Priene was a town of the Aegean region of Asia Minor near Miletus whose development can be followed primarily from the archaeological evidence. During late antiquity, although a cathedral church was built, most of the city was in decline, with small houses occupying the public buildings and overriding the regular urban plan. The ancient site was apparently abandoned in the late 7th century when Priene withdrew to its high fortified acropolis. The lower city was reoccupied during the11th-13th century. By then Priene was known as Sampson. Sampson was center of an episkepsis in 1204. In 1204-08, it was the capital of the ephemeral state of Sabbas Asidenos. In the second half of the 13th century the Seljuk Turks threatened to capture the Sampson area; and despite the ambitious, and temporarily successful, efforts of Ioannis Palaeologos (1264) and Alexios Philanthropinos (1295) the city came under the control of the Turks. Remains indicate that it consisted of the fortress on the acropolis (rebuilt in the 12th and 13th century) and a small fort in the lower town with scattered habitations outside its walls. Priene was a suffragan bishopric of Ephesus.
The basilica in Priene, the largest church in the city, was built in the 5th/6th century AD. After two of building phases, it was finally abandoned in 1300. It was a three-aisled basilica with a narthex (with an entry hall) at the west end, an ambo (pulpit with two staircases) in the center, and a synthronon (an apse with seating steps) for the clergy in the east. The chancel in front of it was separated by a screen, and the apse was set into the main structure of the Roman baths. The Basilica has a skewed plan, and most of it was built of stone re-used from older buildings. The surviving west staircase of the ambo and the ornamental chancel screen are early Byzantine works.
It is still unknown when there was first a Jewish community in Priene. The synagogue itself was probably in use from the 4th to the early 7th century AD. The identification results from the typical layout of the building, the depiction of the menorah on several architectural elements as well as a bas-relief showing religious symbols. The latter was found in the square niche at the east wall.
An older house, which ad already altered several times, was remodeled for the establishment of the synagogue. It shows two main building phases: in the first phase, the rooms facing the West Gate Street became the vestibule and the former courtyard of the house was turned into the three-naved main room with the niche in the east, with entrances to the courtyard and to the synagogue located in the north. In the second phase, the main room was reduced and a nartex was incorporated in the west. Buildings adjoining to the east form a functional unit with the synagogue.