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Search results - "Tauromenium"
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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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Sicily, Syracuse. Timoleon (Circa 344-338 BC)37 viewsÆ Hemidrachm (24.5mm, 15.84 g).

Timoleontic Symmachy coinage. First series.

Obverse: Laureate head of Zeus Eleutherios right; ZΕΥΣ ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΟΣ (Zeus Eleutherios - deliverer of freedom)

Reverse: Upright thunderbolt; barley grain to right; ΣΥΡΑΚΟΣΙΩΝ (Syracos)

Castrizio Series I, 1β; CNS 71; HGC 2, 1440.

Timoleon was born to an aristocratic family in Corinth in 411 BC. Little is known of his early life, but in 368 BC he fought as a common soldier in the war between Corinth and Argos. Then, still in the mid-360s BC, Timoleon dramatically murdered his brother, the power-mad and unpopular Timophanes, ending his tyranny at Corinth.

Timoleon isn’t heard from again until two decades later when he was chosen to lead an expedition to Syracuse (Corinth’s former colony) in 344 BC against the dual threat of the tyrant Dionysius II and possible invasion from Carthage. With a force consisting of 700 mercenaries and ten ships, Timoleon arrived at Tauromenium in 344 BC and promptly defeated the tyrant of Leontini, Hicetas, in a battle at Adranum. Once further reinforcements arrived Timoleon then led an attack on Syracuse itself. He was supported by several Sicilian cities tired of Dionysius’ oppressive reign over the region. The campaign was a success and Dionysius II was forced to live in exile back at Corinth.

Timoleon was not allowed to enjoy his success for long, though, as an army from Carthage chose this moment of political instability to invade Sicily yet again in 341 BC. Timoleon engaged the enemy near the river Crimisus (or Krimisos) in the west of the island and, by attacking first when their force was divided by the river and for a second time during a violent thunderstorm, managed to defeat the Carthaginians despite having a much smaller army at his disposal (6,000 against 70,000 according to Plutarch). Although defeated and having lost over 12,000 men, the Carthaginians could still field a sizeable army and cause trouble. The result was a bargain between Timoleon and the Carthaginians in 338 BCE which divided the island into two spheres of influence. He would keep to the eastern half of the island if they stayed in the western part.

Timoleon then proceeded to systematically take over the government of the various tyrannies in his domain, gave cities a greater level of autonomy, and established a new constitution at Syracuse. Shortly thereafter he died peacefully of old age in the mid-330s BC after earlier retiring voluntarily from public office when his eyesight failed. He was buried in the agora of Syracuse and the following inscription was made to commemorate his deeds: ‘He overthrew the tyrants, subdued the barbarians, repopulated the largest of the devastated cities, and then restored their laws to the people of Sicily’ (Plutarch, 187).
2 commentsNathan P
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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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