Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?c.A.D. 113). Letters. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
XLVIII. To the Emperor Trajan
THE CITIZENS of Nicea, Sir, are building a theatre, which, though it is not yet finished, has already exhausted, as I am informed (for I have not examined the account myself), above ten millions of sesterces;1 and, what is worse, I fear to no purpose. For either from the foundation being laid in soft, marshy ground, or that the stone itself is light and crumbling, the walls are sinking, and cracked from top to bottom. It deserves your consideration, therefore, whether it would be best to carry on this work, or entirely discontinue it, or rather, perhaps, whether it would not be most prudent absolutely to destroy it: for the buttresses and foundations by means of which it is from time to time kept up appear to me more expensive than solid. Several private persons have undertaken to build the compartments of this theatre at their own expense, some engaging to erect the portico, others the galleries over the pit:2 but this design cannot be executed, as the principal building which ought first to be completed is now at a stand. This city is also rebuilding, upon a far more enlarged plan, the gymnasium,3 which was burnt down before my arrival in the province. They have already been at some (and, I rather fear, a fruitless), expense. The structure is not only irregular and ill-proportioned, but the present architect (who, it must be owned, is a rival to the person who was first employed) asserts that the walls, although twenty-two feet4 in thickness, are not strong enough to support the superstructure, as the interstices are filled up with quarry-stones, and the walls are not overlaid with brickwork. Also the inhabitants of Claudiopolis5 are sinking (I cannot call it erecting) a large public bath, upon a low spot of ground which lies at the foot of a mountain. The fund appropriated for the carrying on of this work arises from the money which those honorary members you were pleased to add to the senate paid (or, at least, are ready to pay whenever I call upon them) for their admission.6 As I am afraid, therefore, the public money in the city of Nicea, and (what is infinitely more valuable than any pecuniary consideration) your bounty in that of Nicopolis, should be ill applied, I must desire you to send hither an architect to inspect, not only the theatre, but the bath; in order to consider whether, after all the expense which has already been laid out, it will be better to finish them upon the present plan, or alter the one, and remove the other, in as far as may seem necessary: for otherwise we may perhaps throw away our future cost in endeavouring not to lose what we have already expended.
Note 1. About $400,000. To those who are not acquainted with the immense riches of the ancients, it may seem incredible that a city, and not the capital one either, of a conquered province should expend so large a sum of money upon only the shell (as it appears to be) of a theatre: but Asia was esteemed the most considerable part of the world for wealth; its fertility and exportations (as Tully observes) exceeding those of all other countries. M. [back]
Note 2. The word cavea, in the original, comprehends more than what we call the pit in our theatres, as it means the whole space in which the spectators sat. These theatres, being open at the top, the galleries here mentioned were for the convenience of retiring in bad weather. M. [back]
Note 3. A place in which the athletic exercises were performed, and where the philosophers also used to read their lectures. M. [back]
Note 4. The Roman foot consisted of 11.7 inches of our standard. M. [back]
Note 5. A colony in the district of Cataonia, in Cappadocia. [back]
Note 6. The honorary senators, that is, such who were not received into the council of the city by election, but by the appointment of the emperor, paid a certain sum of money upon their admission into the senate. M. [back]