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Ancient Roman Theatres

If you ever have a look at the amazing Plastico di Roma Imperiale, a plaster model of Rome in the 4th Century, you'll see a bunch of D-shaped buildings. You can see the Theatre of Marcellus on the model below, just on the right of Tiber Island. These are the theatres.

This is a plan of the Theatre of Balbus:

The actual theatre part of the theatre is on the left. The left is where all the theatre action happened. On that section on the right there might be gardens, or shops, or even nothing at all. Here's a closer look at the actual theatre:

The cavea are the steep rows of seats. The rich people sat closest to the bottom, and everyone else sat further up. The very top was reserved, naturally, for slaves and women.

The orchestra was where the most important men sat. The emperor, if he was attending, would have sat here. It was also where dancers and musicians sometimes performed.

The palpitum is the stage.

The scaenae frons is the decorative front wall of the scaena. It formed part of the scene dressing. It could be up to three stories high, and decorated with columns and balconies. It also had a wide staircase in the middle where actors could enter the stage, as well as alternate entrances to the wings.

Behind all this was the narrow scaena, a roofed building at the back of the stage.

In Juvenalia, the second book in the Valerius Mysteries, a whole lot of action takes part in the scaena of the Theatre of Nero. It's where I have my poets and playwrights hanging out while the actors practice, scribbling last minutes changes to their scripts, or, in Petronius Arbiter's case, sleeping off his hangover.

This is the theatre at Palmyra. Imagine how magnificent it would have looked in its heyday!

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