11. Study Questions (23/24) Copy

Plautus and Terence in the second and third centuries BCE, both comic writers influenced by the Greek playwright, Menander. Roman tragedy existed too, influenced by the Athenian playwrights of the 5th century BCE, but the only ones surviving to us are from Seneca, writing in the first century CE.

Surviving texts seem to indicate that theatre was much less popular than mass sporting events, such as gladiatorial fights, chariot racing, and staged animal hunts. It is best to treat these sources with caution, as they are generally scathing of public tastes for ‘unsophisticated’ public spectacles.

This is a typical essay question that you may get. There are a range of possible responses here, but however you answer, you must always give a balanced response, and make use of any evidence to support your points.


Smaller venues, so a more intimate experience

No (real) deaths or violence

Culturally enriching for those who admired Greek culture

A range of types of plays (give examples)

Possibility of unusual actors appearing eg Nero


Our main sources are textual and from Roman elite (explain why this may be a bad thing)


Lots of sources tell us how popular it was

Large amphitheatres attest to large numbers of spectators

Graffiti of gladiators shows its popularity with ordinary people

Lots of exotic animals to see

Violent events exciting for audience

Sometimes emperors fought in arena eg Commodus


May have been not to everyone’s tastes

Crowded with possibility of crush accidents

No real written evidence to suggest what ordinary people thought

Gladiator games put on by the rich and powerful, so perhaps everybody had to pretend they liked it


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