Theatre of Pompey

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The Theatre of Pompey (Template:Lang-la, Template:Lang-it) was a structure in Ancient Rome built during the later part of the Roman Republican era. It was completed in seven years, and was dedicated early in 55 BC before the structure was fully completed. It was one of the first permanent (non-wooden) theatres in Rome. The building itself was a part of a multi-use complex that included a large quadriporticus directly behind the scaenae frons. Enclosed by the large columned porticos was an expansive garden complex of fountains and statues. Along the stretch of covered arcade were rooms dedicated to the exposition of art and other works collected by Pompey Magnus during his campaigns.

On the opposite end of the garden complex was a curia for political meetings. The senate would often use this building along with a number of temples and halls that satisfied the requirements for their formal meetings. This is infamous as the place of Julius Caesar's murder by the Liberatores of the Roman Senate and elite.


Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus paid for this theatre to gain political popularity during his second consulship. The theatre was inspired after Pompey's visit in 62 BC to a Greek theatre in Mytilene. Construction began around 61 BCE and the theatre was dedicated in 55 BCE. It was the largest theatre the Romans had ever built at any time or place. It retained Pompey's name throughout its active history of more than 600 years. The theatre was the principal monument of Ancient Rome.

The structure and connecting quadriporticus had multiple uses. The building had the largest "Crypta" of all of the Roman theatres. This area, located behind the stage and within an enclosure, was used by patrons between acts or productions to stroll, purchase refreshments or just to escape to the covered porticoes from the sun or rain.

The Porticus Pompei contained statues of great artists and actors. Long arcades exhibiting collections of paintings and sculpture as well as a large space suitable for holding public gatherings and meetings made the facility an attraction to Romans for many reasons. Lavish fountains were fed by water purchased from a nearby aqueduct and stored. It is not known if the water supply would have been enough to run the water works for more than a few hours a day, or if some other supply allowed the fountains to run nearly nonstop.<ref name=Middleton>Template:Cite book</ref>

The highest point of the structure was the Temple to Venus Victrix, Pompey's personal deity (compared to Julius Caesar's worship of Venus Genetrix as his personal deity). Some modern scholars believe this was not mere piety, but essential in order that the structure should not be seen as a self-promoting extravagance as well as to overcome a moratorium on permanent theatre buildings.

The remains of the east side of the quadriporticus, and three of four temples from an earlier period often associated with the theatre can be seen on the Largo di Torre Argentina. The fourth temple remains largely covered by the modern streets of Rome. This archaeological site was excavated by order of Mussolini in the 1920s and 1930s. The scarce remains of the theatre itself can be found off the Via di Grotta Pinta underground. Vaults from the original theatre can be found in the cellar rooms of restaurants off this street, as well as in the walls of the hotel Albergo Sole al Biscione. The foundations of the theatre as well as part of the first level and cavea remain, but are obscured, having been overbuilt and extended. Over building throughout the centuries has resulted in the surviving ruins of the theatre's main structure becoming incorporated within modern structures.<ref name=Middleton />

During the theatre's long history, which stretches from its dedication to approximately 1455 AD, the structure endured several restorations due mainly to fire. The theatre was still in use during the reign of Theoderic the Great in the late fifth century AD. The last recorded repairs were carried out in 507-511. Following the destructive Roman-Gothic wars of 535-554 there was no need for a large theater because the population of Rome had declined drastically. The marble covering material was used as a building material in order to maintain other buildings. Being located near the Tiber, the building was also regularly flooded which caused further damage. Nevertheless, the concrete core of the building remained standing in the 9th century, when it was listed as a theater in a German description of the ancient monuments of Rome. In the eleventh century the ruins were converted into two churches and houses. However, the floor plan of the old theater was still recognizable. Around 1150 the powerful Orsini family bought all buildings on the site of the theater and transformed them into a large fortress. Later in the Middle Ages the square of Campo de' Fiori was built and the remaining parts of the theater were quarried to supply stone for many newer buildings which still exist in modern Rome.


Fragment of the Severan Map of Rome, showing the Theatre of Pompey

The characteristics of Roman theatres are similar to those of the earlier Greek theatres on which they are based. However, Roman theatres have specific differences, such as being built upon their own foundations instead of earthen works or a hillside and being completely enclosed on all sides.

Rome had no permanent theatres within the city walls until the mid first century. Theaters and amphitheatres were temporary wooden structures that could be assembled and disassembled quickly. Attempts to build permanent stone structures were always halted by political figures or simply did not come to full fruition.

Pompey was supposedly inspired to build his theatre from a visit to the Greek theatre of Mytilene on Lesbos.<ref name=Rehak>Template:Cite book</ref> The structure may have been a counterpart to the Roman forum. The completion of this structure may also have prompted the building of the Imperial Fora.<ref name=Rehak /><ref name=Stamper /> Julius Caesar would come to copy Pompey's use of the spoils of war to illustrate and glorify his own triumphs when building his forum which in turn would be copied by emperors.<ref name=Stamper>Template:Cite book</ref> The use of public space incorporating temple architecture for personal political ambition was taken from Sulla and those prior to the dictator. Using religious associations and ritual for personal glorification and political propaganda were an attempt to project a public image.<ref name=Stamper />

The use of concrete and stone foundations allowed for a free standing Roman theater and amphitheater. Creating vaulted corridors underneath the seating gave access to each section of the auditorium and allowed access to upper levels. In doing this, a circular exterior was created taking advantage of the Romans' innovative use of the arch.

The stage section of the theatre is attached directly to the auditorium, making both a single structure enclosed all around, whereas Greek theatres separate the two. This made for better acoustics and limited the entrance to the building, allowing tickets to be collected at central access areas (clay pottery "tickets" being a Roman innovation).

This architecture was copied for nearly all future theatres and amphitheaters within the ancient city of Rome and throughout the empire. Notable structures that used a similar style are the Colosseum and the Theatre of Marcellus, both of which have ruins that still exist in Rome today.

The entire theatre complex had multiple uses. The Temple of Venus Victrix was located directly across from the stage. The portico contained galleries, shrines, gardens and meeting halls. The location of the theatre is of historic significance in large part due to a single murder that took place in the complex, located in the large Porticus of Pompey behind the stage in a meeting hall called the Curia Pompeia. The structure, located in the far end near the sacred area, was being used on a temporary basis for meetings of the Senate at that time.

On the Ides of March (March 15; see Roman calendar) of 44 BC, Caesar was due to appear at a session of the Senate. Mark Antony, having vaguely learned of the plot the night before from a terrified Liberator named Servilius Casca, and fearing the worst, went to head Caesar off at the steps of the forum.

According to Plutarch, as Caesar arrived Tillius Cimber presented him with a petition to recall his exiled brother. The other conspirators crowded round to offer support. Both Plutarch and Suetonius say that Caesar waved him away, but Cimber grabbed his shoulders and pulled down Caesar's tunic. Caesar then cried to Cimber, "Why, this is violence!" ("Ista quidem vis est!").<ref name = "suetonius">Suetonius, Life of the Caesars, Julius trans. J C Rolfe</ref>
File:Curia Pompey.jpg
3D reconstruction of the Curia Pompeia by Lasha Tskhondia at Trimble 3D Warehouse
At the same time, the aforementioned Casca produced his dagger and made a glancing thrust at the dictator's neck. Caesar turned around quickly and caught Casca by the arm, saying in Latin "Casca, you villain, what are you doing?" Casca, frightened, shouted "Help, brother" in Greek ("Template:Lang", "adelphe, boethei!"). Within moments, the entire group, including Brutus, was striking out at the dictator. Caesar attempted to get away, but, blinded by blood, he tripped and fell; the men continued stabbing him as he lay defenseless on the lower steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, around sixty or more men participated in the assassination. He was stabbed 23 times, but, according to Suetonius, a physician later established that only one wound, the second one to his chest, had been lethal.

This single violent act was one of the most memorable moments in Roman history and set the stage for the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.

While history records this location as the place Caesar fell, it is often confused with other meeting spaces by the senate. The first senate building was The Curia Hostilia built in the 7th century BC by Tullus Hostilius and repaired in 80 BC by Lucius Cornelius Sulla. The Curia Julia was begun by Caesar before his death on a different site after the first curia was destroyed by fire.

Today most of the location of the curia at the Theatre of Pompey is covered by roadway; however, a portion of its wall near the Sacred Area was excavated under Mussolini. In October 2012 Spanish archaeologists claimed they had discovered the location of the concrete structure erected by Augustus over the site of Caesar's murder.

Associated temple complex

In order to build the theatre as a permanent stone structure, a number of things were done, including building outside the city walls. By dedicating the theatre to Venus Victrix and building the temple central within the cavea, Pompeii made the structure a large shrine to his personal deity. He also incorporated four Republican temples from an earlier period in a section called the "Sacred Area" in what is today known as Largo di Torre Argentina. The entire complex is built directly off the older section which directs the structure's layout. In this manner, the structure had a day-to-day religious context and incorporates an older series of temples into the newer structure.

File:Largo torre argentina PIANTA.jpg
the temples in the "Sacred Area"

Temple A was built in the 3rd century BC, and is probably the Temple of Juturna built by Gaius Lutatius Catulus after his victory against the Carthaginians in 241 BC. It was later rebuilt into a church, whose apse is still present.

Temple B, a circular temple with six columns remaining, was built by Quintus Lutatius Catulus in 101 BC to celebrate his victory over Cimbri; it was Aedes Fortunae Huiusce Diei, a temple devoted to the "Luck of the Current Day". The colossal statue found during excavations and now kept in the Capitoline Museums was the statue of the goddess herself. Only the head, the arms, and the legs were of marble: the other parts, covered by the dress, were of bronze.

Temple C is the most ancient of the four, dating back to the 4th or 3rd century BC, and was probably devoted to Feronia, the ancient Italic goddess of fertility. After the fire of 80 AD, this temple was restored, and the white and black mosaic of the inner temple cell dates back to this restoration.

Temple D is the largest of the four; it dates back to thr 2nd century BC with Late Republican restorations, and was devoted to Lares Permarini, but only a small part of it has been excavated (a street covers the most of it).

The site today

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Graphic of modern Rome in grey and the white overlay of the theatre

The largest intact sections of the theatre are found in the Palazzo della Cancelleria, which used much of the bone-colored travertine for its exterior from the theatre. Much of what is left today is located in cellars of the surrounding neighbourhood of hotels, homes and restaurants. The large red and grey columns used in its courtyard are from the porticoes of the theatre's upper covered seating; however, they were originally taken from the theatre to build the old Basilica of S. Lorenzo.<ref name=Middleton />

Pieces from the structure can be located throughout the city of Rome, including sculpture and other archaeological finds. Located in the Campus Martius, a dense neighbourhood of later buildings has grown in and around the area. The entire site is now covered by later buildings and streets. However, the shape of the theatre is still distinguishable in an aerial view. In some locations, buildings were built directly on top of the theatre's original foundations from the curved seating. This has resulted in several curved buildings and streets.

Limited archaeological work on the site has taken place over the years. Many early excavations were not documented; however, a few have done some work to estimate the area and map out plans based on the broken marble map that once adorned the Temple of Peace called the Forma Urbis Romae.

Luigi Canina (1795–1856) was the first to undertake serious research on the theatre. It was Canina who discovered the representation of the theatre on the Forma Urbis as well as the first study of the existing remains. His are the first re-construction drawings to be attempted. It was on these drawings that Martin Blazeby based his recent three-dimensional images.<ref>Site Documentation</ref>

See also

  • Opera Publica
  • Roman theatre (structure)
  • Théâtre antique d'Orange
  • Roman Theatre (Cádiz)



External links



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