Renovations / Excavations
Theatre construciton began ca. 160 BCE: rebuilt 1st cent. CE.; finished after Mithridatic wars; new stage; Roman kolymbethra added for gladiatorial games in 2nd cent. CE.
Initial excavations by the German directors H. Von Gaertringen and W.Dörpfeld in 1890-1891; K. Humann and R. Heine produced the architectural drawings. The second excavation took place ten years later (1891-1893), under the direction of K. Humann and R. Heyne. Prior to these excavations, only the outline of the cavea on the slopes of Mount Thorax, and some remains of the walls were visible. The excavations were focused on the scene building, the orchestra and the retaining walls. At the end of the excavating research, the area was photographed, plans and drawings were made, and the architectural remains were covered. Today almost nothing of the monument is visible, apart from some parts of little interest. Inscriptions, architectural components and sculptures, seen by Τexier, were transferred to the Museums of Berlin and Constantinople. Today it is impossible for any excavations to take place in the area. (Aristodimou)
Cavea Width: 76 meters
Orchestra Width: 23 meters
Magnesia ad Meandrum (HellenisticTheatre near modern Tekin, Turkey). NW facing cavea width: 75.8 m: (ima cavea c. 11 rows in 5 cunei, summa cavea c. 22 rows in 10 cunei); orchestra width: 18.9 m enlarged by Romans to 22.5 m arena; kolymbethra added in 2nd. century CE; scene building: L 34 m x 7.5 m with 5 rooms; the theatre dates from ca. 160 BCE. Theatre covered following excavation. Remains heavily robbed; no visible architectural remains can be seen. (Sear)
Magnesia ad Maeandrum (Magnesia on the Maeander) Ancient Greek: Μαγνησία ἡ πρὸς Μαιάνδρῳ or Μαγνησία ἡ ἐπὶ Μαιάνδρῳ; Latin: Magnesia ad Maeandrum)
The Hellenistic theatre at Magnesia is old (160 BCE), but the city is much older. Supposedly, the city as well as its sister city, Magnesia Sipylus, was settled by soldiers from Agamemnon’s army at the end of the Trojan War. It was built on the slope of Mount Thorax, on the banks of the small river Lethacus, a tributary of the Maeander River, 25 kilometers east of Ephesus and 15 miles northeast of the city of Miletus. The ruins of the city are located west of the modern village Tekin in the Germencik district of Aydın Province, Turkey. The city became a Roman territory in the early 2nd century BCE. The Hellenistic theatre dates from this time.
The remains of the Great Theatre at Magnesia ad Maeandrum are no longer visible. The 75.8-meter-wide cavea of stone seats has become a hill obscured by foliage and the circular 18.9-meter-wide orchestra is now an olive grove. The site looks much the same today as it did in 1890 when H. Von Gaertringen and W.Dörpfeld conducted their initial excavations. Twelve years later, after K. Humann and R. Heyne concluded their site studies, nature was allowed to reclaim the theatre’s remains. Frank Sear summarized the excavation findings as follows:
The Hellenistic theatre was constructed in the early 2nd century BCE on the south slope of a large hill just to the southeast of the city’s agora. A smaller, unfinished Roman theatre is located to the west. Although it was excavated in the late 19th century, no visible evidence of the theatre remains today.
The north-west cavea had a diameter of 75.80 meters and was divided into two levels of seating: a lower level (ima cave) with c.11 rows, divided laterally into 5 wedge-shaped sections (cunei), and an upper level (summa cavea) c.22 rows in 10 cunei. A lateral walkway separated the two levels of seating and stairways separated the cunei. Doorways in the cavea retaining walls (analemmata) provided access to the seating.
The Hellenistic orchestra was c.18.9 meters in diameter and was paved in marble. A tunnel ran from under the scene house to the center of the orchestra. Excavators speculate that this passageway is evidence of a Charonian tunnel. The orchestra was enlarged and converted into an arena in Roman times (2nd century CE) by removing the front row of seats and building a protective wall between the arena and the audience. The c.22.5-meter wide arena was used for gladiatorial games and could be flooded for water displays.
The excavations revealed foundations for a five-room scene building and evidence of a c.6-meter-deep Roman stage and a former c.3-meter-deep Hellenistic stage. The stage ran the length of the scene-house. Any decorative architectural finishes or statuaries were removed over the centuries and today little survives.
Bibliography / Resources:
Aristodimou Georgia.The Hellenistic Great Theatre of Magnesia ad Maeandrum. https://www.academia.edu/2442261/The_ancient_theatre_of_Magnesia_ad_Maeandrum
Aristodimou Georgia , “Magnesia ad Maeandrum (Antiquity), Theatre”, Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Asia Minor URL:<http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=7744>
Livius.org. Articles on Ancient History. Magnesia on the Meander. https://www.livius.org/articles/place/magnesia-on-the-meander/ (accessed 9/28/23)
Magnesia ad Maeandrum. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Richard Stillwell, William L. MacDonald, Marian Holland McAllister, Stillwell, Richard, MacDonald, William L., McAlister, Marian Holland, Ed. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0006%3Aentry%3Dmagnesia-ad-maeandrum
Sear, Frank. Roman Theatres: An Architectural Study. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006 (p. 342)
Turkish Archeological News. Magnesia on the Meander,02/15/2019/ https://turkisharchaeonews.net/site/magnesia-meander