Julius Caesar planned to build a theatre (Suet. Caes. 44: theatrumquesummae magnitudinis Tarpeio monti accubans; Cass. Dio xliii. 49. 2; liii. 30. 5), and to make room for it he removed the temple of PIETAS (q.v.) in the forum Holitorium and other shrines and private houses (Plin. NH vii. 21 ; Cass. Dio xliii. 49. 3), but the building was not actually constructed by him but by Augustus, who found it necessary to purchase additional land from private owners at his own expense (Mon. Anc. iv. 22).
The theatre was a memorial of Marcellus and dedicated in his name (Cass. Dio, Mon. Anc. locc. citt.; Liv. Epit. 138; Suet. Aug. 29; Plut. Marc. 30). In 17 B.C. the work of construction was so far advanced that part of the celebration of the ludi saeculares took place within the theatre (CIL vi. 32323. 157 ;1 EE viii. 233), but the dedication did not occur until 13 (Cass. Dio liv. 26. i), or less probably II (Plin. NH viii. 65; cf. Chron. Pasch. a. u. c. 732, ed. Momms. i. 218). On this occasion magnificent games were held (Cass. Dio liii. 30. 6; liv. 26. I; Suet. Aug. 43). Augustus placed four remarkable marble columns from the house of Scaurus on the Palatine ‘in regia theatri ‘ (Asc. in Scaur. 45), but whether this was the middle door in the scaena, as was .probably the case in the theatre of POMPEIUS (q.v.), or one of the halls at the ends of the scaena (see below), is uncertain (LR 498; BC 1901, 56). Besides the ordinary form of the name, the theatre was also called theatrum Marcellianum (Suet. Vesp. 9 ; Mart. ii. 29. 5; CIL vi. 33838 a).
Vespasian restored the scaena (Suet. Vesp. 19), which had perhaps been injured when the Vitellians stormed the Capitol, and Alexander Severus is said to have intended to restore it again (Hist. Alex. Sev. 44), but of this nothing more is known. Martial mentions this theatre with that of Pompeius as one of the notable structures of the city (x. 51. 11); and parts of the ludi saeculares of Severus were celebrated in it, as in the games of Augustus (CIL vi. 32328, 33 ; EE viii. 271, 285). It is found on sundry inscriptions as an indication of location (Fast. Allif. Vail. a. d. xvi Kal. Sept., CIL i². 217, 240, Amit. a. d. xv Kal. Nov., 12. p. 245: Iano ad theatrum Marcelli; Urb. CIL i². 252, 339; vi. 9868: sagarius a theatro Marcelli; 10028; 33838 a: coactor a theatro Marcelliano); in Servius incidentally (Aen. vii. 607, cf. Jord. i. 2, 347); and in Reg. (Reg. IX).
Some of the travertine blocks used in the restoration of the pons Cestius in 370 A.D. were taken from this theatre (NS 1886, 159), which may perhaps indicate that the destruction of the building had begun by that time, although Petronius Maximus, prefect of the city, set up statues within it in 421, and one inscribed pedestal was found in situ in the eighth century by the compiler of the Einsiedeln Itinerary (CIL vi. 1650). Hulsen has shown (RPA i. 169-174; HCh 226 (S. Caeciliae de Monte Faffo, cf. 337 2) that the name templum Marcelli still clung to the ruins in 998, that the Fabii or Faffi were in possession of them as early as the middle of the twelfth century, and held them until the end of the thirteenth, when they were succeeded by the Savelli. It is very doubtful, on the other hand, whether the Pierleoni had any connection with the theatre. In 1368 it came into the possession of the Savelli family, and in 1712 into that of the Orsini. The present Palazzo was built by Baldassare Peruzzi for the Savelli in the early part of the sixteenth century, and stands upon the scaena and a large part of the cavea of the theatre (BC 1901, 52-70; 1914, 109; Lovatelli, Passeggiate nella Roma antica, Rome 1909, 53-88; LS iii. 7-8; for drawings of the ruins from the fifteenth century,/dateRange> on, see literature just quoted; PBS ii., index to plates, p. 90; vi. 200; DuP 134-136; and see Ill. 48; and HJ 517, n. 29, 30; for a reconstruction, Canina, Ed. iv. pls. 159-163; for a reliable plan, that of Peruzzi, Uffizi 478, 631,3 ap. Bartoli, Mon. di Roma ii. pl. 185).
The theatre is represented on fragments (28, 112) of the Marble Plan, and stands near the Tiber, on the north-west side of the forum Holitorium. The stage is toward the river, and the main axis runs north- north-east and south-south-west. It was built of travertine for the most part, with opus reticulatum in the foundations and inner walls (AJA 1912, 393), covered on the inside-and perhaps partly on the outside-with stucco and marble. A little less than one-third of the semi-circular exterior is still standing in the Via del Teatro di Marcello. It was built with three series of open arcades, one above the other. Between the arches of the lowest arcade are half-columns of the Doric order, and above them is a Doric entablature with triglyphs and an attic, 1.20 metre high, with projections that form the bases of the half- columns of the second Ionic arcade. The entablature above these columns consists of an architrave of three projecting ledges, with a plain frieze and cornice. The original third arcade with Corinthian pilasters has been entirely destroyed and replaced with modern masonry. Thirteen piers, 3 metres wide and 2 thick, with their engaged columns, are still standing, and were till lately buried to about one-third of their height beneath the ground. Immediately within these piers was an ambulatory running round the cavea, from which spur walls were built on radial lines to support the tiers of seats. The construction of the walls, seats, etc., as well as of the exterior, seems to have been quite like that of the theatre of Pompeius and that which was afterwards developed in the Colosseum. The arcades, ambulatories, and chambers between the open walls have now been cleared. The diameter of the theatre was about 150 metres, the scaena was about 80-9o metres long and 20 deep; and at each end of the scaena was an apsidal hall, about 25 by 15 metres, one of which may have been the regia (see above).
According to the Notitia, this theatre had 20500 loca, and if this is interpreted to mean running feet of seats, as is usual at present, it would accommodate from ten to fourteen thousand spectators (BC 1894, 320), but much doubt attaches to these estimates of seating capacity (in addition to literature cited see in general BC 1901, 65-70; HJ 515-519; LR 493-495; D’Esp. Mon. i. 36-38; ASA 88; ZA 231-236; Capitolium i. 529-534; ii. 594-600).
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Cite this page as: Darius Arya, The American Institute for Roman Culture, “Theatrum Marcelli (Theater of Marcellus)” Ancient Rome Live. Last modified 01/21/2021. https://ancientromelive.org/theatrum-marcelli-theater-of-marcellus/
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