List of Ancient Roman Theatres

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The Roman theatres built during the Roman period are found all over the Roman Empire. The following article also includes the older theatres that were re-worked, upscaled, reconstructed or expanded during the Roman period of authority (as is the case of the Athenian Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus). The following article does not differenciates between theatre and odeon and enlists both.

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Roman theatres derive from and are part of the overall evolution of earlier Greek theatres. 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 generally being built upon their own foundations instead of earthen works or a hillside and being completely enclosed on all sides.

This article lists the Roman theatres in chronological order, previously existing theatres that were modified, reconstructed or reworked are dated to their original or first construction.

List of the Roman Theatres

circa 400 BCE

Athens (Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus)
The Theatre of Dionysus, located on the southern side of the Acropolis in Athens, holds great significance as the archetype of Greek theaters and as the birthplace of classical Greek drama. Its development commenced with the construction of the orchestra, a circular area measuring 60 feet in diameter, featuring a central altar. Positioned near the temples dedicated to nature and the fertility deity Dionysus, this orchestra became the focal point for dramatic performances held during the annual spring festival of the god, which encompassed processions and sacrificial rituals.

Throughout the fifth century BCE, the Theatre of Dionysus assumed a vital role as the venue for theatrical competitions, showcasing the inaugural performances of plays by notable playwrights such as Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, and Aristophanes. These playwrights' works emerged from the Dionysian tradition and contributed significantly to the development of Greek drama. During this period, the auditorium, possibly furnished with wooden benches, was constructed into the slope of the hill, providing seating for the audience. The skene, a building serving as the backdrop for the theatrical performances, was positioned on the opposite side of the orchestra.

circa 150 BCE

Pompeii (Large Theatre)
The Large Theatre, constructed during the second century BCE, was an early example of a permanent stone theater within the Roman empire. It was built into a natural hill and had the capacity to accommodate approximately 5,000 spectators. Following the Greek architectural style, the seating tiers extended from the orchestra area, which was carved out of the hillside.

Around 2 BCE, the theater underwent renovations and was presented as a gift to the city of Pompeii. The benefactors responsible for the renovation were M. Holconius Rufus and M. Holconius Celer, both wealthy politicians. Their support in improving the theater likely served their political ambitions within the city. Furthermore, as these individuals had experience in political roles related to the colony's relationship with the emperor, it is possible that the Roman-style renovations of the theater were also intended as a tribute to the emperor and as a means to further integrate Pompeii into the broader Roman Empire. An inscription found in the theater attests to their contribution and dedication to the city.

circa 80 BCE

Pompeii (Odeon)
The Odeon of Pompeii, constructed in 80 BCE, was a smaller theater known as a theatrum tectum, which provided seating for around 1500 spectators. It followed the architectural plan commonly found in Roman theaters and odeon structures. While the Large Theatre of Pompeii primarily hosted dramatic performances, the Odeon served as a venue for council meetings and entertainment.

The Odeon's design features thin walls and a rectangular layout, suggesting that its roof was most likely made of wood rather than stone vaults. Two elevated platforms, called tribunalia, were situated above the seating area and reserved for important guests. These platforms were completely separated from the general seating and could be accessed through narrow staircases near the stage.

circa 130 CE

The Roman theatre of Jerusalem is the first rediscovered example of a Roman public building in Jerusalem. Half-finished steps and guide marks on some stones suggest the arena may not have been completed at the time it was filled in. Archaeologists said they believe it was never used.

According to Uziel, the theatre was never fully finished, stairs are not fully hewn and there are rocks that have guide marks but weren’t fully carved. It is possible that the Bar Kochba Revolt in the second century CE (circa 130 CE.) interrupted its construction. This points to mounting evidence of Roman-era habitation of the site. Located eight meters below the Wilson's Arch, the structure served as an odeon (a small acoustic roofed theater) or a bouleuterion (a city council), or even perhaps both.

circa 140 CE

The Roman theatre of Bosra, constructed using black basalt, was most likely built during the reign of Roman emperor Trajan, either in the second quarter (circa 53 CE) or the second half of the second century CE (143 CE). With a diameter of 102 meters, it is one of the largest theaters of the Ancient Roman civilization, providing seating for approximately 17,000 spectators. This theater served a thriving city that boasted a population of 80,000 inhabitants. Remarkably well-preserved, it stands as one of the finest examples of Roman theater architecture, not only in Syria but also across the entire Roman Empire. Extensive restoration work took place between 1947 and 1970 CE, during which the interior was discovered to be filled with sand, potentially contributing to its preservation.

circa 150 CE

The Roman theatre of Sepphoris is estimated to have been built in the second century CE and could seat up to 4,000 people. It is believed that the theater was used for various types of performances, including plays, musical performances, and gladiator fights. The theater was constructed on a hillside and is made of local limestone. It features a semi-circular seating area that is divided into three tiers, with the lower tier reserved for VIPs. The stage is located at the bottom of the seating area and is surrounded by a colonnaded walkway.

circa 160 CE

Athens (Odeon of Herodes Atticus)
Referred to as "Herodeon" among the local population, the structure commonly known as the Herodes Atticus Odeon was constructed in Athens between 160 and 174 CE. This architectural marvel was commissioned by Herodes Atticus, a prominent benefactor of Athens, as a tribute to his late wife, Rigilla. Serving as the third odeon to be erected in Athens, it notably deviated from the nearby Theatre of Dionysos by embracing distinct Roman design elements.

Characterized by Roman-style arches and a three-story stage building, the original Herodes Atticus Odeon featured a partially covered structure, which boasted a combination of wood and tiled roofing. Over time, the circular orchestra has transformed into a semi-circle, now adorned with an exquisite flooring of black and white marble. The marble auditorium, comprising 35 rows, extends slightly beyond the semi-circle, encompassing a diameter of 80 meters. Presently, it offers seating capacity for 4,680 individuals.

circa 165 CE

The Roman theater of Thamugadi, situated in present-day Timgad, Algeria, is a remarkable architectural structure that exemplifies the influence of Roman civilization in the region. Carved into the slope of a small hill located south of the forum, the theater was meticulously designed to accommodate an audience of up to 4,000 spectators. Its strategic placement within the city's urban landscape indicates the importance of cultural and communal gatherings in the civic life of Thamugadi.

Based on an inscription dedicating the theater, its construction can be attributed to the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, which spanned from 161 to 169 CE. The theater's completion in 168 CE marks a significant milestone in the architectural development of Thamugadi, showcasing the advanced engineering and artistic prowess of the Roman builders.

circa 180 CE

The Roman Theatre of Amman stands as the most remarkable testament to the ancient city of Philadelphia, known as Amman during its existence as part of the Roman Decapolis. This network of cities formed a frontier of the Roman Empire in the southeastern Levant. Historical evidence suggests that the theater was constructed during the reign of the Antonine emperors, towards the conclusion of the second century CE.

The theater's impressive design features a semicircular arrangement of tiered seating, ingeniously carved into the natural slopes of Jabal Al-Jofeh hill. These seating sections span three horizontal levels, encompassing a total of 44 rows, thus accommodating approximately 6,000 spectators. Notably, the theater is oriented towards the north, strategically shielding the audience from the sun's glare and ensuring their comfort during performances. The seating arrangements within the theater were dictated by social hierarchies, with the upper section reserved for individuals of lower social standing, including the urban poor, foreigners, slaves, and women.

The stage building, spanning an impressive width of approximately 100 meters, is estimated to have comprised three stories. The wooden stage itself, elevated 1.5 meters above the chorus performance area known as the orchestra, played a central role in theatrical productions. The orchestra, boasting a radius of 13 meters, served as a space for the choral performances that were an integral part of ancient Greek and Roman theater.

circa 200 CE

The Roman Theatre in Palmyra, situated in the Syrian Desert, is an ancient theater dating back to the second century CE during the Severan period. Originally left unfinished, the theater has undergone restoration efforts to preserve its remains. Positioned at the heart of a semicircular colonnaded square, which leads to the South Gate of Palmyra, the theater serves as a prominent centerpiece. In the 1950s, the theater was meticulously excavated and cleared of sand, subsequently undergoing extensive restoration work to ensure its conservation and allow visitors to appreciate its historical significance.


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