The was the Theater of Pompey, constructed in 55

The Theater of Marcellus was a large entertainment venue
located near the Tiber River and was one of the three permanent theaters in
the city of ancient Rome.
The theater’s construction was originally begun by Julius Caesar before his
death in 44 BC and was later completed by Emperor Augustus in 11 BC. Augustus
named the theater in honor of his nephew and son-in-law Marcellus, who was to
be Augustus’ heir but who had died of an illness at the age of 19 in 23 BC.

Theatrical productions in Rome date back to at least 240 BC. However,
the productions were usually performed in temporary wooden theaters which were
taken down after the theatrical production had finished. By the first century
BC, Rome had
three permanent theaters. The first was the Theater of Pompey, constructed in
55 BC by the Roman general and statesman Pompey the Great. The second permanent
theater was the Theater of Balbus, constructed in 13 BC by the Roman proconsul Lucius
Cornelius Balbus. The third and most important permanent theater in Rome was the Theater of

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The Theater of Marcellus, built near the Tiber River,
was an open-air theater, three stories high, capable of accommodating up to 15,000
to 20,000 spectators. The building was entered through the lower archways, beneath
which were corridors and stairways leading to many different sections of
seating. Inside, the theater was comprised of a semicircular auditorium with
tiered seating, a semicircular orchestra area and a shallow stage, which extended
almost the entire width of the seating area. Directly behind the stage was a building
known as a scaena, with several
balconies and columns. The scaena was as tall as the seating area, three
stories high, and provided a decorative background to the stage as well as a
dressing area for the actors. In an enclosed courtyard behind the scaena were
two small temples which are believed to have been dedicated to Diana, the
goddess of the hunt and Pietas, the goddess who represented the Roman virtue of


Performances at the theater included plays of Roman
historical events, tragedy and comedy as well as productions of mime, pantomime,
poetry and music. In 17 BC, before the theater was fully completed, it was used
for the theatrical productions of an important Roman religious celebration known
as the Ludi Saeculares (Latin for “Century Games”). The celebration
of Ludi Saeculares took place over a period of three days and included
religious sacrifices to the gods, chariot races, hunting displays and theatrical
productions. It marked the end of a saeculum
(Latin for “generation” or “century”) and the beginning of
the next.


After the introduction of Christianity in the fourth
century AD, the theater’s use gradually declined.  In the Renaissance a palazzo (Italian for
“palace”) was built on top of the ruins of the theater, in the area once
occupied by the theater’s auditorium and stage. Today, you can still see part
of the first and second stories of the ancient theater’s semicircular seating
area on the exterior of the Renaissance palazzo