- The AcropolisTheatre
at Pergamum, Turkey
- Amanda Heffernan
(student research assistant), Whitman College.
- The Hellenistic theatre
at Pergamum (Pergamon) is the centerpiece of the
acropolis of the ancient city, which is located just
north of the modern-day town of Bergama on Turkey's
northern Aegean coast. The first theatre on the site was
built in the earliest days of the Attalid Kingdom (late
3rd century BC). Fragments of polygonal masonry from the
retaining wall (analemmata) of the theatre remain, but
ruins such as the stone tower above and behind the
theatron are of Byzantine origin.
- The theatre whose ruins
we see today was built during the reign of Eumenes II
(197-159). Eumenes used the acropolis of Athens as
inspiration and expanded the city accordingly, building
such landmarks at the famous Pergamene Library and the
Altar of Zeus. The theatre was renovated and enlarged as
part of Eumenes' overall plan for the acropolis of his
city. The theatron is sited against the steep acropolis
incline preserving the building space at the top for the
municipal buildings of Pergamon.
- The theatre at Pergamum
has seventy-eight rows
of seats and is divided into three horizontal seating
sections. Two horizontal walkways (diazomata) separate
upper and lower sections of theatron seating. Radiating
stairways (klimakes) divide each of the three seating
sections into wedge-shaped seating sections
The seats are made from andesite and trachyte, except for
a marble seat of honor,
which was located above the center of the first diazoma.
Because of the physical limitations of the building site,
the theatron could not be larger than a semicircle, as
was standard for Hellenistic theatres. To make up for the
lack of width the theatre was extended vertically to 122
feet above the orchestra. It
is the steepest theatre of the ancient world. Despite the
Attalids' mastery of Hellenistic architecture, the
steepness of the acropolis imposed design restrictions on
the theatre. Consequently, the proskenion at Pergamon
overlaps Vitruvius' basic circle of the orchestra by
twenty-three and a half feet.
- Another unique feature
of the theatre is its lack of a permanent stage or stage
building. Post holes remain as evidence that plays were
performed on a portable wooden stage that was removed
between performances. Three rows of quadrangular holes
remain in the floor of the theatre terrace that once held
the wooden support beams for the temporary stage. The 64
holes were cut in groups that allowed for different
architectural arrangements of stage and scene building.
The holes are cut into slabs or light-colored, hard stone
that differs from the darker stone of the rest of the
terrace. Three openings were left between holes for doors
at the front of the stage,
and diagonally arranged holes at the side of the stage
indicate two side entrances (parodoi). When the stage was
stored away, the holes were covered by slabs of smooth
- Several reasons are
suggested for the lack of a permanent stage and skene at
Pergamum. First, the
theatre terrace overlooks the plain of the river Kaikos,
a beautiful vista that a permanent stone stage and skene
would have destroyed. A colonnade lined the road that
passes in front of the theatre leading to the temple of
Dionysus, thus creating a popular locale for meetings and
walks. It would be a reasonable assumption that strollers
would typically walk on the theatre terrace or sit in the
theatron when performances were not scheduled. It is
further assumed that city leaders would be inclined to
preserve the panorama that the city's residents enjoyed.
They also wanted to preserve the natural background for
Dionysian and other religious festivals that were held in
the theatre each year. But, aside from the aesthetics, a
very practical reason exists for "no permanent skene"
was insufficient space to construct a stone skene between
the orchestra and the road that led to the Dionysian
temple. Some scholars believe however, that eventually
under Roman rule, a small stone stage only 9'2" deep was
constructed. The Romans also demolished the first few
rows of seats to expand the orchestra from 50'6" to 76'6"
in order to accommodate gladiator and animal
- Three additional
theatres are associated with Pergamum. Visiters to the
site today can veiw the much-restored theatre (seating
capicity of 3,500) at the Asclepion (ancient medical
center) and the scant remains of a large Roman theatre
(seating capacity of 30,000). These are located below the
acropolis, on the eastern outskirts of modern Bergama. On
the acropolis and adjacent to the upper gymnasium a small
Roman odeum (seating capacity of 1000) can be
- Pergamum was first
excavated in 1878 by Germans Carl Humann, Alexander
Conze, and R. Bohn. In 1876 Humann was in charge of the
Istanbul-Izmir railroad when a worker brought him a
fragment of the frieze from the Pergamon site. Humann
took the artifact to Conze, a museum curator in Berlin,
who recognized its importance. The Ottomans granted
permission to excavate in 1877. The German Institute of
Archaeology took over the excavations in 1900. German
excavations have continued to the present, interrupted
only by the two World Wars. The Pergamon Museum in Berlin
houses archives and artifacts collected before 1936
including the alter of Zeus and Ahtena. In 1936 Ataturk
built the Bergama Museum, which holds all artifacts
- - Author: Amanda
Heffernan (student research assistant), Whitman College.
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- Bean, George. Aegean
Turkey: An Archaeological Guide. London: Earnest Benn
Ltd., 1966. DS156. I6B4
- Bieber, Margarete.
The History of the Greek and Roman Theater.
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- Cimok, Fatih.
Pergamum. Istanbul: A. Turizm Yayinlari,
- Dinsmoor, William Bell.
The Architecture of Ancient Greece: An Account of its
Historic Development. Reprint of 1950 rev. ed. New
York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1975.
- McDonagh, Bernard.
Blue Guide Turkey. London: A&C Black,
- Copyright © 2003
Thomas G. Hines, Department of Theatre, Whitman
Theatre Archive is a non-profit, educational project,
located at Whitman College, USA.
Research and Publication
Partially Funded Through Grants from Whitman College,
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