Ancient Roman Theatre Marie Goemans

  • Ancient Roman theatre was derived and inspired from Greek theatre. They used the characters and scenery from the Greek plays, but added in Roman humor.
  • The first form of theatre in Ancient Rome was Atellanae [from the city of Atella]. They were farces. Dance was introduced to Rome by the Etruscans, which also influenced theatre.
  • The first playwright was Livius Andronicus, who translated the Odyssey into Latin and staged the Greek play, Ludi Romani, in Latin.
  • The end of the second century BCE was the Golden Age of Tragedy. It started off with Livius Andronicus and ended with Accius (a relatively famous Ancient Roman playwright)
  • Plautus - one of the main comedic playwrights. He lived between 254 B.C. and 184 B.C. (in the middle of the Golden Age of Tragedy).
  • Plautus' play, The Brothers Menaechmus, is his only comedy of error. Shakespeare then inspired himself from it, to create the Comedy of Errors.
Masks used by mimes and actors in Ancient roman theatre
  • Mimes became a very popular form of entertainment. The performance contained songs and speech, as well as hand gestures and dancing to help convey the message and tone.
  • There were two different types of mimes, mimes and pantomimes. The main difference between the two was that mimes were, in a way, less formal than pantomimes. The performances of mimes often happened during intermission or in between acts in plays.
A Roman theatre in Bosra, Syria
  • Until 55 B.C., no permanent theaters existed in Rome. Theatrical performances were staged in temporary wooden structures.
  • In 55 B.C., the Theater of Pompey was constructed, in honor of Pompey the Great's victories. There were 20,000 seats and it was about 45 meters tall. The Theater of Pompey became a template for all theaters that came after.
  • Though Roman theatre was very strongly inspired by Greek theatre, the actual structures were quite different. For example, in Greek culture, the stage was low and simply decorated, however in Rome, they were extremely high and extravagantly decorated with statues and portraits.
  • The reasons of these differences are both political and social. The lavishness of the stages and its richness were to emphasize the power and wealth of the government. The seats in Ancient Roman theaters were arranged by race, social class, gender, etc. which was not the case in Greece.
architecture of the theater
The different parts of a classic ancient Roman theater
  • Scaenae frons - the wall right behind the stage had doors, columns and decorations.
  • Scaenae - the stage where the actors played.
  • Pulpitum - the area of the stage near the orchestra.
  • Orchestra - semicircular, where the chorus was in dramatic plays; around its circular edge, the seats were reserved for the most important figures in society.
  • Cavea - where the people could watch the plays; it was separated into three horizontal sections for the social classes.
  1. ima cavea = higher class, practically only men - closest to the stage
  2. media cavea = open for everyone, but mostly men - middle area
  3. summa cavea = for the children and women - farthest away from the stage

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