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600 BC to 410 AD
The first recorded form of European theater
began in Ancient Greece around 600 B.C.
with a religious festival to honor Dionysus
(Di-on-i-sus), the god of wine and fertility. It
has been said that a poet named Thespis
(Thes-pis) won a dramatic play competition
at the festival. Because he is considered to
be the first actor, people sometimes refer to
actors as thespians.
Thespis also introduced the use of masks in
Greek theater. Masks were designed to
show the age and emotion. Women were
not allowed to perform, so men wore female
masks and played their parts. In Greek
theater, the tragedy is the most admired
type of play.
In 300 B.C., Romans were inspired by
Greek art, culture and theater and wrote
Latin versions of Greek plays. Comedy
plays were more popular than tragedies. In
the Roman theater, slaves served as actors.
Unlike Greek theater, women were
permitted to appear on stage but they did
not play important roles. The Roman theater
competed for the audiences that attended
chariot races, gladiator contests and public
executions. This brought about the need for
impressive public theaters. For the next two
centuries, Romans built about 125
structures. Eventually, plays included stage
violence and crude humor. Christians
disapproved and closed down all of the