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Italy, Sicily, Taormina - theatre186 viewsJohny SYSEL
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Italy, Sicily, Taormina - theatre - Etna in the background156 viewscalled Greek theatre but was built by Romans - maybe greek foundationsJohny SYSEL
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Spain- Taragona- Amphitheatre46 viewsThis conventional seating may be observed at the amphitheatre at Tarragona in northern Spain. Tarraco, its Latin name, was the capital of the province of Hispania Tarraconensis. The seating is essentially the same as that found in Rome’s Colosseum. The amphitheatre’s construction is dated to the second century AD, a time of extensive building of centres of public entertainment throughout the Mediterranean. On the right side, the seating was hewn from the bedrock, while on the left, or seaward side, the seating was built up from blocks, a phenomenon also found at Syracuse in Sicily.

However, in a recent visit to Pompeii some interesting divergence from the norm is easily to be observed, for which no reason appears to have been voiced. The town of Pompeii, destroyed in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79, had a population in excess of 10,000, and was clearly a place of sufficient wealth to

sport not only an amphitheatre seating 20,000, but also a traditional Greek theatre and a smaller building called the Odeon. The "large" theatre, as it is now called, can seat an audience of 5,000, the "small" theatre, which was roofed, had accommodation for 500. Seating was according to rank, it is supposed, two side boxes (rather like the royal boxes of later theatres) for honoured guests, an inner cavea for the decurions or magistrates of the town, the middle rows for the more wealthy members of the community, the upper tiers for the ordinary citizens. If one looks closely it is clearly noticeable that this inner cavea consists of the first four or five rows of benches.

It is clear that, unlike the earlier form of the Greek theatres, the front rows are considerably wider than those higher up in the auditorium. The size of the seating is far beyond the dimensions of even a large and well-endowed personage, extending inwards for a good metre or more. The reasons for the additional size are unclear, because the larger width does not make these benches any more comfortable for the sitter, if anything they provide less support than the more narrow benches above. Presumably, the spectators brought cushions with them for lengthy performances in much the same way as fans for rugby or cricket matches do today. One solution may be that the wider seating allowed the dignatory to relax by reclining as if at dinner though this can hardly have been a posture acceptable for a quasi-religious festival nor one which would have endeared these wealthy members of the community to their less well-endowed fellows higher up, even if conspicuous consumption was the order of the day, particularly during the Roman empire.

In the "large" theatre the first four rows, in the "small" theatre and in the amphitheatre the first five rows stand out from the rest and, in fact, have their special place denoted by a partition. In some of the theatres in Greece, the officials judging the competitions, which were part and parcel of the festivals, and high ranking citizens might occupy a special bench, or the first row of the auditorium, but the broad nature of the bench at Pompeii appears unique. Pompeii began as a Oscan settlement in the 8th century BC and was heavily Hellenised by the 6th century. Thereafter, Pompeii had a fairly chequered history, being conquered and lost by the Etruscans and Samnites, before becoming a Roman colony in 80 BC. The Samnites of the central hills and the more local Oscan speakers, an Italic dialect which survived down to the period of the empire, remained culturally and linguistically influential, and it is possible that the Greek practice of uniformity in seating was altered by these Italic tribes who, at times, controlled Pompeii. On the other hand, there could be direct Roman or even Etruscan influence, though this formalised partitioning of seating is not seen in any of the archeaological sites in Rome or in nearby Campania, for example at Puteoli or at Capua. Finally, as for what purpose the large widths were intended, without clear evidence, and certainly with no ancient mention, means that speculation takes over. It could be that wooden seats rather like thrones were brought in, even sedan chairs for the high and mighty of the town, though it is worth bearing in mind that high-backed chairs easily obscured the views of those scarcely less wealthy immediately behind. The Roman males, it will be remembered, tended to lounge on low couches when they ate, rather than sitting in upright seats, which became popular only in the later Byzantine period. It also seems likely that, given the amount of space, it was not just the men who were seated here but entire families - perhaps picnic baskets as well. Refreshments were provided during performances, but the wealthy possibly brought their own equivalents of the modern cool bags and six-packs. The illustrations of the three places of entertainment at Pompeii do not appear to suggest that these special seating are the product of modern reconstructions, some of which have proved disastrous to ancient sites; and, therefore, there seems to be no alternative to accepting at least the idea that preferential seating was the order of the day in this rather provincial town on the Bay of Naples. Etruscan tombs often show their owners in a reclining position as if at a meal, and other forms of entertainment also feature which, overall, might suggest an influence here from north of the River Tiber.

Having dwelt at length, as it were, with the bottoms and the bottom-most seats of the ancient theatres and amphitheatres I now want to move on to the general ambience of the structure. The Roman amphitheatre or hippodrome were dirty smelly places where, by the end of the day’s proceedings, the stench from the dead and dying must have made an abatoir a sweet-smelling location. It is recorded that sprinkler systems were used in the Colosseum to spray the audience and the arena floor with scented water to alleviate the foulness of the atmosphere. By way of contrast, the Greek theatre must have been a place of peace and serenity, except for sore buttocks and aching backs.

Many commentators of the ancient theatre have sadly noted that the early pristine form, as found today at Epidaurus and Segesta, generally underwent alterations during the Roman period. It is noted that the slightly more than a semi-circular design was largely filled in during later antiquity by the Roman scena; and today many examples of the traditional Greek theatres sport Roman brickwork at the front which reached the same height, in some cases, as the uppermost tier of the cavea or auditorium. This height also allowed for a velabrum or canvass cover to be used to provide shade or shelter from the elements. At Taormina, ancient Tauromenium, for example:

"The brick scenic wall was preceded by a row of nine granite columns crowned by Corinthian capitals, which had both a decorative and bearing function, in that they supported the higher parts of the stage. The niches in the wall contained marble statues. On the sides, there are remains of the ‘parascenia’, square rooms used by actors and for scenic fittings. The actors entered the stage through side openings. A further row of sixteen columns closer to the orchestra framed the decorative front of the stage."

This is quite a departure from the earlier simplicity of the Greek theatre. However, it is certainly arguable that Baroque is not necessarily less pleasing than Romanesque even if blocking out the natural view also took the theatre out of its topographical or geographical context. For the purists among us, more sacrilege occurred, for instance, again at Taormina, where the first nine rows of the seating were removed making the orchestra large enough for gladiatorial combats and beast hunts, while at the same time allowing the audience safety high above the blood sports taking place below them. Of course, the construction of a front wall can easily be accounted for by the changing tastes in the entertainment itself, while the local audience presumably knew the view pretty well, and did not come to the theatre to gaze at Mount Etna. Furthermore, Taormina, high up on a hill overlooking the sea, had no extra space on which to build a new amphitheatre, more regularly the venue for gladiatorial combats. And it is also quite possible that there were simply insufficient funds. Taormina was neither a large nor a wealthy city.

Meanwhile, at Delphi the scena was "low so that the audience could enjoy the wonderful view", says one expert. Nonetheless, while the modern tourist may find the view as gratifying if not more so than the ruined theatre, the ancient audience came too see and hear the performances in honour of the Pythian Apollo. The ancient Greeks did not come for the view, they came for theatrical, religious even mystic experience. It is the modern philistine in us who enjoys the view. That being the case, the construction of the ancient theatre had little to do with searching for a site with a nice aspect, though these obviously exist, even in abundance, but for acoustic perfection and adequate accommodation. Finally, the best seats were closest to the stage and its proceedings, while the worst seats, for looking at the productions, had the best views. Does this mean that the most wealthy, with the largest bottoms, were obliged to watch the entertainment with no chance of letting the mind wander to the natural surroundings? Or does it mean that the women, slaves and poorest citizens, who sat high above the productions, probably could not hear or see what was going on hence took in the nice view instead. Therein lies the morality tale embedded in the title of this paper. If you had the means you were forced to take in the culture. If you were female or poor you could let your mind wander to other matters, including wonderful views of nature.
John Schou
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[1640aii] Leo VI, the Wise, 6 January 870 - 11 May 912 A.D.54 viewsBronze follis, SBCV 1729, DO 8.6, nice VF, 5.122g, 25.3mm, 180o, Constantinople mint, c. 886 - 912 A.D.; Obverse: LEON bASILVS ROm, bust facing, with short beard, wearing crown and chlamys and holding akakia in left hand; Reverse: + LEON/En QEO bA/SILVS R/OMEOn, legend in four lines. Ex FORVM.

Leo VI "the Wise" or "the Philosopher" (Greek: Λέων ΣΤ΄, Leōn VI), (September 19, 866 – May 11, 912) was Byzantine emperor from 886 to 912 during one of the most brilliant periods of the state's history.

Background
Leo was born to Eudokia Ingerina who was at the time mistress of Emperor Michael III and wife of his Caesar Basil. Which of the two men was his father is uncertain. He was officially acknowledged by Basil as his son, but he apparently regarded Leo as Michael's son and favored his undisputedly biological son Constantine.

On the night of September 23-September 24, 867, Michael was assassinated by Basil who succeeded him as Emperor Basil I. As the second eldest son of the Emperor, Leo was associated on the throne in 870 and became the direct heir on the death of his older half-brother Constantine in 879. However, he and his father hated each other and Basil almost had Leo blinded as a teenager. On August 29, 886, Basil died in a hunting accident, though he claimed on his deathbed that there was an assassination attempt in which Leo was possibly involved.

Domestic Policy
One of the first actions of Leo VI after his succession was the reburial of Michael III in Constantinople, which may have contributed to the suspicion that he was Michael's son. Seeking political reconciliation, the new emperor secured the support of the officials in the capital, and surrounded himself with bureaucrats like Stylianos Zoutzes and the eunuch Samonas. His attempts to control the great aristocratic families (e.g., the Phokadai and the Doukai) occasionally led to serious conflicts. Leo also attempted to control the church through his appointments to the patriarchate. He dismissed the Patriarch Photios of Constantinople, who had been his tutor, and replaced him with his own 19-year old brother Stephen in December 886. On Stephen's death in 893, Leo replaced him with Zaoutzes' nominee, Antony II Kaleuas, who died in 901. Leo then promoted his own imperial secretary (mystikos) Nicholas, but replaced him with his spiritual father Euthymios in 907.

Leo completed work on the Basilica, the Greek translation and update of the law code issued by Justinian I, which had been started during the reign of Basil.

Foreign Policy
Leo VI was not as successful in battle as Basil had been. In indulging his chief counselor Stylianos Zaoutzes, Leo provoked a war with Simeon I of Bulgaria in 894, but was defeated. Bribing the Magyars to attack the Bulgarians from the north, Leo scored an indirect success in 895. However, deprived of his new allies, he lost the major Battle of Boulgarophygon in 896 and had to make the required commercial concessions and to pay annual tribute.

The Emirate of Sicily took Taormina, the last Byzantine outpost on the island of Sicily, in 902. In 904 the renegade Leo of Tripolis sacked Thessalonica with his Muslim pirates (an event described in The Capture of Thessalonica, by John Kameniates). In 907 Constantinople was attacked by the Kievan Rus' under Oleg of Novgorod, who was seeking favourable trading rights with the empire. Leo paid them off, but they attacked again in 911, and a trade treaty was finally signed. The admiral Himerios, a relative of Leo's last wife, Zoe Karbonopsina scored some successes against the Muslim fleets in 908 and raided Cyprus in 910, but in 912 a fleet of 112 dromons and 75 pamphyloi was soundly defeated in its attempt to conquer Crete.

Fourth Marriage Dispute
Leo VI caused a major scandal with his numerous marriages which failed to produce a legitimate heir to the throne. His first wife, whom Basil had forced him to marry, died in 897, and he married Zoe Zaoutzaina, the daughter of his adviser Stylianos Zaoutzes, though she died as well in 899. Upon this marriage Leo created the title of basileopatōr ("father of the emperor") for his father-in-law.

After Zoe's death a third marriage was technically illegal, but he married again, only to have his third wife die in 901. Instead of marrying a fourth time, which would have been an even greater sin than a third marriage (according to the Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos) Leo took as mistress, Zoe Karbonopsina. He married her only after she had given birth to a son in 905, but incurred the opposition of the patriarch. Replacing Nicholas Mystikos with Euthymios, Leo got his marriage recognized by the church, but opened up a conflict within it and allowed new grounds for papal intervention into Byzantine affairs when he sought and obtained papal consent.

Succession
The future Constantine VII was the illegitimate son born before Leo's uncanonical fourth marriage to Zoe Karbonopsina. To strengthen his son's position as heir, Leo had him crowned as co-emperor on May 15, 908, when he was only two years old. Leo VI died on May 2, 912. He was succeeded by his younger brother Alexander, who had reigned as emperor alongside his father and brother since 879.

Legends
According to Bishop Liutprand of Cremona, and probably inspired by stories about the caliph Harun al-Rashid, Leo would sometimes disguise himself and look for injustice or corruption. On one account, he was even captured by the city guards during one of his investigations. He wanted to know if the city patrol was doing its job appropriately. He was walking alone, disguised, late in the evening without any documentation. He bribed two patrols for 12 nomismata, and moved on. However, the third city patrol arrested him. When a terrified guardian recognized the jailed ruler in the morning, the arresting officer was rewarded for doing his duty, while the other patrols were dismissed and punished severely.

As John Julius Norwich notes in his book A Short History of Byzantium, "He [Leo VI] had proved himself, if not a great Emperor, at any rate an outstandingly good one . . . In his lifetime Leo was genuinely loved by his people, and after his death they had good cause to be grateful" (Norwich, John Julius. A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. 165).

References
The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_VI_the_Wise

Edited by J. P. Fitzgerald, Jr.
Cleisthenes
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