Since 1995 the Australian-based Paphos Theatre Archaeological Project has been conducting stratigraphic excavations and archaeological research at the site of the Hellenistic-Roman theatre of Nea Paphos in Cyprus. The work at the World Heritage listed site by the University of Sydney team is conducted under the auspices of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus, and is supported by the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens (AAIA) and the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney.
The excavations have revealed a theatre constructed at the time of the foundation of the town of Nea Paphos in the late fourth century BC and used as a venue for performance for six and a half centuries until its destruction in the late fourth century AD. We know much about the architectural development of the theatre over that time, and Ptolemaic and Roman influences. The urban layout of the theatrical precinct however is not so well known until more recent seasons of investigations. Excavations south of the theatre have now revealed a colonnaded Roman road and a nymphaeum which is allowing some insight into the urban structure of the city during the 2nd century AD.
This was an important time in the history of the city, and the theatre itself underwent a significant make-over during the Antonine era, with a grand renovation of marble facading of the stage building, beautiful painted frescoes added to the parodoi and a massive dedicatory inscription added to the stage in the middle of the century.
In our most recent work we have attempted for the first time to understand the relationship of this road to the theatre and begin to understand the layout of the city during this important century.
The paved road, approximately 8.4 metres wide acted as the main traffic thoroughfare to the theatre (which would have seated over 8500 spectators at the time) is now thought to have acted as the main internal east-west running road of the ancient city (ie the decumanus maximus), and the processional route to the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at nearby Palaepaphos from the city. The discovery of numerous fragments of granite columns on the site (over thirty at the theatre to date) suggest the road was colonnaded.
The granite columns have undergone previous study in Paphos and were proved over a decade ago by Olwen Williams-Thorpe to have been imported to Cyprus from granite quarries in Troad in Turkey – part of the massive Roman trade in architectural elements. Troad columns are known from sites as diverse as Jerusalem, Leptis Magna and Rome itself.
In our last season we conducted the first ever geo-mapping survey of all Troad granite column fragments visible on the surface in Nea Paphos – some 167 in total – all in secondary or subsequent usage (indeed those columns reused in the Crusader castle known as Saranda Kolones are ultimately responsible for its incorrect name which means ‘Forty columns’). Other columns were reused in the Early Christian basilica at Chrysopolitissa.
The precise position of all 167 column fragments were recorded using a Total Station and survey grade GPS and then plotted onto maps of Paphos (both modern and suspected street layouts of the ancient city). Even with the later reuse of much of the stone it is now possible to determine the majority of the column fragments come from two distinct axes through the ancient town – “our” road at the theatre, and a north-south running street linking the harbour to the theatre. These two roads we hypothesise, represent the cardo maximus and decumanus maximus of the Roman city: the two main roads colonnaded.
Analysis of the columns recorded is currently underway but there appear to be columns that were 12 Roman feet high, 14 Roman feet, 16 Roman feet (the predominant size it appears, 4.6 metres) and even 24 Roman feet (over seven metres) high. It is an important break-through in terms of understanding the urban makeup of the largest city on Cyprus during this era of wealth and power.
In addition to the colonnade survey, the team for the first time recorded the theatre site using pole photography and photogrammetric programs (Agisoft PhotoScan) to stitch together over two thousand individual images of the theatre and surrounding areas. The resulting 3D image will provide a valuable visual perspective on the ancient theatre’s landscape and will assist with the layout of future archaeological trenches and an understand of the urban layout of the town.
It is an exciting time to be thinking about Roman roads!