Roman theatre (structure)

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Roman theatre at Amman, Jordan

The similarities of Roman theatres to those of earlier Greek theatres are due in large part to the influence of Ancient Greece on the Roman triumvir Pompeii.[citation needed] Indeed, much of the architectural influence on the Romans came from the Greeks, and theatre structural design was no different from other buildings. 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. Roman theatres derive their basic design from the Theatre of Pompey, the first permanent Roman theatre.[citation needed]


Aspendos theatre entry, Turkey
Exterior entrance of the Roman theatre at Aspendos, Turkey
Aspendos theatre interior, Turkey
Interior view of the auditorium: 1) Scaenae frons 2) Porticus post scaenam 3) Pulpitum 4) Proscaenium 5) Orchestra 6) Cavea 7) Aditus maximus 8) Vomitorium , Roman theatre of Bosra, Syria

Roman theatres were built in all areas of the empire from Spain to the Middle East. Because of the Romans' ability to influence local architecture, we see numerous theatres around the world with uniquely Roman attributes.[1]

There exist similarities between the theatres and amphitheatres of ancient Rome/Italy. They were constructed out of the same material, Roman concrete, and provided a place for the public to go and see numerous events throughout the Empire. However, they are two entirely different structures, with specific layouts that lend to the different events they held. Amphitheatres did not need superior acoustics, unlike those provided by the structure of a Roman theatre. While amphitheatres would feature races and gladiatorial events, theatres hosted events such as plays, pantomimes, choral events, and orations. Their design, with its semicircular form, enhances the natural acoustics, unlike Roman amphitheatres constructed in the round.[1]

These buildings were semi-circular and possessed certain inherent architectural structures, with minor differences depending on the region in which they were constructed. The scaenae frons was a high back wall of the stage floor, supported by columns. The proscaenium was a wall that supported the front edge of the stage with ornately decorated niches off to the sides. The Hellenistic influence is seen through the use of the proscaenium. The Roman theatre also had a podium, which sometimes supported the columns of the scaenae frons. The scaenae was originally not part of the building itself, constructed only to provide sufficient background for the actors. Eventually, it became a part of the edifice itself, made out of concrete. The theatre itself was divided into the stage (orchestra) and the seating section (auditorium). Vomitoria or entrances and exits were made available to the audience.[2]

The auditorium, the area in which people gathered, was sometimes constructed on a small hill or slope in which stacked seating could be easily made in the tradition of the Greek Theatres. The central part of the auditorium was hollowed out of a hill or slope, while the outer radian seats required structural support and solid retaining walls. This was of course not always the case as Romans tended to build their theatres regardless of the availability of hillsides. All theatres built within the city of Rome were completely man-made without the use of earthworks. The auditorium was not roofed; rather, awnings (vela) could be pulled overhead to provide shelter from rain or sunlight.[3]

Standard floor plan of a Roman theatre.

Some Roman theatres, constructed of wood, were torn down after the festival for which they were erected concluded. This practice was due to a moratorium on permanent theatre structures that lasted until 55 BC when the Theatre of Pompey was built with the addition of a temple to avoid the law. Some Roman theatres show signs of never having been completed in the first place.[4]

Inside Rome, few theatres have survived the centuries following their construction, providing little evidence about the specific theatres. Arausio, the theatre in modern-day Orange, France, is a good example of a classic Roman theatre, with an indented scaenae frons, reminiscent of Western Roman theatre designs, however missing the more ornamental structure. The Arausio is still standing today and, with its amazing structural acoustics and having had its seating reconstructed, can be seen to be a marvel of Roman architecture.[3]

List of Roman theatres by modern-day country[edit]

This list is non-exhaustive. Links are to mentions of specific theaters. Locations of theaters without further theater information at the location site are mentioned but are not linked.

The Roman theatre in Plovdiv, Bulgaria


  • The Plovdiv (ancient Philipoppolis) Roman theatre, still used.
  • Sofia (ancient Serdica)
  • Stara Zagora (ancient Augusta Trajana), still used.


  • Pula



Ruins at the Roman theatre of Arles


  • Mainz, Theatrum Mogontiacensium


  • Athens, Theatre of Herod Atticus (Herodeion)


The Roman theatre at Fiesole
Pompeii, Italy. Bird's eye view of the large and small theatres, Pompeii. Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection


  • Caesarea Maritima
  • Scythopolis (Beit Shean)
  • Eleutheropolis (Beit Guvrin)
  • Sebaste (Samaria)
  • Neapolis (Nablus)
  • Hamat Gader
  • Sepphoris (Tzippori)
  • Tiberias
  • Hippos
  • Shuni (Binyamina)


West Theatre of Gadara
  • Philadelphia (Amman)
  • Abila (Decapolis)|Abila
  • Gadara (2)
  • Gerasa / Jarash (2)
  • Pella, Jordan|Pella
  • Petra


  • Leptis Magna
  • Sabratha


  • Dalheim Ricciacum

Republic of Macedonia[edit]


Olisipo Roman theatre ruins


Theatre of Emerita Augusta as viewed from the upper seats


Roman theatre in Augusta Raurica



The Roman theatre at Dougga
Verulamium Roman Theatre


United Kingdom[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jones, Mark Wilson (2000). Principles of Roman Architecture. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08138-3. 
  2. ^ Ros, Karen E. (1996). "The Roman Theater at Carthage". American Journal of Archaeology 100 (3): 449–89. JSTOR 507025. 
  3. ^ a b Richard Allan Tomlinson. "Theatres (Greek and Roman), structure", The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Ed. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Northwestern University. 11 May 2007.
  4. ^ Constance Campbell. "The Uncompleted Theatres of Rome", The Johns Hopkins University Press. Theatre Journal 55.1 (2003) 67–79 10 May 2007.
  5. ^ Roman Theatres: An Architectural Study, p. 109, at Google Books
  6. ^ [1] (Colchester Museums official website).
  7. ^ Roman Theatre of Verulamium (official website).