VIP seating, in the form of ornate stone seats with scrollwork and inscribed with the names of the rich and famous of the day were unearthed recently at the Roman arena at the site of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon in today’s region of Izmir (Smyrna).
The elite of the second century AD would watch gladiator and animal fights, public executions, and even naval reenactments at the ancient arena, which, like the Roman Colosseum, could be filled with water for the mock maritime battles.
The VIP seating is similar to our modern-day box seats in sports stadiums and entertainment venues, set apart from the common folk who inhabited the cheaper seats.
Archaeologists working in the monumental Pergamon complex, which once included a graceful aqueduct, public buildings and the enormous arena, which could host at least 25,000 spectators—and perhaps as many as 50,000—found the inscribed seats this week.
Pergamon arena made to rival Roman Colosseum
The names of the fortunate seat holders were inscribed with Greek letters although the names themselves were Latin. One still had the name “Lukios” on it after the “Lucius” who was fortunate enough to sit there.
About 1,800 years ago, when Lucius attended what was undoubtedly a bloody gladiatorial spectacle at the ancient venue, he knew he would have the distinction of sitting in his very own stone seat, decorated with graceful scrolls.
Archaeologists found not only his name but other names, as well, engraved on the seats of the arena which had been designed to resemble Rome’s Colosseum.
Pergamon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once the capital of the Attalid dynasty in the Hellenistic era.
“They wanted to build a replica of the Colosseum here”
“They wanted to build a replica of the Colosseum here, which was frequented by all segments of society,” Felix Pirson, director of the Istanbul branch of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), tells the Anadolu Agency (AA). “But people from the upper class or important families had private seats in special sections with their names engraved on them.”
Excavations at the arena have been ongoing since 2018.
Pirson recalls in an interview with the AA that the names on the backs of the stone chairs were Latin names but written in Greek letters. Of course, the history of the city is indeed a Greek one, and the Romans inculturated themselves into this Greek world after taking over its rule in the first century BC.
“We believe that some people from Italy had a special place in the Pergamon amphitheater,” he says.
Luxury boxes for the rich and famous—of Rome
There are five exclusive “luxury boxes,” or cavea for such prominent individuals, according to Hurriyet.
Archaeologists from the DAI and the Technical University of the Institute of Architecture in Berlin believe that the structure was designed to compete with amphitheaters in Ephesus and Smyrna, two other ancient Greek cities that are nearby.
“Since this building was built between two slopes, separated by a stream which is transmitted via a vaulted water channel, it can be assumed that in the arena Naumachia (naval combat) or water games could be performed,” notes the website TransPergMicro, which chronicles the restoration of the historic site.
Archaeologists are using 3-D imaging to analyze the seats in their quest to continue deciphering the inscriptions. Pirson tells Smithsonian Magazine “Our epigraphists are currently working on the names and we are still waiting for the results.”
The seats may now be viewed at the Red Basilica, the ruins of a temple in Pergamon (modern-day Bergama). Pirson and the other archaeologists say they hope to be able to display all their discoveries at the Pergamon Museum in Smyrna (İzmir) later this year.