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Theatre of Pompey

Theatre of Pompey
A 3D reconstruction of the 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
Theatre of Pompey is located in Rome
Theatre of Pompey

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 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 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. This is infamous as the place of Julius Caesar's murder by the Liberatores of the Roman Senate and elite.


  • Origin 1
  • Description 2
    • Architecture 2.1
    • Associated temple complex 2.2
    • The site today 2.3
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


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.[1] Construction began around 61 BC and the theatre was dedicated in 55 BC.[2] It was the largest theatre the Romans had ever built. It retained Pompey's name throughout its active history of more than 600 years.

The construction of this theatre did not meet with universal approval: some sources suggest that the building of a permament theatre met with criticism on moral grounds.[3]


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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] The scarce remains of the theatre itself can be found off the Via di Grotta Pinta underground.[9] 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.[10] 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.[5]

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.[11]


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.[12]

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.[13]

Pompey was supposedly inspired to build his theatre from a visit to the Greek theatre of Mytilene on Lesbos.[14] 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.[14][15] 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.[15] 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.[15]

The use of concrete and stone foundations allowed for a free standing Roman theater and amphitheater.[16][17] Creating vaulted corridors underneath the seating gave access to each section of the auditorium and allowed access to upper levels.[18]

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.[19] This created acoustic issues requiring different techniques to overcome.[20]

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.[21]

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.[22] 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.[23]

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.

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.[24] 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).

The site today

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.[5]

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.[25]

See also


  1. ^ Plutarch. Life of Pompey. p. 42.4. 
  2. ^ Kuritz, Paul (October 1987). The making of theatre history. Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference. p. 48.  
  3. ^ Tacitus Annals 14 (Accessed 24 August 2015)
  4. ^ Platner, Samuel Ball (1911). The topography and monuments of ancient Rome. Boston, Allyn and Bacon. p. 874. 
  5. ^ a b c Middleton, John Henry (1892). The remains of ancient Rome, Volume 2. Nabu Press. pp. A–67, B–66–67, C–69.  
  6. ^ Theatrum Pompeii in Platner & Ashby
  7. ^ Tomlinson, Richard Allan (October 22, 1992). From Mycenae to Constantinople: the evolution of the ancient city. Routledge. p. 169.  
  8. ^ Painter, Painter, Borden W., Borden (March 6, 2007). Mussolini's Rome: Rebuilding. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 7–9.  
  9. ^ Taylor, Rabun (January 1, 2001). Public Needs & Private Pleasures. L'Erma di Bretscheider. p. 159.  
  10. ^  
  11. ^ Sandys, Sir John Edwin (1910). A companion to Latin studies. Cambridge University Press. p. 515. 
  12. ^ Sear, Frank (September 21, 2006). Roman theatres: an architectural study. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 1.  
  13. ^ Dyson, Stephen L. (August 19, 2010). Rome: A Living Portrait of an Ancient City. JHUP. p. 59.  
  14. ^ a b Rehak, Paul (2009). Imperium and Cosmos: Augustus and the Northern Campus Martius. University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition. p. 19.  
  15. ^ a b c Stamper, John W. (March 7, 2005). The Architecture of Roman Temples: The Republic to the Middle Empire. Cambridge University Press. p. 89.  
  16. ^ Kleiner, Fred S. (February 4, 2010). A History of Roman Art, Enhanced Edition= Wadsworth Publishing; 1 edition . p. 57.  
  17. ^ Gagarin, Michael (December 31, 2009). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: Seven-volume set, Volume 1. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 33.  
  18. ^ American Architect and Architecture. J. R. Osgood & Company. 1890. pp. 51–. 
  19. ^ Sir William Smith (1898). A Concise Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. Murray. pp. 626–. 
  20. ^ Michael Barron (28 September 2009). Auditorium Acoustics and Architectural Design. Routledge. pp. 8–.  
  21. ^ Ronald W. Vince (1 January 1984). Ancient and Medieval Theatre: A Historiographical Handbook. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 75–.  
  22. ^ Richard C. Beacham (1 February 1996). The Roman Theatre and Its Audience. Harvard University Press. pp. 161–162.  
  23. ^
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Site Documentation

External links

  • The Pompey Project
  • 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

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