Overview looking NE at earlier Ekklesiasterion, Metapontum, Theater

Overview, looking E at orchestra, Metapontum,Ekklesiasterion/Theater

View looking N at remains outside theater, Metapontum, Ekklesiasterion

Remains of Ekklesiasterion, looking N at interior, Metapontum, Theater

Reconstructed wall of theater, looking NW, Metapontum, Ekklesiasterion

Stage building of theater, looking SE, Metapontum, Ekklesiasterion

Context: Metapontum
Type: Ekklesiasterion and theater
Summary: A monumental building complex located in the north-east of the agora, originally circular in groundplan and probably an important public meeting place; later, the plan was transformed into a theater.
Date: ca. 625 BC - ca. 300 BC

The earliest phase of the structure, the stone "ikria" or tribunal, is estimated to have measured ca. 20 m. wide by ca. 30 m. long. The ekklesiasterion proper had an overall plan of ca. 62 m. in diameter. The central rectangular area measured ca. 12.80 m. x ca. 19.05 m., and the entrances were ca. 7.50 m. wide. In Phase III, the same dimensions in plan appear to have been maintained. The theater was extremely destroyed, and its overall dimensions are not available.

Region: Lucania
Period: Archaic - Hellenistic


Before the construction of the ekklesiasterion, a wooden tribunal, oriented to the west and of uncertain plan, existed on the site. In the first phase of the ekklesiasterion (termed "Phase Ia by the excavators), the ground was banked up to create sloping seats, although the overall groundplan remains unclear. In its second phase (Phase II), a central rectangular area was marked out, approached on its short sides by two symmetrically-disposed entrances or dromoi. On either side of the rectangular area, the banked-up earth probably supported wooden seats. The entire structure was surrounded by a retaining wall, creating a structure circular in groundplan. In its third phase (Phase III), the ekklesiasterion was given simple rows of stone seats on either side of the central rectangular area. The rows of seats were divided into segments by six flights of steps, radiating out from the central area. Interestingly, the segments of seats form an ellipse (as the central area is rectangular, not square), yet the exterior retaining wall was circular in plan.

After the building had been abandoned for some time, a theater was built on the same location (Phase IV); the theater had a small semi-circular orchestra, six wedges or cunei of seats in the lower level, and five in the upper. The wedges of seats were neither equal in size, nor symmetrically disposed around an imaginary center line. In front of the orchestra was a rectangular stage building. The exterior wall of the cavea was not semi-circular in plan, but formed a series of linear segments which were articulated with engaged Doric pilasters in the upper level.

Date Description:

There is little published concerning the dating evidence of the various phases of the ekklesiasterion/theater; its chronology appears to be based on associated finds (i.e. ceramic evidence), and the style of any preserved architectural blocks, in particular the engaged Doric half-columns of the exterior wall of the theater. Reused blocks and pottery date the final phase of the theater to the third century B.C.


A layer of burnt wood dating to the seventh century B.C. indicates that a structure of some pretensions stood here at that time; perhaps a tribunal or "ikria." In the first half of the sixth century B.C., the ground level at the site was banked up to support seating. Large river boulders are also preserved from this building phase, which is termed Phase Ia by the excavators.

In the mid-sixth century B.C., the building first assumed monumental architectonic form. A rectangular central area was laid out, surrounded by artificially banked up earth to support rows of seating. The entire structure was enclosed by a ca. 2 m. tall retaining wall. Two entrances or passageways led in to the central rectangular area. Between ca. 500-475 B.C., the ekklesiasterion underwent restorations and alterations (Phase III): the retaining wall was heightened by approximately 3 m., and the entrance passages were widened. The angle of the banked-up rows of seats was raised, and the central rectangular space was given a border of two stone steps.

By the beginning of the fourth century B.C., the building appears to have fallen into disuse, and the stone seats were removed. In ca. 325-300 B.C., the structure was completely transformed into a theater. The technique of banking up the seats over a fill of earth, supported by an exterior retaining wall, was maintained, but the circular plan and rectangular central space of the ekklesiasterion was rejected in favor of a theater building. The theater building itself does not appear ever to have been completed. By the first quarter of the third century B.C., the exterior wall had collapsed towards the middle; the structure was repaired in makeshift fashion, with the reuse of many building blocks. Finally, the theater was transformed into a fortress, with all of its entrances closed off.

Other Notes:

The ekklesiasterion at Metapontum is a monument unparalleled in the Greek world at the time of its construction. The free-standing circular structure which dominated the agora had an estimated seating capacity of ca. 7500-8000 people; this number is inconsistent with the number of citizens of Metapontum and the surrounding chora in the sixth century B.C., and raises the question of whether it actually was an ekklesiasterion, or whether it fulfilled other functions. The excavators suggest that perhaps it was also the location of gymnastic, agonistic, or musical events. The fact that the theater was built on exactly the same site in the fourth century B.C. suggests that the earlier structure may also have been used for entertainment. Furthermore, the discovery of a stele, carved with the archaic inscription *D*I*O*S*A*G*O*R*A and located in a small temenos near the ekklesiasterion perhaps indicates some cultic associations with the building.

The form of the theater, with cavea, semi-circular orchestra, and free-standing stage building appears at Metapontum at a surprisingly early date. The addition of exterior architectural features such as the Doric pilasters hint at the interior changes in level in a manner not to be seen until such Hellenistic structures as the Bouleuterion at Miletus and the Bouleuterion at Priene.

Other Bibliography:

Adamesteanu 1974, 46-48; Adamesteanu 1979, 296-312; Mertens & De Siena 1982, 1-60; Mertens 1982a, 93-124; Mertens 1982b, 24-26; Mertens 1985, 650-653, 664-668; Mertens 1987, 347-349.