117 – 138 CE
Renovations / Excavations
1781: John Thomas Serres visits and produces drawings of cavea.
1838: Léon Emmanuel Simon Joseph Laborde produces drawing of North Theatre showing cavea seating and stage building.
1833 and in 1843: G. Weber carried out minor excavations but was primarily focused on water supply in Laodicea. Created the first plan of the ancient city.
1961-1963: first round of systematic archaeological excavations conducted by the expedition from the University of Laval, from the Canadian city of Quebec headed by Professor Jean de Gagniers.
1992: Hasim Yildiz from the Denizli Museum, conducted rescue excavations in the main street of the site, known as the Syrian Street.
1995-2002: the survey work by researchers from the University Ca ‘Foscari in Venice managed by Professor Gustavo Traversari. The study of the north theatre was conducted by Luigi Sperti who produced the first plan view.
2002: systematic archaeological work was initiated by the Denizli Museum under the leadership of Ali Ceylan, in cooperation with the Department of Archaeology of Pamukkale University in Denizli.
2003: Excavation and restoration work under Professor Celal Simsek of the University of Pamukkale.
2017: Professor Simek began reconstruction work in the area of the Sacred Agora and the West Theater.
Cavea Width: 122 meters
Orchestra Width: 36 meters
Laodicea-ad-Lycum North Theatre (near modern Denizli, Turkey). Roman. Larger of 2 theatres at site; Cavea width: 121.5 m, orchestra width: 35.5 m; ima cavea: 23 rows in 9 cunei; summa cavea: 26 rows in 16 cunei: 5 stage doors; 3 to backstage with central door enclose in curve niche, 2 on sides leading directly outside; orchestra used as kolymbethra; stage width c.62 m; capacity:10,000; ca. 2nd century CE. Abandoned following earthquake in 7th c. CE.
Laodicea ad Lycum (Laodicea on the Lycus River) History
The city of Laodicea-ad Lycum was one of many Hellenistic towns that were created following Alexander the Great’s conquests in Asia Minor. Although excavations of the five square kilometer site indicate continuous settlements without interruption from 5500 BCE to the 7th century CE, the ruins we see today are Hellenistic and Imperial Roman. The Hellenistic city was founded in the mid-3rd century BCE, but the city’s golden age was from the 1st to 5th centuries CE. Most of the structures and the city itself were developed during this period.
The city was founded by Antiochus II Theos, king of the Seleucid Empire, in 261-253 BC in honor of his wife Laodice. It served as a commercial center on newly opened or reconditioned trade routes, and as a stronghold for securing the Seleucid empire. Laodicea-ad-Lycum is located 200 kilometers inland from the harbor city of Ephesus within the borders of the villages of Eskihisar, Goncalı, Korucuk, and Bozburun, six kilometers north of the modern city of Denizli. The site is on the road to Pamukkale (Hierapolis), which is approximately ten kilometers to the north.
Throughout its history, Laodikeia suffered many earthquakes and was rebuilt numerous times. It was finally abandoned after a severe earthquake in the reign of Emperor Focas (r. 602-610 CE). Its citizens settled in Denizli – Kaleiçi and Hisarköy on the north slopes of Mt. Salbakos (modern Babadağ), after the city’s abandonment. Laodikeia was one of the Seven Churches named in the Book of Revelation and later became a metropolitan city in the Early Byzantine period. (UNESCO Archaeological site of Laodikeia).
Besides having the biggest stadium of any neighboring city, Laodicea has the unique distinction of having two theatres, one constructed during the 2nd century BCE (the West Theatre), and one of Roman construction *the North Theatre) built during the 2nd century CE. The Hellenistic West Theatre has been undergoing intensive excavations and reconstructions since 2003.
The North Theatre:
The North Theatre was built in the second century CE when the needs of the increased, urban population exceeded the capacity of the older, Hellenistic West Theatre. The newer, northeast-facing, referred to as the “North Theatre” was built into the hillside, enjoys a panoramic view towards the Lykos Plain, Hierapolis, and Mt Qökelez, and has an almost horseshoe shape.
The theatre covers an area of 1600 square meters and uses marble as a primary building/decorative material for the cavea seating, stairways, orchestra, and scene house.
Cavea: The cavea has 23 rows of seats in the ima (lower) cavea and 26 rows in the suma (upper) cavea; the lower cavea is divided into nine cunei with eight stairways whereas the upper cavea is divided into 16 cunei with 15 stairways. The building’s capacity is estimated to be from 10,000 to 12,000 people. The cunei reaches a width of 11.5 to 12.5 meters depending on the cavea’s curvature, and the cavea’s diameter is 112 meters and reaches 121.5 meters including the analemma. Thus, the cavea and the orchestra exceed a semicircle. Rows of seats bear engraved Greek inscriptions designating numbering indicating reservations for guilds, associations, or dynasties from other cities of the Lykos Valley. Given the regional importance of Laodicea, it may be surmised that the theatre was used for assemblies of Lykos Valley representatives.
Excavations in the eastern part of the theatre revealed seating blocks with round holes for wooden posts that supported an awning system (velarium) that stretched above the audience as protection from the sun and elements. In addition, holes in the rows of seats are indications that portable parasols were erected to protect the spectators from the sun.
The Orchestra, Stage, and Scene Building: The orchestra is composed of limestone slabs and is estimated to be 35.5 meters wide, backed by a 62-meter wide stage that extends to the analammata. The scaenea frons (scene building front) contained 3 doorways with the central one enclosed in a curved niche and 2 side doors leading directly outside. Numerous architectural blocks belonging to the decoration of the scaenae frons can be found in the area of the orchestra (column shafts, architrave-frieze fragments, pillar capitals dateable to the late Hadrianci or Antonine period (117-138 CE).
Based on the height of the uppermost reaches of the suma cavea, the stage building is thought to have had three stories (Vitruvian recommendations limit the height of the stage house to be in accordance with the height of the cavea). To the south of the analemma (cavea retaining walls), excavators found rows of building foundations and speculated they belonged to shops that once served spectators.
Calcium deposits covering the orchestra podium blocks and traces of pink plaster to make the area waterproof all indicate that the orchestra could be flooded and used as a kolumbēthra (an orchestra adapted for water spectacles) when the theatre was used as an arena.
The northern theatre stayed in use from the second until the seventh century with signs of restoration work undertaken in the early Severian period, in the age of Diocletian, and even in the proto-Byzantine epoch, and repairs following an earthquake in 494 CE. Both the northern and western theatres were incorporated into defensive fortification walls in the 5th century CE. The theatres were destroyed in the 7th century CE following a massive earthquake and their materials were used as a source for other constructions. (Şimşek)
Thomas G. Hines. 10/28/2023
Bibliography / Resources:
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