Roman Theatres


One form of entertainment brought by the Romans that was completely new to the Celts was the theatre. Theatre had been invented by the Greeks around 500BC, and many great plays were written - comedies and tragedies - that are still performed today. The Romans performed some of these Greek plays but mostly wrote their own.


Actually only five theatres are known in Britain, so it seems drama and music were not that popular with the Britons. The Celts seemed to prefer the more brutal entertainment of the amphitheatre, with its wild beast and gladiator shows. In fact, some of these theatres seemed connected to temples, and so it may have been more religious Celtic ceremonies that took place in these theatres.


The most famous theatre in Britain is at St. Albans, north of London, or Verulamium as it was known in Roman times. This theatre was used for plays but also as an amphitheatre, for gladiator and animal fights (mainly bulls and bears). It was also used for religious ceremonies, and there was a temple right next to the theatre.


The design of a Roman theatre, borrowed from the Greeks, was a semicircular shape for the seating which rose in rows. The seats were wooden on top of earth banks supported by wooden walls. As many as 7,000 people could sit on these seats. The stage was also wooden with scenery painted at the back. Theatres in other parts of the Roman empire are far more impressive stone structures.


Theatre in Italy was mostly comic, and quite vulgar. There were silly versions of myths, or about modern life. The actors usually wore masks. There were also mimes, simple adventure tales, in which women were allowed to act, wearing lots of make-up instead of masks. Also there were pantomimes, which were dances miming the action of a mythical story set to music.



The theatre at Aphrodisias, Turkey



Model of a Roman actor's mask

Reconstruction of the theatre at Verulamium (St. Albans)



The theatre at Verulamium - the seats used to be where the grassy banks are now


Artist's impression of a day at the Verulamium theatre





Theatre at Orange, France



Theatre in Jordan