Progress of Works

Geophysical surveys
Excavations
Restoration Studies
Expropriations
Restoration Works
€22,490.80IN DONATIONS

Crhrysothemis Tsakona: €1,000.00 on 30/07/2018

Ioannis Chronopoulos: €20.00

Nikos Orfanos: €50.00

Primary School of Valira, Messenia: €50.00

Antonis Kalabakas: €50.00

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Ancient Theater of Messene

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The Theatre of ancient Messene also functioned as a site of mass political assemblies. According to Plutarch, the Theatre was the scene of the critical meeting between Philip V of Macedon and Aratus, General of the Achaean League, in 214 BC, one day after the popular revolt and massacre of the city officials and two hundred prosperous citizens. The inhabitants of the Messenian capital also gathered in the Theatre in 183 BC; there had been exposed to public view the famous General of the Achaean League, Philopoemen of Megalopolis, also known as the Last Greek, captured during a battle won by the Messenians. According to the above literary evidence, the first building phase of the Theatre of Messene dates to the early 3rd c. BC, a dating confirmed by the excavation data.

The cavea is set on artificial fill, supported by a strong retaining wall in an irregular horseshoe shape, whose circumference is interrupted approximately every twenty metres by small ogival gateways. The whole of the retaining wall of the cavea was visible and accessible from without rather than being incorporated into a hillside, a distinctive feature of theatres and amphitheatres of the Roman period. The descending staircases converged radially on the orchestra, delimiting eleven cunei. In the proscenium is preserved a row of Ionic columns and semi-columns of plastered psammite (a form of sandstone); these belong to the first Hellenistic phase but have been used as supports under the floor of the widened Roman proscenium.

Very few of the stone seats of the lower cavea survive in situ. A rainwater drainage channel runs around the orchestra, passes under the southeast end of the stage building and leads the rainwater into a large underground duct. Two stone thrones with lions’ feet and separately-worked footrests have come to light. One of them, placed at the apex of the orchestra, has a back rising to a goose’s head. It appears to have been intended for the priest of the god Dionysus or the agonothetes (president) of the Dionysia. The inscribed pedestal of a bronze statue, referring to an agonothete of the festival of the Dionysia, also survives to the right (west) of the throne.

A striking feature is the large staircase against the outer retaining wall of the cavea. This may have functioned as third “upper parodos” in exceptional circumstances, for the surprise descent of actors to the stage “from on high”. The outer faces of the stones in the retaining wall of the west parodos are carefully worked and bear mason’s marks. The retaining wall of the east parodos is constructed of rectangular, rough-worked and tightly-fitted ashlars.

The stage building and the proscenium were rebuilt during the reign of the Emperors Augustus and Tiberius on the ruins of the Hellenistic stage. The traces of this phase are hard to distinguish, as they were fully incorporated into the third phase of large-scale repairs and restructuring.

Large-scale repairs to the Theatre were carried out around the mid-2nd c. AD, at the expense of the benefactor of the city Tiberius Claudius Saithidas, Chief Priest of the Sebastoi and Helladarch, according to two lengthy decrees carved into the pedestals of honorary statues set in the niches of the stage.

The front of the stage (scenae frons), 33 m long and 4 m wide, was at least three storeys high. Each storey included columns, doorways, arches and niches adorned with statues. The columns of the lowest storey, of grey granite alternating with red-white marble, were larger than those above and crowned with elaborate Corinthian, Pergamene and Ionic capitals supporting an entablature (part of the structure above the columns, comprising the epistyle, frieze and cornice). The stage building was faced with marble slabs, some of them carved with decorations in relief.

It would appear from the surviving pedestals that statues, mainly in bronze, of notable Messenians and benefactors of the city were erected around the orchestra. One of the pedestals bore the statue of a Messenian Neoplatonist philosopher. The orchestra of the phase dating to the mid-2nd c. AD (phase of the Saithid repairs) was paved with multicoloured flagstones. A vaulted entrance led to the orchestra from the east, when the parodoi of the Hellenistic phase were abolished.

From the late 3rd to early 4th c. AD, the collapse and stone-robbing of the Theatre had begun. No longer serving any useful purpose, it was turned into a “quarry” by the inhabitants of Messene in Late Antiquity and, above all, in Christian times. The architectural remains of an Early Byzantine and Byzantine settlement are strewn across the whole upper level of the Theatre, extending north and east. The Theatre continued to be quarried without interruption from the 7th century to the Venetian period (1356-1553), in parallel with the use of the adjacent Basilica and the settlement, as we can see from the coins, pottery and architectural remains.

Petros Themelis
Archaeologist

Ancient Messene

Discover Ancient Messene through the video production of DIAZOMA and COSTA NAVARINO.

Director: Vangelis Efthymiou

Monument Name

Ancient Theatre of Messene

Category

Theatre

Brief Description

Large theatre with 11 cunei, partly constructed on artificial fill, supported by a surrounding retaining wall of fortress-like structure and reinforced internally by parallel built rings intersected by radial walls.

Images - Plans

There is full photographic documentation and drawings of the monument in whole and in part, held in the archive of the Society of Messenian Archaeological Studies (33 Psaromilingou St., Athens 105 53, tel. no. 210.3251481).

Documentation - Bibliography

1. Π. Θέμελης, Αρχαία Μεσσήνη, Ο Χώρος και τα Μνημεία, Αθήνα 1998.
2. Ντ. Καραλή, Μ. Τζωρτζάκη, Μελέτη πλαίσιο για το Θέατρο της αρχαίας Μεσσήνης, Αθήνα 2008.
3. Π. Θέμελης, Τα θέατρα της Μεσσήνης (Εκδόσεις Διάζωμα), Αθήνα 2010.

 

Location

The theatre is located on the NW side of the archaeological site of ancient Messene, within the limits of Mavromati Municipal Department (now Ancient Messene), Messene Municipality, Messenia Prefecture.

Dating

The first phase of the Theatre is dated to the 3rd c. BC, as evidenced by the preserved retaining walls of the parodoi and other elements. The repairs of the 1st and especially the 2nd c. AD are evident on the walls of the stage building, proscenium and orchestra. Inscribed pedestals and sculptures of all three phases survive, as well as thrones.

General Description of Monument

The Theatre of ancient Messene also functioned as a site of mass political assemblies. According to Plutarch, the philosopher of the 1st c. AD, the Theatre was the scene of the critical meeting between Philip V of Macedon and Aratus, General of the Achaean League, in 214 BC, one day after the popular revolt and massacre of the city officials and two hundred prosperous citizens. The inhabitants of the Messenian capital also gathered in the Theatre in 183 BC, to see the famous General of the Achaean League, Philopoemen of Megalopolis, also known as the “Last Greek”, captured during a battle won by the Messenians and exposed to public view. According to the above literary evidence, the first building phase of the Theatre of Messene dates to the early 3rd c. BC, a dating confirmed by the excavation data, pottery and coins.

The cavea is set on artificial fill, supported by a strong retaining wall in an irregular horseshoe shape, whose circumference is interrupted approximately every twenty metres by small ogival gateways. The whole of the retaining wall of the cavea was visible and accessible from without rather than being incorporated into a hillside, a distinctive feature of theatres and amphitheatres of the Roman period. The descending staircases converged radially on the orchestra, delimiting eleven cunei. In the proscenium is preserved a row of Ionic columns and semi-columns of plastered psammite (a form of sandstone); these belong to the first Hellenistic phase but have been used as supports under the floor of the widened Roman proscenium. Very few of the stone seats of the lower cavea survive in situ. A rainwater drainage channel runs around the orchestra, passes under the SE end of the stage building and leads the rainwater into a large underground duct. Two stone thrones with lions’ feet and separately-worked footrests have come to light. One of them, placed at the apex of the orchestra, has a back rising to a goose’s head. It appears to have been intended for the priest of the god Dionysus or the agonothetes (president) of the Dionysia. The inscribed pedestal of a bronze statue, referring to an agonothete of the festival of the Dionysia, also survives to the right (west) of the throne.

A striking feature is the large staircase against the outer retaining wall of the cavea in the northwest corner. The staircase may have functioned as third “upper parodos” in exceptional circumstances, for the surprise descent of actors to the stage “from on high”. The outer faces of the stones in the retaining wall of the west parodos are carefully worked and bear mason’s marks. The retaining wall of the east parodos is constructed of rectangular, rough-worked and tightly-fitted ashlars. The retaining wall of the east parodos is also the north wall of the skenotheke structure, which housed a huge movable stage, made of wood reinforced with metal elements. The existence of the movable stage (scena ducilis, or pegma) at the Theatre of Messene has been confirmed beyond doubt by the three parallel stone grooves discovered in front of the east parodos. Along them rolled the movable stage, also known in Ancient Greek as a pegma, a word which survives in the Modern Greek parapegma (a shack or shed). There were similar movable stages at both the Theatre of Sparta and that of Megalopolis. The movable stage has hitherto been considered a Roman invention, on the basis of the scena ducilis at the Theatre of Pompeii. The movable stage of Messene, however, is dated to the 3rd c. BC and therefore precedes the Roman stage at Pompeii, which is no earlier than the 1st c. BC.

In the Theatre of Messene, a Roman stage building with a low proscenium was first built during the reign of the Emperors Augustus and Tiberius, on the ruins of the Hellenistic phase of the movable stage. The traces of this phase are hard to distinguish, as they were fully incorporated into the third phase of large-scale repairs and restructuring in the 2nd c. AD. Large-scale repairs to the Theatre were carried out around the mid-2nd c. AD, at the expense of the benefactor of the city Tiberius Claudius Saithidas, Chief Priest of the Sebastoi and Helladarch, according to two lengthy decrees carved into the pedestals of honorary statues set in the niches of the stage. The front of the stage (scenae frons), 33 m long and 4 m wide, was at least three storeys high. Each storey included columns, doorways, arches and niches adorned with statues. From the lower niche come statues of the benefactor Saithidas, his mother Phronteine and the Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. From the second storey comes a statue of Isis Pelagia, and from the third two herms with portraits of the 2nd c. AD and a small statue of the god Hermes. The columns of the lowest storey, approximately 5 m high, are of grey granite alternating with red-white marble. These were naturally larger than those above and crowned with elaborate Corinthian, Pergamene and Ionic capitals supporting the massive marble Ionic entablature.

The stage building was faced with marble slabs, some of them carved with decorations in relief, such as masks, fish and other subjects, as well as inscriptions. It would appear from the surviving pedestals that statues, mainly in bronze, of notable Messenians and benefactors of the city were erected around the orchestra. One of the pedestals bore the statue of a Messenian Neoplatonist philosopher, named “New Plato” in the inscription on the pedestal; a second had the statue of the Emperor Hadrian, while the third was surmounted by a statue of the god Dionysus, a dedicatory offering by the agonothete of the Dionysia. On the fronts of some seats in the lower rows are preserved two inscriptions commemorating the emancipation of slaves.

The orchestra of the phase dating to the mid-2nd c. AD (phase of the Saithid repairs) was paved with multicoloured flagstones, which have been partially restored. A vaulted entrance led to the orchestra from the east, when the parodoi of the Hellenistic phase and the movable stage were abolished and the skenotheke was demolished. From the late 3rd to early 4th c. AD, the collapse and stone-robbing of the Theatre had begun. No longer used for performances, it was turned into a “quarry” by the inhabitants of Late Antiquity and, above all, the few citizens of Messene who had converted to Christianity. The architectural remains of an Early Byzantine and Byzantine settlement are strewn across the whole upper level of the Theatre, extending north and east. The Theatre continued to be quarried without interruption from the 7th century to the Venetian period (1356-1553), in parallel with the use of the adjacent Basilica and the settlement, as we can see from the coins, pottery and architectural remains.

Current Situation

The state of preservation of the Theatre is good, following the recent (2002-2008) consolidation, conservation, drainage and partial restoration of the stage, the floor of the orchestra and the 3-4 front rows of seats and staircases surviving in situ. The work was carried out in the framework of the 3rd Community Support Fund. From 2008 onwards, work has been in progress on the partial restoration and reconstruction of the lower cavea, the retaining walls of the cavea and parodoi, and the proscenium, with funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Excavations - Interventions

The monument came to light during the excavations of the Archaeological Society at Athens, undertaken from 1986 onwards under the direction of Professor Petros Themelis of the University of Crete, a life Fellow of the Archaeological Society and its representative at Ancient Messene. In 2007, in the framework of the 3rd Community Support Fund, the surfaces of the friable psammitic blocks of the stage and proscenium were conserved and cleaned with biocides, and the Roman-era paved floor of the orchestra was partially restored. Public information signs were placed and the outer area of the accesses was laid out.

Permitted Uses

The Theatre cannot be used for any type of event at the moment, due to the ongoing conservation, restoration and reconstruction work mentioned above. It is, however, open to the public, comprehensible and accessible to visitors who content themselves with observing the progress of the consolidation-reconstruction work.

History of Modern Uses

No use has been made of the monument.

Further Information

Intellectual Rights

The intellectual rights for the study and publication of the monument are held by the Archaeological Society at Athens and executed through its representative, the director of the excavation and the restoration programme Professor Petros Themelis.

Jurisdiction

Latitude

37.17792°

Longitude

21.918787°

NameDateAmount (€)
Crhrysothemis Tsakona30/07/20181.000.00
Ioannis Chronopoulos20.00
Nikos Orfanos50.00
Primary School of Valira, Messenia50.00
Antonis Kalabakas50.00
Stefanos Tsolakidis100.00
Teaching Personnel of 76th and 138th Athens Primary Schools110.00
Students and Teachers of the 3rd class of 4th Gymnasium of Keratsini320.00
International Association of Former Officials of the European Union950.00
Maria Roumana1.000.00
National Theatre of Greece (5% from the income by the play Stage 'Walkers') National Theatre of Greece (5% from the income by the play Stage 'Walkers')1.601.41
Diazoma Association17.239.39
Total
€22.490.80

Expenditures

ExpenditureDateAmount (€)
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE Επισκευή οχήματος (αρχαιολογικού χώρου) – 13/05/20131.611.57
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE ΧΩΜΑΤΟΥΡΓΙΚΕΣ ΕΡΓΑΣΙΕΣ1.785.60
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE Αμοιβή Πετροπούλου Γεωργία Α.Π.Υ. 272.460.00
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE ΑΝΑΣΚΑΦΙΚΕΣ ΕΡΓΑΣΙΕΣ1.498.00
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE Έξοδα εκδήλωσης Αρχαίο θέατρο Μεσσήνης 12/08/2011492.00
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE Έξοδα φύλαξης Αρχαίου θεάτρου Μεσσήνης499.00
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE ΕΠΙΣΚΕΥΗ ΟΧΗΜΑΤΟΣ516.67
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE ΕΠΙΣΤΡΟΦΗ ΣΤΟ ΔΙΑΖΩΜΑ – 31/05/2015700.00
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE ΗΛΕΚΤΡΟΜΗΧΑΝΟΛΟΓΙΚΗ ΜΕΛΕΤΗ Α΄ΔΟΣΗ – 11/05/20152.460.00
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE ΚΑΥΣΙΜΑ ΟΧΗΜΑΤΟΣ ΑΝΑΣΚΑΦΩΝ – 30/11/2014950.00
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE ΚΑΥΣΙΜΑ, ΛΙΠΑΝΤΙΚΑ ΧΩΜΑΤΟΥΡΓΙΚΩΝ ΜΗΧΑΝΗΜΑΤΩΝ2.059.72
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE ΠΕΤΡΕΛΑΙΟ ΚΙΝΗΣΗΣ1.230.00
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE ΠΡΟΜΗΘΕΙΑ ΚΑΥΣΙΜΩΝ ΜΗΧΑΝΗΜΑΤΟΣ2.000.00
ANCIENT THEATER OF MESSENE Τραπεζικά έξοδα124.74
ΑΡΧΑΙΟ ΘΕΑΤΡΟ ΜΕΣΣΗΝΗΣ Αμοιβή Δελλής Κωνσταντίνος (επισκευή σχάρας ομβρίων) –986.46
Total
€19.373.76
Balance
€3.117.04
DescriptionBudgetTargetRemarks
Operation for monument's promotion20.000.0020.000.00

The amount will be donated by professor Petros Themelis for all the necessary operations for monument’s promotion.

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