Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Hellenistic Agora - Excavation and Identification

The Esplanade is the misnomer that has long been applied to the older of the two agoras in Oenoanda. The older, Hellenistic, agora lies more to the north than the smaller Roman agora. It also lies outside the so-called Great Wall. It is surmised by many that the stoa in which Diogenes set up his great inscription was located here.

Little work has been done on the older agora. Part of the problem is the various stones that have been put in the road of excavation work over the years by the Turkish authorities. Another problem is "where does one start" with such an extensive site and so limited opportunities. Most efforts in recent decades have been directed towards locating pieces of the inscription and recording and preserving them that the context of the city in which they were first displayed has had to take second place.

In 2007, the German Archaeological Institute team got approval to work on the area. They then returned in 2008 and the report of that year's efforts are hereThe main task was mapping and investigation of the site of the north stoa with a priority being the measurement and documentation of the four remaining entablature fragments.

The laserscan (covering around 25,000m2) of the zone is shown below:

As can be seen the open central area of the agora is trapezoidal with a north stoa, a south stoa and a wall running along the west side. The investigators also focussed on a Byzantine church some 200 metres southwest of the agora where it appeared many elements of the north stoa had been reused, in particular doric columns of which many pieces were to be found. 

The photo below shows a vista of the ruins of the north stoa:

As can be noted excavation has been minimal and the ongoing problem of the vegetation on the site obstructs progress. Its not that it is dense vegetation but rather than it is all over the site and in many cases damages what is left of the ruins and hinders getting a cogent view of how things were arranged in ancient days. 

In the 2009 season, the team returned and focused on identifying the form and function of the structures surrounding the space. The structural record comprises the Doric Pseudoperipteral building (MK2) in the north-west corner and, proceeding clockwise from it, the North Stoa, which was severely disturbed by later installations; the public building in the north-east corner corresponding to the Doric building; the smaller-roomed building at the eastern point of entry to the Esplanade; the late classical Portico with its architectural remains, extending across the entire southern flank of the central space; and finally the massive defensive wall blocking off the Esplanade from the southern part of the city. Also included in the structural record was the adjacent area beyond the barrier wall with large areas of collapse debris and with the east wall of the Antonine baths (which were documented originally by J. J. Coulton). His map of the Esplanade is shown below. The baths are marked MK1. This map was published in Oinoanda: The Doric Building (Mk 2) in Anatolian Studies, Vol. 32 (1982), pp. 45-59 and was prepared nearly thirty years earlier though. 

Coulton's take on the Esplanade is that: "A stadium here has been suggested, but there is no positive evidence to support such an identification. The length is indeed inadequate, for no running track is likely to have started further west than the sets of status bases at the west end of the Esplanade, and although the buildings blocking the east end after about 85 m. are in their present state late, the level terrace first narrows and then ends not far beyond them; the available space for a running track can not have been more than about 120 metres, as opposed to 177.6 metres for 600 Roman feet of 0.296 metres. If the agonistic inscriptions are to be taken as significant of the function of the Esplanade, it may rather be identified as a gymnasium. That would be a suitable location for the Epicurean inscription of Diogenes which was probably set up somewhere in the area, and would also account for the siting of the two bath buildings to the west and south-west".

Back to the Germans, who in the 2011 season, reported that an important contribution was made by numerous architectural members that were found in the debris of collapsed masonry on the south-east slope of the so-called Martin’s Hill. Specifically they were pieces of a Doric entablature which could possibly have originated in the upper storey of the North Stoa of the Esplanade, after which, having been reused in another structure, they ended up in the place where they were found. A number of architectural members from a diminutive but elaborate Ionic edifice – also of limestone and mixed up with the Doric members among the aforementioned debris – may for their part have belonged to a heroon that could have crowned the plateau-like rock outcrop on Martin’s Hill, forming a highly prominent feature in the urban landscape.

Clearly now the task required is some site clearance on a large scale. Technology alone will not suffice for the lack of earth-moving on the site.  

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