The Eastern Provinces Part 3 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The Eastern Provinces Part 3 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The Eastern Provinces Part 3 | Roman Architecture | Second edition


In Asia Minor, there had been a long tradition of theatre building which lasted into Roman times, although several Hellenistic features persisted. For example, the cavea usually exceeded a semicircle, as in the first-century ad theatres at Nysa, Hierapolis and Prusias-ad-Hypium,

Figure 11.10  Ephesus (Turkey), Library of Celsus.

Figure 11.11  Ephesus (Turkey), Temple of Hadrian.

and in the second century ad theatres at Side, Sagalassus and Perge.6 This usually resulted in the width of the stage being greatly reduced compared to western theatres. The cavea was separated from the scene building by open parodoi, as at Myra, Aezani and numerous other theatres of Asia Minor and Greece. Sometimes there was an attempt to roof the parodoi over, as at Perge, and sometimes the scene building ran so close to the cavea as to eliminate them entirely, as at Hierapolis. The stage was often between 2 and 3 metres high, and there were frequently five doorways in the back wall of the scaenae frons instead of the usual three. In the early third century ad in Asia Minor and Greece, as in Italy and the west, it became fashionable to transform the orchestra into an arena. In Side for example the orchestra, originally c. 29 metres wide, was transformed into an arena by enclosing the lowest four rows of seats in a massive wall, two metres thick. This practice extended to Sicily: for example at Tyndaris and Taormina; Cyrenaica, as at Apollonia and Cyrene; and Macedonia, as at Dodona and Stobi. The theatres of Asia Minor were exceedingly large, with overall diameters of 139.8 metres (Miletus), 142 metres (Ephesus), 148 metres (Tralles) and c. 150 metres (Smyrna). The regions of Asia Minor most ready to accept Roman fashions were those of the south: Lycia, Pisidia and Pamphylia, which were the least Hellenised parts, but became extremely prosperous under the Roman Empire. The theatre at Aspendos in Lycia on the south coast of Turkey has several western features, such as the semicircular cavea with seats running flush with the stage building. However, it also has some eastern features such as the division of the cavea into two seating zones instead of three, the large number of cunei (nine in the lower cavea), and the rectilinear scaenae frons with five doorways whose height diminished towards the sides (Figure 11.12). Although lacking most of its columns its scene building is one of the best-preserved in the Roman world.

Figure 11.12  Aspendus (Turkey), theatre, general view.



The Levantine coastline and the fertile areas around the river Euphrates could boast civilizations older than that of Greece. The Phoenician cities of Byblos, Tyre and Sidon could trace their history back for millennia, and the storm god, Baal, had been worshipped from time immemorial at Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley. The Greeks had limited influence in what was essentially a Phoenician part of the world and consequently, the architecture of this region was closer to that of Rome than that of Greece. Further south was Judaea, which was ruled by the enlightened King Herod when it passed under Roman protection, and consequently, the Roman influence was strong. The Decapolis (‘ten cities’) was an important group of cities, mainly in the province of Arabia, including for example Pella and Jerash in Jordan, but also Scythopolis (Beth-Shean) in Judaea (Israel) and Damascus in Syria. Magnificent towns like Palmyra derived their wealth from the caravan trade and were famous for their collonaded streets, which seem to be an eastern development. Finally on the eastern fringe of the Empire was the town of Doura Europos, which was intermittently under Roman rule.

The sanctuary of Jupiter Heliopolitanus at Baalbek in Lebanon is one of the grandest building complexes in the Roman Empire (Figure 11.13). There had been a sanctuary on this site since the sixth-century bc and the foundation of the Roman colony Julia Augusta Felix Heliopolitana in 16 bc saw the beginning of a great rebuilding. The complex consisted of a monumental propylon, a hexagonal forecourt, and a huge (96 × 86 metres) collonaded courtyard dominated by the impressive bulk of the Temple of Jupiter, which must have been standing to capital height in ad 60 to judge by an inscription on one of the columns. The temple (88 × 48 metres) was not as large as some giants like the Temple of Zeus at Athens, but it was most impressively sited. Standing on a high podium it measured nearly 44 metres from

Figure 11.13  Baalbek (Lebanon), sanctuary, begun early first-century ad and completed ad 250: reconstructed view. Inset, Temple of Venus, third-century ad: plan and reconstructed view. (After A. Boethius and J. B. Ward Perkins, Etruscan and Roman Architecture [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970].)


the floor of the courtyard to the apex of the pediment. The courtyard in front of it was surrounded on three sides by 10 × 19 columns, forming almost exactly a double square ground plan. The columns themselves with their unfluted shafts and Corinthian capitals based on those of Augustan Rome rose to a height of 19.90 metres. The entablature followed traditional lines except for the bull and lion proteomes which projected from the frieze, presumably an allusion to Baal and Astarte. The sanctuary has obvious signs of Hellenistic and Roman influence, but its layout and many of its characteristics, especially the tower-like altar in front of the temple, are found in earlier Lebanese sanctuaries.

Parallel to the Temple of Jupiter but outside its enclosure was the Temple of Bacchus, begun in the late first and largely built in the second century ad (Figure 11.14). Smaller than the Temple of Jupiter, but nonetheless as big as the Parthenon in Athens (35 × 66 metres), its exceptional state of preservation provides a clear impression of its scale and grandeur. It had 8 × 15 unfluted Corinthian columns, closely spaced and very tall (19 metres high), on a high podium approached by a lofty triple flight of steps. In terms of detail, the order is similar to that of its gigantic neighbour, the Temple of Jupiter, but the treatment of the coffers above the surrounding columns is much richer. The interior is notable for its fine proportions and sensitive architecture. The cella has a double-square ground plan and its height is equal to its width. Fluted Corinthian half-columns on plinths line the side walls, and between each pair is an arched niche below and a pedimented one above. At the far end of the cella is a flight of steps at the top of which two piers faced with Corinthian half-columns stand out from the wall and frame the adyton. The scale of the half-columns is identical to those lining the side walls and their distance from the wall is the same as the distance between the columns along


Figure 11.14  Baalbek (Lebanon), Temple of Bacchus, second century ad. the wall. Also, their bases are at exactly the same level as the bases of the wall columns. The retention of scale for the free-standing and engaged orders is a master touch. 7

The rectangular courtyard around the Temple of Jupiter (Figure 11.13) appears to date to the same period as the Temple of Bacchus and there are some similarities in design between the two. The courtyard was surrounded on three sides by porticoes of Egyptian granite columns framing the façade of the temple which filled the fourth side. Behind the granite, columns were alternate round and square exedrae. The round exedrae were flanked by square Corinthian piers between which stood two granite Corinthian columns, an arrangement reminiscent of the Pantheon at Rome (Figure 8.12), although here the spacing between the columns and piers was kept exactly even so that they corresponded precisely to the granite columns of the façade of the portico. Preceding the rectangular court was a hexagonal court with closely similar details. As Lyttelton points out,8 the hexagonal shape gave a strong forward impetus as the visitor moved towards the court of the Temple of Jupiter.

The propylaea which gave access to the whole sanctuary was the last part of the complex to be finished, perhaps by Caracalla or Philip the Arab. A lofty staircase led up to a row of ten Corinthian columns between a pair of two-storied towers. The central intercolumniation was wider than the rest, perhaps to accommodate an arcuated lintel. The small third-century ad Temple of Venus (Figure 11.13, inset) had a circular cella surrounded by Corinthian columns and a tetrastyle porch with a double row of columns. The columns rested upon a podium and steps leading up to the porch. Between each pair of columns around the cellar, both podium and entablature receded towards the cella wall in a series of gentle concavities. As a result, the capitals and bases of the columns were five-sided. This fanciful design seems to have had no exact parallel in antiquity, although a remarkably similar scheme was used by Borromini in the 17th century for the lantern of St. Ivo in Rome.

Palmyra was an oasis town mid-way between the Mediterranean ports of Sidon, Tyre and Byblos, and the Euphrates. Caravans bringing products from India, China and Arabia, and merchants with goods from Greece, Rome and other Mediterranean countries found the town a convenient place of exchange and trans-shipment. This arrangement saved the merchants ferrying goods the whole length of the caravan route. When in ad 137 duties were levied upon imported goods the city entered a period of great prosperity. In the middle of the second-century ad a series of public buildings was begun, starting with the great collonaded street which ran from the Grove temple in the west to the Temple of Bel, a distance of 1,000 metres (Figure 11.15). The columns, mainly Corinthian and unfluted, were 9.5 metres high, most with projecting brackets for statues. The road changed direction at two points, one marked by a monumental tetrakionia with four huge pedestals each supporting four columns with a statue in the middle. Further to the east, the road changed direction more sharply to turn towards the Temple of Bel. Here the change of direction was masked by an ornate triple arch (Figure 11.16).

The Temple of Bel itself (Figure 11.17) is known from an inscription to have been dedicated in ad 32 and belongs mainly to the first-century ad. In ground plan it was pseudodipteral with a column count of 8 × 15, an arrangement strongly reminiscent of Hermogenes’ celebrated Temple of Artemis Leucophryene at Magnesia (Figure 11.15, inset). The plinths provided the module, as in the Temple of Artemis, the spacings and plinths being of the same dimensions. The central intercolumniation on each short side was wider than the rest to allow a more impressive entrance. Yet despite its thoroughly Hellenistic layout, the cella was not entered from the pronaos, but through an elaborate doorway engaged into the columns in the west side. The result of the adaptation of a Hellenistic temple layout to a Semitic cult

Figure 11.15  Palmyra (Syria): general plan. Inset, Temple of Bel: plan.

Figure 11.16  Palmyra (Syria), triple arch.

Figure 11.17  Palmyra (Syria), Temple of Bel, dedicated ad 32.

can be seen inside the cella by the two cult chambers or thalami at the ends, one with the famous ‘Zodiac’ or ‘Palmyra ceiling’. The acanthus-clad crow-step merlons which capped the cornice are further signs of eastern influence. Another important temple was the small Corinthian Temple of Baal Shamin began in ad 23.

Dura Europos was a Hellenistic foundation dating to about 300 bc, sited on a plateau on the west bank of the Euphrates. On the east side of the city, sheer cliffs run down to the river, and watercourses have cut out natural defences to the north and south. The city was ringed with walls from its inception, particularly strong on the exposed desert side to the west. The streets were laid out on strictly Hippodamian lines, with an open agora in the middle. The ruling Seleucids seem to have regarded it as a key defensive site in their struggles with the Parthians, but finally, at the end of the second-century bc, the city fell. In the Parthian period that followed changes were most evident in the Agora area, which gradually became transformed into an oriental bazaar with narrow lanes and crowded shops. A number of new temples appeared, like those of Atargatis, Bel, Adonis and Azzarathkona. The most common plan for such temples was a walled temenos lined with small rooms and chapels. The main sanctuary, usually located at the end of the temenos was approximately square with the entrance in the centre, leading into a pronaos, and a chamber behind. This rear chamber usually had two smaller rooms, one on each side. The origins of this type of temple are to be found in Mesopotamia and perhaps came to Dura from Assur or similar cities. Dura came briefly under Roman domination at the time of Trajan but was not permanently part of the Empire until it was recaptured by Lucius Verus in ad 165. At first, the changes were few. A Mithraeum was built, probably for the Roman troops, and some military buildings appeared in the northern part of the city. The garrison was increased in ad 210 and larger quarters were built for the military, including a praetorium, a bath, an amphitheatre and new temples. A palace, the largest building in Dura, was built for the Dux ripae who commanded the troops on the Euphrates frontier. Entry was through an imposing peristyle courtyard with a similar courtyard beyond. Around this second courtyard were public rooms, a dining room, an audience hall and servants’ rooms. At the back, overlooking the river, was an imposing suite of rooms which served as the private quarters of the Dux. Although the materials used for this palace were local, the type of building was of Roman origin. Even the unit of measurement reflects its alien nature, the Roman foot instead of the Semitic cubit.



The arid areas east and south of the river Jordan became the province of Arabia Petraea under Trajan. Its most important cities lay in the most northerly part of the province: Bostra (Bosra), the provincial capital (now in Syria), Gerasa (Jerash in Jordan) with its famous colonnades, and Philadelphia (Amman). The area south of the Dead sea as far as the Gulf of Aqaba was originally the Nabataean kingdom, which lay astride the caravan routes from the Arabian ports to Syria; at one time Petra, which nestles deep within the mountains of Edom, was its capital. Exotic and remote, Petra was unknown to Europeans until Johann Burckhardt discovered it in 1812. The Nabataeans, formerly a nomadic people, began to settle in the area during the fourth-century bc, and soon Petra became a centre of the flourishing spice and perfume trade conducted with southern Arabia and India. Among the many influences on Nabataean architecture was the architecture of nearby Egypt, which until the death of Cleopatra in 31 bc was part of the Hellenistic world. Although it declined thereafter, Petra reached the height of its prosperity in the first-century ad, when it was described as peaceful and well-governed (Strabo, Geo. 16.4.21). Because its annexation by Rome did not take place until ad 106 the great monuments of Petra used to be dated to the period of Roman domination. However, recent studies suggest that many important monuments date much earlier and are in Lyttelton’s view ‘a product of the Hellenistic, rather than the Roman baroque style.’9 The city is approached through the narrow Siq gorge, which winds its way through the towering mountains on each side. The gorge narrows and, at the end, the first monument to be glimpsed is a sliver of a rock-cut tomb, known in Arabic as the Khasne (‘treasury’). As one emerges from the gorge the whole tomb is gradually revealed (Figure 11.18).

An enormous monument over 40 metres high, it has two storeys, the lower with six columns, four of them supporting a triangular pediment, the central pair widened for the doorway. The upper storey has a circular tholos in the middle of a massively broken pediment. The four outer columns supporting the ends of the pediment correspond to those of the lower storey and the entablature is exactly horizontal. Furthermore, the urn at the top of the tholos is precisely where it would be if the pediment were unbroken. The dates for this tomb range widely, but most recent studies tend towards a date at the end of the first-century bc.10 Beyond the Khasne the gorge widens to reveal a large rock-cut theatre, probably dating to the first-century ad. Further on, a collonaded street ran through the centre of the city (Figure 11.19). Along it ranged the principal monuments of Petra: on the south side, the markets and the ‘Great Temple’, and on the north, the ‘Royal Palace’ and the temple of the ‘Winged Lions’. The street terminated in a triple gate. Beyond the gate was a tall, 28-metre-square Nabataean temple known as the Qasr al-Bint (‘the palace of [Pharaoh’s] daughter’), which dates to before the beginning of the first-century ad. With four columns

Figure 11.18  Petra (Jordan), the Khasne, late first-century bc.

Figure 11.19  Petra (Jordan), the Deir, first-century ad

between the antae, the building was divided internally into three almost equal areas, porch, cella and triple shrine. The outside of the rear wall had an arrangement of half-, segmental and triangular pediments, supported on pairs of pilasters. High up the mountain at the west end of the site is the Deir (‘monastery’) which has already been discussed. Another rock-cut tomb, larger than the Chase, is 50 metres wide and nearly 45 metres high, but of a similar style (Figure 11.20). It is usually dated later than the Chase, to the first-century ad.

Jerash became prosperous as a result of the caravan trade. The city was sited in the valley of the river Chrysorhoas which flowed through the town. The flattish eastern bank of the river probably contained the residential quarter and on the western bank most of the public monuments (Figure 11.21). The long straight cardo, lined with Corinthian colonnades along its full length, runs almost parallel to the river along a roughly N/S axis (Figure 11.22). On the rising ground to the west is situated the imposing second century ad Sanctuary of Artemis and the adjacent half-domed nymphaeum. In the depressions to the north and south of the Sanctuary run two documents, the southern one being carried over the river by the Southbridge. The intersection between the cardo and the northern decumanus is marked by a tetra pylon. The intersection with the southern decumanus is marked by a tetrakionia set in the middle of a circular piazza, 43 metres in diameter. The southern part of the cardo terminates in an obliquely aligned oval piazza dominated from the SW by the Temple of Zeus. Jerash had three theatres, the South Theatre, c. 76 metres in diameter; a smaller north theatre (probably a roofed odeum), 59.25 metres in diameter; and outside the city a little cult theatre, known as the Birketein theatre. Outside the south gate were the circus and the Hadrianic arch.

The Sanctuary of Artemis was a masterpiece of planning (Figure 11.23). The Northbridge across the river led up two flights of steps to an arched gate which opened into a short stretch of collonaded street. At the end of the collonaded street was a trapezoidal courtyard, its far end aligned with the east side of the main collonaded street. On the west side of the street

Figure 11.20  Petra (Jordan), colonnaded street, terminating in the triple or temenos gate, with the Qasr el Bint beyond.

Figure 11.21  Gerasa (Jerash, Jordan): general plan.

Figure 11.22  Gerasa (Jerash, Jordan), colonnaded street.

Figure 11.23  Gerasa (Jerash, Jordan), Sanctuary of Artemis: plan.

was the Propylaea of the Sanctuary marked by four giant order columns. The actual temple would have been invisible from the collonaded street as it was masked by a 7-metre-high retaining wall against which was built a row of shops. Beyond the propylaea seven flights of steps led up to a large forecourt, and running its entire width were three further flights of steps which led into the massive (121 × 161 metres) collonaded temenos. The temple itself had twice as much space in front of it as behind and was raised on a 4.32-metre-high podium. Two flights of seven steps led up to its cella around which were 6 × 11 Corinthian columns.

Finally, mention should be made of the magnificent theatre at Bostra (Bosra) which owes its splendid state of preservation to the Ayyubids who turned it into a fortress in 1202–1253 (Figure 2.8). It was a medium-sized theatre, 88.30 metres in diameter with a capacity of about 8,300. It was built of black basalt, partly on hollow substructures and partly excavated into the ground (the orchestra is 5.5 metres lower than the surrounding ground level). The scaenae frons is extremely well-preserved apart from the two upper levels of the columnated which have been robbed. The seating is almost entirely intact, as is much of the porticus at the top of the cavea. It is arguably the best-preserved theatre in the whole Roman empire.




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