Thursday, January 8, 2009


There were several theatres in Antioch with only the largest one in the city and that at Daphne having been located. Mary Sturgeon notes in her piece, that:

"...the theater at Antioch in Syria, originally arranged for by Caesar, was completed by Agrippa, then renovated by Tiberius, and later by Trajan after the earthquake of 114/115 AD, according to Malalas. Trajan put a statue of the Tyche of Antioch above the four columns of the "nymphaeum" of the theater, where Malalas' term "nymphaeum" seems to refer to the deep hemicycle of the
porta regia."

However, Norris differs on this in that the statue was one of Calliope, seated like Tyche on the platform of Mt Silpius and with a depiction of the Orontes (the swimming youth). However the statue lacked the traditional turreted crown headdress of Tyche. Instead this theatre statue was being crowned by Seleucus and Antiochus. Both Julian and Libanius mention this statue as still extant in the 4th century. Norris also says it is not clear that Trajan built a new Nymphaeum (is this a catch-all term for a large fountain?) or maybe he just completed one already associated with the theatre.

This main theatre had some cursory examination in the days of the Princeton excavations but didn't get much more attention with the focus being on as yet unfound things.

It also features prominently in history as the place where the pleasure loving Antiochenes were enjoying a performance when Persians arrows started raining down upon them at the beginning of an attack. This story of such a "surprise" attack in such force has always struck me as rather fantastical.

The observer, Ammianus Marcellinus XXIII 5,3 relates "cum Antiochiae in alto silencio scaenicis ludis mimus cum uxore immiissus e medio sumpta quaedam imitaretur, populo venustate attonito coniunx "nisi somnus est", inquit "en Persae" et retortis plebs universa cervicibus exacervantia in se tela declinas spargitur passim".

It is very hard to believe that 10,000 or so gathered in the theatre represented anything more than a mere fraction of the population of the city and that the Persians can have come all the way down the valley, with an army, through well-transited and relatively densely populated areas to position themselves above the theatre with nobody having noticed...

Shown above is a photo taken in the 1930s of what Leblanc & Poccardi believe is one of the city's theatres on the slopes of the Silpius. Unfortunately this masonry group no longer exists today. It was located to the north-east of a semi-circular plaza in the Sofilar Arab quarter.

Above is a map that Leblanc & Poccardi produced on their conjectured site for the theatre by using aerial photographs from the 1920s and 1930s. They note that while large, the theatre (at letter T) is by no means the largest in Syria. This may help support the view that Antioch possessed a variety of theatres, rather than one exceptionally large theatre.

Libanius in his Oration X (On the Plethron) alludes to the existence of theatres, one dedicated to Jupiter and one to Dionysius.

In July 2006, the Bryn Mawr Classical Review carried a review of Le statut de l'acteur dans l'Antiquité grecque et romaine, edited by Christophe Hugoniot, Frederic Hurlet and Silvia Milanezi. Within the book was a chapter, in which Emmanuel Soler looked at fourth century Antioch, titled "Les acteurs d'Antioche et les excès de la cité au IVe s. ap. J.-C." The reviewer, John Jory, commented: "He first considers the hierarchy of the performers and finds that pantomimes were the 'aristocracy' followed by mimes and then actors of comedy and tragedy. Naturally pantomimes were also the wealthiest and therefore could employ the largest claques, among them even sophists. Their looks also empowered them and this leads to an investigation of the relationship between actors and prostitutes. While it was claimed that theatrical performances were licentious, Libanius defends the pantomimes and compares them favourably with dancers of the cordax, a performance which Julian singles out for an attack on the theatre at Antioch. Chrysostom is primarily concerned with the nudity of female mimes, whom he calls prostitutes, reflecting a common view of pantomimes also. According to both Chrysostom and Julian the mimesis essential to the performances corrupted the spectators as did even the songs sung by the various choruses. Finally Soler considers the links between actors and social, political and religious tensions within the city. Julian found himself impotent against the popularity of the theatre, and he forbade priests to attend performances or invite actors to their dwellings. Yet in exceptional circumstances he expelled a group of Phoenician performers from the city. Libanius demonstrates how governors were influenced by the theatrical claque and indulged it in return for their acclamation. Support of theatrical performers in the face of threats to leave was a constant drain on the resources of the city and its councillors and brought tensions between them. None the less, despite the attitude of the Christian Church, the theatre was indispensable for any city of the status of Antioch".

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