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Roman Odeion of Dion

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Τhe Roman Odeion of Dion forms part of the building complex of the great Thermae (public baths), which were constructed at the end of the 2nd c. AD, at a time when such buildings, apart from their specific function, constituted a new centre of public life for the urban class of the Imperial era. In his publications, Professor D. Pandermalis dates the Thermae building, on the basis of the architectural members and sculptures, to the end of the 2nd c. AD, although the typology of the odeion argues in favour of a slightly earlier dating.

The odeion was a multipurpose roofed theatral area for approximately 400 spectators, with a rectangular exterior, semicircular seating layout inside and a rudimentary proscenium, which could host various events such as readings, music, dance, small theatrical performances, pantomime, teaching of dramatic parts, etc.

There were several points of access to the odeion. The most prominent was the agora entrance. Someone entering from the agora could climb up two external staircases directly to the perimetric passageway of the cavea, and thence via small radiating staircases to the seats. One could also pass through a portico to the entrance to the west parodos, via a spacious hall which also led to the atrium of the thermae. Another three entrances in the south wall, the central being the most prominent, led directly to the odeion from the atrium.

The structure of the odeion building and its method of support is, despite its apparent complexity at first glance, quite simple. A very solid outer wall, which gives the building its external appearance, supported the wooden roof while also functioning as a retaining wall, to which the lateral pressures of the semicircular cavea structure were transmitted. The pressures were transmitted via radiating buttresses whose thickness varies according to their length. The cavea is formed of two solid, concentric semicircles, connected by radiating walls supporting wedge-shaped vaults. These vaults formed an inclined plane on which the built steps for the seats were supported.

The steps of the cavea seating are built of bricks similar to those of the walls. They almost certainly had a wooden covering. Apart from the fact that we know from bibliographical sources that wood was considered indispensable to odeion acoustics, rectangular mortices containing charcoal and remains of burnt wood have been found set into the seating steps at regular intervals. Into these mortices were set the ends of wooden beams onto which the wooden covering was nailed. The steps of the four radiating staircases of the cavea, on the contrary, which are also brick-built, did not have a wooden covering, since their edges are worn with use.

In order to construct the odeion building and the whole thermae complex, the Romans demolished pre-existing Hellenistic buildings and part of the Hellenistic city walls, which had already fallen into disuse, and began to build the foundation walls, simultaneously filling in the area with earth. This created a level surface on which the superstructure was erected, in order to avoid steps, which were undesirable in the baths where people went barefoot.

The odeion of Dion has remained in a ruinous state since its excavation in 1977-78, with all its wall structures open to the elements and exposed to rainwater, accelerating its deterioration. Intervention to the monument is therefore considered necessary both to protect it and also for aesthetic and educational reasons.
Giorgos Karadedos
Associate Professor, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

Monument Name

Roman Odeion of Dion

Category

Odeion

Brief Description

Multipurpose roofed theatral area for approximately 400 spectators, with a rectangular exterior, a semicircular seating layout inside and a rudimentary proscenium (figs. 2, 6, 13), which could host various events such as readings, music, dance, small theatrical performances, pantomime, teaching of dramatic parts, etc.

Images - Plans

Photographic documentation is held in the archives of the Dion University Excavation, along with full drawings of the monument (ground plans, elevations, sections, details, reconstructions) prepared by the excavation collaborator G. Karadedos, architect-archaeologist and Associate Professor of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Documentation - Bibliography

• Γ. Καραδέδος, «Το ωδείο των Θερμών του Δίου», στο Οι αρχαιολόγοι μιλούν για την Πιερία 1986, ΝΕΛΕ Πιερίας, Θεσσαλονίκη 1990, pp. 30-48.
• Γ. Καραδέδος, «Μετρολογικές παρατηρήσεις και γεωμετρικές χαράξεις στο ωδείο των μεγάλων θερμών του Δίου», τιμητικός τόμος Δ. Παντερμαλή, Θεσσαλονίκη (in press).
• Γ. Καραδέδος, «Το ρωμαϊκό ωδείο του Δίου» στο Χώροι θέασης και ακρόασης στη Μακεδονία, Διάζωμα, Αθήνα (in press).
• Δ. Παντερμαλής, «Δίον», Αρχαιολογία 3, 1989, pp. 29-34.
• Δ. Παντερμαλής, Δίον. Αρχαιολογικός Χώρος και μουσείο, εκδόσεις ΑΔΑΜ, 1997, pp. 33-41

• Δ. Παντερμαλής, Δίον. Η ανακάλυψη, Αθήνα, 1999

Location

Archaeological site of Dion, Dion-Olympos Municipality, Pieria Prefecture.

The Roman Odeion of Dion forms part of the building complex of the great Thermae (public baths), which was constructed at the end of the 2nd c. AD (figs. 1-3), at a time when such buildings, apart from their specific function, constituted a new centre of public life for the urban class of the Imperial era.

Visitors entered the atrium of the thermae via a wide porticoed entrance from the direction of the agora. They could also access the odeion from the same entrance, via the doorway of the west parodos. The great thermae of Dion, next to the forum and close to the sanctuaries of the Macedonians (fig. 1), were one of the most complete complexes of this type, where the social elite of Dion could pass the time pleasantly in a comfortable, luxurious environment, in the way dictated by the social ideals of the Imperial era.

In such a building complex we can understand the character and function of the Roman odeion of Dion, a relatively small, multipurpose theatral area which, unlike the two large open-air theatres of the city, was roofed. It is clear, from its small audience and direct relationship to the thermae, that the odeion was used by the local and visiting elite rather than the thousands of faithful who flocked to the religious festivals of the sacred city of the Macedonians, and who watched the performances put on in the large open theatre of the Roman period.

Dating

The Roman odeion of Dion, as we have said, forms an integral part of the building programme of the thermae complex; this is clear from the common method of foundation of the two buildings, and the similarity of their architectural members, masonry and brickwork. In his publications, Professor D. Pandermalis dates the Thermae building, on the basis of the architectural members and sculptures, to the end of the 2nd c. AD, although the typology of the odeion argues in favour of a slightly earlier dating. The odeion of Dion belongs to transitional type B (fig. 4), the immediate forerunner of outwardly semicircular odeia, which are developed fully in the latter half of the 2nd c. AD. We might even say that the odeion of Dion, as a type, is more advanced than that of Argos (fig. 4), since the cavea, with its perimetric passageway, was completely liberated from the straight outer walls supporting the wooden roof, which was also supported by the perimetric colonnade.

General Description of Monument

The odeion of Dion is a roofed gathering hall with a rectangular exterior and a semicircular seating layout inside (figs. 2, 6, 13). There were several points of access to the odeion. The most prominent was the agora entrance. Someone entering from the agora could climb up two external staircases directly to the perimetric passageway of the cavea, and thence via small radiating staircases to the seats. One could also pass through a portico to the entrance to the west parodos, via a spacious hall which also led to the atrium of the thermae. Another three entrances in the south wall, the central being the most prominent, led directly to the odeion from the atrium.

The structure of the odeion building and its method of support is, despite its apparent complexity at first glance, quite simple (figs. 7, 8). A very solid outer wall, which gives the building its external appearance, supported the wooden roof while also functioning as a retaining wall, to which the lateral pressures of the semicircular cavea structure were transmitted. The pressures were transmitted via radiating buttresses whose thickness varies according to their length. The cavea is formed of two solid, concentric semicircles, connected by radiating walls supporting wedge-shaped vaults. These vaults formed an inclined plane on which the built steps for the seats were supported.

In order to construct the odeion building and the whole thermae complex, the Romans demolished pre-existing Hellenistic buildings and part of the Hellenistic city walls, which had already fallen into disuse, and began to build the foundation walls, simultaneously filling in the area with earth. This created a level surface on which the superstructure was erected, in order to avoid steps, which were undesirable in the baths where people went barefoot.

The straight outer walls, due to the lateral pressures they received from the roof-beams and the wall buttresses, are very thick, up to 1.55 m. They are built in opus mixtum, i.e. of rough stones cemented with lime mortar, with the corners and door surrounds reinforced with plain brickwork (opus testaceum). The stonework is joined to the brickwork with alternating indentations four courses of bricks high (figs. 9, 10). Bands of the same height also ran around the building, functioning as a sort of “chainage”.

The two semicircles of the cavea and the parodos walls are built of plain brickwork, due to the heavy loads they bear. The wedge-shaped vaults were also made of brick, using wooden formwork, as we can see from the plank marks preserved on their soffits.

The steps of the cavea seating are built of bricks similar to those of the walls. They almost certainly had a wooden covering. Apart from the fact that we know from bibliographical sources that wood was considered indispensable to odeion acoustics, rectangular mortices containing charcoal and remains of burnt wood have been found set into the seating steps at regular intervals (fig. 11Α). Into these mortices were set the ends of wooden beams onto which the wooden covering was nailed. The steps of the four radiating staircases of the cavea, on the contrary, which are also brick-built, did not have a wooden covering, since their edges are worn with use (fig. 11Β). The exterior staircases are L-shaped and made of brick. They are in a very poor state of preservation, but study of the surviving elements has allowed a graphic reconstruction of their original form (fig. 11Γ). A brick semi-arch supported the part of the staircase against the odeion wall, while the vertical section was set directly on the ground.

No floors have been preserved in the building, apart from those of the west parodos, which are made of bricks similar to those of the walls. In the orchestra there is only a layer of rough stones and lime plaster, imperfectly levelled, like that also found in the other parts of the odeion. But the actual floor of the orchestra must have been wooden, as indicated by a) the fact that charcoal and ashes from the fire that destroyed the building were found stuck to this layer, and b) literary references which mention that odeion floors had to be wooden to improve the acoustics.

Five Ionic column bases of white marble, three of which were found fallen on the outer side of the large semicircle of the cavea, leave no doubt that there was an inner colonnade running round the cavea (fig. 12). These bases, along with an intact column capital and two further fragments of capitals, perfectly match the bases and capitals of the thermae building, proving that odeion and thermae formed a single building programme. No intact columns from the cavea colonnade were found. However, column fragments of green marble have survived, perfectly matching the bases of the perimetric colonnade. Knowing the upper and lower diameter of these columns, and taking into account the proportions of four smaller intact columns found in the orchestra, we have been able to calculate their height relatively precisely. The four small, intact columns (fig. 12Γ) belong to the ornamentation of the stage wall. They were set on the low podium of the proscenium, which was the same height as the podium of the cavea. The columns must have supported pediments of which no trace remains, forming a permanent stage set along with the three doorways in the proscenium wall.

The study of the materials and structures has not revealed essential phases in the building of the odeion (fig.13D). Despite its ruinous state, systematic study of the surviving elements has allowed us to reconstruct its original form (fig. 13).

The quality of the structures in the odeion of the thermae, the standardisation of the bricks, the functional facade, its specialised use and its importance to the public life of the city of Dion, all led to the idea of investigating the use of certain metrological relations, a module (modulus) or specific geometric layouts in designing the building. Given the precise geometric pattern of the odeion, we attempted to identify the ancient unit of measurement used, and the possible use of geometric layouts. We began by studying the bricks used in the building (figs. 10, 14). The tradition of using fired bricks at Dion began long before the Roman conquest. Fired bricks measuring 49-51×49-52×6.5-7 cm (virtual standard 1.5×1.5 Doric foot) were used in the Hellenistic theatre for the seating steps in the cavea.

For the walls and the vaulted structures a type of brick was used measuring 48.5-51×33-34.4×4-4.5 cm (virtual standard 1.5×1 Doric foot). We see that the length of the Hellenistic bricks has been preserved. This brick corresponds to the type of the Roman sesquipedali (“foot-and-a-half”) measuring 44.4×29.6 cm (virtual standard 1.5×1 Roman foot), with the difference that at Dion the Doric rather than the Roman foot was used. Another element taken into account in this study was a measuring instrument (a canon, or rule) which is carved, together with his other tools, into the tomb stele of a carpenter in Dion, dated to the Roman period (fig. 14). This rule has proved to be not a mere drawing but a real Doric pechys (cubit), on a scale of 1:1, divided into palastes and dactyls (“palms” and “digits”). It has also been proved that the overall dimensions of the odeion are integral multiples of this pechys.

The dimensions of the bricks and the pechys depicted on the stele both demonstrate that, despite the preponderance of elements introduced from the capital of the Roman state, elements of Greek tradition also survived in Roman-era Dion.

The main walls of the odeion, as we have said, are built in opus mixtum. The stonework is joined to the brickwork with alternating indentations four courses of bricks high (figs. 9, 10). Horizontal bands of the same height also run around the building at regular horizontal intervals. The width of four courses of bricks and four layers of mortar corresponds to one Doric foot and constitutes the modulus for the superstructure of the building (fig. 10).

As the study continued, it became clear that the Roman odeion had been designed using geometrical layouts, specifically a combination of patterns of inscribed squares or inscribed equilateral triangles, mentioned by Vitruvius in connection with Greek and Roman theatres respectively (fig. 14). This combination is noted in other theatral buildings of the Roman period, such as the earlier theatre of neighbouring ancient Mieza. It also became clear that various elements, such as wall thickness and doorway position and width, were not multiples or submultiples of an ancient unit of measure but were determined by the geometric layouts.

Current Situation

The odeion of Dion has remained in a ruinous state since its excavation in 1977-78, with all its wall structures open to the elements and exposed to rainwater, accelerating its deterioration. The local climate, wet and warm in summer and cold in winter, has contributed to the deterioration of the monument and weed growth. The lime plaster, already damaged by the fire that destroyed the building, is the most fragile material, along with the corners of the walls, where the bricks were broken by the collapse of the roof. The open structures of the building lend themselves to study by researchers and can also be educational for visitors. However, its height, combined with the complex form it presents as a ruin, makes it doubtful that the form of the odeion can be understood.
Intervention to the monument is therefore considered necessary both to protect it and also for aesthetic and educational reasons.

Excavations - Interventions

The excavation of the Roman odeion of Dion began in September 1977 and continued over the next two years. It revealed a rectangular room with external dimensions of 28.46×19.46 m and a maximum preserved wall height of 2.10 m (figs. 5, 6).

The room had a wooden roof, as we see from both the size of the building, which was within the dimensions that could be roofed during that period, and the excavation data. During the excavation a thick layer of charcoal, remains of burnt beams and roof tiles was found, in which were many iron nails measuring from 8 to 50 cm long. Some of these, with bent points, provide indications as to how the roof beams were fixed.

The study of the excavation data has shown that the building was destroyed by a strong earthquake, as evidenced by large cracks in the walls and a crevice in the northwest corner, which caused subsidence to some walls and floors. The earthquake destruction was followed by a major fire. Most of the building was never used again, as the inclination of the cavea prevented flat floors from being laid. Only the parodoi were reused, together with small rooms created by roughly closing off the stoa running along the façade of the building towards the thermae atrium.

As soon as the building was excavated, consolidation work was carried out along with small-scale rebuilding of walls and seating steps, using fallen bricks and rough stones from the monument itself found during the excavation.

From 1979 onwards, architect-archaeologist G. Karadedos began drawing and studying the odeion. A restoration study was drawn up, proposing the conservation of the odeion materials and structures and the construction of a protective roof with a metal skeleton and polycarbon material, which would continue the form of the building over the surviving ruins as far as this was fully documented. This proposal is not only intended to protect the ruined structures but also stresses the educational character of the monument, opening it to visitors while simultaneously allowing it to host low-impact events such as school tours, performances for limited numbers of spectators, speeches, etc.

This proposal, supplemented and improved, particularly as regards the consolidation work and small-scale wall rebuilding, has been submitted to the Ministry of Culture for approval by the Central Archaeological Council.

Permitted Uses

The state of preservation of the monument does not currently permit any other use apart from that of a publically accessible monument, although visitors cannot actually enter it.
If the roofing proposal mentioned above in the Excavations-Interventions chapter is approved, the odeion will be able to host controlled small-scale events.

History of Modern Uses

The Roman Odeion of Dion has not hosted any modern use to date.

Further Information

Intellectual Rights

The intellectual rights for the study and publication of the monument are held by the University Excavation of Dion, through the professor in charge, Dimitrios Pandermalis.

Jurisdiction

Latitude

Longitude

Altitude