Upper Agora: July 7-12, 2006
The Upper Agora of Sagalassos is a site of great interest for stone surface archaeology, which is the systematic study of scratches and markings cut into hard surfaces by human activity. During the winter, careful study of old excavation records from the Upper Agora alerted Luke Lavan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, to the presence of numerous markings and holes in the agora surface. These had only been partially recorded at the time of the original excavation. Moreover, these records also revealed the presence of several large honorific monuments in the central part of the plaza, only some of which were left standing. Thus, for the 2006 campaign, plans were made to clean a part of the agora surface, in order to check the accuracy of the old records and to make photographs of the relevant markings.
The work involved removing a covering of sand and earth that had been laid down to protect the agora surface, which is now a building site for the restoration of the Antonine Nymphaeum. This cleaning work, restricted to the southwestern edge of the plaza, was quickly accomplished, revealing markings and holes for three square structures from the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. These included postholes cut right through the stone paving. Luke has suggested that these likely belonged to wooden market stalls: they are regular in alignment, design and size. They are three out of a total of eight structures that he has identified from the old records of the plaza. For a number of reasons, we believe that they date from late antiquity, most likely the sixth century A.D. They cut through the traces left behind on the pavement slabs by honorific monuments, which had been removed around this time. They leave space for access to a sixth-century staircase that connected the agora with the Bouleuterion, or administration building. The stalls also seem to respect the position of a water basin built during the sixth century to the north of this staircase, in front of the western portico. Therefore, the postholes must date from after the construction of the water basin.
The consistency of the stalls' design, size, and alignment suggests a degree of regulation, which is confirmed by a series of faint inscriptions carved into the plaza itself. These are "topos" ("place") inscriptions followed by a name in the possessive case, which gave official authorization to a particular salesman to use this spot. Two are close to the wooden stalls, naming the tradesmen who were allowed to work there: probably one "Makedonios" and someone else whose name could not be deciphered. Based on the letter forms, the former dates to the fifth or sixth century A.D. Another such inscription, which names the "place of the bronze wind," possibly describing a metal smith, is on a different alignment and may relate to the trade shops in the adjacent west portico, rather than the stalls on the plaza. In fact, the northern half of this portico contained at least two blacksmiths' workshops during the fifth to early sixth centuries.
The absence of stone remains strongly suggests that the market stalls were not permanent structures: there has been very little robbery of stone in the Upper Agora since antiquity, and if there is no stone now, there probably never was any. However, the postholes are substantial, suggesting that erecting the stalls was no small effort: either the wooden stalls were allowed to stand semi-permanently or on market days they were slotted into permanent casings in the paving. However, the new cleaning has discovered that some have a very late filling of brick. Someone probably decided, in a very late phase of the city, perhaps in the early seventh century A.D., that they had had enough of tripping over these holes and decided to fill them up. This kind of tile repair is also seen in late phases on the Colonnaded Street, after any pretence of maintenance had been given up. This was a period when the city had already lost its monopolizing grip over larger parts of its territory and had degenerated from a city to a large rural settlement.
These holes and inscriptions show that, at least during certain periods, the plaza was more than a mere showcase for the local elite and the imperial family, represented by dozens of statues and honorific inscriptions. On some occasions it must have also been a place buzzing with commercial activity. During the early Imperial period such activity could have taken place on the plaza, but it was only in late Roman times that the stalls selling goods, most likely from the city's countryside, were allowed to replace some of the honorific monuments and establish fixed positions. However, once the city lost control over parts of its territory, these stalls were given up, as the urban settlement itself became a farming site, relying on its immediate vicinity for its subsistence.
Apart from dating the stalls, we were able to confirm the high quality of the original drawings of the agora made by Peter Cosyns in the 1990s. Markings revealing a row of now removed statue bases, consistent with his drawings, were recorded in front of the western portico. Two crosses that Cosyns had identified were photographed and measured. Interestingly, these were carved into the paving itself, contradicting some scholarly ideas that Christians of late antiquity disliked walking on cross symbols. A different type of graffiti found was mason marks. At the time of the plaza's excavation we found that its paving could be divided into three strips: one in the middle, which is certainly Augustan, one in the East, which seems to represent a late antique repair, possibly connected with the presence of a vast drainage channel below it, and one in the West, which is probably connected to an alteration of the west portico in late Roman times; the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. Many of these paving slabs still carry the abbreviated name "AT," identifying the stone carver who had made the slab. This identification was intended to aid the mason when collecting his payment.