At the end of October AD 117, Hadrian arrived in Ancyra (modern Ankara, Turkey), the chief city of the province of Galatia. The Emperor was travelling back to Rome via the Danube regions and probably reached the Galatian capital by the end of October, as suggested by the itinerary inscription found in Rome (see previous posts here).
At Ancyra, the Emperor was received at the expense of Latinius Alexander, a leading citizen of Ancyra and a descendant of the Galatian kings. His generosity was recorded on the base of a statue set up in honour of his daughter Latinia Cleopatra (IGR 3.208). Alexander provided supplies to the citizens and donated to the city the funds needed for the accommodation of the “greatest emperor Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus on his visit, and of his sacred armies”.
Located in the highlands of central Anatolia, Ancyra has a long history dated back to the Bronze Age. The oldest settlements in the area of modern Ankara belong to the Hatti civilization which was succeeded by the Hittites in the 2nd millennium BC. Ancyra became a place of major importance during the Phrygian period in the 9th and 8th centuries BC and experienced a large expansion following the mass migration from Gordion (the capital of Phrygia). According to the Greek traveller and writer Pausanias, the mythical founder of Ancyra was King Midas. Midas found an anchor on the spot and subsequently gave the name to the town (the Greek name for the city was Ankyra which meant « anchor »).
Ancyra, a city of the Phrygians, was founded by Midas son of Gordius. And the anchor, which Midas found, was even as late as my time in the sanctuary of Zeus, as well as a spring called the Spring of Midas, water from which they say Midas mixed with wine to capture Silenus. Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.4.5, trans. W.H. S. Jones, Loeb Library
The Phrygians were later succeeded by the Lydians, Persians, Macedonians, and even Gauls from the Tectosages tribe. The latter, who had come all the way from what is now southern France, gave their name to the province. Ancyra was later incorporated to the Roman empire by Augustus in 25 BC when the Galatian king Amyntas died during a campaign against the Homanadenses. The new province of Galatia was created and Ancyra became its capital city.
The location of Ancyra made it a place of great trade for it stood on a major network centre; on the road from Byzantium to Tavium and Armenia going East, and on the road from Byzantium to Antioch in Syria going South. On the Tabula Peutingeriana (Peutinger Table), the importance of Ancyra (although its name is not written) is emphasized by its representation as a walled city with six large towers (like Aquileia, Ravenna, Thessalonica, Nicaea and Nicomedia). The road on which Hadrian marched with his armies from Tyana in Cappadocia to Ancyra is clearly marked on the Peutinger Table.
The anchor related to the legendary founding of Ancyra became the symbol of the city and most of its coins had an anchor depicted on the obverse. During the imperial period the city minted coins of Nero, Nerva, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, Lucius Verus, Commodus and Caracalla, while one of the magistrates of the city, 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. It also became a major military base for it lay on the route of emperors and their armies as they marched between the western provinces and Syria. The first ruling emperor known to have passed through Ancyra was Trajan, embarking on his Parthian campaign in AD 113. He was soon followed by Hadrian just after he became emperor.
At the time of Hadrian’s visit, the chief monument of Ancyra was the Temple of Augustus and Roma with its famous inscriptions, the Latin and Greek versions of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (The Works of the Divine Augustus) and two lists of priests with details of their benefactions. The Latin text of the Res Gestae was engraved on the inner walls of the pronaos and was translated into Greek on the exterior walls of the cella. The temple was originally surrounded by eight columns at the front and the back, and fifteen columns along the north and south sides. It was erected using the Corinthian order and was about 36 meters wide and almost 55 meters long. Today, only the core of the building still stands, preserved through its later use as a church when the opisthodomos was converted into an apse.
Another monument of importance at the time of Hadrian’s visit was the theatre located to the southeast of the Temple of Augustus and Roma. It was discovered by chance on the western slopes of the Ankara Castle and subsequently excavated in the 1980’s. According to Julian Bennett, the theatre is quite likely to have been among the buildings constructed in the initial stages of the Roman urbanisation of Ancyra in the 1st century AD (Flavian period). Its remains consist of the foundations of the cavea, the orchestra and part of its floor pavement, the lower part of the scaenae frons as well as two vaulted parados. There were at least 20 tiers of seats, suggesting a seating capacity of about 10,000, with four separate access stairways.
The theatre would later become the location for the agones mystikoi, an artistic festival dedicated to Dionysus and Hadrian, which was possibly established in the emperor’s presence in AD 117. As was later recorded in a decree of the association of artists who performed at the festival (IGR 3.209), Hadrian was included in the ceremonies as ‘neos Dionysos’ jointly with the god. This was probably the first time that Hadrian allowed himself to be called a god, but it certainly was not the last.
The recent excavations revealed a number of sculptural pieces that once adorned the stage building of the theatre, including fragments of a cuirassed statue of Hadrian. The erection of such a statue in the theatre of Ancyra may have had links to the Dionysus festival.
A total of 26 fragments were discovered including a fragment of the top part of the head that helped identify the statue on account of the hairstyle. The statue depicted Hadrian dressed in an elaborate cuirass or breastplate of a military general.
Hadrian would also appoint the first agonothetes (superintendent) of the mystic festival, Ulpius Aelius Pompeianus, a prominent and wealthy Ancyran citizen who would be honoured with a gilded shield-mounted portrait (imago clipeata) erected in a civic building in Ancyra. This rare bronze tondo was excavated in the Ulus area of Ankara in 1947 and has often been identified as a portrait of Trajan.
The study of the inscriptions from Ancyra attests to the existence of a gymnasion and a stadion in the city at the time of Hadrian’s visit. Some of the inscriptions in the ‘Priest List’, inscribed during the 1st century AD on the pronaos of the Temple of Augustus and Roma, refer to activities and contests organised for the imperial cult. These events included athletic games as well as gladiatorial and venationes spectacles. One such show was organised in AD 30/31 by Pylaemenes, son of king Amyntas, and included ‘gladiatorial spectacles … bull fighting; bull wrestling; 50 pairs of gladiators … (and a) wild-beast fight’.
The gladiatorial games appear to have continued to be popular at Ancyra during Hadrian’s time and until the early 3rd century AD. An epitaph found in Ankara of a summa rudis (senior referee) named Publius Aelius and dedicated by his wife Aelia can be dated to the middle or late 2nd century AD. Their names show that either Aelius or one of his forefathers received citizenship under Hadrian. Another epitaph for a murmillo called Chrisampelos, displayed in Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankaka, is dated to the 2nd century AD.
Some of the archaeological finds related to the stadion of ancient Ancyra, including a group of andesite seats, are today displayed in the Roman Baths Museum at Ankara. The open air museum also displays many other architectural elements of Roman Ancyra as well as numerous funerary inscriptions and milestones found along the ancient roads around the city.
The Çankırı Kapı large bath complex uncovered by excavations carried out in 1937-1944 and subsequently opened to the public as an open-air museum has generally been dated to the 3rd century AD. While these great baths were not yet built at the time of Hadrian’s visit, the remains of smaller baths located to the southwest of the Çankırı Kapı bath complex have been dated to the Hadrianic period based on tiles that were used in the building.
As suggested by Anthony R. Birley in his biography of Hadrian, the emperor probably stayed in Ancyra for some days to recuperate a little and to deal with incoming dispatches. Hadrian would then continue making his way westwards towards Nicaea and Byzantium and Dacia at a later date.
Epigraphic evidence has revealed that Hadrian would reach Juliopolis just inside Bithynia on 11th November. From there he would address a missive to Pergamon, a formal letter of thanks to an association of Pergamene young men (Synod of neoi) who had sent him a letter of congratulations on his accession to the throne and who preserved a letter of reply of white marble in their gymnasium.
Juliopolis was a journey about five day’s west of Ancyra, thus Hadrian probably left the Galatian metropolis around the 6th of November while missives were arriving from every part of the empire.
Sources & references:
- A. Birley, Hadrian, the Restless Emperor, Londres-New York 1997. p. 83-84.
- Coşkun, A., Romanisierung und keltisches Substrat im hadrianischen Ankyra im Spiegel der Gedenkinschrift für Lateinia Kleopatra (Bosch 117 = Mitchell/French, I.Ankara I 81).
- Mitchell, S., French, D, 2012, The Greek and Latin Inscriptions of Ankara (Ancyra) Vol. 1: From Augustus to the end of the third century AD. Munich.
- Kadıoğlu, M., Görkay, K., & Mitchell, S., 2011, Roman Ancyra. Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları.
- Bennet, J., 2006, The Political and Physical Topography of Early Imperial Graeco-Roman Ancyra. Anatolica 32, 189-227
- Stephen Mitchell. 2014, The Trajanic Tondo from Roman Ankara: In Search of the Identity of a Roman Masterpiece. Ankara Araştırmaları Dergisi – Journal of Ankara Studies. (read pdf here)
Bennet, J., 2009, Gladiators at Ancyra, Anatolica, 35, 1-13.