Inscribed VIP Seats Unearthed at Roman Amphitheater in Turkey

Pergamon’s elite watched gladiator and animal fights, public executions, and naval reenactments at the ancient arena

Inscribed stone seat found in Pergamon amphitheater
The stone seats are inscribed with Latin names in Greek letters. Photo by Mehmet Emin Menguarslan / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

About 1,800 years ago, when Lucius attended a gladiatorial spectacle at an ancient amphitheater in what is now western Turkey, he knew exactly where to sit: After all, his name was inscribed in Greek on his very own VIP seat.

Archaeologists found the word Lukios—the Greek version of the Latin Lucius—and other names engraved on special stone seating in the large arena, which was designed to look like Rome’s Colosseum. They discovered this ancient equivalent of reserved “box seats” while working at Pergamon, a Unesco World Heritage Site that once acted as the capital of the Attalid dynasty, reports Laura Geggel for Live Science.

“They wanted to build a replica of the Colosseum here, which was frequented by all segments of society,” Felix Pirson, director of the Istanbul branch of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), tells Efsun Erbalaban Yılmaz of the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA). “But people from the upper class or important families had private seats in special sections with their names engraved on them.”

Inscribed VIP Seats Unearthed at Roman Amphitheater in Turkey
Excavations at the amphitheater have been ongoing since 2018. Photo by Mehmet Emin Menguarslan / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

According to Pirson, the researchers were caught off guard by the fact that the names carved on the chairs’ large stone backs were Latin monikers written in Greek letters. Prior to its absorption by Rome in the first century B.C.E., Pergamon had been a prominent Greek city.

“We believe that some people from Italy had a special place in the Pergamon amphitheater,” the archaeologist tells AA.

Located near the modern Turkish city of Bergama, the amphitheater housed at least 25,000 spectators (and perhaps as many as 50,000). It boasted five exclusive lodges, or cavea, reports the Hurriyet Daily News. These spaces likely served as luxury suites for elite guests, similar to private corporate areas found at modern sporting arenas.

Excavations at the amphitheater began in 2018 as part of the Transformation of the Pergamon Micro-Region (TransPergMikro) project. Archaeologists from the DAI and the Technical University of the Institute of Architecture in Berlin consider the site significant because of its close resemblance to the Colosseum. Researchers think the structure was designed to compete with amphitheaters in Ephesus and Smyrna, two nearby cities that rose to prominence under Roman rule.

Pergamon hosted gladiator and animal fights in the second century C.E., AA reports. The amphitheater was probably also used for public executions and reenactments of naval battles, as it was located on a waterway.

“Since this building was built between two slopes, separated by a stream which is transmitted via a vaulted water channel, it can be assumed that in the arena Naumachia (naval combat) or water games could be performed,” notes the TransPergMicro website.

Archaeologists used 3-D imaging to analyze the stone seats. They are currently trying to decipher the inscriptions. Lukios was one of the names that was easily identified, Pirson tells Smithsonian magazine.

“Our epigraphists are currently working on the names and we are still waiting for the results,” he writes in an email.

The seating blocks are now on view at the Red Basilica, a ruined temple in Bergama. Pirson and his team expect to display the rest of the discoveries at the Pergamon Museum in İzmir later this year.