CLUNIA'S ROMAN THEATER

Over the past 10 years the study and excavation of the theater has not only shed light on how this ancient venue was built and functioned, but it has also provided us with clues on how the rest of the city developed. As a member of the research team you will learn about archaeology in the field at this exciting site.

Archaeologists estimate that the theater held around 9,000 people, making it the largest theater of its kind in Spain and Portugal. Since ArchaeoSpain began digging alongside the Spanish team in 2002, the Clunia crew has made some great discoveries:

•In 2003, we found the entrance to the theater's main drainage system, a vaulted tunnel that continues to drain soil water 2,000 years later.

•Excavations in 2004 uncovered evidence that the Romans converted the theater into a semi-amphitheater to accommodate gladiator fights and other spectacles. We also found a large, square stone in the center of the theater with an inscription that named the consuls when the renovation was finished. With this information, we were able to date the exact year that the stone was installed as 169.

•Moving to the backstage area of the theater in 2007, the team uncovered several subterranean rooms which were possibly used by actors and gladiators. We unearthed the theater's back wall, complete with skylights, and also stumbled upon a small necropolis of around 30 people. With no grave goods to accurately date the burials, we must analyze the remains for answers.

Since then we have fully excavated the mysterious necropolis (now awaiting lab results) and our current goal is to complete the excavation of the stage area and one ramp that leads backstage so that our architectural team can complete the restoration of that area. Another team may put the finishing touches on a Roman mansion that was originally excavated in the 1930s.

Our work has led archaeologists to throw out prior theories about the theater's architecture and usage. We never know what we are going to uncover. And to culminate the excavation campaigns, the local government sometimes organizes a series of plays and concerts to be performed in the theater.

THE CITY

After the Romans conquered northern Iberia in the early 1st century BC, they built Clunia on the enormous Alto de Castro plateau. The city dominates the countryside at a height of approximately 1,025 meters or 3,360 feet above sea level. Walking across the plateau, you can see the foundations and the well-preserved mosaics of two public baths, the nearby Basilica where city leaders gathered to discuss city matters, the lower level of the Forum – full of taverns and shops, and the base of the enormous Temple of Jupiter, which in ancient times towered over the city.

The Romans took the area from the Arevacos, a tribe of Celtiberians who called their settlement Clounioq, a name found on some Celtiberian coins. Ancient historians mention the city again during the Sertorian wars and during the Roman siege of Numantia. Lucius Afranius, one of Pompey's generals, finally took Clunia in 55 BC.

The Roman city's beginnings are clouded, but we know from coins that Clunia was a municipality during Tiberius's reign (14-37) and soon after was named a conventus capital, or one of the seven administrative centers in the Roman Hispania province of Tarraconensis. Clunia’s fame would grow following the civil war in Rome against Nero. Servius Sulpicius Galba, governor of the region, had formed a legion and took refuge in Clunia when he was named emperor in the year 68.

Realizing that such an important city needed to boast its grandeur, Rome’s architects created impressive monuments: the Forum, the theater, the baths. Nevertheless, the city's grandeur never stuck, and looting of stone from the monuments began in the 2nd century. By the end of the 3rd century the Forum's taverns were deserted.

Unlike other conventus capitals in Spain, Clunia did not survive as a city in the post-Roman world and, save for some small traces of activity during the Middle Ages, Clunia disappeared from the map until antiquarians and archaeologists began exploring the ruins in the 18th century.

One of Clunia's unique features is that the city is completely Roman. In most cases of Roman conquest, the victors built their cities over the existing towns (or what was left of them). The Celtiberian stronghold that defended Clunia, however, was located on a nearby hilltop. Thus archaeologists at Clunia know that whatever they uncover derives strictly from Roman sources.

The Romans most likely chose the plateau because it sits above a vast aquifer that could have supplied the city with drinking water. Now only scuba-diving archaeologists can reach it, but artifacts from the cave that leads to the subterranean reservoir imply that the spot could have been a small shrine for a sect. They left behind an interesting collection of phallic objects.

The group will work alongside university archaeologists and students from the Universities of Burgos, Valladolid and Barcelona, funded and overseen by the Diputación Provincial de Burgos and the Junta de Castilla y León.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

De Palol, P. Clunia: Historia de la ciudad y guía de las excavaciones. Burgos (1994).

De Palol, P., "El teatro romano de Clunia." El Teatro en la Hispania Romana (THR), Badajoz (1982), pp. 65-78.

De Palol, P. Clunia 0: Studia varia cluniense. Burgos (1991).

De Palol, P. and Guitart, J. Los grandes conjuntos públicos: El foro colonial de Clunia. Burgos (2000).

López Monteagu, G., Navarra Saéz, R. and De Palol, P. Mosaicos romanos de Burgos. Madrid (1998).

Pradales Ciprés, D. La romanización de la meseta norte: Burgos, Clunia. Burgos (2005).

Taracena, B. "El palacio romano de Clunia." Archivo Espanol de Arqueologia (AEA), 62:29-70. Madrid (1946).

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