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The Theatre of Pompey


By James Packer

Fig. 1. The Theater of Pompey, looking southeast, restored
model by Italo Gismondi in the Museum of Roman civilization, Rome

The Site

Fig. 2. The Campus Martius as it may have appeared before the foundation of Rome
The Theater of Pompey stood on the southern section of ancient Rome’s Campus Martius, the Field of Mars. As its name suggests, in the period when the Senate ruled Rome (the “Republic,” 509 B.C.–  31 B.C.), this largely empty space was the site where the Roman citizen army assembled before marching out against the city’s enemies, and its chief topographical features (marshes, streams, a sizeable lake) did not encourage extensive construction.

But, by the late second century B.C. some buildings were  already  beginning to go up, and after Pompey, the conqueror of Asia Minor (Turkey) and Syria, constructed his massive  theater, in 55 B.C., the whole area developed rapidly. By the early second century A.D., private citizens and the emperors had filled the entire zone with elegant public and private buildings.

Fig.3.  The plan of the Campus Martius in the first century A.D.

Fig. 4. The modern Campo Marzio with the umbrellas of the week day market, aerial view, looking southeast. The central building with the rectangular white facade is the Pio Palace, the chief structure built over the remains of the Theater of Pompey; the large church (l.) is San Andrea della Valle; the more distant church (r. rear) at the end of the Via dei Giubbonari is San Carlo ai Catanar

The “Campo Marzio” today is the heart of modern Rome’s “Centro Storico,” (historic center).