Theater, Urbanization, and Hippana

Before I can show the development of the circular form of theaters in the West, I needed to prove that it makes sense for such developments to take place there. A major component of this proof is to demonstrate the importance of theater in Sicily and Magna Graecia.

This importance is best revealed by its prevalent role in the urbanization and re-colonization of the region that was first sparked by the Corinthian general Timoleon in the 4th century BCE. Sicily suffered a decline in the latter parts of the 5th and early parts of the 4th centuries. In order to resurrect Greek power on the island, Timoleon began a repopulation program that drew from all over the Hellenic world. At the same time, Sicily was also in a constant state of flux with its Punic neighbors, resulting in highly divided communities. As Clemente Marconi (love his name)  rightly points out, this divided populace would have needed some focal point for community cohesion, and the theater provided just such an outlet.[1] Perhaps the best example of this is displayed at the site of Montagna dei Cavalli, currently identified with the ancient city of Hippana. There, the stone theater, placed very prominently on a hill (well, mountain…1100 m above sea level is not exactly a hill) overlooking the community and dating between 350 and 325 BCE, was the first monumental construction in the city—before any temples or government buildings came the theater.[2] Admittedly, the theater in a community may often serve many other civic functions besides theatrical performances.[3] But multiplicity of function only enhances rather than diminishes the importance of the building itself, and the rapid construction of Hippana’s theater indicates its centrality to the Hellenization of this frontier community. It is worth noting, at this point, that the theater at Hippana, on the outskirts of the Greek world and relatively early in the history of stone theaters, already boasts a circular form.[4] And Hippana is not alone in putting such emphasis on the theater. Throughout the Greek world, the building of the theater increasingly became the focal point of monumental construction projects. At many sites, the theater features more prominently in the city’s landscape than its own temples, and in Athens the Theater of Dionysos cost more than any other construction project of that century, and resulted in the theater’s domination of the urban landscape.[5] The theater was becoming more central to the community of Greeks both in the mainland and to the West.

[1] Marconi (2012), p. 184.

[2] Vassallo (2012), p. 220.

[3] Paga (2010)

[4] Vassallo (2012), p. 215.

[5] Marconi (2012), p. 176-177.