The cuirassed statue of Hadrian from Ancyra’s theatre (Ankara, Turkey)

Hadrian and his travels have often served as the guiding thread for my travels. However, my recent trip to Turkey had a different focus, the Hittite civilization, with one of the highlights being a visit to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. After dazzling at the magnificent artefacts on display on the museum’s main floor, I found out that there was also a section dedicated to the Roman period in Ancyra, which featured, to my big surprise, parts of a statue of Hadrian.

Ancyra was the capital of the Roman province of Galatia, located in the highlands of central Anatolia (modern central Turkey). A Hittite settlement in the Bronze Age, Ancyra was later populated by Phrygians, Lycians, Persians, Greeks, and even Gauls from the Tectosages tribe. The latter, who had come from what is now southern France, gave their name to the province. Ancyra became the capital of the Roman Province of Galatia in 25 BC. The Greek name for the city was Ankyra, which meant « anchor » and is still recognizable in its modern form, “Ankara”. The anchor became the symbol of the city, and most of the coins from Ancyra have an anchor on them. The city minted coins of Nero, Nerva, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, Lucius Verus, Commodus and Caracalla, while one of the city’s magistrates, a certain Julius Saturninus, minted coins to honour Antinous. Like many cities of the eastern Roman empire, Ancyra enjoyed a period of considerable prosperity under Hadrian and became a major military base.

Commemorative coin minted by Julius Saturninus at Ancyra
Obverse: Antinous, draped shoulder, with legend ΘEOC | ANTINOOC
Reverse: man standing in a sleeved tunic, eastern pants and a Phrygian cap, holding a scepter in one hand and an anchor in the other, crescent behind him, with legend IOVΛIOC | CATOPNINOC | ANKVPANOIC
© American Numismatic Society


The most important Roman monument of Ancyra is the Monumentum Ancyranum (the Temple of Augustus and Rome) which contains the official record of the Acts of Augustus, known as the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, an inscription cut in marble on the walls of the temple (see images here). This temple made Ancyra the neokoros (Temple Warden) of the Imperial Cult in Galatia.

Another monument of importance is the Roman theatre of Ancyra, located on the northwest cliff of the Ankara Castle, southeast of the Temple of Augustus and Rome and the Roman Baths. It was first discovered in 1982, and rescue excavations began in 1983 by the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museum. The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations continued the excavations until 1986.

Overview of the Roman Theatre of Ancyra.

The excavations uncovered a considerable portion of a typical Roman theatre dated back to the early 1st century AD and 2nd century AD by different scholars. The remains of the theatre consist of the foundations of the cavea, the orchestra and part of its floor pavement, the lower part of the scaenae frons, and two vaulted parados. Built on a natural slope of the hill, the theatre is approximately 50 x 43.5 metres across, while the orchestra is about 13 metres in diameter. During the Byzantine Era, the theatre was transformed into a pool used to stage water games. The theatre’s capacity was between 3,000 and 5,000, typical of the small theatre typology in Anatolia (i.e. the Asclepeion of Pergamon and the Rhodiapolis theatre).

View of the orchestra and the scaenae frons of the Roman Theatre of Ancyra.

The excavations also revealed a number of sculptural pieces that once adorned the stage building of the theatre. The finds include a high-quality female head in coloured marble, a large fragment of a nude statue carrying an armour, a colossal head of Silenus with wreath in high relief as well as fragments of a cuirassed statue of Hadrian.

Finds from the Roman theatre of Ancyra.
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara.

A total of 26 fragments were discovered, but only a few are exhibited in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.

Fragments of the cuirassed statue of Hadrian.

The fragment of the top part of the head helped to identify the statue on account of the hairstyle. Hadrian’s hair is styled in luxurious curls and waves running from the back of his head to his forehead.

Forehead and upper parts of hair of a cuirassed statue of Hadrian.

This portrait of Hadrian is likely to belong to the “Imperatori 32” type, one of the six sculptural types attributed to the extant corpus of Hadrian portraits by M. Wegner, a German specialist on Roman portraiture. Approximately 160 portraits of Hadrian have survived, and the “Imperatori 32” type was a type popular in Italy and the provinces. The restrained carving of the forehead endows Hadrian with a youthful and idealised appearance.

Based on the reconstruction drawing (M. Türkmen – C. Zoroğlu) photographed at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, the statue depicted Hadrian dressed in a cuirass and a short tunic under a military cloak (paludamentum) draped over his left shoulder and falling over his left arm. The cuirass was decorated with the gorgoneion and two griffins confronting each other and partly covered by a cingulum, a military belt wrapped around the waist and tied at the front in an elaborate knot. His left hand was probably holding a spear. Next to his left leg, a tree trunk acted as support.

The other fragments of the statue include; the lower front of the breastplate, part of the shoulder belt and rivet, of the head of the gorgoneion, decorative pieces of the pteruge (the bottom of the breastplate), part of the right and left leg, right arm, as well as parts of the paludamentum.

Fragments of the cuirassed statue of Hadrian found in the Roman theatre of Ancyra (Ankara).
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara.

The “Imperatori 32” type is connected with Hadrian’s becoming Pater Patriae (Father of the Fatherland) in 128 ADThe dating corresponds with the creation of a festival in Ancyra called the mystikos agon (mystic contest) for the worship of Dionysus. Hadrian, as “neos Dionysos” (new Dionysus), was included in the ceremonies jointly with the god. He may have appointed the first agonothete (superintendent) of this mystic festival, a prominent and wealthy Ancyran citizen called Ulpius Aelius Pompeianus. The erection of a statue of Hadrian in the theatre of Ancyra may be linked to the Dionysus festival.

Hadrian passed through the city of Ancyra with his army on his way back to Rome in October 117 AD, soon after he had been proclaimed emperor in Antioch. It may be on this occasion that Hadrian first allowed himself to be worshipped as the new Dionysus. One inscription from Ancyra testifies to Hadrian’s association with the mystic festival in the form of an honorific decree dated 128 – 129 AD (IGR 3.209). The decree, inscribed on the pedestal made for a statue of Ulpius Aelius Pompeianus, included Hadrian as neos Dionysus in the ceremonies in Ancyra jointly with the god. It is now displayed in the Open Air Museum of the Roman Baths (see images here).

Decree of of the Association of Performing Artists dating to the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-138) in honour of Ulpius Aelius Pompeianus
(public domain)

Besides, one other inscription records that one of the benefactors of the festival should be honoured with two gilded shield-mounted images. One such image was discovered in Ankara in 1947 during foundation excavations in the district of Ulus, west of the theatre. These portraits, mounted on a round bronze shield (imago clipeata), were usually erected in civic buildings or public areas. This rare find can be seen in the Roman gallery of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.

Round todo with bust of Ulpius Aelius Pompeianus, the Agonothetes of the sacred games of Ancyra, Hadrianic period (117-138 AD), discovered in 1950s during foundation excavations in Ankara.
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara.

The bust was previously identified as a portrayal of the emperor Trajan, but recent epigraphic research conducted by Prof. Dr Stephen Mitchell had made it possible to link one of the portraits mentioned in the second decree of the Artists’ association to one of the benefactors of the mystikos agon. Accordingly, Prof. Dr Stephen Mitchell identifies the round tondo bust as a portrait of either Ulpius Aelius Pompeianus or an anonymous benefactor of about the same period.

The statue of Hadrian from Ancyra is one of six cuirassed statues of the emperor found across Anatolia. Two come from Perge, one from Troy, another one comes from Tlos, and finally, one headless statue comes from Aphrodisias.

Statue of Hadrian found in the Odeon at Troy (Ilium).
Canakkale Museum Turkey

My Hadrian1900 project will bring me back to Ankara in October 2017. I will be following the Ancyra – Nicaea route that Hadrian took on his way back to Rome (the so-called Pilgrim’s Road connecting Byzantium to Antiochia). It will be the occasion to write more about Hadrian’s connections with Ancyra.

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