The City at the Theater in Anatolia from the 260s to the 320s AD: Signs of a Major Transformation

Citation with persistent identifier:

Pont, Anne-Valérie. “The City at the Theater in Anatolia from the 260s to the 320s AD: Signs of a Major Transformation.” CHS Research Bulletin 2, no. 2 (2014).


1§1 The “theater” is, by definition and etymology, the scene of the performance, the place for looking at something.  From the Greek classical world up to the civic societies of the Greek part of the Roman Empire, this spectacular aspect cannot be understood simply in terms of entertainment: the theater was, firstly, the place where civic rituals and interaction took place; these had, alternately, predominantly political, cultural, or religious aspects.  In this way, up to and including the Early Roman Empire until the mid-third century – since it has been acknowledged that the Greek cities continued to exist within the Roman Empire as self-run political cells which were attached to the idea of their autonomy – the dêmos continued to meet at the theater: inscriptions, novels, and Christian literature bear witness to this.[1]  The theater was a thus a major place of what is called “civic participation.”  This concept, inspired by Aristotelian thought, refers to regular engagement on the part of the citizens, both in political and judicial practices, but also in cultural and religious activities, in all the cities, big or small; these communal activities sometimes included groups of residents, even if non-citizens.[2]  Poleis were numerous in Anatolia, with the exception of regions like Cappadocia or Pontus: the citizens of all these poleis lived their daily lives magnetized by the horizons and activities of the polis, and everyone played their role, even if it was understood that the local notables were, undoubtedly, the only ones who acceded to local leadership.[3]  The theater was also the place where representatives of other cities, as well as the administrative officials, or even the emperor, could be received and where the civic society offered an ordered and meaningful view of itself.[4]

1§2 A gap in the elaboration of a historic narrative of the ancient cities appears in the decades following the mid-third century.[5]  Two main causes for this can be found: sources become rarer and the examination of the running of the cities is pushed into the background by other, more visible phenomena, such as the upheavals and recovery in the Roman Empire, or the changing relations between the Roman state and the Christians.  When scholars in the field of Late Antique studies return to the theme of the cities, they readily examine the theme of public buildings and the way they were used.[6]  Aside from some epigraphic sources available again from around 340 onwards, their sources are above all the Church Fathers, notably from Cappadocia or Syria, whose writings provide knowledge of the social and urban phenomena of the second half of the fourth century.  Orators from the end of the fourth century like Themistius, Himerius, or Libanius also provide some valuable information.  These sources enable one to describe a state which corresponds to the end of the fourth century, leaving aside the process which led to the creation of this scene.  These studies converge on the question of the typology of public buildings: for this later period, the theater is never included in the group of political buildings, nor in that of the buildings that constitute the identity of the city.[7]

1§3 Therefore, a profound transformation in practices and customs took place, which has never really been characterized as such in historiography.  At which pace did it happen?  What was its phenomenology?  In the absence of any straightforward evidence of local institutional machinery, sources on emotional aspects of meetings at the theater[8] shall be brought forward here.  As Angelos Chaniotis has shown, they may reveal the liveliness and the characteristics of the collective emotions linked with a specific community ideology. 

Theaters as the focal place of civic excellence in the second half of the third century

2§1 The description of what went on in theaters in the second half of the third century suggests that what one can call a “hellenistic” culture of local politics placed more and more importance on the spectacular aspects rather than on the traditional institutional process.  In 250, in Smyrna, the possibility of holding an assembly, ekklêsian poiein, at the theater was brought up, to inform the people about Pionios, a Christian.[9]  There is still not much information on assemblies of people in the theater to vote on decrees in the second half of the third century,[10] aside from the use of the traditional form for official inscriptions, mentioning the Council and the people.  The expression βουλῆς καὶ δήμου δόγματι adopts a more Roman allure and it can be found in the colonies in Pisidia but also in Perge and Termessos.[11]  More evocative descriptions are rare.  In Termessos, an inscription in verse from the end of the third century honors a local magistrate, known as Solymius, “equally kind to all citizens (ἀστοῖ), like a father;” “the inhabitants (ναέται) repaying (ἀμειβόμενοι) him with humble honors” erected a statue of him.  The vocabulary of the epigram conveys the reciprocal partnership typical between a benefactor magistrate and the people of the city, which corresponds to the vote of honor in the meeting of the ekklêsia.[12]  This vote could be accompanied by, or consist of, acclamations – the traces of which can be seen, moreover, in the epigram, through a series of eulogistic adjectives placed side by side.  A series of inscriptions coming from the territory of Termessos also allow the acclamations for a “bandit hunter” to be known; they took place during the public assembly.  He was a magistrate from the city who ensured the security of the territory,[13] possibly around the year 280.  The honoring of local magistrates and benefactors then came to an end, although it remains possible to find standardized expressions naming the boulê and the dêmos as the voting entities of honors for emperors or governors, later on in the next century.[14]

2§2 Sources for the agônes are far less difficult to collect for that period.  It is certainly significant of both an evolution in the activities that were highlighted the most by the civic communities, and of a profound continuity in the fostering of the offspring of the local elites. These were actively represented by the competitors and victors, educated and trained in the gymnasium, and by the local agonothetes, their fellows, shown as generous and brilliant organizers of the competitions.  The theater was the focal point of the celebration of the agônes.  Agonistic types often appear on the last pieces of bronze produced by the Anatolian cities during the 260s[15] and the 270s in Pamphylia and Pisidia,[16] which attest to the celebration of these events, sometimes held only on a small regional scale, on those dates; an inscription from Megara attests to the celebration of some of the most important agônes in Greece and in Miletus, Magnesia on the Maeander, Philadelphia, Side, Perge, well into the 260s.[17]  Other sources enable one to get a glimpse of the vivid colors and sounds of these community meetings.  In 251, at Side, a city in Pamphylia, the orchestra of the theater received a pedestal equipped with remarkable reliefs and a gilt altar.  Epigrams preserved on the base describe the agonothetes, who presided over the competitions, “in their rutilant clothing” (στιλπναὶ ἐσθῆτες), that is to say, of a purple color.[18]  Some time at the end of the third century, in the same city, music competitions (agônes thumelikoi) took place in the theater during celebrations of the local imperial cult.  Zôsimion, a priest of the imperial cult, commemorated in verse the glory conferred upon his wife Romana: “He did not only lead her to the wedding bed, the mother of his children, but he had her carried as a high priestess in the brilliant thymelic competitions, in purple dress, and placed on her head a crown of gold, a worthy present of her prudence” (translation by Chaniotis 2007a:61).[19]  The iconographic study by Jutta Rumscheid shows that the custom for these priests, of representing themselves bearing their crown, went out of fashion only during the 260s.  The last sculptures in Asia Minor that show evidence for this come from Pompeiopolis in Cilicia and from the big Lydian city of Sardis.[20]

2§3 At Side, the agonothete and the competitors made sacrifices on the gilt altar: it was a moment tinged with colors and sounds, inscribed in the collective civic memory, in the context of public religion.[21]  The agonothete also sometimes made a speech at the opening ceremony of the competition,[22] although often, he probably called on a sophist who received a special stipend for the occasion.  The trials were punctuated by the announcements of the herald, who held an essential function that was also part of religious festivals or assemblies of the dêmos, particularly when acclamations were taking place.[23]

2§4 If the races and other athletic activities took place in spaces more adapted for them when they existed, the theater could be the site of boxing matches when they were part of the program of an agôn, which was becoming more and more frequent.[24]  In Kibyratis at Oinoanda, the music competition of the Dêmostheneia, of which the details of its foundation at the time of Hadrian have been preserved, was organized for the 34th time in the 260s, or indeed a short time afterwards if, for some reason or other, the penteteric cycle of its celebration was delayed or interrupted; it would then also have included athletic trials and wrestling.[25]  One of the most eloquent examples is that of Piseas at Aphrodisias.  He received a statue of himself as a nude athlete at the theater at Aphrodisias at the end of the third century: “To Piseas son of Piseas, circuit-victor (periodonikês), his fatherland,” just as Candidianus was honored by a similar representation using similar terms.[26]  The erection of their statues at the theater is significant: their victories had taken place in this type of building.[27]  Still, other places in the city could have been suitable for this kind of honor; there must have been a lot of gratitude towards Piseas for his statue to be placed in the theater.

2§5 The civic society that appeared at the theater was strongly hierarchical, a feature which was made more and more visible.[28]  At Side, the two dedicants of the base and of the altar described themselves as bouleutai rather than as former magistrates.  This self-designation evokes a political rank, linked to heritage, whereas several decades previously there would have been a preference for enumerating one’s most prestigious magistracies, liturgies, or priesthoods.  One of the agonothetes, Vettianus Pomponianus Claudianus Diogenes, who was also a Roman knight, had his place reserved in the theater[29] – under the Greek part of his name, Diogenes.  Even more spectacular was the installation of proedria seats in the balustrade of the orchestra.  In Perge, in 275/6, one of these bore an inscription with an acclamation indicating: “Long live Cornelianus!  You have founded an Olympian monument.  Seat yourself in front!”[30]  Another acclamation honoring Diodotos, painted in red on a doorway leading to the north of the stage read: “May Perge grow, for which Diodotos makes foundations and gives generously, is a neocore and agonothete!”[31]  Artemisia, Antoninus, and another who remains anonymous, were also acclaimed in the theater: “founders” and Demetria financed the construction of the Hermai.[32]  They were local notables, also belonging to the topmost echelon of the Roman social hierarchy because they were consulares, hupatikoi, according to the wording of the large inscription on the main avenue; they financed the renovation of the theater.  In the same way, the competitions, musical or athletic, allowed young people who had been educated to a high level and who came from the world of notables, to be seen by their city or by neighboring cities: from the seats in the theatron, everyone could admire civic excellence.

2§6 Consequently, the theater was the privileged site for affirming a common identity.  An instance of this can be clearly seen in Side: “The dêmos of Side [sets up a statue of] the people of Rome,” according to the inscription on a base that was discovered amid the debris of the stage building.[33]  The adherence to an ideological discourse showing the Romanitas in a favorable light was spectacular, as well as the position of the two entities, put on the same level, at the end of the 270s or at the beginning of the 280s: civic patriotism was still a highlighted concept. But more than in the previous decades, it had concrete consequences: this ideology promoted the ability of a citizen to defend his native city with weapons.  The 260s to the 280s provided numerous occasions in Anatolia for such acts against the Goths, the Sassanians, or even against the Palmyrans who had control over a part of Anatolia during the height of the reign of Zenobia, or during the seditions, or against the mountain banditry in Isauria or in Pisidia.[34]  “Dionysius” wrote at the end of the third century: the founders of the competitions “suggested innumerable spectacles and performances, not only for amusement but for use, educating us by musical shows, and training us for war by gymnastics,” θεάματα καὶ ἀκροάματα μυρία ἐπὶ μυρίοις προέθεσαν, οὐκ εἰς ψυχαγωγίαν μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ὠφέλειαν· διὰ μὲν τῶν μουσικῶν ἀκροαμάτων παιδεύοντες ἡμᾶς, διὰ δὲ τῶν γυμνικῶν συνασκοῦντες εἰς τοὺς πολέμους.[35]  It was not just empty rhetoric.  This passage also shows the traditional flow of civic elites between the gymnasium and the theater.

2§7 If one were to compare the 270s with the Severan era, there were undeniable developments at work.  The events that took place in the theater were linked to civic identity and participation, with a finger on the pulse of the Greek city of the Early Empire.  Nevertheless, it is clear that these activities went through developments: if the assemblies still deliberated, they did not engrave decrees anymore; on the other hand, the acclamations, which were always more or less present during civic assemblies, were from then on more often inscribed on stone.  The citizens were more and more like “onlookers,” to use the expression by Angelos Chaniotis, of the agônes and of public life,[36] while civic hierarchy gained greater visibility.  The Aphrodisian Piseas is a good representative of this period: this man, honored by his “native city,” has the muscled and athletic appearance characteristic of the heroes of the cities.  Political activity was less visible, but the acclamations for the local magistrates or benefactors reflected, as well as the agônes, the taste for civic prowess and the collective enthusiasm that it raised.  The theater and its activities were then at the center – physical and symbolic – of the identity and activity of the civic community, whether big or small.

Entertainment at the theater from the 260s to the beginning of the fourth century

3§1 To understand the changes that occurred from the Tetrarchy onwards, one needs to begin with elements of continuity, which are well known and flagrant, but which are worth recalling.  The pantomimes and mimes were particularly appreciated.[37]  One of the subjects for which the latter had a predilection was the parody of Christian rituals.  In a spectacular reversal, hagiographic accounts tell of the conversion of mimes on stage, in the middle of a performance.  This is the story of Porphyry, perhaps under Aurelian (270–275).  While he was earning his fame at Ephesus, a notable from Caesarea in Cappadocia had him perform in the city.  In the theater, he staged a fake baptism, with a fake bishop, priests, deacons, psalmodists, and reciters (the theater once again resonated with songs and choirs).  Disguised in white vestments, Porphyry felt the effects of conversion in the very middle of the theater.[38]  Helen Saradi recalls that pantomime performances (for which the repertoire was normally more sophisticated than for mime, but which became more and more popular over time) were also accompanied by choirs that sometimes sang popular songs.[39]  This kind of entertainment continued in the following century.  Basil of Caesarea (329–379), in Cappadocia, described in the following manner the distressing – according to him – spectacle of the theater:

Οὐχ ὁρᾷς τοὺς ἐν τοῖς θεάτροις, παγκρατιασταῖς, καὶ μίμοις, καὶ θηριομάχοις τισὶν ἀνθρώποις, οὓς κἂν βδελύξαιτό τις προσιδεῖν, ὑπὲρ τῆς ἐν ὀλίγῳ τιμῆς, καὶ τῶν παρὰ τοῦ δήμου θορύβων καὶ κρότων τὸν πλοῦτον προϊεμένους;

Do you not see those who, in the theaters, for one moment of glory, for the acclamations, and the applause of the people, throw their fortune to the pankratiasts, the mimes and to these men who combat ferocious beasts that cause one to feel disgust simply by looking at them?[40]

3§2 However, there were not only the pankration and the mimes.[41]  Themistius, probably born in Paphlagonia, and whose father died during the winter of 355, evokes the mores, impregnated with Platonic philosophy, of his father in his eulogy – the mores of a man who lived under the Tetrarchs and the reign of Constantine.  He says: “my father did not keep away from the ancient stage or the theater, nor did he regard them as places utterly impure and alien to philosophy (οὐδὲ γὰρ τῆς σκηνῆς ἀπείχετο τῆς ἀρχαίας οὐδὲ τοῦ θεάτρου ὡς παντάπασι βεβήλων καὶ ἀλλοτρίων φιλοσοφίας).  The golden Menander frequently joined him in chorus and celebrated the mysteries with him, and so did Euripides, Sophocles, the beautiful Sappho and the excellent Pindar.”[42]  New subjects appeared too: Charlotte Roueché has shown that a biblical story such as the myth of Tobias was popular and the subject of representations in the theater of Ephesus, perhaps from the late third century onwards.[43]

3§3 The Christian condemnations did not, therefore, prevent the popularity of theater performances until the sixth century.  Nicole Belayche has demonstrated how celebrations, which were held in the theater as in other places in the city, constituted a feeling of common identity and as such were protected by the legislator, who made sure that on the condition of good behavior, they were the occasion of community festivities.[44]  The description by Gregory of Nyssa of a panêguris at the theater of Neocaesarea while Gregory Thaumaturgus was carrying out his functions is probably not an exaggeration: the packed theater where everyone rushed about and shouted, drowning out the noise of the music, is as much from his time as from the time of the bishop of Neocaesarea, who died around 270.[45]

The shifting direction of local voices

4§1 By contrast, the activities central to civic participation at the end of the third century, those of competitions (agônes) and political activities, seem to vanish, at least from the sources.  The traditional civic magistrates disappeared before the end of the fourth century, to repeat the widely and commonly accepted date: the designation by the dêmos of a local official was replaced by his nomination or by a vote by his peers.[46]  In Africa, the last attestations of the popular election of magistrates date from Diocletian.[47]  In Asia Minor, what can be observed is the absence of popular voices from the process, in a famous document from Tymandus in Pisidia.  This community was raised to the rank of a city at the end of the third century or at the beginning of the fourth (before Constantine took power in the East in 324).  The emperor reminded Lepidus, the governor, that as for the other cities, Tymandus received the “right to assemble a curia (ius est coeundi in curiam) to issue decrees and to manage everything which the law allows them to do” and that “they will have to designate magistrates (magistratus (…) creare debebunt).”[48]  If an election were to remain in place, the fundamental point would be the restriction of the electoral body: the magistrates would be created in the curia and no mention is made of the people in this procedure – unlike, for example, the municipal law of Irni under the Flavians.

4§2 It is useful to compare this document from Tymandus with a disposition by Constantine, which dates to 325 and is addressed to the comes of Africa, C. Annius Tiberanius (CTh 12.5.1), giving the order that magistrates must see to it that the duumviri nominati fulfill the necessary conditions,  “even though in Africa, according to the custom, the nomination is also practiced according to the suffrage of the people (quamuis populi quoque suffragiis nominatio in Africa ex consuetudine celebretur).”  Claude Lepelley demonstrates that “plutôt que par un vote formel des curies [in Africa it is a case of subdivisions of the populus in charge of the election – and not, as in the letter from Tymandus cited above, of the senate, author’s note], les suffrages du peuple doivent s’exprimer par des acclamations rituelles, lors d’une assemblée tenue probablement dans un lieu de spectacle.”[49]  The central power was not unfavorable towards what passed for former consuetudines, a feature of certain regions.  But there was no choice: it was only to be for the validation of a nominatus.

4§3 In November 331, a law passed by Constantine and addressed ad prouinciales (CTh 1.16.6) and appearing among other measures which aimed to prevent the corruption of governors show that he intended to make positive use of these local events:

Iustissimos autem et uigilantissimos iudices publicis adclamationibus conlaudandi damus omnibus potestatem, ut honoris eis auctiores proferamus processus, e contrario iniustis et maleficis querellarum uocibus accusandis, ut censurae nostrae uigor eos absumat; nam si uerae uoces sunt nec ad libidinem per clientelas effusae, diligenter inuestigabimus, praefectis praetorio et comitibus, qui per prouincias constituti sunt, prouincialium nostrorum uoces ad nostrum scientiam referentibus.

We moreover grant all provincials the power to praise the most just and vigilant judges by public acclamations, so that We may bring them ampler advancements in honor; and on the contrary, the unjust and wicked are to be accused with cries of complaint, so that the force of Our chastisement may annihilate them; for We will carefully investigate whether those words are true and have not been uttered wantonly by clients, as the praetorian prefects and the comites who are stationed throughout the provinces bring Our provincials’ words to Our knowledge (transl. Dillon 2012:122).

4§4 This appeal to popular opinion took place within an administrative system that had a renewed spirit.[50]  The final aim of these popular voices was to be the imperial center: the acclamations emitted a posteriori would serve the prince so he could judge the working order of his administration.  One cannot, in any way, put this in the same category as “civic participation.”  It is only the city-capitals of provinces that were affected by this event; the people were not appealed to as people of the city, to be brought round to decide or comply, but as subjects of the empire, transmitting their opinion on an administrator to the supreme authority.  The theaters of the biggest cities, in their “serious” functions, were therefore used for communication between the local level and the central power.  Some ceremonies were not new – and this may account for the difficulties in qualifying the changes taking place: ceremonial speeches had taken place in the theaters for centuries before.[51]  These eulogistic and ceremonial speeches, pronounced notably for administrative authorities or for the emperor, were accompanied by acclamations and even musical and lyrical elements:[52] the advice of Menander from Laodicea in Phrygia, whose activity dates from the reign of Diocletian, as well as that of Himerius, shows continuity and a link with official ceremony.  On the whole, it looks as if from then on, the role of the theater as a place for emitting voices towards the central power was both more formalized and more developed.

4§5 In the rest of the poleis, the theater was sometimes a place of acclamation, confirming the popularity of the prospective candidates put forward by the individuals in charge of nominations for the magistracy.  If this last case was a question of political activity, which would be a broad definition of local politics in comparison with its meaning during the High Empire, it appeared both as residual, as consuetudo, and optional, whereas the local organism holding any power was from then on only the Council, which the rescript of Tymandus shows.  Similarly, a little bit later, in June 331, Constantine replied to the newly restored city of Orcistus on the question of the levy for the cults, addressing his letter only to the ordini ciuit(atis) Orcistanorum (MAMA VII 305 doc. 4, l.9).

The blurred identity of an urban building

5§1 Significantly, the theater was from then on classified as a place of pleasure, albeit somewhat vaguely.  The Cappadocian Fathers, who were educated through Greek literature and culture, used the term “theater” to designate a stadium or a hippodrome.  In his eulogy to Gordios, who was martyred during the Diocletianic persecutions, Basil of Caesarea evoked very vividly the concerns of the city that Gordios left behind him when he chose to retire from urban life.  But, deciding to become an “athlete of Christ,” he returned to the city on the day of a festival to bear witness to his faith, during which πανδημεὶ πᾶσα ἡ πόλις ἑορτὴν ἄγουσα φιλοπολέμῳ δαίμονι κατειλήφει θέατρον, ἀγῶνα ἱππικὸν θεωμένη.[53]  This is evidently a hippodrome, or even a stadium, the only places fit to host a horse race, and which are explicitly designated in the following sentences.  The idea of theaters as places of joy and of pleasure was not new, but it became a nearly exclusive one.  It was already running through the treaty of Menander, when he evoked theaters as places where the governor and emperor were received; they were also emblems of the beauty of the city and places of pleasure.[54]  The rhetorical force and the antiquity of the theme of the theater as a place of pleasure and eminent urban beauty, an old theme characteristic of Hellenism, must not hide the sharp demonetarization of the political elements of the theater in the collective imagination.

5§2 It is striking to see that the theater, a favorite place for erecting statues of emperors or local benefactors, as well as for honoring the governor, seems to lose this function from the end of the third century.[55]  The semantics of the decorative programs also evolved.  The frons scaenae sometimes hosted spectacular iconographic programs, like at Hierapolis in Phrygia in the Severan age: the frons scaenae showed the place of the city within the empire, with the emperors guaranteeing the good order of the oikoumenê and a series of statues exalting the agonistic values.[56]  At the end of the third century or at the beginning of the next, at Perge in Pamphylia, a statue of Hadrian was reused to represent an emperor (the body is intact but the head was altered),[57] in the same way as a statue of Trajan,[58] and both of which decorated the scaenae frons of the theater.  For stylistic and technical reasons, one head kept today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York[59] and another kept in a private collection[60] have been compared to the two aforementioned statues; it is thus possible that the stage building of the city showed a representation of the Tetrarchs.  The scaenae frons of the theater at Ephesus received a statue of Licinius, in a central niche, perhaps in a seated position.[61]  The imperial figure, by the break created in the visual line, was then left out of a local speech on the place of the city within the imperial order and was not even inserted in relation to the city: it simply dominated the scene.

5§3 Thus, these imperial images came to reinforce the authority of the administrators.  This is why Severian of Antioch (end of the fourth century – beginning of the fifth century) compared these imperial images to a tree placed in the middle of Paradise, a “memorial of the invisible Master” (ὑπόμνησις τοῦ ἀοράτου):

Ἐννόησον πόσοι εἰσὶν ἄρχοντες ἀνὰ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν. Καὶ ἐπειδὴ βασιλεὺς πᾶσιν οὐ πάρεστι, δεῖ παραστῆναι τὸν χαρακτῆρα τοῦ βασιλέως ἐν δικαστηρίοις, ἐν ἀγοραῖς, ἐν συλλόγοις, ἐν θεάτροις. Ἐν παντὶ οὖν τόπῳ, ἐν ᾧ πράττει ἄρχων, δεῖ παρεῖναι, ἵνα βεβαιῶται τὰ γινόμενα.

Think how many governors there are in the whole world. From the moment that the emperor is not in contact with them all, it is necessary that his image be posted in the tribunals, the markets and in meeting places and theaters, in all places in which the governor does business, in order that his acts have the necessary authority.[62]

5§4 Far from preserving the blurred traces and the memory of the traditional role of these monuments and public spaces,[63] this passage, on the contrary, is a witness to the semantic revolution which occurred: the theaters were no longer the places of political action emanating from the Council and the people, but of administrative and legal operations emanating from a superior authority, flowing down to them from the emperor, in the same way that the authority of God is both far-off and immanent.  Imperial representation in theater buildings took on an opposite sense, in the same way that there was nothing in common between the representation of the Genius of the Roman people at Side in the 280s and that of Licinius at Ephesus before 324.  A sense of a reciprocal dialogue had been lost.

5§5 Furthermore, the rituals of community life partly left the theater edifice, less adapted in its configuration for the staging of a highly hierarchical power, in spite of the frequent installation of proedria seats or even loggias.[64]  Indeed, all spectators in the theater were given places in an audience with civic dimensions, in a space that was partially face-to-face.  The configuration of the theater suited a political society that thought of itself on the scale of a large family, allowing for dialectical exchange, as was still the case at the end of the third century.  At Aphrodisias, the imperial statues were from then on concentrated in the place in front of the theater, the tetrastôon.  It is, moreover, perhaps in this space that the acclamations for the governor were emitted,[65] which, in the Constantinian legislation, marked the end of his functions.  In Nicomedia, Diocletian ordered the construction of a circus in 304, which, with the imperial residence, definitively altered the local urban fabric and changed it into the fabric of an imperial capital,[66] organized around new polarities.[67]  The “Roman-style” races which took place there differed from those of the Greek world, in terms of their meaning and the way in which they were organized; it is sufficient to simply mention that the athletes, who then entertained the spectators during the intermissions, were of low extraction.[68]  From then on, the performances that excited the young people took place in the big cities, where the passions of rival factions became enflamed.  Through lack of significant proof on the part of athletes and from the old competitions, one can conclude that the vast number of agônes depending on private funds disappeared during the period of inflation at the end of the third century.[69]  Some big cities may have continued, however, to host competitions, agônes: according to the author of the Patria of Constantinople, Constantine, after having founded the hippodrome, ἐπετέλεσεν αὐτὸς πρῶτος γυμνικὸν καὶ ἱππικὸν ἀγῶνα.[70]  This metropolitan and residual preservation, also observed at Antioch in Syria, for example, appeared as a profound transformation of the flourishing of agonistic events in many cities of Anatolia up until the 270s.

5§6 The public rituals also moved to the broad colonnaded avenues, as Charlotte Roueché shows was the case for Ephesus.[71]  Once again, this was not something entirely new: significantly, to my mind, the two twin inscriptions bearing, on the one hand, an epigram where the city of Perge itself tells its story, and on the other hand, the acclamations of 275, on the occasion of a ceremony for an Olympic competition which was also sacred and “ecumenical,” were engraved on the two pillars of an avenue named by the archaeological diggers as “Tacitusstrasse.”[72]  The large avenues, together with the houses of the notables, attracted more and more of the ritualized events and were, from the fourth century, a favorite place for emitting and engraving acclamations.

Concluding remarks

6§1 Agonistic events were part of the political dimension of the theater.  The community that assembled there until the 270s was that of a people, a dêmos, composed of potential or actual electors who voted on decrees (also through acclamations) and who experienced civic emotions (local pride, patriotism, enthusiasm for competitors from the city, religious respect for the gods of the city).  This experience was inserted into the ideals of civic participation, through common rituals and acts including the whole of the civic hierarchy.  This conception of community life was inscribed over time: the way in which it appeared therefore evolved, and notably in the third century – there are differences between the practices of the Antonine era, for example, and those of the second half of the third century.  But the differences were not intrinsic.  On the other hand, as soon as the early fourth century, the collective imagination was no longer linked to an ideology of “civic” life, centered on civic participation and civic excellence.  This does not in any way contradict the fact that, more than ever in the fourth century and during the centuries that follow, the theater and its heroes were talked about: the martyrs were compared favorably to the athletes; the Church Fathers condemned theater attendance; the emperors, on the contrary, protected the financing of the performances.  But the sense of the theater as a place for admiring a city’s best elements was lost.  Readings of Libanius, while relentlessly presented as the defender of the Greek civic tradition, confirm just how much the winds had irremediably changed:

218. Οὑτωσὶ μὲν οὔ τι πρὸς ἡδονὴν μᾶλλον ἢ τὰ μέγιστα τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποις τὸ τῶν στοῶν μῆκος συμβέβληται, αἷς ἱππόδρομός τε προσύφανται καὶ θέατρον καὶ λουτρόν, ὁ μὲν ἀρκῶν τούς τε ἐκ Βορέου ἐμπλῆσαι θέοντας καὶ τῷ τῆς πόλεως ὄχλῳ παρασχεῖν θάκους τῇ τῶν ἀναβαθμῶν ἀφθονίᾳ, τὸ δὲ συνηχοῦν καὶ συναγωνιζόμενον καὶ αὐλῷ καὶ κιθάρᾳ καὶ φωνῇ καὶ τοῖς πολλοῖς τῶν ἀπὸ τῆς σκηνῆς τερπόντων. 219. τίς δ’ ἂν ἐφίκοιτο διεξιὼν ἕτερα θεάτρων εἴδη, τὰ μὲν ἀθληταῖς ἐναγωνίσασθαι πεποιημένα, τὰ δὲ ἀνδράσι πρὸς θηρία, πάντα ἐν μέσῃ τῇ πόλει καὶ οὐκ ἀναγκάζοντα προλυπηθῆναι τῶν ἡδέων τῷ μήκει τῆς ἐπ’ αὐτὰ πορείας;

218. Thus the stoas do not contribute to pleasure any more than they do to those things which are of the greatest importance among men; and to these stoas are added the hippodrome and the theatre and the bath, the one large enough to be filled with the running horses and to furnish seats to the multitude of the city, thanks to the abundance of the tiers, and the other re-echoing and assisting it in giving pleasure, with the flute, the lyre, song, and the many forms of enjoyment which the stage provides. 219. Who, in reviewing the different forms of places of assembly elsewhere, could find places such as we have, some made for the contests of athletes, others for those of men against wild beasts, and all these in the middle of the city, not forcing one to spoil one’s pleasure beforehand by the length of the journey to them? (transl. Downey 1959:676).

6§2 These fundamental transformations were played out over a period of one or two generations at the very most: the organic gymnasium-theater link, the backbone of the Greek city of the Early Empire, then came apart.  Continuities between Early Empire and Late Antiquity in the field of civic life are sometimes emphasized.[73]  The definition of the theater, only as a place of uoluptas, nonetheless marked an essential turning point in the representation of collective identities and in the daily local management of the community.  From the center of community life, in small and big cities alike, the theater very rapidly became a place, among others, of collective pleasure, and secondarily, of communication with the superior authorities above the city.

* I am deeply grateful to scholars and staff at the Center for Hellenic Studies for my stay in such an extraordinary place. The scientific benefits for me will extend far beyond the fellowship term.  This study is the preliminary part of a wider project on the Anatolian cities during the same period, which will include certain aspects deliberately not treated here, such as the causes of the evolution of the polis’ collective identity.

[1] Pont 2010:111–131; Fernoux 2011:81–110.

[2] See the introduction by Philippe Gauthier in Fröhlich and Müller 2005, notably 5–6.

[3] Different picture because it is on the whole of the Empire in Liebeschuetz 1992. Recent studies about the High Empire show that one cannot proceed from the idea of a disappearance, not only of the practical role, but also of the institutional role, of the dêmos in Asia Minor, notably in the western and southern part, where there were hundreds of poleis.

[4] About adventus or apantêsis ceremonials, which resulted in the delivery of speeches in the theater, see Pont 2009; but note that, when staying in a city, governors or emperors, if judging or engaging in any official activity, usually did so in other places in town, for example, in baths. Considering the developing agônes in the imperial age, O. Van Nijf 2012:70–88 shows that they can be understood as a network connecting cities among themselves and even with the imperial center.

[5] On this question, see Mitchell 1998. The dating of the epigraphic evidence is often difficult for the documents from after the mid-third century; I tried to be as precise as possible considering the present state of epigraphical studies.

[6] To cite only a few examples, Roueché 1991, Saradi 2006 (reviewed by Lavan 2009) for the sixth century, and the syntheses by Lavan 2001, 2003, 2008b.

[7] Lavan 2008b:151–154, noting nonetheless “theatres were also still used for popular political meetings/announcements to the people, in the 4th and perhaps the early 5th c., at least in the East;” Saradi 2006. Significantly, the theater does not appear as such in the study by Lavan 2003 or Lavan 2008a.

[8] Cf. the classic study by Chaniotis 2007a.

[9] Martyrium Pionii 7 (Robert 1994): τοῦ δὲ δήμου βουλομένου ἐκκλησίαν ἐν τῷ θεάτρῳ ποιεῖν ἵνα ἐκεῖ ἀκούσωσι πλείονα κτλ.

[10] One must rule out from the debate the inscriptions relative to the agonothete C. Ulpius Baebianus of Antioch in Pisidia (cited by Fernoux 2011:147): cf. Mitchell and Waelkens 1998:13.

[11] For example, I.Perge II 316 ; TAM III.1 82, from the Tetrarchic era.

[12] TAM III 127. The inscription comes from the portico of a colonnaded main street, like other honorific inscriptions from the same period in the city.

[13] Ballance and Roueché 2001:111. On the acclamations, see the seminal article by Roueché 1984.

[14] For example in the Carian city of Iasos, for the emperor Julian: I.Iasos I 14; in Aphrodisias for a clarissimus praeses: ALA 22 (AD 365–370).

[15] Some examples from outside Western Asia Minor: Synnada in Phrygia, up to the end of the reign of Gallienus (268), after Drew-Bear and Sacco 2006–2007:277. Ancyra in Galatia : BMC 47, with Salonine on the obverse. Neocaesarea in Pontus – the city where, during the same era, Gregory exercised his sacerdotal functions as bishop with the success accorded to him by Gregory of Nyssa – under Valerian, when the Aktia were celebrated on the occasion of the arrival of the emperor returning from the Persian campaign (Harl 1987:69).

[16] Perge, under Tacitus, BMC 103. Cremna, under Aurelian : Aulock 1979:nos.1600–1612, 1722–1735.  The south of Asia Minor in particular experienced a flourishing of local foundations: for example, at Korakesion, there was a local competition founded thanks to an inheritance (SEG 18 572).

[17] IG VII 49; IAG 88; on the dating, J. Nollé, in I.Side I, TEp 36.

[18] Cf. also an agonothete of the Augousteia in purple vestments and a golden crown (I.Prusias 72). On the clothes, purple vestments and white shoes of the agonothete of a Greek competition, cf. Robert 1982:259–260.

[19] I.Side II 226 (datation given by Nollé, according to the form of the letters); SGO IV 18.15.13.

[20] Rumscheid 2000:cat. 34 and 35.

[21] Weiss 1981 (Bull. 1982, 450) ; Wörrle 1988:190–192 ; I.Side II 134 ; SGO IV 18.15.11. The location in the theater is probable. Gilt altar: SEG 30 1518, inscription, l. 3. J. Nollé in I.Side II and Wörrle 1988:191 defend the hypothesis of sacrifices carried out on the gilt altar which was situated on the base, while P. Weiss and L. Robert suggest that the base was used for the presentation of the competitors and the announcements of the herald.

[22] “Dionysius” 284.

[23] On the kêrux in the Greek cities, Migeotte 2002:29–32. See Blume 1989:273n17 on the hypothesis of a “claque organisée” in P.Oxy. I 41, from the end of the 3rd century, containing acclamations for a prytanis.

[24] On the importance of the competitions during the era of “competitive martial ability and athletic muscularity,” cf. Mitchell 1999a:424.

[25] Foundation of C. Iulius Demosthenes : Wörrle 1988. On the occasion of the 34th celebration and the date of the competition: Hall and Milner 1994:30–31 nos.19–20.

[26] Inscription : Roueché 1993, no.75. Statues and iconography: Van Voorhis 2008. Cf. LSA-531 and 532 for Piseas, LSA-545 et 547 for Candidianus.

[27] Under Gordian III, on the other hand, a victor of the pankration received a statue in the stadium of Synnada (Drew-Bear and Sacco 2006–2007:256). At Alexandria in Egypt, the practitioners of the same sport performed at “campus” before the emperor Diocletian in 301, before practicing the pammachon: Remijsen 2010.

[28] Chaniotis 2007b.

[29] I.Side II 143, 2.

[30] I.Perge II 338, from the era of Tacitus. Another acclamation concerns him (I.Perge II 339).

[31] I.Perge II 341; also nos. 340 and 342.

[32] I.Perge II 345, 347, 352; Hermai: I.Perge II 348 and 349.

[33] I.Side I 25; LSA-275 (U. Gehn). Dating: compared with the Roman programs which showed the Genius populi Romani in a favorable light, between the reign of Aurelian and the Tetrarchy included; J. Nollé in I.Side I:284, suggested a comparison with the campaign of Carus in 282/3.

[34] For example, Side had been besieged by the Goths in 269; the inhabitants of the city themselves resisted and pushed back the Goths after a “bloody battle,” according to FGH 100 F 29 (Dexippus in Excerpta de Strategematibus 6). On these events, see Mitchell 1993:234–238.

[35] “Dionysius” 287, transl. Russell and Wilson 1981:379.

[36] Chaniotis 2007b:252. This tendency seems, moreover, an inbuilt part of civic society.

[37] Malineau 2008. In the second century AD pantomimes had even sometimes been included in agônes: see Webb 2012.

[38] Porphyry: Acta Sanctorum Synax. Const. 4 Nov. See Panayotakis 1997 on the sequence of events and likelihood. Dating: Berger 2002. These themes were still very much taken up at the beginning of the 4th century: in 320 in Alexandria, the Christians were mocked in the “theaters of the pagans” (Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 2.61.5).

[39] Saradi 2006:310.

[40] Basil of Caesarea, Homily VI 3 in lines 19–22 (ed. Courtonne, Paris, 1935).

[41] For the fifth and sixth century critics, see Saradi 2006:311–314.

[42] Oration XX 236 (transl. Penella 2000).

[43] Roueché 2009.

[44] Belayche 2007. See Barnes 1996 about the theaters as seen by the Christians.

[45] Life of Gregory Thaumaturgus 87. On the problems of historicity, Mitchell 1999b.

[46] Laniado 2002:89–92 and in particular, 91n18.

[47] Lepelley 1979:141; from Mididi (between 290 and 293) and Thysdrus (between 286 and 305).

[48] MAMA IV 236; for the date, cf. lastly Corcoran 1996:139no.45. The term magistratus creare was used in the municipal laws of Irni (chap. 19, 20, 21).

[49] Lepelley 1979:142–145.

[50] On this subject, see Dillon 2012.

[51] Cf. Kennedy 1983: as in the classical tradition, the three functions of rhetoric have been preserved… but the places where persuasion was exercised in public debates had changed.

[52] Raimondi 2012.

[53] PG XXXI 496–497.

[54] II 381, 429 and 431 (ed. Russell and Wilson 1981).

[55] This element is based on an inventory from the database Late Statues of Antiquity (consulted 14 February 2014). Inscriptions coming from a theater but which probably originate from somewhere else in the city: LSA-221, Aphrodisias, beginning of the 4th century, for a “friend” of the emperors; LSA-262, Side, for Helen, “mother of Augustus” (this base and statue probably come from one of the colonnaded streets of the city, just as LSA-263). Base probably coming from the theater but for which the dating remains uncertain from the end of the 3rd century to the end of the 4th century: LSA-627, Phaselis, with an inscription “the masters of the oikoumenê.”

[56] Ritti 1985:59–77 .

[57] LSA-2542. Cf. also LSA-2544.

[58] LSA-2543.

[59] LSA-464.

[60] LSA-2354.

[61] Smith 1997:173n5 for the location; LSA-687.

[62] Severianus, In Cosmogoniam VI 5 (PG LVI 489), transl. Lavan 2011:462.

[63] Interpretation suggested by Fernoux 2011:108–109.

[64] Roueché 1991, who uses the word ‘loggia’.

[65] Lavan 2011:463 and n111; cf. ALA 20-21, 75, 77 and 78.

[66] Wallner 2007:150–152.

[67] Pont 2008.

[68] Carrié 2007; Remijsen 2012:207 about these “circus athletes.”

[69] Hypothesis formulated by Roueché 1993:7 and Roueché 1999a.

[70] Th. Preger, SOC II 145, 62. Discussion by Roueché 1993:5.

[71] Roueché 1999b.

[72] Lastly and with reference to previous editions: I.Perge II 331.

[73] For example, on the question of local government, Whittow 1990, with the conclusion that between the Early Empire and the sixth century, “a great deal remained the same.”


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