The Ancient Theatre Archive - A Virtual Reality Tour of Greek and Roman Theatre Architecture

Greek - Roman Theatre Glossary

Ancient Theatre Archive Project

Compiled by Thomas Hines. Editor and phonetic advisor, Edward E. Foster, Whitman College, Washington, USA

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V WX Y Z

Pronunciation Guide
This pronunciation guide uses the ordinary symbols of American English with one exception.  The symbols Æ and æ are adopted from the International Phonetic Alphabet to represent the sound of "a" as in "pat".
aditus
Æ-dih-tuss

(Latin: approach or access, entrance to a place; pl. aditus) Entrance to the cavea. According to Vitruvius, "The entrances (aditus) should be numerous and spacious; those above ought to be unconnected with those below, in a continued line wherever they are, and without turnings; so that when the people are dismissed from the shows, they may not press on one another, but have separate outlets free from obstruction in all parts." See also: vomitoria.

aditus maximus
Æ-dih-tuss
MÆX-ih-muss

(Latin:the most important or greatest entrance/access; pl. aditus maximi) Roman entrance to the orchestra, typically between the cavea and the scaena, one on either side of the orchestra; corresponds to the parodos in the Greek theatre.

agora
æ-gaw-RA

(Greek: open market or meeting place) Large, open public space which served as a place for assembly for the citizens of a Greek city; the political, civic, religious and commercial center of a Greek city; buildings for all of these various purposes were constructed as needed in and around the agora.

analemmata
æ-na-LEM-a-ta

(Greek) Supporting or retaining walls for the audience seating area; more specifically, exterior walls supporting the theatron.

architectural orders

Classification system used to define styles of ancient architecture; most common to ancient Greece are the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders. The three main parts of a temple facade are the steps, the columns, and the entablature. These three elements in turn have three parts: three steps (uppermost being the stylobate), three parts to a column (normally the base, shaft, and capital), and three parts to an entablature (an architrave, a frieze, and a cornice). These architectural elements are further classified by their particular style of design (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian). The column is normally indicative of the style of each order. Doric order (simple, smooth, round) developed on the Greek mainland and in southern Italy and Sicily by 7th century BC. Ionic (scrolled-shaped decoration) developed in Ionia and on some of the Greek islands by the 6th century BC. Corinthian (elaborate capital with acanthus leaf decorations), used more by Romans than Greeks, emerged late in the 5th century BC. Later variations of these orders by the Romans produced the Roman Composite order.

architrave
AR-kih-trave

Architectural structure; lintel course of the entablature; horizontal beam resting on the columns of the entablature.

ashlar
Dressed stone work; rectangular blocks of any type of stone with square corners and dressed surfaces; used in masonry construction.
aulaeum
OW-lee-um;
OW-lay-um

(Latin: theatre curtain; pl. aulaea) Roman curtain; curtain could be lowered into the stage to reveal a scene: aulaea premuniuntur, "the curtain is lowered," when the play begins and aulaeum tollitur, "the curtain is raised," when the play is ended.

baldachin
BALL-da-kin

A stone or marble structure built in the form of a canopy; ornamented canopy supported by columns or suspended from a roof or projected from a wall; a covering (usually of cloth) that serves as a roof to shelter an area from the weather; example of column supports for a baldachin as seen in the Greco-Roman theatre at Miletus, Turkey.

bisellium
bih-SELL-ee-um

(Latin: seat of honor for two, but generally occupied by one; pl. bisellia) Ornate, centralized seats of honor in front of or surrounding the orchestra in the Roman theatre; awarded for municipal services in provinces.

bouleuterion
bool-yoo-TERR-ee-on

(Greek) Building for members of the council chamber; an assembly hall for magistrates; town hall.

cavea
KAH-vay-a;
KAH-vee-a

(Latin: enclosure or den) Auditorium/theatre or seats/audience; the audience seating portion of the Roman theatre; corresponds to Greek theatron.

Charonian stairway
kæ-ROH-nee-un

Underground passage ending in a staircase in Hellenistic theatres (also known as Charon steps) used by the chthonic deities or for "ghostly apparitions" according to Pollux; examples at Argos and Eretria; not a typical feature of Greek theatre construciton.

chorodidaskalos
kaw-roh-dih-DÆS-ka-luss

(Greek) Chorus director; taught songs/dances to chorus; originally performed as well.

chorêgos
KAW-ray-gawss

(Greek; pl.chorêgoi) Wealthy citizens who funded performances in Greek theatre.

clepsydra
klep-SIH-dra

(Latin) Water clock; see Greek klepsydra.

colonnade

Row of pillars or columns.

Corinthian order
kaw-RIN-thee-un

Most elaborate of the Greek architectural styles and least used by the Greeks. Resembles Ionic in most aspects except for the column capital; Corinthian columns have tall capitals shaped like an upside-down bell and are covered with rows of acanthus leaves and small vine like spirals called helixes. Indeed, the Corinthian order was at first used only for columns inside buildings and did not appear externally until the 4th century BC; use in exterior temple colonnades did not become widespread until Roman times.

coryphaeus
kaw-rih-FIE-us;
kaw-rih-FAY-us

(Latin) See Greek koryphaios.

coryphaios
kaw-rih-FIE-us
(Greek) Alternative spelling of koryphaios.
cuneus
koo-NAY-us
koo-NEE-us
(Latin: a wedge-shaped stone or area; pl. cunei) Roman wedge-shaped seating sections in the cavea (auditorium); corresponds to Greek kerkis.
diazoma
die-a-ZOH-ma
(Greek; pl. diazomata) Horizontal walkway separating upper and lower sections of theatron (Latin cavea ) seating; passages or aisles in Greek theatres concentric with the outer wall; corresponds to Roman praecinctio.

Dionysia

Greek religious festival held in honor of the god Dionysos.

Dionysos
die-a-NEE-suss;
die-a-NEE-sawss

(Greek; Latin: Dionysus) Greek god; Son of Zeus and Semele, a mortal woman of Thebes; god of wine, agriculture, and fertility; patron god of Greek theatre; Roman counterpart to Dionysos is the god Bacchus.

Doric order
DAW-rik

Architectural style presumably developed on the Greek mainland and in southern Italy and Sicily. The Doric order slightly pre-dates the Ionic order but both were established by the end of the seventh century BC. Columns are simple and sturdy: no base, slightly tapered. Shallow, parallel groves (flutes) run from the bottom to the top of the shaft. A ring (the necking) separates the top of the shaft from the capital. The Doric capital consists of two parts, a round echinus and a square abacus. Above the capital is the architrave consisting of an unadorned beam supporting a frieze of alternating triglyphs (vertical, weight supporting blocks with three vertical grooves) and metopes (non-load bearing panels either decorated with relief sculpture or left plain). A simple cornice molding at the top of the architrave extends to protect the parts below from rain.

eisodoi
EYE-soh-doy;
AY-soh-doy

(Greek pl.; sing. eisodos) Two side entrances to orchestra in the Greek theatre; entrance ramps between theatron and skene; .also see parodos.

ekkyklêma
ek-ih-KLAY-ma

(Greek) A wheeled platform or cart used in Greek theatre; housed within the skene and used to reveal the result of an "out of view" action, e.g. the murder of Agamemnon.

entablature

Architectural element consisting of three parts: an architrave (plain horizontal beam resting on columns), a frieze (decorative panel or relief), which corresponded to the beams supporting the ceiling, and a cornice (a set of decorative moldings that overhangs the parts below).

episkenion
ep-ih-SKAY-nee-on
(Greek; pl. episkenia; Latin episcenium; pl. episcenia) The facade of the second story of the Greek skene; pierced by one or more doors (thyromata), episcenia served as a background for performances with the roof of the proskenion serving as a stage; the upper stories of the scene buildings in ancient Greek or Roman theaters.
epitheatron
ep-ih-thay-AH-tron
ep-ih-thay-Æ-tron

(Greek) Seating in theatron above the diazoma.

gradus
GRAH-duss

(Latin: step or position; pl. gradus) Roman cavea seats; according to Vitruvius the gradus, "are not to be less than twenty inches in height, nor more than twenty-two. Their width must not be more than two feet and a half, nor less than two feet."

Hellenistic

Term describing the period of Greek civilization from 323 BC (death of Alexander the Great) to 31 BC (Roman victory at the Battle of Actium and the resulting decline of Ptolemaic power in Egypt); term derived form Hellene, the word Greeks used to describe themselves; term coined by the German historian Johann Gustav Droysen to differentiate between a Greek culture dominated by ethnic, city-state Greeks and a Greek culture dominated by Greek-speakers of various ethnicities governed by larger monarchies.

hypokrit
HIP-oh-krit

(Greek) Actor.

hyposkenion
hy-poh-SKAY-nee-on

(Greek) The area under the stage or the facing wall supportng the raised stage; stone construction with decorative ornamentations; could have doors for entrances into the orchestra.

ikria
EE-kree-a
IH-kree-a

(Greek: bench) Temporary audience seating in early Greek theatre; upright wooden timbers with seating planks attached; seating that preceded permanent theatron stone seating.

ima cavea
EE-ma KAH-vay-a

(Latin: deepest pit or cavity) Lowest tier of cavea seating; most desirable seating.

Ionic order
eye-AH-nik

Architectural style presumably developed in Ionia and on some of the Greek islands by the 6th century BC. More ornamental and graceful than Doric. Considered by ancient Greeks to be feminine as opposed to the more masculine Doric style. The Ionic column rests on an elaborate curving base; column shaft more slender than Doric style (height to base ratio of early Ionic columns: 8 to 1, Doric ratio: 4 to 1 and 6 to 1); fluting on shaft is more prominent than on Doric column; significant detail is found in the capital: two spiral volutes (design element resembling partially unrolled scrolls; Ionic capital is directional (front and back are different that the sides). The typical Ionic entablature features an architrave with three parallel bands, a decorative frieze featuring continuous sculpture decoration (not divided into triglyphs and metopes as typical of the Doric style), and borders of carved dentils (rows of square shaped teeth).

itinera versurarum
eye-TIH-na-ra
ver-suh-RAH-rum

(Latin) Outer two door openings of the five doors in a Roman scaenae frons: doors in the Roman versurae (section of the scaena that flanks the stage).

kerkis
KURR-kiss

(Greek; pl. kerkides) Wedge-shaped seating section in theatron; corresponds to Roman cuneus.

klepsydra
klep-SIH-dra

(Greek; Latin: clepsydra) Greek water clock used for timing speakers; the remains of such a clock at the theatre at Priene, Turkey, is evidence that public debate occurred at the theatre.

klimakes
KLIH-mah-keez;
KLIH-mah-kez

(Greek pl.; sing. klimax) Stairways in theatron.

koilon
KOI-lon

(Greek: a hollow or cavity) Occasionally used as equivalent to theatron or the Latin cavea but more specifically as a reference to the seating area of the theatre.

kolymbethra
koh-lim-BETH-ra

Roman orchestra adapted for water spectacles. Late third to early fifth century AD. Numerous theatres such as those at Ostia in Italy, Hieropolis and Ephesus in Turkey, and Dionysus in Athens show evidence of Roman alterations including water cisterns, waterproof orchestra walls, improved drainage, and water pipes.

koryphaios
kaw-rih-FIE-us
(Greek) Leader of the Greek chours; one function of the leader was to carry on a dialogue with the actors. See: coryphaeus, coryphaios.
kothornoi
koh-THAWR-noy
(Greek pl.; sing. kothornos) Tall boots with thick soles used by Greek actors to enhance their height. Corresponds to Latin sing. cothurnus; pl. cothurni.
logeion
LOH-gay-on;
LOH-ghee-on;
loh-GAY-on;
loh-GHEE-on

(Greek: a speaking place) Greek stage; performances in Hellenistic period included actors placed on a raised platform or stage behind the orchestra and in front of the skene; the roof of the proskenion could be employed for this purpose. See Latin pulpitum.

mêchanê
MEH-kah-nay;
meh-kah-NAY

(Greek) Crane used in Greek theatre to represent flight; machine used to lift actors (usually portraying gods) above the acting area in Greek and Roman theatre; dates from the 5th century BC. Latin phrase "deus ex machina" (god from the machine) implied a convenient yet contrived plot device resolving an apparently insoluble difficulty.

media cavea
MAY-dee-a KAH-vay-a

(Latin: middle section of auditorium seating) Roman middle tier of cavea seating.

odeion:
oh-DIE-on;
OH-die-on

(Greek) See odeon.

odeon
OH-dee-on

(Greek; Latin: odeum) A small theater, often roofed, used for smaller entertainment venues such as performed music poetry readings, debates, or lectures.

odeum
OH-dee-um;
oh-DEE-um

(Latin) See Greek odeion.

okribas
OH-krih-bahss

(Greek) A raised wooden platform; a speaking or announcement place; a temporary logeion.

onkos
ON-kawss;
ON-kuss

(Greek) Greek tragic mask; vertically elongated actor's mask with a high head piece; very large headdress.

orchestra
AWR-kess-tra

(Greek: dancing place) Circular in early Greek theatre construction, semi-circular in Roman constructions, the orchestra was the space between the audience and the stage; primary chorus performance space in Greek theatre; also adapted for use as an arena for Roman "spectacle entertainment".

parabasis
pæ-RAH-ba-sis

(Greek; pl. parabases) An important choral ode in Greek Old Comedy delivered by the chorus at an intermission in the action while facing and moving toward the audience. It was used to express the author's views on political or religious topics of the day.

paraskenion
pæ-ra-SKAY-nee-on

(Greek; pl. paraskenia) Hellenistic projecting side additions to the skene; one to two story side wings on either side of the proskenion; could be ornamented with columns or pillars supporting a frieze. See Roman versurae.

parodos
PÆ-roh-dawss

(Greek; A passageway ;pl. parodoi) Side entrance into the orchestra of a Greek theater (one on each side); the space between the audience seating and the skene building; primary entrance/exit for the chorus and used by audience for entrance and exit from theatre; also the song sung by chorus as it first enters the orchestra.

periaktoi
peh-ree-AHK-toy
peh-ree-ÆK-toy

(Greek; sing. periaktos)

pinakes
PIN-a-keez

(Greek) Painted panels; temporary scenic elements usually placed in the openings (thyromata) of the Greek skene.

podium
POH-dee-um

(Latin) Raised platform, shelf, or stage. See: Greek logeion, Latin pulpitum.

portae hospitales
PAWR-tay
hahss-pih-TAH-les

(Latin: guest doors; sing. porta hospitalis) Two doors on either side of the central door in the Roman scaenae frons. Door on right reserved for second actor. Left door for person of less importance.

portus post scaenas
PAWR-tuss
post-SKAY-nas

(Latin) A portico or passageway behind the scaenae (scene building) of a Roman theatre.

praecinctio
pray-SINK-tee-oh

(Latin: something that surrounds or circles; pl. praecinctiones) The surrounding Roman corridor separating the galleries of a theatre; corresponds to the Greek "diazoma"; use for the walkway, concentric with the rows of seats, between the upper and lower seating tiers in a Roman theatre.

prohedria
proh-HAY-dree-a

(Greek: front seating; pl. prohedriai) Seat of honor directly in front of or around the orchestra; in the Greek theatre, prohedriai were honorific seats reserved particularly for priests, notably the priest of Dionysus, and dignitaries.

proskenion
proh-SKAY-nee-on;
proh-SKEE-nee-on

(Greek; Latin: proscaenium) Also called the okribas. Front wall of the stage; an acting area which projected in front of the skene (proskenion literally means "something set up before the skene"); in Classical Greek theatre, the ground-level portion immediately in front of the skene was used as an acting area; in Hellenistic period, the proskenion was a raised platform in front of the skene; the skene eventually included two levels, a lower level with a roof (the Hellenistic logeion or stage) and the second story skene with openings for entrances (thyromata).

pulpitum
PULL-pih-tum

(Latin: a stage) Roman stage (logeion in the Greek theatre). A platform for a public speaker in front of the scaenae (scaenae frons); Vitruvius gives the maximum height as five feet as opposed to the ten to twelve feet of the Hellenistic logeion. See also Latin podium.

scaena
SKAY-na;
SKEE-na

(Latin sing.: theatre stage or scene) In the Roman theatre usually referring to the stage house or building behind the stage; corresponds to the Hellenistic skene. Often used in the pl. (scaenae) because it was composed of multiple parts.

scaena ductilis

scaenae
SKAY-nay

(Latin pl.: theatre stage or scene) see scaena.

scaenae frons
SKAY-nay FRAHNZ

(Latin) Front of the façade of the stage house or scaenae; pierced by three to five doors; unadorned in earlier theatres, but became increasingly ornate by the 2nd century with the addition of columns, niches, and statues decorating up to three stories of architecture.

skene
SKAY-nay

(Greek: tent) Building behind the orchestra originally used for storage but provided a convenient backing for performances; corresponds to the Roman scaena or scaenae.

socle
SOH-kull

(from Latin socculus: a light shoe) Stone support for columns.

stoa
STOH-a

(Greek: roofed colonnade; storehouse) Building having its roof supported by one or more rows of columns parallel to the rear wall; often a market building.

summa cavea
SOO-ma KAH-vay-a

(Latin) Highest tier of cavea seating; used by less distinguished audience members.

tetrastoon
teh-tra-STOH-on

(Greek) Four rows of columns; also a meeting place or public square.

theaomai
thay-AH- oh-my

(Greek: to gaze at or behold) To view as spectators in the theatre.

theatai
THAY-a-tie

(Greek) Spectators.

theatron
thay-AH-tron;
thay-Æ-tron

(Greek: viewing-place) Alternate name koilon. Originally referred to the audience space of the Greek theatre, but later became synonymous with the entire auditorium consisting of the spaces for both the audience as well as the performance; corresponds to Roman cavea.

theatrum
thay-AH-trum

(Latin) Theatre; corresponds to Greek theatron.

theatrum tectum
thay-AH-trum TEK-tum

(Latin) A covered theatre.

theorikon
thay-AW-rih-kon

(Greek) Festival fund subsidizing the cost of theatre attendance at the Athenian Dionysia; recipients restricted to Athenian citizens; establishment of subsidy may date to Pericles ca. 450 BC; theoric fund established to either grant tickets free of charge or to provide monetary distributions for use at the festival; fund often cited as evidence supporting an Athenian concern for universal accessibility to theatre but arguments can be made that the fund also allowed the state to control and stabilize ticket prices.

thymele
THIH-meh-lay

(Greek) Platform in the orchestra, next to the altar of Dionysus, both called the thymele; it is suggested that the leader of the chorus used the thymele as a platform during dialogues between the chorus leader (koryphaios) and the chorus.

thymelici
thih-meh-LEE-kee

(Greek ) Lyric and dancing performers primarily restricted to the orchestra in the Hellenistic theatre.

thyromata
thigh-ROH-mah-ta

(Greek; sing. thyroma) Openings or doors and their frames which pierce the facade of the skene or episkenion in the Hellenistic theatre.

tribunalia
trih-byoo-NAH-lee-a

(Latin) A raised platform in a Roman Theatre or basilicas where Roman magistrates sat; seat of judgment of the praetor; platforms for this seat of honor in theatre would normally be at the extreme sides of the cavea above the two side entrances to the orchestra.

valva regia
(VAL-va RAY-gee-a)

(Latin: royal door; pl. valvae) Central door in the Roman scaenae frons wall; door used by the principal actor. The plural "Valvae" was a word associated with temple doors or other grand doors while the word "portae" refered to a domestic door.

velarium
VEH-lah-ree-um

(Latin) The awning spread over the uncovered part of the cavea.See velum.

velum
VEE-lum;
VAY-lum

(Latin: sail, covering) A fabric covering or awning used to shade the audience in the Roman cavea. See velarium.

versurae
ver-SOO-ray

(Latin) Architectural parts of the theatron flanking the stage of a Roman theatre; Roman equivalent to the Greek paraskenia. See related itinera versurarum.

via venatorium
VEE-a veh-na-TAW-ree-um

(Latin: road or way of the hunter) A complex of hallways and rooms which housed animals and equipment.

vomitoria
vah-mih-TAW-ree-a

(Latin pl.; sing. vomitorium. English sing.: vomitory) Theatre entrances or exits for audience; vaulted passageways leading to or from the cavea; entrances piercing the banks of seats of theatres or amphitheatres.

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Copyright © 2003 Thomas G. Hines, Department of Theatre, Whitman College. All Rights Reserved. The Ancient Theatre Archive is a non-profit, educational project, located at Whitman College, USA.
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