Roman theater: history, characteristics and activities –

In ancient Rome, society was quite cultured Taking into account the moment in history in which we found ourselves, they not only liked leisure activities, such as gladiator battles or chariot races, for them art was also important.

The paintings and sculptures were one of the largest and most important representations in the ancient Roman Empire, but they were not the only ones, since they also Roman theaters existed, in which the actors often made representations of Roman mythology. Luckily for us, many of them are still in good condition and have allowed us to learn more about their characteristics and what could be seen in them.

Origin of the Roman Theater

If we look for the origin of the Roman Theater, we must look at Greece. It was around the third century BC when the first plays with their structures began to form in Rome. Just as it happened with the Greeks, the first uses and works that could be seen in Rome had a strong relationship with religion and with the godshowever, this was evolved and finally this change

The Romans were a people who had many parties and liked to celebrate them in style, that is the reason for the evolution within the plays, which evolved as a means to entertain and amuse people for a period of time to make them forget their life and in turn, control them better and not to be revolutionized.

Characteristics of the Roman Theater

As we have mentioned before, the Roman theater is inspired by the theater of Greece and many of its characteristics are similar and even the same.

The first constructions of theaters in Rome were made with flimsy materials, such as adobe and wood, and the fact is that the theaters were demolished once the planned works or events had been carried out; this was due to a law that prevented them from making fixed theaters. But it was around the year 55 BC that the old Theater of Pompeii was built, in which a temple is included, in such a way that it evaded the law and continued to stand.

As the years and time passed, the Romans ended up specifying certain very specific characteristics, which allowed them to differentiate themselves from the ancient works inspired by Greece. If we look at their models, the vast majority have a style similar to that proposed by Vitruvius, which had the following parts:

  • Scaenae frons (scenic front): As a general rule, it was made up of a series of columns.
  • Orchestra: It was a semicircle in front of the scaenae frons, in which the powerful sat, where the choir that accompanied the work was, and in which there was an altar to Dionysus.
  • Goodbye: They were the corridors that were on the sides and that gave access to the Orchestra.
  • cave: a structure with a semicircular shape where the people who were going to see the work sat. It had a series of divisions, the first of them in circles, which was called cunei. On the other hand, it had another division made by corridors and they were called ima cavea, media cavea and summa cavea.
  • Vomiting: similar to the vomitories of the current stadiums, they were entrances with a vault through which they accessed the cavea.
  • Proscaenium (proscenium): It is the space that was in front of where the work was taking place.
  • Porticus post scaenam (Portico behind the scene): as its name suggests, it was a porticoed courtyard behind the scene with a series of columns.

The theaters could have certain differences between them, while some architects mounted the cavea on vaulted galleries, others preferred to use the slopes where they were built to place the cavea on them. Some theaters were so modern that they had technology with awnings that allowed them to be protected from light or rain. It has been observed in some theaters that there was an area dedicated to the gods and there were certain temples to pray to them.

The social classes had their place and they could not mix with each other as if nothing had happened, each one had their zones:

  • Proedria: the most important area, was intended for senators.
  • Ima Cavea: gentlemen’s seats.
  • Half Cavea: free people were in it.
  • Summa Cavea: slaves and freedmen could sit here.
  • matroneo: It was the space intended for women to attend.

Activities that were done in the Roman Theater

Inside the Roman Theater, plays of different genres could be seen, although at first they were of religious themes. In its most glorious era, the works were inspired by the character of the people, although in certain works they added educational elements for less educated people, in addition to accompanying the work with music.

Many of the actors not only dressed differently depending on the plays or characters they were playing, but also wore footwear like the ones the Greeks wore in the theater; in addition to using some masks, made by hand, to hide the faces of the actors, especially when they played bad or hateful characters.

When a dramatic work was performed in Rome, it is called a fable, but depending on its theme or characters, it could be a tragedy or a comedy.

fable tragedy

  • Fable crepidata or coturnata: it differed by being a Greek Topical Tragedy, where the actors used a high boot, of Greek origin, called horned.
  • fable praetexta: inspired by the Roman legends or storieshad the same name as the fringed toga used by the illustrious in Ancient Rome.

Fable Comedy

  • palliata fable: it was a work that in the Roman theatre they talked about greek Affairs, in which the comedians covered themselves with a traditional Greek cloak known as pallium.
  • togata fable: it was done in a versed way and tried roman Themes, the actors wore a toga.

This is all we can tell you about the Roman Theatre, one of the emblems of the Roman Empire that we can see in good condition today. In some of them, as in the Roman theater of Mérida, certain performances and shows are still held a few times a year.