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Theatre of Messene

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HISTORY

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.

WHY THIS PLACE

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.

CURIOSITIES

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.

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