Inscription Granting Roman Man ‘Front Row Seat Right’, Main Façade of Antiquity Odeon Discovered in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv
A fragment from a statue of a prominent Ancient Roman citizen who had been granted “proedria”, i.e. the right of occupying the front row of seats next to the orchestra at the dramatic performances, has been discovered during the excavations of the Antiquity Odeon, a performance facility from ancient Philipopolis in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv.
What is more, the archaeological team has also discovered the debris of the Odeon’s main façade which featured a colonnade and its official entrances.
The inscription in Ancient Greek on the Ancient Roman statue fragment, which reveals the right of “proedria” granted to the Roman citizen, also contains a name which is seen by the archaeologists for the first time, “Sozipatros”. It remains unclear, however, if that was the Roman man’s name.
“The preserved part of the Ancient Greek inscription on the stone find makes it clear that he was granted the so called “proedria” – the right to take front row seats in the theater. These are the honorary seats for the most honored administrative and political figures in an Antiquity city,” lead archaeologist Maya Martinova from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology has told local news and culture site Plovdiv Time.
The partly preserved inscription on the Roman Era statue fragment has been read by Bulgaria’s best epigraphist, Assist. Prof. Nikolay Sharankov from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.
“A name which have never seen in other inscriptions so far has also been preserved [in the partly surviving inscription]: Sozipatros,” Martinova reveals.
“There are two possibilities. Sozipatros was either the man who was honored with the [partly preserved] statue, or Sozipatros was that man’s father, as in “Sozipatros, father of…” The fact remains, though, that we have a name that we see for the first time in ancient Philipopolis,” the archaeologist elaborates.
The present excavations at Plovdiv’s Antiquity Odeon have been going on for the past two months.
They are being carried out as part of the conservation and restoration of one of the main public buildings of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Philipopolis located in the downtown of today’s city.
All of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube was conquered by the Roman Empire by 46 AD, with the Thracians and their aristocracy becoming well integrated into the Roman society.
The rescue excavations at Plovdiv’s Antiquity Odeon carried out in 2017 and the spring of 2018 made headlines with the discovery of traces from the Invasion of the Roman Empire by the Goths in 250-251 AD, and the discovery of a medieval grave from the 11th-12th century with an arrow in the chest of the buried person.
The Roman Era statue fragment which mentions the name of Sozipatros and the front row seat right, “proedria”, has been found in a section of the Odeon which was left unexcited during previous digs back in 2012. The team of archaeologist Maya Martinova includes Dr. Bozhidar Draganov as well as archaeology and history students from Plovdiv University “St. Paisiy Hilendarski” (“Paisius of Hilendar”).
The section includes the cardo maximus street of Philipopolis which goes right to the east of the city’s Antiquity Forum.
Its exposure is going to connect the site of the Odeon and the Forum with the site of the 5th century AD Early Christian Great Basilica, another of Plovdiv’s great Antiquity monuments which is presently undergoing restoration.
“That is our goal – to connect the two sites. That was planned to be achieved last year but we didn’t manage it. We are now working with the remainder of the project funding that was slated for last year,” the lead archaeologist is quoted as saying.
In addition to the statue fragment with the inscription mentioning Sozipatros, the archaeological team has unearthed the pavement of the Roman street as well as large debris from building façades which came from Antiquity buildings surviving into the Middle Ages.
“We have found out that the[se buildings] towered at a considerable height above the street. These were brick buildings. There are also parts from arched structures. We think this was the east façade of the Odeon looking towards the cardo maximus street,” Martinova explains.
“This was a main façade. There was a portico because we’ve found elements from columns and capitals. That is, the Odeon’s façade had an order (colonnade) and multiple entrances, not just one. Those were the official entrances of the Odeon, from the east, from the street we are excavating,” the archaeologist elaborates.
In addition to the Antiquity structures, her team has also explored archaeological layers from the Middle Ages, i.e. the time of the Byzantine and Bulgarian Empires, and from the Ottoman Empire, a testimony to the fact that the same spot was inhabited for a really long time.
The conservation and restoration of the Antiquity Odeon in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv is progressing parallel to the excavations. Once fully restored, the Odeon will be equipped with modern technologies and able to host real live performances, not unlike Plovdiv’s most famous landmark, and the Antiquity Theater (also commonly known as Antiquity Amphitheater).
The Antiquity Odeon of ancient Philipopolis was discovered back in 1988 by archaeologists Maya Martinova and Zdravko Karov. It was partly conserved and restored in 2002 and 2016.
The Odeon in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv is located in the northeastern corner of the forum of Philipopolis, and is said to contain all elements of what was a roofed Antiquity building for theatrical performances.
It was built and remodeled in four construction phases between the 1st and the 4th century AD. The Odeon was originally constructed as a bouleterion, i.e. the seat of the city assembly, and was fit for drama and musical events only subsequently. Best preserved are the traces from the last reconstruction of the Plovdiv Odeon from the middle of the 3rd century AD, after the building was burned down during the Goths’ Invasion in the Roman Empire in 251 AD, who went as far south as Philipopolis.
As part of Plovdiv’s Antiquity Forum, the Odeon has been granted the highest monument of culture status by the Bulgarian authorities.
Other intriguing recent archaeological discoveries from Bulgaria’s Plovdiv include a huge triumphal arch built by the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD, tortoise shells placed inside an Ancient Roman tomb, and an ancient inscription glorifying Roman Emperor Diocletian.
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Odeon is the name for a public Ancient Greek or Roman building built for musical and poetry shows and competitions. The word comes from Ancient Greek, and means “singing place” or “building for musical competitions”. The first Odeon was built in Ancient Sparta around 600 BC. Three Ancient (Roman) Odeons have been discovered in Bulgaria so far – in Philipopolis (Plovdiv), Serdica (Sofia), and Nicopolis ad Istrum in Northern Bulgaria. It is believed that the Plovdiv Odeon was first used as a bouleuterion, a building for the council of citizens (boule) in ancient city-states (poleis) but was later used as a space for theatrical performances.
According to the pre-1980 excavations, the history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe” is the Turkishword for “hill”), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.
Thanks to the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).
The hills, or “tepeta”, are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.
During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills”) as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.
In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.
In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills”).
Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.
Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.
In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.
Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.
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