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The stadium of Roman Plovdiv, an artist reconstructionThe stadium of Roman Plovdiv, an artist reconstruction

Built: the 90s


Track: 230 meters long, 32 meters wide

Rows: 14 

Capacity: up to 30,000 people

Where: Antichen Square

In 214, after a successful campaign against the German tribes, Emperor Caracalla (198-217) was pressing eastwards along the Via Diagonalis, the Roman highway connecting Central Europe and the Bosporus. He was after a dream. Muscular in appearance, brutal in character and in his 20s, Caracalla believed to be a reborn Alexander the Great. He was eager to repeat his predecessor's military success in the East and was planning a war against the Partian Empire, one of the many reincarnation of Persia.

His thrust, however, was halted as all cities on the route tried to please him, and he gladly succumbed into the pleasures on offer. Philippopolis was one of those.

The great and prosperous Thracian city greeted the sovereign with gifts, girls and feasts, minted a special coin emission with Caracalla's portrait on it and organized sport games in his honor. The two-day extravaganza featured contests in pankration (type of martial art); pentathlon, which combined long jump, javelin throw, discus throw, sprint and wrestling; and also competitions in wrestling, boxing and long-distance running. There were contests in poetry reciting, singing and even heralding. The best athletes from the East arrived to compete although, in the best tradition of respectable sport games, the winners would be awarded with wreaths and fame only.

What should have pleased vain Caracalla more that anything else, however, is that the council named the games after him - Pythian Alexandrian Games. The "Alexandrian" part was reflecting Caracalla's obsession with Alexander the Great.


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