Ancient Greeks Used Moveable Stage in Messene Theater!
Moveable theater props and three stone tracks have been discovered at the ancient Greek Messene Theater in the Peloponnese region of southern Greece . These new findings related to ancient Greek entertainment bring this 2,000-year-old site into line with similar findings at the theaters of Sparta and Megalopolis.
Ancient Greek theaters consisted of the orchestra and the flat dancing floor of the chorus. However Collette Hemigway, writing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Helibrunn Timeline of Art History , explains that in antiquity these buildings “were frequently modified and rebuilt.” What this means for archaeologists is that the “surviving remains offer little clear evidence about the nature of the theatrical space available to the Classical dramatists.” And even less in known about how these entertainment spaces functioned.
Aerial drone photograph of the archaeological site at Messene which features the ancient Greek Messene Theater. ( aerial-drone / Adobe Stock)
What Wheely Happened at Greek Theaters?
Traditionally, researchers in Greece maintained that the “proskenion and skene” moved as one object along three stone rows. The “proskenion” was a one-story structure that served as a stage background while the “skene” was a two-story structure placed behind the proskenion, acting not only as another stage background, but also as an actorsdressing area.
In theory this works, but in the real world these stage props would have weighed several tons each. This would mean that a full stage of men would have been required in order to push these huge props on and off stage after every act.
A team of researchers from the History of Western Architecture Laboratory of Kumamoto University first discovered a storage room and three stone rows during an excavation at the ancient Greek Messene Theater in 2007. According to an article in Science Daily , the team of Japanese researchers, led by associate professor Ryuichi Yoshitake, say there was probably a wooden stage at the theater equipped with, “one and two-story stage backgrounds that could be moved in and out of place on wooden wheels.”
During an excavation in 2007 of the ancient Greek Messene Theater, researchers discovered three stone rows which have led them to conclude the ancient Greeks used a moveable stage. (Ryuichi Yoshitake)
Moving Parts Rather Than the Whole
An article in Daily Mail explains that the new research suggests that the traditional idea that one massive back drop was shoved on and off the stage would have been an “extremely difficult task.” The new Japanese study suggests the different structures were operated one by one, one at a time, and that they were most likely “moved as separate pieces on their own individual tracks.”
Nevertheless, for this new interpretation to stand-up to scrutiny the researchers say a fourth track would have been needed. Although the archaeologists have not yet found it, they suspect an additional fourth stone track was used at the site. This would have been needed for each structure to move separately along its own two tracks.
The researchers are convinced that the traditional interpretation of Greek theater dynamics is incorrect. They believe that while the thespian elites of ancient Greece lined the streets and filled the auditorium at the ancient Greek Messene Theater some 2,000 years ago, behind the scenes “a large force would have been required to move stage equipment as large as the proskenion and skene.” They have therefore concluded that the architects of ancient Greek theater, who were masters in weight dispersion, leverage and pulley systems, were far too smart to rely on brute force alone.
Reconstruction of the wheeled wooden skene of the ancient Greek Messene Theater. The wooden stage building at the front and the scene building at the back. (Ryuichi Yoshitake & K. Oyama)
Challenging Traditional Theatrical Conclusions
The Japanese professor, Ryuichi Yoshitake, told Science Daily that these old ideas about Greek theater fall apart when the entirety of the archaeology of the ancient Greek Messene Theater is considered. Yoshitake came to the conclusion that the old interpretation was inaccurate because of “the positions of three stone rows.” Furthermore, he highlighted the hidden force of friction to support his claims. Yoshitake claimed that it would have been difficult to move the heavy proskenion and skene together “using a single axle with three wooden wheels.”
The researchers say their 2007 discovery of the three stone tracks, and their expectations of discovering the vital missing fourth, provides additional evidence that mobile wooden stages were used in the Hellenistic theaters, such as the ancient Greek Messene Theater. Now, all that’s left for the revisionist Japanese professor to present to the people of Greece is proof.
Top image: Ruins of the theater in the Ancient Messene archeological site, Peloponnese, Greece. Source: Luis / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie