Theatre of Pompey
|Theatre of Pompey|
A 3D reconstruction of the Theatre of Pompey
|Location||Regione IX Circus Flaminius|
|Built in||55 BC|
|Built by/for||Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus|
|Type of structure||Roman theatre|
|Related||Roman Republic, Mark Antony, Marcus Junius Brutus, Marcus Licinius Crassus, Assassination of Julius Caesar, Pompey, Cicero, First Triumvirate|
|Part of a series on|
|Ancient Rome and the fall of the Republic|
The Theatre of Pompey (Latin: Theatrum Pompeii, Italian: Teatro di Pompeo) was a structure in Ancient Rome built during the later part of the Roman Republican era. It was completed in 55BC. 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 Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (English: "Pompey the Great") 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. The curia in the theatre is infamous as the place where Julius Caesar was murdered by the Liberatores of the Roman Senate and elite.
The structure's last recorded repairs were carried out in 507–511. Following Rome's populational decline during and after the Roman-Gothic wars of 535–554 there was no need for a large theater. The marble covering material was used to maintain other buildings. Being located near the Tiber, the building was also regularly flooded, causing further damage. The building's concrete core remained standing in the 9th century. In the 11th century the ruins were converted into two churches and houses, with the theater's old plan remaining visible. 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 Campo de' Fiori square was built and the remaining parts of the theater were quarried to supply stone for many newer buildings which still exist in modern Rome.
Pompey paid for this theatre to gain political popularity during his second consulship. The theatre was inspired by Pompey's visit in 62 BC to a Greek theatre in Mytilene. Construction began around 61 BC and the theatre was dedicated in 55 BC. Prior to its construction, permanent stone theatres had been forbidden, and so to side-step this issue, Pompey had the structure built in the Campus Martius, outside of the pomerium, or sacred boundary, that divided the city from the ager Romanus (the territory immediately outside the city). Pompey also had a temple to Venus Victrix build near the top of the theatre's seating; Pompey then claimed that he had "not [built] a theatre, but rather a temple of Venus to which I have added the steps of a theatre".
The theatre was dedicated in 52 BC, and during this event, two shows were performed: Clytemnestra by Accius, and Equos Troianus either by Livius Andronicus or Gnaeus Naevius. Clodius Aesopus, a renowned tragic actor, was brought out of retirement in order to act in the theatre's opening show. The show was also accompanied by gladiatorial matches featuring exotic animals.
For forty years, the theatre was the only permanent theatre located in Rome, until Lucius Cornelius Balbus the Younger constructed one in 13 BC in the Campus Martius. Regardless, the Theatre of Pompey continued to be the main location for plays, both due to its splendor and its dealing size. In fact, the site was often considered the premiere theatre throughout its entire life. Seeking association with the great theatre, many well-to-dos constructed their own versions in and around the area of Pompey's. This led to the eventual establishment of a theatre district, in the most literal sense.
Post-Pompey and the Roman Empire
Following Pompey's defeat during the Great Roman Civil War (49–45 BC), Caesar used the theatre to celebrate the triumph over Pompey's forces in Africa. The porticos and theatre were maintained for centuries. Caesar Augustus restored parts of the complex in 32 BC, and in AD 21 Tiberius began to reconstruct a part of the theatre that had been destroyed by fire; these reconstructs were finally finished under the reign of Caligula. Claudius rededicated the Temple of Venus Victrix, Nero gilded the interior, and Domitian and Septimius Severus significantly repaired and altered the structure.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476, the Theatre of Pompey was still in use, and when Rome was under the dominion of the Ostrogothic Kingdom, the structure was once again renovated between AD 507–511. However, this renovation would be its last. Following the destructive Gothic War (535–554) there was no need for a large theater because the population of Rome had declined drastically. As such, the theatre was left to decay.
From the Middle Ages to the present
During the Early Middle Ages, The marble covering of the theatre was used as a 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, in the 8th century AD, a pilgrim guidebook still listed the site as a theatrum. By the 12th century, buildings had started to encroach upon the remains; two churches, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria in Grotta Pinta were constructed on the site, with the later probably having been built over one of the theatre's access corridors. However, the floor plan of the old theater was still recognizable. In AD 1140, one source referred to the ruins as the Theatrum Pompeium, whereas another referred to it as the "temple of Cneus [sic] pompeii". In AD 1150, Johannes de Ceca is reputed to have sold a trillium, or round structure (i.e. the theatre curve) to an ancestor of the Orsini family. In AD 1296, the site of the theatre was turned into a fortress by the Orsinis. 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.
Today, not much remains visible of the once majestic theatre, as the vestiges of the structure have entirely been enveloped by the structures that lie between the Campo de' Fiori and Largo di Torre Argentina. 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. 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. And while the theatre itself is no longer discernible, the imprint of the building itself can still be detected; the structure’s semicircular form can today be traced by walking east from the Campo de' Fiori through the Palazzo Orsini Pio Righetti. The path of the Via di Grotta Pinta, near the Via dei Chiavari, also roughly follows the outline of the theatre's original stage. Deep within the recesses of basements and wine cellars of building located in the Campo de' Fiori, arches and fragments of the theatre's walls and foundations can still be seen. The ground plan of the Palazzo Pio also reveals that many of the supporting spokes of the theatre were re-purposed into walls for new rooms. The arches that were left after the theatre’s abandonment even led to the name of the aforementioned Santa Maria di Grotta Pinta (i.e. the "painted grotto").
Excavation and study
One of the first individuals to draw the ruins of the theatre was Giovanni Battista Piranesi, who made two notable etchings depicting the theatre in the middle of the 18th century. The first, entitled "A Demonstration of the Remnants of the Theatre of Pompey" (Dimonstrazione del Odierno Avanzo del Teatro di Pompeo), illustrates, from both a top-down and a cross-section perspective, a view of the ruins. This illustration suggests that the only remnants of the once-great structure in the 18th century were portions of the seating closest to the orchestra, or the ima cavea. Piranesi specifically notes that four of the large doors (vomitoria) through which spectators would have entered the complex were still preserved. However, much of the height of the building had long ago been stripped away.
Another etching, entitled "The Remains of the Theatre of Pompey", show a more artistic view of the structure. This illustration, facing the southeast, reveals that the remaining ima cavea still retained four cunei (or, wedge shaped parts of the ima cavea divided by the aforementioned doorways through which the spectators entered), but that the western most cuneus had been split down the middle, where the ancient stairs to the Temple of Venus would have been located. The image also shows a remaining substructure arch that originally would have supported the media and summa caveae. It should be noted that, while these engravings are interesting, Piranesi seems to have been basing his drawings largely on what he could imagine; in the legend for "A Demonstration of the Remnants of the Theatre of Pompey", he explicitly mentions that these etchings illustrate what the theatre looked like if the structure were properly excavated, because modern structures had encroached upon the site (protratta secondo il giro delle moderne fabbriche situate sullo rovine della medesima).
Luigi Canina (1795–1856) was the first to undertake serious research on the theatre. Canina examined what ruins he could and then combined this information with Vitruvius' famous description of a Roman theater, thereby producing a working plan of the theatre. Later, Victoire Baltard used Canina's work, as well as information gleaned from the Forma Urbis to construct a more refined plan. Much like Piranesi, Baltard also created a sketch of what the ruins would look like were they to be completely excavated.
The structure and connecting quadriporticus had multiple uses. The building had the largest "Crypta" of all 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.
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.
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 this one. 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. 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. 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. 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.
The use of concrete and stone foundations allowed for a freestanding Roman theater and amphitheater. Creating vaulted corridors underneath the seating gave access to each section of the auditorium and allowed access to upper levels.
The stage and scaenae frons sections of the theatre is attached directly to the auditorium, making both a single structure enclosed all around, whereas Greek theatres separate the two. This created acoustic issues requiring different techniques to overcome.
This architecture was the model for nearly all future theatres of Rome and throughout the empire. Notable structures that used a similar style are the Theatre of Marcellus and the Theatre of Balbus, both of which can be seen on the marble plan of the city.
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 the murder of Julius Caesar 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.
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, Pompey 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.
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 the 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).
- Plutarch. Life of Pompey. p. 42.4.
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- This identification is preferred over the one as Temple of Iuno Curritis, because Ovidius (Fasti I) says: "Te quoque lux eadem Turni soror aede recepit/Hic, ubi Virginea Campus obitur aqua", thus placing the temple of Juturna near the Aqua Virgo, which ended at the Baths of Agrippa.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Theatre of Pompey.|
- The Theatre of Pompey
- Theatrum Pompei at LacusCurtius (article in Platner's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome)
- The Temple above Pompey's Theatre (CJ 39:360‑366)
- Pompey’s Politics and the Presentation of His Theatre-Temple Complex, 61–52 BCE
- Roma Online Guide