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Greek and Roman Theatre

by Grace Gaunt and Calla Garretson

Evolution of theatre in Greece

Religion was super important in ancient Greek society- religious ceremonious were often very elaborate and involved and are what eventually evolved into theatre. These religious ceremonies and festivals were sponsered by the government and open to all people. Eventually there became a tradition during these festivals where many plays would be performed and playwrights would compete to have theirs be voted the best. Many plays that survived and are famous today are because they were plays that won such contests. Since they evolved from religious ceremonies, plays began as tragedies about the gods or heroes, but eventually developed into comedies and satire.

The Evolution of Theatre

Religious ceremonies and festivals included perfrmances from the chorus praising gods or telling tragic stories

More players and characters were brought into the performances

Priests began to interact with the chorus and the stories during performances

Plays became more popular and widespread as competitions for best play began to be held during such festivals

Plays spread through Greece, other genres such as comedy and satire were created

Greek theatres were open air, outdoor, and caved out of hillsides. In Greek theatre, the seating was open and anyone could sit anywhere.

Greek Vs. Roman Theatre:

Roman theatres were built from the ground up. In Roman theatres, the seating was very heavily segregated by everything from class and gender to even profession and marital status.

Roman plays were heavily influenced by the Greek and the mixing in of Greek culture into Roman society. Rome adapted the Greek theatre traditions and with that brought building an actual space. While plays didn’t originally begin being performed on stages, as they grew in popularity, stages specifically for performance began to appear. All of Rome’s changes to Greek tradition were driven by politics. Greek theatres were open and horseshoe shaped while Roman theatres were fully enclosed and seperated into specific sections. Greek theatres were much simpler while Roman theatres were elaborate and ornate. Rome created the amphitheater for all kinds of entertainment including plays but more often circuses, gladiator combats, or executions.


  • Sophocles: Oedipus Rex, Antigone, Ajax
  • Euripedes: Medea, The Trojan Woman
  • Aeschylus: Promethus Bound, Oresitia, Agamemmnon
  • Aristophanes: The Frogs, Lysistrata,
  • Platus: Amphityron, Persa, Edpidicus
  • Seneca the Younger: Hercules Oetaeus, Octavia, Hercules Furens

Famous Playwrights

Only about 30 Greek plays survived out of hundreds...

6 from Aeschylus

18 from Euripedes

7 from Sophocles

... and no Roman plays survived.

Elements of Greek and Roman Theatre

-Actors wore masks to represent different characters-Plays always included the chorus who helped move the story along-Offstage action, spoken about but not shown- i.e. character deaths-All female roles were performed by men-Usually had a maximum of three actors (and the chorus) who would switch masks and characters between scenes

Other important art forms:

  • Literature - The Illiad and The Odessey by Homer
  • Sculpture - Phidias and Praxiteles, goal was to capture human form and both inner and outer beauty, used marble, bronze, and terricotta
  • Architecture: Doric , Ionic, and Corinthian style, used to make the Parthenon and different ampetheatres

Notable people:

  • Pompey the great- Roman general who took Rome from a republic to an empire (and a lot o other stuff like ending the Spartacus slave revolt and piracy in the Mediterranean) And also built the first theatre in Rome
  • Caesar-Super powerful and famous Roman General- also had beef with Pompey. Made himself dictator and was assasinated in less than a year.
  • Alexander the Great- Powerful military leader responsible for the spread of Hellenistic culture and expanding the Greek kingdom of Macedonia
  • Plato- Greek philosopher that influenced many Greek ideas on things like government and society
  • Socrates- Another Greek philosopher who focused more on morality and ethics

  • Astronomy: Ptolomy' s geocentric thoery of the universe
  • Medicine: Hippocrates and Hippocratic Oath
  • Math: Pythagorean Theorem, Geometry
  • Philiosphy: Socratic Method, Democracy


Artifacts of Greek and Roman Theatre:

Works Cited

https://almeida.co.uk/get-involved/resource-hub/greek-theatre-at-a-glance/#:~:text=The%20three%20most%20famous%20Greek,competitions%E2%80%94some%20against%20each%20other. https://www.naqt.com/you-gotta-know/ancient-greek-plays.html\https://imperiumromanum.pl/en/roman-society/entertainment-in-ancient-rome/theater-performances-in-ancient-rome/ https://alg.manifoldapp.org/read/history-of-theatre-ancient-greece-and-rome/section/7d98577f-981a-4e4e-8d90-668c52feb589 https://www.havefunwithhistory.com/ancient-greece-accomplishments/. https://alg.manifoldapp.org/read/history-of-theatre-ancient-greece-and-rome/section/7d98577f-981a-4e4e-8d90-668c52feb589https://www.reed.edu/humanities/110Tech/Theater.html#:~:text=To%20name%20a%20few%20differences,one%20character%2C%20switch%20masks%20andhttps://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tham/hd_tham.htm#:~:text=The%20first%20permanent%20theater%20in,holding%20up%20to%2020%2C000%20spectators.https://www.cornellcollege.edu/classical_studies/lit/cla364-1-2006/01groupone/scenery.htm#:~:text=But%20there%20some%20very%20distinct,events%20which%20required%20more%20space.