Figured Reliefs from the Theatres of Roman Asia Minor


This article offers a review of the figured friezes found in theatres of Asia Minor. It suggests both a reading of their development and possible interpretations for this category of evidence. The subjects of the figured reliefs are considered not only in the light of their potential meaning, but also within the context of each monument’s entire decorative program and are compared to both eastern and western examples. Friezes displayed on architraves, that continue a Hellenistic tradition, are distinguished from friezes placed on the columnar podia of the façade, which may attest to the very early reception of a trend that started in the western part of the Empire. Furthermore, friezes located on the entablature of the proskenion constitute a peculiar category that is found in Asia Minor and in regions where an Asian influence is attested. From a diachronic perspective, friezes on architraves appear in the late Hellenistic period and then gradually diminish in frequency, while friezes on the podia of façades first appear in the early 1st century CE and then find their widest distribution in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. It is at this point that the most significant depictions appear, with a concoction of mythological tales and allusions to real events. Interpretation of the subjects within the wider contexts of competition between cities of Asia Minor, of civic euergetism, and of the influential presence of exponents of the Second Sophistic indicates a desire to express the city’s identity through the use of myth and shared heritage.