Sunday, March 22, 2020

More Recent Work on the Hippodrome

We have previously introduced the subject of the Hippodrome here.

The remains today consist of sixteen in situ pieces of opus caementicium cores/foundations (see below) of destroyed stairs on the eastern (long) side, and the northern side, which make up the semicircular sphendone. 

Excavations were carried out in the middle of this decade under the direction of Hatice Pamir and the results were published in ANADOLU AKDENİZİ - Arkeoloji Haberleri 2016-14: News of Archaeology from ANATOLIA’S MEDITERRANEAN AREAS in an article entitled "Antakya Hipodrom ve Çevresi Kazısı - Excavations at and around the Hippodrome of Antakya". 

The exploration was carried out in an area of 190 m2 in the north-western part of the hippodrome, from 85m to 82.34m elevation. Four settlement levels were identified, three levels were outside of the western side of the hippodrome, two levels were identified on the foundations. 

The first level contained poor quality foundations of dwelling spaces and terracotta water pipes crossing the trench from north to south. The structure has at least four parallel rooms, reminiscent of a house. Pottery finds belong to daily-use wares from Late Antiquity. The second level contains remains of a house with small rooms whose walls were built with rubble stones and mud. Under a deposit containing architectural brick fragments and architectural block fragments, here and there were stone blocks in situ. Pottery finds have a mixed character, but mainly reflect Late Roman A-C phases. The third level identified on an ash layer in the east but directly on the opus caementicium ground of the hippodrome foundations. In this level blocks were found belonging to the hippodrome either reused or incorporated in situ.

Furthermore, a layer 0.30m thick of ash indicated the remains of a fire. Thus, this layer was settled after the hippodrome fell out of use due to a fire. 

The earliest coin found belonged to the reign of Trajan and uncovered on the ground of the hippodrome’s foundation. We would note here that Trajan was in Antioch at the time of the earthquake in AD115 and escaped from the palace into the Hippodrome. The coin thus tallies with the versions that have Trajan as the driving force behind the (re-)building of the Hippodrome in its most splendid version.

Pottery finds of the third level were more homogeneous than the finds from the other two levels, and vessels of the 4th-6th centuries A.D. constitute the majority. The fourth level is defined as the foundations of the hippodrome. The level with thick ash layer and rubble brick fragments seats directly on this level. 

The hippodrome’s foundation, built in opus caementicium using pebble stones and cement mortar, was attested at the 83.1m elevation. To the west of the foundation a sondage measuring 1x2m was excavated to -1m, but the excavations had to be halted due to swampy ground although the foundations continued.

In the 2015 campaign, a filling layer of agricultural soil 1.40m thick was removed. Right under this filling was a layer of poor quality wall remains, and lime flooring beneath it was also uncovered. Under this layer there are no other traces of a settlement down to the hippodrome’s foundations. On the foundations in situ blocks possibly belonging to the arches that once supported the rows of seats were exposed. On the outer edge of the western side and parallel to them on the eastern side were the hippodrome’s foundation remains measuring 2.40m in width. The distance between these two foundation remains is 7.67m at the south and 7.88m at the north.

The foundations uncovered comprise a north-south wall for the outer side, and five walls extend perpendicular to that, forming four chambers (below). The parallel walls are 2.80 m. wide where they join the outer foundation wall, but 2.30 m. wide on the interior side of the monument. 

In the fourth layer a coin of Diocletian was found on the floor beneath the ash layer, and coins of Trajan and Maximian (A.D. 290-294) found at the 82.84m level indicate that the fire took place after Maximian’s reign. The earliest coin, from Trajan’s reign (A.D. 114-117), was found on the foundations.

As is evident, this was one of the largest hippodromes in the whole Roman empire and it was by all accounts a very substantial and solid structure. The mind somewhat boggles at how so much stone was eventually redeployed for so little effect in the rather mediocre city that Antioch became in the Christian era. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Plague at Antioch

Usually we are not partial to relating events in the Christian era of Antioch as the city was a mere shadow of its greatness and the sheer mediocrity of the regimes that ruled after the time of Julian do not give us much solace.However it seems somewhat pertinent in the current moment to circle back to the experience of Antioch in the plague of Justinian. At the time, an account of the travails visited upon the city was written by Evagrius Scholasticus in his Ecclesiastical History (AD 431-594), translated by E. Walford (1846).  Book 4

Here is his record of the events:



I WILL also describe the circumstances of the pestilence which commenced at that period, and has now prevailed and extended over the whole world for fifty-two years; a circumstance such as has never before been recorded. Two years after the capture of Antioch by the Persians, a pestilence broke out, in some respects similar to that described by Thucydides, in others widely different. It took its rise from Aethiopia, as is now reported, and made a circuit of the whole world in succession, leaving, as I suppose, no part of the human race unvisited by the disease. Some cities were so severely afflicted as to be altogether depopulated, though in other places the visitation was less violent. It neither commenced according to any fixed period, nor was the time of its cessation uniform; but it seized upon some places at the commencement of winter, others in the course of the spring, others during the summer, and in some cases, when the autumn was advanced. In some instances, having infected a part of a city, it left the remainder untouched; and frequently in an uninfected city one might remark a few households excessively wasted; and in several places, while one or two households utterly perished, the rest of the city remained unvisited: but, as we have learned from careful observation, the uninfected households alone suffered the succeeding year. But the most singular circumstance of all was this; that if it happened that any inhabitants of an infected city were living in a place which the calamity had not visited, these alone were seized with the disorder. This visitation also befell cities and other places in many instances according to the periods called Indictions; and the disease occurred, with the almost utter destruction of human beings, in the second year of each indiction. Thus it happened in my own case--for I deem it fitting, in due adaptation of circumstances, to insert also in this history matters relating to myself--that at the commencement of this calamity I was seized with what are termed buboes, while still a school-boy, and lost by its recurrence at different times several of my children, my wife, and many of my kin, as well as of my domestic and country servants; the several indictions making, as it were, a distribution of my misfortunes. Thus, not quite two years before my writing this, being now in the fifty-eighth year of my age, on its fourth visit to Antioch, at the expiration of the fourth indiction from its commencement, I lost a daughter and her son, besides those who had died previously. The plague was a complication of diseases: for, in some cases, commencing in the head, and rendering the eyes bloody and the face swollen, it descended into the throat, and then destroyed the patient. In others, there was a flux of the bowels: in others buboes were formed, followed by violent fever; and the sufferers died at the end of two or three days, equally in possession, with the healthy, of their mental and bodily powers. Others died in a state of delirium, and some by the breaking out of carbuncles. Cases occurred where persons, who had been attacked once and twice and had recovered, died by a subsequent seizure.

The ways in which the disease; was communicated, were various and unaccountable: for some perished by merely living with the infected, others by only touching them, others by having entered their chamber, others by frequenting public places. Some, having fled from the infected cities, escaped themselves, but imparted the disease to the healthy. Some were altogether free from contagion, though they had associated with many who were afflicted, and had touched many not only in their sickness but also when dead. Some, too, who were desirous of death, on account of the utter loss of their children and friends, and with this view placed themselves as much as possible in contact with the diseased, were nevertheless not infected; as if the pestilence struggled against their purpose. This calamity has prevailed, as I have already said, to the present time, for two and fifty years, exceeding all that have preceded it. For Philostratus expresses wonder that the pestilence which happened in his time, lasted for fifteen years. The sequel is uncertain, since its course will be guided by the good pleasure of God, who knows both the causes of things, and their tendencies.