The stadium is a place for running-races, archery, and javelin-throwing: athletic pursuits requiring a venue of considerable length but no great width. In primitive times any stretch of level ground would do, but by the Archaic Period sites were sought where the natural contours of the land provided a vantage for spectators. The ideal was a shallow tough between two gentle slopes, but most cities had to be content with a course on a hillside terrace, or at the foot of a bank, with a slope on only one side. The search for a suitable site early separated the stadium from the gymnasium.

In the Classical Period the site is often improved by earthworks, levelling and smoothing the track, and building up, smoothing, or extending the bank. Benches for the spectators are provided at a few stadiums, and in most cases are made of wood. In a few stadia shelter from the sun is provided for some of the spectators, usually for the prestige seats near the finish-line.

In the Decadent Period some important stadiums have had an artificial embankment built opposite the natural slope, so that spectators may watch from either side. Benches for spectators are common, and are sometimes made of stone. Sometimes a ceremonial entrance is built at one end, and in some cases a sort of semi-circular theatre is attached at the other end, its open back facing the entrance. The floor of this theatre, contiguous with the track, is used for dedicatory, valedictory, and prize-giving ceremonies at games. A roof or canopy over the spectators is becoming common.

The stadium is also a measure of distance. During the Archaic Period the length of the track in the local stadium is used as a semi-standard unit. In various cities this ranged from as little as 125 metres to 220 metres, but in the Central Isles the stadium was normalised at one hundred fathoms, that is, one hundred man-heights (about 165-180 metres). In the Classical Period the stadium at Thekla is a widely-accepted standard, but in the Decadent Period it is more usual to refer to the stadium at the capital of the local episkopy.

Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.