Thursday, May 22, 2008

Malalas on the Forum of "Valens"

Ioannis Malalae Chronographia translated by Ludwig August Dindorf, Edmund Chilmead, Ludwig Dindorf, Richard Bentley, Humphrey Hody:

"Valens autem cum exercitu suo Novembris x Indictione xiv chiam Syrian veniens ibi de pace cum Persis agendi causa commoratus est. Foedera autem firmavit in Septennium, Persis ei dimidiam Nisibis partem reddentibus. Valens autem situ urbis Antiochenae tum ob aërem tum ob aquas amoenissimo delectatus, Forum ibi, opus magnificum extruxit dissoluta usque ad Plethrium, Basilica, quae Caesarium olim tocata, juxta Horologium sita erat et Commodi Balneum, quod nunc Syriae Comitis Praetoriom conversum est. Concham quoque ejos înstauravit. Fornicatum item opus Parmenio torrent qui ex monte hiberno tempere scaturiens urbem percurrit médius superinduxit. Aliam quoque Basilicam extruxit e regione Balnei Commodiani. Insuper etiam Basilicas quatuor columnis ingentibus ïtaloniticis exornavit quarum tecta laquéala caelaturis, marmore vario, et musivo opère décorant Mesaulum quoque Parmenii fornicibus superitopositum marmore totum adornans Forum suum absolvit Quatuor etiam Basilicas ornamentis varus statuisque positis însignivit quarum in medio ingénu Columnae imposi tam fratris sui Valentiniani Imperatoris statuam collocavit. Statuam quoque aliam in Conchae Senaculo marmoream; tertiam insuper ex lapillis pretiosis, ad sedentis formam factam, in medio Basilicae in Concha positae eidem Imperatori Valentiniano dicavit. Duas etiam Çynegii Fundas extruxit quas etiam tecto superinductas sedibus complevit cum príus Monomachium fuisset. Balneum quoque Publicum, prope Circum extruxit; praeter alia etiam in eadem orbe admiranda plurima."

NB: Is the horologium mentioned in this excerpt the clepsydra at the law courts that we discussed earlier? Would seem to make sense in light of the number of basilica in the vicinity. Downey refers in his History of Antioch (pg 632-640), I believe rather erroneously, to the Horologion as a Temple of the Winds. I suspect that Downey is going rather circular here for he is looking at the Tower of the Winds in Athens (which was really a big astronomical clock) and using its misnomer as a rationale for a similar purpose edifice in Antioch being a "Temple of the Winds".

One can also note the mention of the conversion of the Commodion into the residence of the Count of the East. This clashes with the reports that it was the Museion that became his residence. It also seems strange to convert a baths (if that was what the Commodion was, though Malalas uses the word balneum) into a governor's palace.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Aqueducts & water supply

Roman cities were long regarded as a paragon of sanitation due to their baths and aqueducts. However, the daily grind of the inhabitants in most metropolitan centres was not always a bed of roses as the running water generally only reached the fountains and the baths. Antioch on the other hand does truly seem to have been a salubrious locale and much of this was due to its copious water supply and the ingenious way in which it was managed.

Daphne provided abundant springs in close proximity and the layout of the city allowed that the main aqueduct could be built along the slopes of Mount Silpius meaning that all the city was downhill from the water supply and thus everywhere could be provided with running water, including individual residences (at least of the better off) if Libanius' hyperbole can be believed. This post deals with the supply and distribution while a separate post deals with the numerous baths of the city.

Libanius in his Oration XI rhapsodizes over the liquid assets of the city: "Indeed the thing by which especially we are supreme is the fact that our city has water flowing all through it, for even though one were to behave insolently toward us in respect to other things, nevertheless all must yield when the waters are mentioned. We surpass the beautiful waters of other cities by the abundance of ours, and the abundant waters of other cities by the beauty of ours, or rather we surpass the inexhaustible waters of other cities by the abundance of ours, and the pleasing waters of other cities by the beauty of ours. Each of the public baths pours forth a stream as large as a river; some of the private baths have as great a stream as these, and the others are not far behind them.

Whoever has the means to erect a bath on the site of earlier ones does so the more confidently because of these streams, and he does not fear that it may be brought to the point of perfection and then called thirsty because of deficiency of water; but it is so far from being the case that one is deterred from the undertaking by lack of water, that a person who has not a great impulse will be incited by the waters themselves. Wherefore all the tribes (the phylae, see the post on this subject) of the city pride themselves on the particular adornments of their baths more than on their very names. These baths are finer than the public baths just in proportion as they are smaller, and there is much contention among the members of the various tribes that each of their tribes possesses the finest bath. One can judge the wealth of our waters by the number of the houses, since there are as many fountains as there are houses, or rather there are many fountains in each house, and indeed the majority of the shops are also adorned in this way. Wherefore we do not wrestle and box about the public fountains to see who shall draw water before the next person, although this troubles many of the wealthy cities, whose citizens have much pushing about the fountains and complaints about broken jars, and blows in addition to torrents of words. But with us, since everyone has water flowing within his house, the public fountains flow merely for display. The clearness of our water you can test easily if you will fill a pool and then stop the water from running into it. The bottom will be covered by the water so transparently that you will think that the pool is empty. Thus I know not whether the sight is more able to set fire to thirst or to put an end to it, for it both invites one to drink and cheers one before he drinks."

Not exactly faint praise!

In the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1902 the article on aqueducts shows the above image of an aqueduct at Antioch and states "one of the principal bridges of the aqueduct of Antioch, 700 feet long, and at the deepest point 200 feet high. The lower part consists almost entirely of solid wall, and the upper part of a series of arches with very massive pillars. The masonry and design are rude. The water supply was drawn from several springs at a place called Battelma (sic.. Beit el-Ma = Daphne), about 4 or 5 miles from Antioch. From these separate springs the water was conducted by channels of hewn stone into a main channel, similarly constructed, which traversed the rest of the distance, being carried across streams and valleys by means of arches or bridges".

That at least was outside the city, for within the city the water flow in the main channel also went through some extensive tunnels before reappearing in other elevated sections.

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".

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sources: Product of a Golden Age or mere Surviving Shreds

When it boils down to it, the sources on one of the great metropoli of the Classical Age are extraordinarily thin. We see frequent references to the Fourth Centry being the "Golden Age" of the the city but we will persist in putting the term in inverted commas as we are not persauded that this is so. Certainly that age is where the best sources are, but does that mean that the 600 years of the city's existence before that time were lesser in their prosperity, creativeness or sheen?

Let us briefly look at the reasons the 4th century gets this title. We have the commentaries of Libanius, Chrysostom, Malalas, Ammianus Marcellinus and Procopius either from this period or commenting backwards upon it. Earlier centuries scarcely have one committed commentator let alone five of them. Works of earlier authors, such as Posidonius have been lost and others such as Strabo dealt with Antioch as part of far larger works, so by necessity Antioch was limited in its coverage. Most of the rest of the sources are scrappy with commentary on the city only as much as it was relevant to larger events (such as Dio Cassius commenting of Trajan's escape from the earthquake of 115 AD or reports of the poisoning of Germanicus).

Tis true that Antioch was well recounted in the 4th century but is this just a case that Christian authors (excepting Libanius) better withstood the "bonfires of the vanities" of later interlopers like Jovian? How many histories of previous centuries' events went up in flames when Jovian looted the Traianeum? History is written by the winners, and as long as Jovian could hold a torch to the scrolls, he was a winner. All of us, since, have been the losers.

How "Golden" was the "Golden Age"? The constructions of this period were chiefly ecclesiastical. The myriad temples of previous eras were in abandon or hastened on the process by zealots. The Museum was converted to a Praetorium. The circus and theatre were looked at askance and the Olympic Games were leading a tenuous existence being seen in some quarters as a pagan decadence. The military and social aspects of the gymnasium culture were already out of favour and their days were numbered.

The population had surged to its peak and the borders to the East were not as secure as they had been leaving the city as an "edgy" place. Famines also occurred regularly and riots were a common phenomenon linked to hunger, prices and other grievances.

If the age was not "golden" then it was certainly "purple". The emperors of this age had a great soft spot for Antioch and some appear to have spent more time in Antioch than in Constantinople and definitely the city was more favored than Alexandria (or Rome). It is no wonder that so many tales exist of the deeds (and constructions) of the emperors from this time. This also helps to achieve more print lineage for the 4th century over those that preceded it. However, we would note that the most serious chance that Antioch would become the capital of the empire was in the days of Geta (the son of Septimius Severus) who ruled from 209-211 AD when it is said he was planning to move the imperial seat from Rome.

Clearly Antioch's weather, position and lifestyle appealed mightily to the "powers that be" or rather "powers that were". But culturally we are left with little from the earlier centuries. Antioch has no great playwrights, poets, sculptors or other plastic artists in the annals of great literature and art. A surfeit of mimes scarcely count as a lasting legacy, and this author is one of the many who can't stand 'em!

Downey has been critical of the Antiochene intellectual output of the 4th century referring to it as a sterile debate. Of the five names we mentioned before we have the accomplished rhetorician, Libanius, but that role is scarcely a great contribution to thought or philosophy. It should be recalled that rhetorical schools were mainly breeding grounds for lawyers in those days. Libanius also had an aggrieved grumpy aspect to him that detracts from potential greatness. Chrysostom was beyond the pale as far as we are concerned and generally a sourpuss and a barely disguised harbinger for the "Dark Ages" of unilateral thinking to come for the next 1,000 years. The historians, Malalas, Procopius and Ammianus, are very useful in putting together some physical details of the topograhy and urban fabric and its history. The first two though were not especially renowned for their accuracy.

Thus we feel that the 4th century was definitely not a glittering age, it was just a well-documented period. Maybe lurking in some dusty repository (most probably in the Arabic or Turkic world) lies some record of the earlier centuries, though alas, most probably not. Until such time that more is known, we shall probably have to keep alive our skepticism that the period just before the city went into its steep decline was some sort of "Golden Age" and not just an Indian summer.