Theatre

 

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Theatre

  The Theatre of Bostra is the building above all others that has attracted the notice of travellers and of archaeologists. It is moreover the best preserved Roman theatre in existence, with the sole exception of that at Aspendos in Asia Minor; yet, owing to the fact that it was completely enclosed without in the mighty redouts of an Arabic fortress of the 13th century, and filled within with the vaults and chambers of that same castle, it is much less easy to see, or to study, than many theatres of its period that are far less well preserved. Every visitor to Bosra who has published any account of his travels has given some space to a description of this extraordinary building which is at once Classical and Mediaeval, and is today the post of a small Turkish garrison. Some of the earlier travellers failed to recognize the ancient purpose of the building, the descriptions of others are far from satisfactory. M. Rey published a cross section of it, 'M. de Vogue gives a perspective sketch; while many others present views of greater or less interest. It remained for Professor Brunnow 3 to make the first exhaustive study of the theatre, and to publish a full, accurate, and satisfactory account of the building, with ample plans and other measurements drawn to scale and with illuminating photographic illustrations. It would be impossible to make a more complete survey of the ruin without removing the walls and vaults of the Arabic castle from the interior, and even such a laborious undertaking would serve probably only to justify the conjectures presented in the plans of Professor Brunnow.

Confident that the possibilities of the Theatre had been. exhausted, I did not undertake a thorough examination of the building beyond verifying the accuracy of the details of a number of proofs of drawings which Professor Brunnow had sent me. I have been so fortunate as to secure permission to republish herewith some of the more general plans which appeared in Die Provincia Arabia, and these, with two photographs of my own, will serve to illustrate the brief account here given. For further details 1 may refer the reader to the excellent publication cited above.

It should be explained that my two photographs (Ills. 241-242) show only the uppermost parts of the Theatre, the highest ranges of seats, the colonnade above the top row, and the very summit of the walls which flank the stage building, i. e. the uppermost third of that wall which is ih reality somewhat over 20 metres high, the remaining two thirds being hidden by the constructions of the 13th century. The relation between the two ends of the stage building represented in the photographs is perfectly shown in Brunnow's Fig. 929. 111. 243, also reproduced from Die Provincia Arabia, shows a plan and the upper part of the elevation of the stage building.

The Theatre of Bostra was not excavated in the side of a hill in the manner of Greek theatres, or like the Roman theatre of Philadelphia ('Amman) which may have had a Greek predecessor; but was a massive structure of masonry entirely built up on comparatively level ground, like the Theatre of Marcellus in Rome.
It consisted of a high and heavy semicircular wall which bounded and supported the cavea, and a straight wall of lighter construction which terminated the ends of the seats and broke out to enclose the rectangular stage building (PI. XIV). The entire space between the upright curving wall of the cavea and the slanting tiers of seats was penetrated in all directions with vaulted passages and staircases which provided direct and easy access to all parts of the cavea, and incidentally lightened the structure. A very good idea of these vaulted passages may be had by reference to the transverse section of the building reprinted from Brunnow's publication (PI. XV).

In comparing this theatre with the one at Philadelphia one may say, aside from the consideration that the one is built up and the other excavated, that in extreme width they are of about equal dimensions, and that, on general lines, the ground plans are very similar. The semicircle of the orchestra has a greater diameter at Bostra, but the cavea here is lower and the number of tiers of seats is less by sixteen, and consequently affords a far smaller seating capacity. This is due in part to the fact that the cavea at Philadelphia is not only higher, but steeper, because the horizontal aisles {praecinctiones) are much narrower, though the seats have similar dimensions in both theatres. There is little ground for a comparison of ornamental details since the whole of the stage building and the upper colonnade are missing in Philadelphia; but one does not fail to observe that the mouldings which enrich the seats are more elaborate in the Theatre at Bostra. The arch mouldings and pilaster caps are similar.
We have really no criteria by which either of these theatres may be dated, but it is natural to assume that the Theatre at Bostra was built rather soon after the formation of the Province of Arabia, and perhaps in connexion with the increased importance of the Dushara-Dionysos cult under the early Antonine Emperors.
Dr. Littmann discovered in the Theatre a broken panel of a parapet with a Nabataean inscription upon it. Such a parapet might very well have belonged to the balcony, or private loge, which Brunnow has reconstructed at (f) in his plan. This, if assumed to be true, would give an early date to the building .

 

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