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Japanese architects present a new theory after studying an ancient theatre revealed in Messini

Rotating scenery, moveable stages, stone tracks: ancient theatres were not what we thought

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14 July 2017

We knew, of course, of the 'Thespis Carriage', that carried the first ever actors throughout rural areas of Greece, but now it turns out that even the permanent theatre structures which followed had wheels.

This is the conclusion made by researchers from the History of Western Architecture Laboratory of Kumamoto University, after a thorough study of the large storage room and three stone rows found during an excavation of an ancient theatre revealed at Messene in 2007. The discovery bears similarities to structures seen at the Megalopolis and Sparta theatres, and the experts say it lines up with ancient literary accounts of rotating stage devices used in Greece and Rome.

The Japanese researchers believe that there was once a wooden stage at the theatre, which may have been equipped with one and two-storey stage backgrounds that could be moved in and out of place on wooden wheels, while the rows would have been used as tracks for large wheeled structures known as a 'proskenion' and a 'skene'.

The 'proskenion' was a one-storey structure that was placed on the stage and served as a background, while the 'skene', would have been a two-storey structure placed behind the proskenion, acting as a dressing room and another stage background. In the past, some have suggested that these structures moved as one along three stone rows. According to the new investigation, these structures were likely moved as separate pieces, with each having its own two tracks to roll on.

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