The Eastern Provinces Part 2 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The Eastern Provinces Part 2 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The Eastern Provinces Part 2 | Roman Architecture | Second edition


Athens had enjoyed a fine architectural past and in the Hellenistic period rulers such as Eumenes and Attalos of Pergamum had made magnificent additions to a city already resplendent with monuments such as the Parthenon, Erechtheum, and the Temple of Hephaestus. However, Athens suffered badly as a result of the Sullan sack of 86 bc and rebuilding was overdue. The tradition of benefactions begun by the Hellenistic monarchs continued under the Romans, and Athens was favored with much patronage both by the imperial family and by fabulously wealthy individuals like Herodes Atticus. The first Roman contribution to the built environment of Athens was the commercial Agora or Agora of Caesar and Augustus, which was used as a commercial or trading center. It was planned during the visit of Julius Caesar to Athens in 47 bc, but not begun until the visit in 19 bc of Augustus, who provided the money for it. Finally dedicated in 10 bc, it is situated in what used to be the eastern Agora until the Stoa of Attalos cut the area off from the main or western Agora. The monumental west propylon was utterly conservative if not reactionary in style. Its four columns and its entablature, with its heavy triglyph frieze, were close copies of the late fifth century bc Classical originals. The propylon led into an open square surrounded on all sides by colonnades of Ionic columns in grey-blue Hymmetian marble. Behind were rows of shops, an arrangement common to buildings of the Hellenistic east.


The west propylon of the new Agora was one of a number of Classical revival buildings erected towards the end of the first-century bc both in Athens and Rome. We know that earlier in the century, the Erechtheum, a Classical building of the late fifth-century bc, was damaged by fire. In the course of its reconstruction, which was completed in 27 bc, the masons engaged on its repair must have become familiar with the ornate Ionic order employed in the original building because the small circular temple NE of the Parthenon, dedicated to Rome and Augustus in the same year, had nine Ionic columns closely modeled on those of the Erechtheum. This Classical revival in Athens had important repercussions in Rome of the last decades bc when Augustus was promoting the Classical period as a model for imperial art and architecture. Among the products of this classical revival were the Prima Porta Augustus, based upon the fifth century bc Doryphoros of Polycleitos, the Ara Pacis, completed in 9 bc and based upon Classical and Hellenistic prototypes, and the Forum of Augustus replete with its row of Caryatids based upon those of the Erechtheum. In a more general sense, the Augustan Classical revival gave purity and discipline to the rash of new architectural forms and styles in vogue in the early years of Augustus’ principate. Thus the Classical revival in Athens, although antiquarian in spirit, had more than a passing effect on the architecture of the Roman Empire.

The old marketplace or Agora also underwent considerable rebuilding during the early Empire. Most notable was the building of a new odeum by Agrippa, in about 15 bc (Figure 11.1). Its enormous bulk must have towered over the elegant stores all around it and

Figure 11.1  Athens (Greece), Odeum of Agrippa, c. 15 bc: elevation and axonometric view. (After A. Boethius and J. B. Ward Perkins, Etruscan and Roman Architecture [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970], figure 147.)

added a startling new dimension to the square. Its ground plan took advantage of the site which slopes gently down from south to north. The shallow semicircular banks of seats fitted into the slope, so that the orchestra was directly accessible at ground level north of the building, while the topmost seats were also accessible at ground level south of the building. The seating was inscribed into a tall, square auditorium whose general arrangements are reminiscent, on a larger scale, of Hellenistic meeting halls, such as the bouleuterion at Miletus, the ecclesiasterion at Priene, and the nearby bouleuterion on the west side of the Agora. Unfortunately, its daring timber roof spanning 25 meters collapsed in the middle of the second-century ad. As a result, a cross-wall was inserted, thus cutting the seating capacity to less than half. The nearby Temple of Ares is another Augustan addition that should be singled out for special mention. The enigma of this temple is that, although it belongs to the later fifth-century bc, every block bears a Roman mason’s mark. The conclusion of the American excavators was that the temple must have been transported block by block and re-erected in the middle of the Agora. Its removal to the Agora may be connected with an inscription honoring Augustus’ grandson, Gaius, as the ‘new Ares’. The re-siting of the Temple of Ares is a clear illustration of the Roman use of temples for propaganda purposes, as well as illustrating the changing status of the Agora from the commercial to the civic center of Athens.

The most thorough building program was instituted by Hadrian, who first visited Athens in ad 124–125. His greatest project was the completion of the enormous temple of Olympian Zeus started by the tyrant Peisistratus in the sixth-century bc (Figure 11.2).

Figure 11.2  Athens (Greece), the temple of Zeus, completed by Hadrian in ad 131–132.

Planned as a gigantic Doric temple c. 530 bc, it had lain uncompleted for hundreds of years, until Antiochus Epiphanes resumed building in the Corinthian Order to the designs of a Roman architect called Cossutius (174 bc). The temple, measuring 44 × 110 meters, dipteral on the flanks and peripheral at the ends, was on the same colossal scale as its predecessor but used slender Corinthian columns of Pentelic marble, 16.89 meters high. This second attempt also failed, and adding insult to injury Sulla, who had sacked Athens in 86 bc, took marble columns from the unfinished temple to Rome for use on the Capitol (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 36.5.45). Finally, in ad 131–132 Hadrian completed the temple and placed in the cella a chryselephantine statue of Zeus.

Near the Olympieion is the Arch of Hadrian (Figure 11.3), which marked the beginning of Hadrian’s new city, Hadrianopolis or Novae Athenae. On the side facing the Olympieion is an inscription meant to be read by anyone passing through it on the way to the old city: ‘This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus.’ On the other side is an inscription: ‘This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.’ Flanking the very shallow arched passage stood pairs of free-standing Corinthian columns, which rested upon plinths and supported projecting entablatures. The upper story consisted of an open, three-bay columnar screen. The outer pairs of columns, now missing, supported projecting entablatures like the corresponding ones below, while the central pair supported a projecting aedicule with a triangular pediment The aedicule was originally screened and on one side was a statue of Hadrian gazing over his city and on the other a statue of Theseus. If the arrangement seems unusual for an honorific arch it may be explicable in terms of the kind of rhythmical columnar facades appearing in contemporary buildings such as the Library of Celsus at Ephesus (Figure 11.10).

The plain tetrastyle entrance porch of the Library of Hadrian at Athens was flanked on each side by a finely drafted masonry wall in front of which were seven free-standing Corinthian columns supporting projecting entablatures (Figure 11.4). It is perhaps worth noting that the façade columns support architraves with two, rather than three fasciae and that there are consoles rather than modillions in the cornice, features of Asiatic origin, which also appear

Figure 11.3  Athens (Greece), Arch of Hadrian, c. ad 138.


Figure 11.4  Athens (Greece), Library of Hadrian, façade (ad 117–138).

on Hadrianic monuments in Rome. The porch opened into a sizeable enclosure surrounded by a peristyle of 100 columns of Phrygian stone or pavonazzetto (Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.18.9). In the centre was a pool measuring 58 × 13 metres surrounded by a garden.

The scrolls or books were stored in the rooms along the east side, opposite the entrance.

The second-century ad saw the last notable additions to the city, the odeum and the stadium, both donated by the wealthy benefactor, Herodes Atticus. The odeum, built in memory of his wife, who died about ad 160 (Figure 11.5), was built presumably because the old one was now unserviceable owing to the insertion of the cross-wall. Nestling into the south slope of the Acropolis, it had a semicircular auditorium, c. 81 metres wide, making it as big as a Roman theatre. In fact, the whole building was largely Roman in layout. The scene building and outer façade rose to a height of 28 metres and were richly veneered with marble, as were the seats for the audience. Philostratus (Vit. Soph. 551) makes special mention of the fine cedar roof, which is evidenced by a layer of ash discovered by the excavators. Meinel argues that the massive buttresses in the outer cavea wall indicate the position of the roof beams of a transverse trussed roof, although the maximum span from the stage building to the back of the cavea is an astonishing 49 metres.2 Philostratus compares the Athenian odeum with the roofed one at Corinth, also built by Herodes Atticus, which he regards as fine, but inferior to the one in Athens. He also mentions the fine stadium of white marble, built in only four years (Vit. Soph. 550). Presumably, the Odeum of Herodes Atticus at Athens was burnt in the Herulian sack of ad 267, which destroyed the buildings of the Agora and devastated the area. A little later the Athenians pulled down many of their ruined buildings to throw up a new city wall which encompassed a small part of the city centre.

Of the other major towns of Greece, Corinth is worth special mention because of the way it was treated in the second-century bc (Figure 11.6). Despite its illustrious history, it was

Figure 11.5  Athens, Odeum of Herodes Atticus, ad 161, heavily renovated in 1950.

Figure 11.6  Corinth (Greece): plan of the central area. (After M.I. Finley, ed., Atlas of Classical Archaeology [London: Chatto and Windus, 1977].)

sacked by Mummius in 146 bc and the destruction which took place is commented upon by Polybius (39.13). Refounded as a colony by Julius Caesar in 44 bc, it became the capital of the Roman province of Achaea. The colonists were Italians and the rebuilt city was distinctly Italian in character. The venerable sixth-century bc Temple of Apollo, built on higher ground to the north of the agora, was redesigned in the Roman style.3 The agora itself was split neatly into two terraces separated by a central row of shops with a bema (speaker’s platform) in the middle. Behind the south stoa were buildings which would have been familiar to Roman eyes: a curia, a basilica and administrative offices for the officials of the Isthmian games. On the east side of the agora was the Julian basilica and just to the north the third basilica. Recent excavations have revealed the fourth basilica to the west of the agora. These basilicas would have been necessary for conducting the extensive legal business of the province of Achaea, of which Corinth was now the capital. During the first and second centuries ad, six small temples were built along the west side of the agora. Significantly, they are all podium temples with lofty staircases on the entrance side, a type of temple which had its origins in Italy. In the first century ad, the large Temple E may have been built to house the Imperial cult. The Fountain of Peirene in the NW corner of the agora was entirely remodelled, probably by Herodes Atticus, in the second-century ad. Massive half-domed apses were added to three sides, the floor level raised and the walls revetted in marble, giving it a rather theatrical appearance.

Greek theatres were frequently altered in accordance with Roman fashion. This generally involved creating an integrated Roman auditorium with the stage joined to the sides of the cavea and a tall scaenae frons rising behind. In the process the stage was often reduced in height and extended into the orchestra, sometimes cutting off the parodoi completely. In some cases, the analemmata were cut back so as to make them parallel to the stage in the Roman manner, as was done in the theatre at Corinth. The new scaenae frons was almost totally Roman in style and followed the second-century ad fashion of having all three doorways enclosed in semicircular niches. By the third century ad many Greek theatres, such as those at Maronea, Philippi, Corinth and Stobi, had been turned into arenas by removing the lowest rows of seating and enlarging the orchestra. A good deal of evidence has emerged that the orchestras or arenas of theatres such as those in Corinth, Argos and Athens were turned into kolymbethrae which could be flooded for water spectacles. This occurred in the Late Empire from the late third to the early fifth-century ad.

Asia Minor

After his death the Empire of Alexander the Great broke up into a number of kingdoms, heralding the beginning of the age we call Hellenistic. This age lasted until the Battle of Actium in 31 bc when Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra and took over the last of the Hellenistic kingdoms. First, we should look at how town planning developed in the Hellenistic period. A good way of doing this is to compare the layout of the Acropolis of Pergamum with an older town such as Priene, which was laid out according to the rigid grid plan associated with the Hippodamus. This was particularly surprising in the case of Priene, which was built on a steep slope. On the other hand in Pergamum, built on an even steeper slope, there was no attempt to impose such rigid planning. The terraces of the Great Altar (1 on Figure 11.7), the Temple of Athena (2), and the Temple of Trajan (3), rise like a series of steps from south to north following the contours of the hill and facing out across the plain over 300 metres below. The theatre, rising 46 metres from the level of its orchestra to the topmost seats, sits beneath them like a giant fan. Under the theatre, a long stoa facing the Temple of Dionysus at one end gives stability to the scheme. In typically Hellenistic fashion it is the overall grouping which dominates, not the individual buildings which are subordinated to the arrangement

Figure 11.7  Pergamum (Bergama, Turkey): plan of the Acropolis.

as a whole. The plan of Pergamum is the masterly exploitation of a difficult site. As Lyttelton says: ‘The terraces of Priene might be said to overcome the difficulties of the terrain, whereas those of Pergamum exploit them.’4 Of the individual buildings of Pergamum the Trajaneum is of immediate interest because its architectural details are so close to those of Hadrian’s Temple of Venus and Rome (Figure 8.23), whose two-fascia architrave, consoles instead of modillions under the cornice, and sima with alternately open and closed palmettes, suggest that it was built by architects trained in the Asiatic tradition.5 The Acropolis consists of many monuments belonging to the second and third centuries bc, but the Temple of Trajan, which is an integral part of the scheme, dates to the early second-century ad. There is nothing surprising in this because in the Eastern provinces Hellenistic building styles continued to develop well into the Roman Imperial period.

Miletus, Priene, Ephesus and Aphrodisias had become leading centres of Hellenistic culture. Miletus was laid out in 479 bc according to a rigid grid system (Figure 11.8). As at Pergamum many of the buildings belong to the Hellenistic period, but it was additions in the Roman period which forged them into an organically related entity. Facing the harbour was the 160-metre-long L-shaped harbour stoa (1 in Figure 11.8). Behind it were the small marketplace (2) and the north agora (3). Nearby was the circular Temple of Apollo Delphinius in its rectangular columnar enclosure, built in the Hellenistic period and altered in Roman times (4). At the beginning of the Roman imperial period, a gate (10) was inserted between the harbour stoa and the Delphinion, thus uniting the two buildings, marking the entrance into the market area and separating it from the area to the north of it. Further to the

Figure 11.8  Miletus (Turkey): a plan of the city centre. (After E. Akurgal, Ancient Civilizations and Ruins of Turkey [Istanbul: Haşet Kitabevi, 1973], 212.)

south were the Capito Baths built at the time of Claudius (5) and the gymnasium built in the second-century bc (6). On the other side of the road was the bouleuterion dating to 175–164 bc (7) and squeezed between it and the north agora which may be the sanctuary of the imperial cult (8). In the Roman period these elements were unified by a broad collonaded street, 100 metres long × 28 metres broad, running between the gate (10) and the south agora (9). At the end of the collonaded street, a new baroque gateway to the south agora with a dramatically broken pediment (12) was the focus of attention. Built in the second half of the second-century ad, it is now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The south agora (9) was built in the mid-second century bc and originally consisted of three separate stoas, two L-shaped and all three in the Doric Order (9). Together they enclosed a vast open space, measuring 164 × 196 metres, but they were not joined up into a single four-sided stoa until Roman times. Vying for attention with the gate to the south agora (12) was a large and impressive nymphaeum with staggered columns, like the Library of Celsus at Ephesus (Figure 11.10), on three storeys (13) set back from the collonaded street.

Another type of terrain presents itself at Ephesus. To the east of the ancient harbour is a flattish area bounded to the south by Mount Koressos and the east by Mount Pion. The enormous theatre (Figure 11.9), 142 metres in diameter, was magnificently sited at the foot of Mount Pion and faced west towards the harbour 600 metres away, linked to it by a collonaded street, 11 metres broad. The theatre was begun c. 200 bc, but the building continued into Roman times when it attained its maximum diameter in the second-century ad. In the third century ad its orchestra turned into an arena and later into a kolymbethra. North of the street and adjacent to the theatre was the vast Harbour Baths complex, finished in the later second-century ad. The baths were strikingly different in their layout from the conventional Roman

Figure 11.9  Ephesus (Turkey), theatre

imperial type, especially because of the Greek insistence upon columnar and trabeated structure. More than half of the ground plan (202 × 238 metres) was devoted to the gymnasium, which was surrounded by multiple porticoes of columns used as covered running tracks. The main bulk of the building itself centred around a large peristyle courtyard, on whose north and south sides were two richly decorated rooms with elaborate niches around three sides and columnar screens on the sides facing the peristyle. This type of room (often called a ‘Marmorsaal’) was a recurrent feature of bath buildings in the east.

A road led south from the theatre and then turned eastward to begin the steep ascent up the valley between Mount Koressos and Mount Pion. Along this road can be seen a number of monuments designed to attract the eye and divert attention from the many bends in the sloping street. First, on the right was the second-century ad Library of Celsus in its colonnaded enclosure (Figure 11.10). Its façade is of interest because of the staggered columns, a feature of the nymphaeum at Miletus, whereby the pairing of the columns in the lower storey did not correspond to the pairing of the columns in the upper storey. Higher up the hill on the left was the Temple of Hadrian, most of whose ground area was devoted to the arresting façade and porch (Figure 11.11). The temple was tetrastyle, in this case with two columns and two square piers. The two side intercolumniations were installed while the middle one was wider and was spanned by a large arch which broke into the pediment. This ‘arcuated lintel’, seen in the colonnade around the Canopus of Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli (Figure 8.20), was a favourite eastern device whose Assyrian origins have been traced back to the eighth-century bc.




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