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. 

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