Benevento Revisisted: The Theater

In addition to the Arch of Trajan, Benevento has a very nice Roman era theater worth visiting.

Exterior of the Roman theater

Up until the end of the Republican Era,  Roman theaters were temporary wooden structures.  It was Pompey, inspired by the Greek example at Mytilene, who constructed the first masonry theater on the Campo Marzio in 55BC.  Although based on greek prototypes, the Roman form differs in several important aspects.  While the Greek theater was built into hillsides or sloping terrain, the Roman version was generally a freestanding structure.

View of theater from the Coro

Also the strict hierarchal nature of roman society is revealed in the changing function of its elements.   The open space between the seating and the stage, the ‘Coro,’ was reserved for the chorus in the Greek theater.  In the Roman version temporary seating was placed for the magistrates, senators, knights and other important types in a precise order according to their importance.

Interior vaulting

The theater follows the typical semicircular plan and was constructed in brick and stone.   A good part of the structure remains and the site is full of decorative and architectural fragments.   A Baroque church was built into the building and consumed about 20 percent of the left stage and seating.  In the recent past the theater was adapted for contemporary use as you see in the modern seating and temporary stage in front of the Scaenae Frons, or permanent backdrop that is a feature of all Roman theater buildings.

The remains of the scaenae frons

The niches once displayed statues and the rest of the Scaenea Frons was richly decorated with columns and other architectural elements.  The site behind the theater is full of marble columns, capitals and sculptures.  As you can see below:

Column and sculpture fragments

Within this row there are some real gems.  There are a series of draped figures that were of the magistrates.  These officials often hosted the theatrical performances, or ludi scainici.  They would often commemorate themselves with marble statues that would be placed in one of the many niches.  Below is photo of an example:

Sculpture of magistrate

Also among the fragments are some wonderful reliefs of masks.  In highest form of classical Roman theater  there were three types of scaena:  tragedy, comedy and satire.  All the actors were male and wore different color masks and costumes to indicate particular characters.  Brown masks were for the masculine and white for the feminine.  The color and form of the clothing would show age and social rank.

Sculptures of masks

By the Imperial era, the range of theatrical entertainment expanded beyond the original elaboration of religious festivals.  Women were included in the shows, but on the whole, the actor was not considered a respectable profession.   However some actors did become quite famous and wealthy.  A certain Lucio Aurelio Aupolausto Menfio was commemorated with statues in various cities in Italy.

It is quite fun to walk around and try to piece together all the little pieces and imagine the splendor of the original building.

Relief sculpture from a vault
A mask, column capital, etc

Some of the marble facing has been reinstalled to give an idea of how one of the entrance halls might have been.

Marble facing

Several of the mosaics have been removed and mounted on panels to preserve them.  Why they are left outside, who knows.

Mosaic fragments

Unfortunately, the whole site is in a state of disrepair and quasi abandonment.  The scaffolding and construction barriers are everywhere.  But there are no workers.  Italy is going through a difficult time economically and its patrimony is the first to suffer.  Budget cuts and changing priorities of contemporary culture have literally left monuments like this one go to weed.

Fragments and relief of Hercules in the weeds

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