Private seat blocks found in Pergamon amphitheater

Excavations at the Roman-era amphitheater of Pergamon in on the western coast of Turkey have unearthed two benches of private seating inscribed with the names of the season tickets holders. The seat blocks were found in the cavea, the seating section, but one that was constructed later with cheaper materials. This means the expensive private seats were not only in the front rows closest the arena (the ima cavea), but also on the upper levels of the amphitheater.

The German Archaeological Institute has been studying the site in a multidisciplinary program of excavation, architectural research and documentation that has been ongoing since 2018 (minus 2020). Documenting and analyzing the construction of the amphitheater is one of its subprojects, and so far they have identified six distinct construction stages.

The ancient Greek city of Pergamon had become Roman territory when its king  Attalus III bequeathed his kingdom to Rome in the 2st century B.C. It was the Roman province of Asia’s first capital and even after that title was shifted to Ephesus, Pergamon was one of the largest and most important cities in the region. In the early second century, Emperor Trajan embarked on a comprehensive redesign of the city and in the 120s Hadrian followed suit, giving the city metropolis status and constructing numerous public buildings. The amphitheater was one of them.

Built on a slope beneath the city’s ancient acropolis, the Roman amphitheater hosted munera (gladiatorial fights) and venationes (animal hunts). Its location between two hills divided by a stream would have given it access to the necessary water supply for naumachiae, naval battles staged in tank, and a vaulted water channel has been found may have been used for naumachiae, although there is no direct evidence for it.

Speaking to the state-run Anadolu Agency, Professor Felix Pirson, the director of the German Archaeological Institute, said that the amphitheater, built during the Roman period, had a very large arena.

Stating that the amphitheater in Bergama was built to be one step ahead of the cities of Ephesus and Smyrna, which they competed against each other, Pirson said: “They wanted to build a replica of the Colosseum here, and the people of classes came here. There were also differences within the society. Very rich, very important families had special sections. They found these sections, the seats, by their names engraved on them. Another issue that caught our attention was the writing of Latin names with Greek letters. We think that some people from Italy had a special place in the Bergama Amphitheater.”

The seat blocks were thoroughly recorded and photographed to make a 3D photogrammetry model. They were then moved to the exhibition courtyard of the Red Basilica in Bergama.

Here is some cool drone footage of the excavation of the cavea with soaring views of the entire amphitheater site: