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Site Documentation


By James Packer

Research Problems

After the excavation of the Hercules Righetti, despite frequent chance finds of architectural elements and fragments of sculpture, no serious archaeological investigations were carried out on the site.  All subsequent reconstructions and studies of the Theater of Pompey, therefore, have necessarily been based, in the most generalized fashion, on Baltard’s drawings,  themselves partially derived from the earlier study of Canina. But, while these earlier investigations have given us much precious information on the plan and architectural detailing of the theater, their random and incomplete character leave many important questions unanswered. Was there an internal ambulacrum parallel to the outer one and closer to the orchestra? Baltard shows two; Pellegrini and Canina none, none.

Baltard, Plan of the Theater of Pompey

Pellegrini, Plan of the external ambulacrum of the Theater of Pompey

Canina, Plan of the Theater of Pompey 

How were the stairways positioned? Since neither Baltard’s nor Pellegrini’s plans show them, we have no clear archaeological or documentary evidence for the plan of the ground floor below the seats of the cavea. And the plans of the interior of the cavea and of the scaenae frons (the stage building) are equally uncertain. Thus we do not know how closely later builders reproduced Pompey’s Theater.  Did they copy its plan and decor exactly? Did they learn from its defects? How did they incorporate later architectural innovations into Pompey’s August fabric?  Without precise documentation of the Theater’s accessible remains and archaeological investigation of the surviving fabric, there were no convincing answers to such questions. Indeed, as recently as 1997,  even a first-rate scholar like Filippo Coarelli, in the section on the Theater of Pompey in his comprehensive monograph on the ancient Campus Martius, reviewed only the cadastral and literary evidence for the building. 

Documentation: “The Pompey Project”

The Early Reconstructions

This was the state of scholarly knowledge on the Theater of Pompey until 1996. Beginning in 1997, a team based at the University of Warwick received a series of major grants successively from the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, British The Arts and Humanities Research Board and Warwick and Northwestern Universities to enable a programme of extensive research and to undertake the first ever scientific and comprehensive survey of the existing state of the Theatre of Pompey. This work, directed by Prof. Richard Beacham and co-directed by Prof. James Packer, was strongly endorsed by the Archaeological Superintendent of Rome, Adriano La Regina. The work in progress of the Pompey Project has produced many of the materials selected for illustration here, and enabled the excavations at the site which are currently being undertaken.

Letter of endorsement by the
Archaeological Superintendent of Rome


Since its physical state had not been investigated since the work of Baltard, the team began with study of the 19th and early 20th century reconstructions by Canina, Baltard, and Gismondi  and with documentation.

Canina, Section of Theater of Pompey looking west

Luigi Canina (1795-1856) undertook the first serious study of the theater in 1835, pinpointing the four principal sources scholars have subsequently used in their studies of the monument: (1) the chance remarks of ancient literary sources; (2) Vitruvius’ essay on the construction of  the Roman theater (Book 3, chapter 5); (3) the representation of the Theater on the Forma Urbis, and (4) study of the surviving remains. Canina’s impressive results may be studied both in his original drawings and in the three dimensional model recently constructed by Martin Blazeby for the Pompey project.

Luigi Canina, Theater of Pompey, 3D model by Martin Blazeby, looking SW

Two years after Canina’s study (1837), Victoire Baltard undertook a second reconstruction of the Theater, basing his work on Canina, but supplementing Canina’s work with several knowledgeably located excavations that allowed him to make sensible new suggestions on the character of the scaenae frons (the stage) and the facade.

Without further original research, Italo Gismondi’s reconstruction of the 1930s for the model of the city of Rome in Rome’s Museum of Civilization combined the two earlier models and added two buildings in the peristyle behind the scaenae frons.  (All the ancient sources locate gardens there, and Gismondi’s error resulted from a misreading of the Forma Urbis).

Baltard, Back of Theater of Pompey and the Temple of Venus Victrix

Gismondi, Model of the Theater of Pompey in the Museum of Roman Civilization

The Documentation

Under the auspices of grants (to Prof. Beacham) from the British Academy and Warwick University, Professors Beacham and Packer also collaborated with Dario Silenzi and his team of architects in Rome to produce the first modern plans, sections, and elevations of the existing remains. This new documentation was essential. Although Tata Giovanni had modern plans of Palazzo Pio –and gladly provided copies, we had no means of checking their accuracy and that of  earlier site plans. Had Canina’s measurements been accurate? Those of Baltard? Had Baltard and Canina drawn and located the remains of the Theater accurately with respect modern block outlines and street addresses? Earlier scholars–even so reliable a one as Antonio M. Colini – usually identify the ancient remains by locating them with respect to a modern business. Most of the businesses of the 1930s and earlier have disappeared, however, and their exact locations are not always certain. Accordingly, our plans (the on-site measurements taken with a modern laser transit)  show the outlines of the blocks, street addresses, where possible, the names of the establishments that currently occupy these premises, and the ancient remains.  For many of the latter, we also provide sections and detailed elevations. Including aerial views, pictures of all the modern building facades on the site, interior views, and pictures of ancient rooms s and  their walls, our digital views supplement the measured drawings.

Gismondi, Plan of the Theater of Pompey (Francesca Gagliardo)
Gismondi, E-W section of the Theater of Pompey looking N  (Francesca Gagliardo)

Tata Giovanni, Partial  plan of Palazzo Pio along Via di Grotta Pinta and Piazza del Biscione

Site map showing antiquities, addresses, and businesses on the Theater of Pompey Site (Dario Silenzi)

Theater of Pompey: Position of ancient rooms, lowest level

Theater of Pompey: Position of ancient rooms, middle level

Theater of Pompey: Position of ancient rooms, upper level

Ancient Rooms reached from “Ristorante Pancrazio”

Section of some of the rooms (Nos. 10, 11, 12) reached from “Ristorante Da Pancarazio,” looking west

Room 12 (digital view) facing west