The Role of Theatron in Greek Theatre

How Important Was the Theatron to the Early Greek Theater?

Theatre of Fourvière
Theatre of Fourvière. CC Flickr User bjaglin

The theatron (plural theatra) is the word referring to the seating area section of an ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine theater. The theatron is one of the earliest and most pronounced parts of ancient theaters. In fact, some scholars argue it is the most significant part of Greek and Roman theatrical structures, the part that defines them. Theatra in Classical Greek and Roman theaters are spectacular forms of architecture, built of circular or semi-circular rows of seating in stone or marble, each row increasing in height.

The earliest Greek theaters date to the 6th to 5th centuries CE, and they included theatra in rectangular sections of seating made of wooden bleachers called ikria. Even in this rudimentary state, the theatron was a crucial part of a theater, drawing attention to the audience and providing a place where many people could be housed to be addressed or entertained. The Greek playwright Aristophanes mentions the theatron in each of his extant plays, particularly when the actors address the audience directly. 

Other Meanings of Theatron

Other definitions of theatron include the people themselves. Like the word "church," which can refer to both an architectural structure or the people who use it, the theatron can mean both the seats and the seated. The word theatron also refers to seating or standing areas built over springs or cisterns, so spectators could come and view the waters and watch the mysterious vapors rise.

Whether or not you consider the theatron a defining part of a theater, the seating area is certainly why those ancient theaters are so recognizable to every one of us today.

Sources

  • Dilke OAW. 1948. The Greek Theatre Cavea. The Annual of the British School at Athens 43:125-192.
  • Marciniak P. 2007. Byzantine Theatron - A Place of Performance? In: Grünbart M, editor. Theatron: Rhetorische Kultur in Spätantike und Mittelalter / Rhetorical Culture in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. p 277-286.
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Gill, N.S. "The Role of Theatron in Greek Theatre." ThoughtCo, Aug. 16, 2017, thoughtco.com/theatron-definition-and-examples-in-greek-drama-117999. Gill, N.S. (2017, August 16). The Role of Theatron in Greek Theatre. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/theatron-definition-and-examples-in-greek-drama-117999 Gill, N.S. "The Role of Theatron in Greek Theatre." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/theatron-definition-and-examples-in-greek-drama-117999 (accessed December 15, 2017).