27 BCE – 14 CE
Renovations / Excavations
Reconstruction and enlargement following an earthquake during the rule of emperor Antonius Pius (CE. 138 – 161 CE); Suessa Aurunca’s theatre was first explored in the 19th century with initial excavations between 1999 and 2006 (Cascella 2002, 2005; Pensabene 2005; Cascella 2007; Cascella 2009).
Cavea Width: 90 meters
Orchestra Width: 22 meters
Suessa Arunca (modern Sessa Aurunca, Italy). Roman theatre. Earliest date: 27 BCE with a major restoration and enlargement in the 2nd century CE. The second largest theatre in Campania with only the theatre at Napoli being larger. Cavea: 90 meters wide; faces the SSW; well-preserved ima cavea with 7, well-preserved rows of seats divided into 4 cunei; media and summa cave with an additional 19 rows of seating in 9 cunei speculated but only the seating substructure remains. Seating Capacity: estimated at 7,000 to 8,000. Orchestra: semi-circular, 22 meters wide. Podium (stage): 40 meters wide backed by a 27-meter high, three-tired, scaenae frons. Neither the stage nor the scaenae frons remains.
Suessa Aurunca Theatre (modern Suessa Aurunca, Italy)
T. Hines, 2023
The Roman theatre at ancient Suessa Arunca was built in the 1st century CE under the emperor Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE). Damaged by a major earthquake in the 2nd century CE, the theatre was restored and enlarged with the support of Trajan’s sister, Matidia Minor (Mindia Matidia), a wealthy Roman benefactress. A statue of Matidia commemorating her gifts to the city was once located in the theatre and now resides in the ducal castle of Sessa.
Located in Campania, Italy, the Roman theatre of Suessa is located near the boundary walls of the modern-day town of Sessa Aurunca. The 90-meter-wide, south-south-west facing cavea is considered the second largest theatre in Campania, (Naples having the largest). The theatre’s location downhill from the forum and the Republican-era cryptoporticus reflects the Hellenistic town plans of terraced urban centers and the visual appearance of the late Republican sanctuaries in Campania and Lazio. Adhering to the principles of Augustan town planning, which linked the forum with the theatre.
Reminiscent of Greek theatre construction norms, The Suessa cavea is carved into a hill and could seat an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 spectators. The excavation has revealed a semi-circular orchestra 22 meters wide and a well-preserved lower tier of seating. The upper ranks of seats are no longer delineated having been salvaged for earlier construction projects in the city. The lower seating (ima cavea) is divided laterally subdivided into 4 cunei and has 7 rows of well-preserved, marble-clad seating. The upper ranks of seating are less defined and in a ruined state due to the collapse of its substructure and the aforementioned scavenging. The plan view of the theatre site shows a hypothetical media cavea with 12 rows of seating divided into 9 cunei and a summa cavea with 7 rows of seats divided into 9 cunei, but only degraded substructure supports remain where these two tiers of seats once sat. The theatre’s walls were made of a combination of opus reticulatum brickwork and ashlar-style opus quadratum tufa blocks. (Cascella, p. 75).
A 27-meter high, three-tired, scaenae frons once backed the 40-meter-wide stage. The colonnaded wall (most likely from the 2nd-century reconstruction) was monumental in size and decoration with three orders of columns. Several types of marble were used to create architectural decorations consisting of friezes, architraves, and sculpted capitals. The columns were made with marble from Numidia, Egypt, and Greece, while the capitals with marble from Carrara and Athens. The stage front (proscaenium) contains 3 curved and 4 rectangular niches and is flanked by 2 staircases.
Hugh Denard identifies a passageway beneath the stage and a slot for lowering and raising a stage curtain (aulaeum). Denard speculates that grooves in the floor, left of the stage building, were used for guiding rolling scenery wagons. They are reminiscent of “railway tracks” such as those found at Sparta and Megalopolis in Greece.
Suessa Aurunca’s theatre was first explored in the 19th century. Amedeo Maiuri initiated excavations at the theater site in the 1920s followed by more thorough excavations between 1995 and 2009: (Sergio Cascella 2002, 2005; Pensabene 2005; Cascella 2007; Cascella 2009).
Becker, Jeffrey. “Roman theater at Suessa Aurunca.” Pleiades. Dec. 17, 2020. https://pleiades.stoa.org/places/895280110. Accessed 3.11.2023.
Denard, Hugh. “Theatres: Sessa Arunca.” The Pompey Project, King’s Visualisation Lab. 1919. http://www.pompey.cch.kcl.ac.uk/Italian%20Theatres_files/sessa.htm.
Cascella, Sergio. “Il Teatro Romano di Sessa Aurunca.” Marina di Minturno (LT): Caramanica editore, 2002.
Sear, Frank. Roman Theatres: An Architectural Study. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. (p. 179).
“Roman Theater and Cryptoporticus of Sessa Aurunca.” https://www.culturalheritageonline.com/location-60_Teatro-Romano-e-Criptoportico-di-Sessa-Aurunca.php