We thought that by now we knew everything about Greek theatres – well, not so!
Recent architectural research has led to believe that there was a moveable wooden stage in ancient Greek theatres. This has been determined in three separate theatres in the Greek Peloponnese: first in
Messene, and later also at Megalopolis and . Sparta
Skanotheke plan of the Messene Theatre (scale 1 : 500), Inset: Skanotheke of east parodos. Adapted from R. Yoshitake, The Movable Stage in Hellenistic Greek Theatres. New Documentation formAncient Greek theatres were bowl shaped with seating around the circular orchestra and at the open end an open stage. After 31 BC, under Roman influence, the stage was elevated and decorated with columns and statues and all sorts of reliefs. Romans often reused and refurbished original Greek theatres but also built the semi-circular model of their own where this back stage was automatically attached to the seating area.
Messene and Comparisons with and Megalopolis, AA, 2016/2, p. 120, fig. 1 and 2. Credit: Associate Professor Ryuichi Yoshitake Sparta
After excavations started in 2007, the research team from
Komamoto University discovered three stone rows and a kind of storage room beside the stage of ’s theatre. When a similar feature was found in Megalopolis and Messene as well, they started questioning the function of these elements. Their conclusion was that the stone rows would have supported wooden background picture panels that could be wheeled into place and that the storage room would have held them when not in use. Sparta
This image shows the reconstruction of the wheeled wooden skene of the Messene Theatre. The wooden stage building (front) is drawn by solid lines, and the hypothetical scene building (back) by gray lines. Adapted from R. Yoshitake, The Movable Stage in Hellenistic Greek Theatres. New Documentation form
Messene and Comparisons with and Megalopolis, AA, 2016/2, p. 123, fig. 6. (drawing by K. Oyama). Credit: Associate Professor Ryuichi Yoshitake & K. Oyama Sparta
The Greek theatres had a proskenion, i.e. a one-story building placed on the stage and that functioned as a stage background. Behind this proskenion was a two-story skene that was used as a dressing room for the actors but also as an extra stage background. Now the question arose whether these buildings were made of stone and fixed or made of wood and moveable. They opted for the latest and since moving the massive construction of proskenion and attached skene is highly improbable, they concluded that each building was rolled out separately, each using its own set of two stone rows to move along in and out of the storage room.
Ancient literature indeed mentions rotating devices, but the finds at
seem to confirm that they existed as early as the Hellenistic period although we still don’t know what they really looked like. Messene
The research team of
Komamoto University in has even come up with two drawings explaining their theory – see above. Japan