Matthew Schueller

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          College of William & Mary

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The Reuse of Serdica’s Amphitheater as a Venue for Late Antique Urbanism.

Despite the tale of decline that has long troubled study of the Balkans in Late Antiquity (late 3rd – 6th century AD), archaeology increasingly reveals that many of this region’s urban landscapes experienced socio-economic vitality at this time. For example, available finds sufficiently attest that Serdica was a dynamic hub for activity as the capital of the province of Dacia Mediterranea and diocese of Dacia. By exploring the reuse of the city’s amphitheater in the 5th and 6th centuries AD, this paper stresses that the adaptation of older institutions and monuments significantly promoted Late Antique Serdica’s dynamism.

From the late 3rd through 4th centuries, the amphitheater hosted multivalent interactions among crowds at public entertainments and perhaps civic meetings. After decades of disuse, the building and its blocks were reused and recycled for notably different new uses. As in the case of other public entertainment venues in Thrace and neighboring regions, the amphitheater’s seating was first quarried for new public building projects earlier in the 5th century and then was a framework for lower-class houses into the late 6th century.

Using archaeology and 4th – 5th century laws concerning old public buildings, I argue that the reuse of the amphitheater does not disregard its earlier importance but was guided by collective memory of how the structure had bolstered urban life. More specifically, memories of how the amphitheater had promoted euergetism and a cohesive civic identity would have lived on among 5th century Serdians. I contend, then, that this explains why seats from the amphitheater were recycled for building projects like new street pavement that sustained busy urban life in Serdica while beautifying the city in the process. Communal memory of the amphitheater’s past services to Serdica also explains why the city’s 5th century leaders, guided by Christian charity, allowed lower-class families to live in the amphitheater’s ruined seating, where common Serdians had frequently felt represented. Overall, then, this paper emphasizes the significant role that the reuse of Serdica’s past played in stimulating life at a leading city in the Late Antique Balkans.


This page is part of the project LABedia: Еncyclopedia of Late Antique Balkans, 4th-5th c.,
financed by the National Science Fund, contract КП-06-Н30/6, 13.12.2018