Pantomime Riots Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • It is argued that there is no simple or single reason for the riots caused by pantomimes in early imperial Rome, and especially in 14 and 15 A.D. Theatrical passion has been suggested as the main cause, but other factors must be considered: the meaning of the theater as a symbol of order, the peculiar importance of the equestrian order in the architecture of the theater; the position of the main Roman theaters in their relation to the exercise grounds of the iuvenes; the complex relationships of the equestrian iuvenes with the pantomime artists. It is pointed out that it is not always easy to define a pantomime, or to know the nature of the program; but competition was certainly involved. It is argued that the policies of Tiberius toward the theater and the iuvenes were particularly productive of discontent, which led to repeated legislation to control it. The role of Drusus is probably crucial. A central role is also played by the theater claques, and the acclamations of the equestrians, the theater being their principal venue. Various connections between the equestrian iuvenes and the theater are considered. One key is the physical training of Roman youth, which had become affected by Greek concepts of gymnasium dancing, perhaps under the influence of rhetoric. This in turn made it possible for young Romans to develop quasi-pantomime skills, which they could demonstrate in their iuvenalia. Second, it is suggested that the Baths of Agrippa and their decoration can be seen as an indication of such a change in official policy, and their position next to the theaters is stressed. Third, the personal relations between pantomimes and the nobility is documented, and the importance of the private stage in Rome. Finally, the legislation of the Tabula Larinas is considered, as it affected nobles on the stage or in the arena, and other legal implications of this conflict between the senate and the youth are sketched.

publication date

  • April 1, 1994