Monday, May 19, 2008

Fora and Agorae

The public spaces of ancient Greek and Roman cities are one of the most admired features from the distance of two millennia. After the crowded squalor of the medieval city the Renaissance revived the admiration for this long dormant urban innovation.

The agora was a natural starting point for a Greek city. Downey in his comments on the Antiochikos of Libanius says that the agora of the original settlement of Seleucus Nicator lay along the bank of the Orontes River, which is the market area of modern Antioch. The Hungarian map in our section on city maps shows the Seleucid agora being towards the river in the old section of the city (and later excluded by the wall of Justinian).

Others speak of a "hellenistic agora" and site it on the slopes of Mt Silpius in proximity to the acropolis. This might indeed have been the agora of one of the other parts of the Tetrapolis. The Bouleterion was supposedly outside the "old city" so this would be a natural place for it. It could be that each of the four cities had their own agora, though we have seen no mention of one for Iopolis nor for the Island.

Then we have the so-called Forum of Valens. This is a total misnomer. Its akin to naming the Forum in Rome, the "Forum of Constantine" because he and Maxentius were the last ones to build there (with their basilica). The Forum which has been named for Valens probably dates as far back as Julius Caesar or earlier as records speak of various structures being built in the vicinity by a variety of emperors. Without further excavation we can only guess at its extent but it seems to have been vast with the colonnaded street on one side, the Parmenios running underneath and the open space taking on maybe a split level format to accomodate the rising topography. Numerous basilicas (four in one version we have seen) stood in the area, the "baths" of Commodus, the Plethron, the Xystos (both dealt with elsewhere in our compendium) and almost certainly one or more temples. There was also a
statue of Valentinian on a central column.

Downey in his work on the stoas quotes Malalas (338, 19-339, 15):

"And in the same city of Antioch, being pleased with the situation and the breezes and the waters,' he [Valens] first built the forum, undertaking a great work, demolishing the basilike formerly called the Kaisarion, which was near the Horologion and the public bath, the Kommodion, which is now the praetorium of the consularis Syriae, as far as the so-called Plethron, and restoring its Conch, and building vaults above the so-called Parmenios, the winter torrent which flows from the mountain through the middle of the city Antioch. And building another basilike opposite the Kommodion, and adorning the four basilikai with great columns from Salona, panelling the ceilings and adorning [them, i.e., the basilicai] with paintings and various marbles and mosaic, and paving with marble above the vaults of the mountain torrent the whole of the open space [or court, mesaulon], he completed his forum, and giving various adornments to the four basilikai and setting up statues, in the middle erecting a very great column bearing a statue of the emperor Valentinian, his brother; and he set up a marble statue in the Senatos of the Conch and in the middle of the basilike which is in the Conch another statue of costly stone, seated, to the same most divine emperor Valentinian."

The "Conch" that Malalas speaks of is an apse.

The theatre was nearby and if positioning of the "hellenistic agora" is to be believed then there was an almost unbroken complex of public space and usages from the Commodion to the acropolis. All awaits excavation, with only the theatre having received any work.

Was this the only Roman era forum? Were there other smaller fora in the more northern stretches of the city? It seems that the Regia (or Cassianus complex) was not near the forum of "Valens". Maybe this was near the Seleucid Agora. The Hungarian map shows it in the "old city". Then we must consider the Island. It seems to have had public space in front of the palace and/or outside the starting end of the hippodrome. As a monumental district it would be surprising to not see some important open spaces here. Once again excavation will reveal more.

In 2004 the team of archaeologists (Hatice Pamir et al.) with a geomagnetic focus explored the area. Their comments were as follows: " ...
geophysical explorations took place on a stretch of land below S. Pierre Kilisesi, which supposedly belonged to the northern part of the Forum of Valens. A parcel of land on its eastern fringe, which attracted our attention because of the presence of large ashlars with masonry marks, some column shafts and fragments of architectural ornament, underwent georadar measurement without assessable results because of its excessive contamination".

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