|Image Credit: Barbara McManus, VRoma.|
The idea that Roman theater seating visualized social hierarchy is not a new thesis. I vividly remember reading Jonathan Edmondson's piece in the Togo Salmon papers as a graduate student, and then thinking about how public events today similarly serve to reinforce the social levels of society. I revisited this thought today, reading a piece on the way we board airplanes. Essentially, it shows that the current way that most American planes are boarded (i.e. first class, business class, then economy classes) is ridiculous.
|Seat map of a Delta B-777.|
Livy notes that the first time the senate segregated itself from the common people was in the ludi Romani of 194 BCE. Some were alright with senators receiving such an honor, while others viewed it as haughty, but the practice persisted. Later, the princeps Augustus used theater seating as part of his restoration of the res publica, and late in his reign composed the lex Julia theatralis. It stipulated that the first 14 rows of the theater be set aside for those freeborn persons whose fathers or grandfathers "had a patrimony of at least 400,000 sesterces" (Berger , 555). This meant they qualified for equestrian status. The law was apparently a revival of the Republican lex Roscia theatralis of 67 BCE. Suetonius reinforces Augustus' outrage at haphazard theatrical seating in his life of the emperor (Aug. 44). Honor could be conferred or revoked via public seating, and Augustus stood as the grand dissignator in this public spectacle.
|Roman theater seats with inscriptions from Heraclea Lyncestis.|
Other Stuff (Just Because):
Check out Sebastian Heath's list of Roman amphitheaters.