Triangular Forum: columns and a decorated bench
This part of Pompeii was excavated in the late XVIIIth century. The Triangular Forum was situated on the southern edge of the terrace upon which the town stood. Its unusual shape was determined by that of the ground. It was preceded by a portico with high Doric columns. It was built in the late IInd century BC at the same time as the adjoining theatre. It included a small temple most likely dedicated to Minerva and Hercules.
A visit to the theatre elicited some grim thoughts in Mark Twain: I entered the theatre, and sat down in one of the long rows of stone benches in the dress circle, and looked at the place for the orchestra, and the ruined stage, and around at the wide sweep of empty boxes, and thought to myself, "This house won't pay." I tried to imagine the music in full blast, the leader of the orchestra beating time, and the "versatile" So-and-So (who had "just returned from a most successful tour in the provinces to play his last and farewell engagement of positively six nights only, in Pompeii, previous to his departure for Herculaneum,") charging around the stage and piling the agony mountains high—but I could not do it with such a "house" as that; those empty benches tied my fancy down to dull reality. I said, these people that ought to be here have been dead, and still, and moldering to dust for ages and ages, and will never care for the trifles and follies of life any more for ever—"Owing to circumstances, etc., etc., there will not be any performance to-night." Close down the curtain. Put out the lights.
Mark Twain - The Innocents Abroad - 1869.
Large Theatre: details
The theatre was built in the IInd century BC in part exploiting the slope of a small elevation of the ground. It was enlarged in the Ist century AD and it held an audience of 5,000. The decurions (members of a sort of local Senate) and other important citizens of the town sat on bisella, folding chairs placed on the first four steps. Based on mosaics and paintings representing theatrical subjects found at Pompeii, archaeologists believe the season was mainly based on comedies, farces in the local dialect, and mime and dance performances.
Palaestra of the Gladiators near the Large Theatre
This large square portico was a sort of foyer where the audience could stroll before or after performances or shelter during a sudden thunderstorm. After the earthquake which struck Pompeii in 62 AD it was used by gladiators for practicing, most likely because the Great Palaestra near the Amphitheatre had been too damaged to be used.
Small Theatre (Odeon)
Pompeii was one of the towns which rebelled against Rome in the 91-88 BC "Social War". It was punished by being forced to accept settlers from Rome and towns loyal to Rome who were given control of the local political scene. It was perhaps to meet the more refined tastes of the new settlers that a small covered theatre was built to house musical performances and poetry readings/contests. The decoration of this building includes eagles, the symbol of Rome, and sileni, followers of Dionysus, named after Silenus, the tutor of the god who is portrayed in a statue at the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens.
Palaestra Sannitica (IInd century BC)
This small building with a portico on three sides owes its name to a dedicatory inscription in Oscan language. This language was spoken by the Samnites and other tribes of southern Italy. Initially inscriptions were written in an alphabet derived from the Etruscan one, but in a second phase Latin and Greek alphabets were used. The written Oscan language was entirely replaced by Latin in the Ist century BC.
Views of the Amphitheatre
The sites of the first excavations of Pompeii were chosen in a rather casual way and initially not all the ruins were believed to belong to the same town. Only at the beginning of the XIXth century was it decided to excavate all the wall enclosure in order to identify the exact location of Pompeii. In 1827 the amphitheatre was completely freed from the 6m/19ft layer of ashes which covered it. It is one of the largest and earliest (70 BC) buildings of this type. In part it exploited a natural depression of the ground, so that from the interior it looks taller than from outside.
Amphitheatre: (left) one of the two main entrances; (right) inscription celebrating the construction of the building by two "duumviri",
magistrates in charge of the administration of the town for one year. The image used as background for this page shows another inscription
celebrating the construction of the Odeon by the same "duumviri"
The amphitheatre could seat 20,000 spectators who in part came from other towns.
About the same time (59 AD) a trifling beginning led to frightful bloodshed between the inhabitants of Nuceria and Pompeii, at a gladiatorial show exhibited by Livineius Regulus, who had been, as I have related, expelled from the Senate. With the unruly spirit of townsfolk, they began with abusive language of each other; then they took up stones and at last weapons, the advantage resting with the populace of Pompeii, where the show was being exhibited. And so there were brought to Rome a number of the people of Nuceria, with their bodies mutilated by wounds, and many lamented the deaths of children or of parents. The emperor (Nero) entrusted the trial of the case to the Senate, and the Senate to the consuls, and then again the matter being referred back to the Senators, the inhabitants of Pompeii were forbidden to have any such public gathering for ten years, and all associations they had formed in defiance of the laws were dissolved. Livineius and the others who had excited the disturbance, were punished with exile.
Tacitus - The Annals - Book XIV - Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb.
The ban was lifted after the 62 earthquake.
Great Palaestra (reconstructed)
This large portico was built at the time of Emperor Augustus as a place where the youth of Pompeii could exercise and compete. It was part of an overall "moral" policy promoted by the Emperor to bring back the Romans to their ancient lifestyle which contacts with eastern civilizations had mollified. It is likely that the Great Palaestra was used by gladiators too. The description of the incident occurred at the amphitheatre suggests that the "gladiators" were teams of local youths trained in martial arts.