Ancient Roman Entertainment Structures: Purpose and Function
Since I have made mention of entertainments, I will not omit to say that in all the great variety of stage sayings, there was never a point, at which something said by the playwright seemed relevant to our own times, which either escaped the notice of the people as a whole, or which the actor himself failed to bring out.Cicero, Pro Sestio 55.
Pompey the Great, a man second only to his own theatre, when he had constructed that citadel of all the vices, fearing that the censors might one day criticize his reputation, added a temple of Venus on top, and calling the people by a proclamation to its dedication, called it not a theatre, but a temple of Venus, ‘under which,’ he said, ‘we have put rows of seats for the shows.’ Thus he dressed up this damned and damnable work with the name of a temple, and eluded the law by the aid of pagan superstition.Tertullian, On Public Shows X
Figure 1: Apartment buildings in the remains of the Theatre of Marcellus. © University of Reading
 An edict was passed in the following words: ‘The Quindecemviri of Sacred Affairs announce: We have added honorary games for seven days to the games of the festival, to be started by us on the Nones of June, the Latin (plays) in the theatre of wood by the Tiber at the second hour (after daylight), the thymelic Greek plays in the theatre of Pompey at the third hour, and the Greek stage plays in the theatre in the Circus Flaminius at the fourth hour.…… an edict was passed in the following words: ‘The Quindecemviri of Sacred Affairs announce: On the day before the Ides of June we will give a beast hunt …On the day before the Ides after a procession of boys…  M. Agrippa (provided) chariots … All this were enacted by the Quindecemviri of Sacred Affairs, Imperator Caesar Augustus, Marcus Agrippa (et al.) Acta of the Ludi Saeculares, CIL VI.32323, l.155-168
Figure 2: Digital reconstruction of the Theatre of Marcellus. © Dr Matthew Nicholls, University of ReadingThe dates in question are the 5 to 11 of June 17 BC, and the timings of the theatre entertainments (in our terms) run from about 7am in the Theatre of Pompey and from about 8.15am in the Theatre of Marcellus (Romans, without cheap reliable artificial illumination, used daylight hours as thoroughly as possible, getting up at dawn). We might imagine crowds of festival goers moving between Pompey’s great theatre, by this date an established part of the cityscape, and moving on to Augustus’ brand new Theatre of Marcellus, which in fact would not be finally completed and dedicated for another four years. Augustus was weaving the city’s entertainment architecture into a great civic pageant linking heaven, earth, city, and emperor.You can view the Theatre of Marcellus in Rome in our 360° panorama picture.Please note: this link takes you to the external site ‘Panellum’.
Rome: A Virtual Tour of the Ancient City
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