SIC TRANSIT GLORIA ANCYRAE:

 THE REMNANTS OF ROMAN ANCYRA

Sometime between 25-20 BC, the kingdom of Galatia was annexed to the Roman Empire to form the province of the same name, with Ancyra as its metropolis, or capital. For about 600 years thereafter, Ancyra was a thriving Classical city, although hardly anything survives to indicate its importance and prosperity in the Roman and Late Roman period. The few remains that are visible, however, are each in their own way important monuments, some of them even being of more than local significance, as this article will attempt to show.nbsp;

The best known of these remnants is without a doubt the so-called ‘Temple Augustus’, adjacent to the Haci Bayram Camii. It was built sometime before the death of Augustus in AD 14, and was probably originally dedicated to Roma and the Deified Julius Caesar. Despite limited excavation in 1926, at Atatürk’s personal initiative, there is still some controversy about its original form and appearance. The consensus is that it was originally constructed as a simple four-columned or tetrastyle temple, in the Ionic Order, and that at a later

‘Temple Augustus’

period, it was enclosed with a surrounding colonnade in the Corinthian Order, with eight columns at the front, thus becoming an octostyle pseudo-dipteral structure. At some unknown date, but after 395, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the temple was converted into a church, an apse and underground martyrium, for displaying relics, being added at the east end. It appears to have remained in use as a church until 806, when Ancyra fell to the Arabs, and its  bronze doors were removed for display in Baghdad. Then, in the late 14th or early 15th century, when the Haci Bayram Camii was constructed, it was converted into a medrese, and apparently continued to function in this way until the 1920’s.   

In about AD 19, it was decided to inscribe the full text of Augustus’ own record of his achievements on the walls of the cella, the central part of the temple, in both Latin and Greek. This document, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (‘The Deeds of the Divine Augustus’), is an unique source of information for the Augustan period, as was already recognized in the 17th century, for it gives a comprehensive description of Augustus’ domestic and foreign policies – in his own words. As such, while it compliments to some extent the record we have of Augustus’ reign provided by Suetonius in his The Twelve Caesars, it tells us so much more, and is indeed an inscription of world-wide significance. In addition, there is good reason to believe that the Res Gestae provided the model for Atatürk’s own Nutuk of 19**, making this a monument of unique national significance. Sad to report, therefore, that since 1937, when Atatürk ordered the inscription to be revealed for public display, it has suffered badly from pollution, large sections  of   it  having  eroded

‘Temple Augustus’ plan

away. Since the 1980’s, the Greek part of the Res Gestae has been permanently covered for its own protection, although the Latin text is still open to the elements. One can only hope that greater effort is devoted to finding a way of conserving both text and monument, and that these are once again reopened for the public to enjoy, as Atatürk himself wished.

Some 175 m. south-east of the temple, half-way up Hisarparkı Caddesi, is Roman Ancyra’s second oldest and certainly least well known monument. This is the theatre, discovered by chance and subsequently excavated in the 1980’s. From that time on, the ruins have been left open to the elements, and have deteriorated to a considerable extent, being used for a while as a rubbish dump, and often inhabited by a host of undesirable and dubious characters – who, it has to be said, viewed visiting scholars in exactly the same way! However, the Ankara municipal authorities have recently enclosed the site with an iron fence, and there are hopes that it will eventually be conserved and opened for visits.

The theatre itself has a cavea, or seating area, partly cut from the living rock of the lower slopes of the Kaledağı, with the upper levels built of the local andesite stone. There were at least 20 tiers of seats, suggesting a seating capacity of some 10-15,000, with four separate access stairways. The scaenae frons (stage building), with its usual three doorways, was also built of andesite, and elaborately decorated with statuary, although the stage itself in its original form was evidently of wood. Although the basic plan of the theatre is the usual ‘D’-shape typical of the Roman period, certain details of the entrance arrangements are without parallel in Anatolia, although they are similar to those found at the small south theatre of Jerash, a structure

The theater

(photo: B. Claasz Coockson 1995)

of Flavian date. That apart, inscriptions reveal that this became the location for the agones mystikoi, an artistic festival dedicated to Dionysus and Hadrian, and probably inaugurated in the emperor’s presence in 117. According to an inscription of 7 December 129, the agones included performances by singers accompanying themselves on the Kithara, or lyre.

Of probably the same general date as the theatre was Ancyra’s aqueduct, although all that can be seen of this are the numerous pierced blocks of stone now built into the early medieval defences on the Kaledağı. These blocks, with their female and male joints at opposite ends, indicate that Ancyra’s aqueduct belonged to the inverted siphon type, used for carrying water across a valley from one height to another. The course and precise date of the system are unknown, but as the majority of the blocks are re-used in the south-east sections of the Kaledağı defences,

 

Plan of theater

         (Drawing: B. Claasz Coockson)

it is assumed that the aqueduct passed nearby, suggesting its source was probably near the headwaters of the Ankara Çay on the slopes of Kure Dağı, some 30 km. distant. As for its date, all that can be said is that the earliest known inverted siphon system in Asia Minor is thought to be that at Patara, built in the Flavian period.

The next oldest of Ancyra’s visible Roman monuments is the so-called ‘Caracallan Baths’, a large bath-house probably built in the mid- or late-2nd century, and apparently largely destroyed during the Persian invasion of the early 7th century. Even so, substantial sections of this complex were still standing high above ground in the mid-19th century, when they were

The west end of the stage

(photo: B. Claasz Coockson 1995)

recorded by French antiquarians under the local name of ‘Timerlane Sarayı’, it being believed by Angora’s citizens that Timur-i Lang (Tamerlane) had stayed there in 1402, when he was attacking their city. By the early 20th century, these remains had entirely disappeared and what remained was re-discovered quite by chance in 1931, during the building of Çankırı Caddesi. After further excavations in 1938-44, the exposed ruins were taken into public ownership, and since the 1980’s, has served as an open-air museum, many of the hundreds of Ancyra’s classical inscriptions being displayed in its grounds.

The bath-house belongs to a group of Anatolian bath-houses known as the ‘Bath-gymnasium’ type, in which the baths proper were combined with a large palaestra, or exercise space. They perhaps covered an area of about 160 x 200 m, making them one of the largest bath-houses of their kind – if, that is, the building was ever completed. Excavation of the extreme south-east of the complex in 1944 uncovered walls and rooms of a quite dissimilar plan to those on the north-west. The published report gives no information of date or the physical relationship between these remains and the bath-house proper, but from their description, it seems they might belong to the very late Roman period. 

The bath-house walls were built of alternating courses of 4-rowed brick and stone, with local ‘marble’ used for decorative details.  

 

 

 

 

 

The palaestra had 32 columns on each side, each c. 6m  high with Corinthian capitals, supporting an inscribed architrave. The central room on the east side may have been where statues of the emperors were displayed, the rooms to the north presumably offices, and the paired rooms on the north and south sides of the palaestra perhaps libraries and/or lecture halls. The main bathing complex itself was fronted by a range of three rooms, the central one with a natatio, or swimming pool, the north and south rooms, with their hypocausts, presumably the apodyteria, the changing rooms. Behind this range was a centrally-located tepidarium, a room of medium heat, with a plunge-pool and flanking rooms, while the south-west part of the complex was taken up by the caldarium, the hottest room.

 

Plan of the bath-house

         (Drawing: B. Claasz Coockson)

Looking at what are essentially the foundations, it needs a great leap of the imagination to imagine the interior of the bath-house as it was, with vaulted rooms some 20 m. high, lavishly decorated with mosaics, walls covered with white and coloured marble veneer and sculptured friezes, and floors of paved marble as well as mosaic. It is even harder to imagine how it must have looked when – as Ancyra’s premier social meeting place – it was thronged with visitors. Fortunately, a letter written by the mid-1st century orator Seneca the Younger helps in this regard. Forced to overnight next to a municipal bath-house in Italy, he records how he was unable to sleep because there was:

‘(A)ll sorts of noise, enough to make you hate your ears! Body-builders exercise, throwing their hands about with weights, and I hear their grunts each time they expel treasured breath... (And there is) the noise of a grouchy fellow, or a thief caught in the act, or the man who loves the sound of his own voice in the bath - not to mention those who     belly-flop with    

General view of the bath-complex and Ulus in the background  

     (photo: B. Claasz Coockson 1993)

The remains of the hypocaust-system

     (photo: B. Claasz Coockson 1993)

a generally assumed to be the same structure. On the other hand, the architrave fragments are decorated in typical mid/late 2nd century style, and bear an inscription commemorating another Ancyran, Titus Cornelius, for his gift of an unknown building to the metropolis, perhaps this building. Only future excavation might solve this riddle – and also exactly how the south-east part of the bath-house relates to the main complex.

The underground service spaces (1993)

     (photo: B. Claasz Coockson 1993)

It is uncertain if Ancyra suffered directly from the Gothic attacks of the 250’s-260’s: the area surely did, and the Goths were not loath to raid the undefended cities of the region. Ancyra certainly fell to the army of Queen Zenobia of Palmyra in 271, however, to be recaptured by Aurelian later that same year. It is presumably in connection with one of these raids that we should associate two late Roman inscriptions from Ancyra which refer to the construction of civic defences, which may well be represented by a 12 m. high section of walling recently revealed immediately west of the ‘Temple of Augustus’. Built mainly of stone blocks, with alternating tile-courses in the towers, and including three projecting 4 m. wide square towers, the walling contains several reused column shafts, but no other architectural material. Although there is no evidence to indicate the precise course of the wall circuit, it evidently excluded the area of Ancyra to the west, including the ‘Caracallan Baths’. As such, in its limited perimeter as well as its construction method, it closely resembles the walls erected at several cities in Gaul in the mid-3rd century, as for example Amiens and Bavai.

The latest dated and visible monument of Ancyra is the reputed ‘Column of Julian’ in the Hükümet Meydanı, although this is not in its original position! It originally stood at the extreme south-west of the square, but was moved at Atatürk’s direction in the 1920’s, when work began on building the original Baş Bakanlık, now the Maliye Bakanlığı: as Hükümet Meydanı occupies what was always an open space in Ottoman Angora, the column’s location strongly suggests that this space originated as the Ancyra’s agora, or commercial centre. As for the column itself, it stands about 15 m. high, standing on a rectangular base with a horizontally grooved shaft. The capital – now crowned with a stork’s nest, but originally perhaps with a statue – has an acanthus leaf and blank medallion ornamentation of a type which can be dated to the 6th century.

‘Column of Julian’

     (photo: B. Claasz Coockson 1993)

What or who the column may have originally commemorated is unknown. Its modern name seems to date from the 1930’s. True, the emperor Julian stayed in Ankara - but that was in 362, some 300 years before the column was erected. On the other hand, antiquarian records indicate that already by the 16th century, the column was popularly known by the citizens of Angora as the Minaret of Belkis, the legendary Queen of Sheba, although again, what suggested this connection is obscure.

Siphon elements of the aqueduct reused in the defense walls of the Kale

     (photo: B. Claasz Coockson 2003)

Such, then, are the visible remains of Roman Ancyra. And it has to be said that almost nothing else is known of the many temples and public buildings which once existed, according to inscriptions, coins and literary sources, never mind the more than 1,000 houses for its population. Despite Atatürk’s own personal interest in Ancyra’s Roman past, once the place became the capital of the new Republic of Turkey in October 1923, the process of obliterating what survived of Ancyra began in earnest to make   Ankara     a     modern capital city worthy of the name. That process continues, and we can only hope that more enlightened attitudes will again soon prevail before what remains is finally lost without record.

 

FURTHER READING

Akok, M., 1968, ‘Ankara Şehrindeki Roma Hamamı’ Türk Arkeoloji Dergisi 17 (1968) 5-37.

Bayburtluoğlu, İ., 1987, ‘Ankara Antik Tiyatrosu’, Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi – 1986 Yıllığı (Ankara 1987), 39-43.

Bennett, J., 2003, ‘Ancyra, Metropolis Provinciae Galatiae’, in P.R.Wilson (ed), The Archaeology of Roman Towns (Oxford 2003), 1-15.

Cooke, S.D., 1998, The Monuments of Roman Ancyra Reviewed (unpublished MA Dissertation, Bilkent Üniversitesi, Ankara).

Erzen, A., 1946, İlkcağda Ankara (Ankara 1946).

Guterbock, H.G., 1989, ‘The Temple of Augustus in the 1930s’, in K.Emre, B.Hrouda, M.Mellink and N Özgüç (eds), Anatolia and the Near East Studies in Honor of Taşın Özgüç (Ankara 1989), 155-157.

Krencker, D., and Schede, M., 1936, Der Tempel in Ankara (Berlin 1936)                       

                          Julian Bennett

 

 

 

Newsletter No. 2 - 2003, Pg. 36

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