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Conclusion • An audience or audiences?


french version of the conclusion

At the end of this collective study, several essential points emerge from the various contributions that are brought together in this volume.

First of all, we must note the great diversity in the vocabulary which ancient authors use in their writings, in Latin as in Greek, in order to designate Roman spectators present in the stands, both when they evoke them in their totality and when it is only a part of them. As Patrizia Arena and Marion Bellissime show in their chapters, the words used in ancient literature to refer generally to the audiences at the ludi and munera are most frequently in Latin populus (Romanus, uniuersus) – uniuersitas populi – uniuersi – plebs – multitudo – uulgus – turba – consessus – theatrum – totum theatrum – circus, while in the Greek texts the expressions most commonly used in this sense are πλῆθος – δῆμος – ὄμιλος – ὄχλος – οἱ δὲ ἐν Ῥώμῃ. But Cassius Dio, for example, also uses expressions that sometimes refer to the act of looking (οἱ ὁρῶντες ; οἱ θεώμενοι), sometimes to that of listening while observing (θεατὴς καὶ ἀκροατὴς ἐγίγνετο). The Greek historian also sometimes defines the spectators by their positions in relation to the shows: they are installed all around (περιεστηκότες) or seated in the bleachers (ὁ ὄχλος τὸ τοῖς ἰκρίοις προσεστηκός ; ὁ δήμος, ὅσος αἱ ἕδραι ἐχώρησαν, καθήμενος). So many of the terms and expressions used by ancient authorsqualify the public according to its numerical size, in terms of its composition, with regard to its actions (watching, watching while listening), or even by virtue of its position in the stands or around the show.

This diversity in the way in which ancient authors describe and perceive the public of ludi and munera is also noticeable in ancient iconography. As Frederik Grosser points out in his chapter, Roman circus spectators are rarely featured in the many Roman representations of ludi circenses, but when they do appear, this audience is often reduced to the games’ editor and his acolytes. On other images, on the other hand, the spectators observed are anonymous figures, but they are only rarely shown at all. Of course, it is necessary in each case to question the intentions of the authors of these texts or the artisans of these images, a question necessarily linked to that of their recipients. Thus, as Marie-Hélène Garelli illustrates in a careful examination of Flavius Josephus’s account of the ludi Palatini of 41 CE, the author offers a biased testimony, by which he manifestly seeks to justify the assassination of Caligula. Josephus suggests that the emperor, moved by his hatred for the senatorial order, cleverly orchestrated disorder in the seating of the public during these games. Each image and each testimony must therefore always be placed in its individual context.

Another question, which surfaces in several contributions, concerns the composition and distribution of this public, in the buildings of Rome as well as in those of the imperial provinces. Some shows could be more or less reserved for very specific categories of the population. For example, during the ludi Palatini in Rome, the audience was certainly made up of the higher social orders, as Marie-Hélène Garelli observes. The study by Barbara Dimde offers another example: she confirms that there was an overwhelming proportion of soldiers in the stands of military amphitheatres, unlike in the so-called “civilian” amphitheatres, where certain members of the army also had their place but probably only for its higher ranks. Indeed, if all layers of Roman society were present at the shows, as many sources attest, the proportion of each of these categories in the stands was often far from reflecting its numerical importance within the overall local population, in particular because of the hierarchy that determined the placement of this public. Thus, the confrontation between various textual, epigraphic, and archaeological sources leads Anne Berlan-Gallant to argue that the places reserved for women (feminae) in Roman performance buildings, particularly as a result of Augustus’s reform of the placement of spectators, could have been essentially reserved for elite women. The result is a probable under-representation of working-class women in the capital’s performance buildings, which epigraphic sources seem to confirm with provincial buildings. More generally, if reserved places guaranteed the elites regular, even systematic, access to the shows, the question of the frequency of this access arises for the rest of the public in most of the buildings of the empire, in particular its least favored categories. The study of the Philippopolis theater by Matthew Schueller provides an example of the questions thus raised: its capacity only allowed it to accommodate about a fifth of the local population. This fact raises the question in particular of determining whether this proportion could be increased by a partial renewal of the popular public in the event of performances lasting several days.

It must also be admitted that apart from the elites (senators and Roman knights, magistrates and municipal priests), we do not always know precisely where the various categories of the public were placed in the stands. As Anne Berlan-Gallant observes, this is the case for the placement of women, particularly in provincial buildings where female and male names sometimes appear side by side on inscriptions assigning seats nominally, which stands in direct contradiction of the radical separation between men and women that Augustus sought for buildings in Rome. As Barbara Dimde points out, this is also the case for the placement of soldiers in military amphitheatres (about which we have no document to date) – even if hierarchical criteria seem highly probable. Research on these questions still awaits much progress, especially through the comprehensive study of the topical inscriptions of the spectacle buildings themselves which have been found on certain sites and which allow scholars to locate the reserve places which were intended for individuals or social groups.

In addition, the contributions of Sophie Madeleine and Marialetizia Buonfiglio show us that the material conditions in which the public attended the show were not the same for everyone, including in the same building. For example, those who were forced to watch the ludi from the top of the cauea sometimes had to navigate narrow and cluttered stairs, while the upper social strata (senators, knights), for whom the lower tiers were reserved, benefited from conditions that granted them faster and less tiring access to their rows. In addition, once the senators arrived in the ima cauea of ​​this monument, they enjoyed wider and more comfortable seats than those of the spectators seated in the summa cauea, who were seated closer together. These spectatorswere also among the best placed to follow the show, being closer to the action. Moreover, whatever the distance that separated each spectator from the track, stage, or arena, other factors were likely to hinder their vision, the sun in particular. However, as Sophie Madeleine reminds us, not all the spectacle buildings of the Roman Empire were equipped with uela. It seems that devices were installed in some of these buildings, such as the stadium at Aphrodisias among others, which Sophie Madeleine refers to as partial awnings, that made it possible to protect certain groups of individuals from the sun. While part of the stands remained in the sun, other places were thus protected, probably seats of honor, which also allowed those who benefited from them to ostensibly assert their social rank.

Finally, the diversity of the emotional reactions of Roman audiences in the presence of the performances is yet another of the themes addressed by several of the contributions in this book. A number of passages from ancient literature indeed report differentiated reactions among the spectators according to their social category or their sex. This is particularly the case, as shown by Sylvain Forichon and Marco Vespa, during animal shows. Similarly, as Marie-Hélène Garelli remarks, the account of the ludi Palatini by Flavius ​​Josephus presents women as more emotional, and slaves as passionate spectators whose immoderate behavior could be a source of disturbances to the public order. Although this kind of statement is obviously above all a reflection of the various prejudices of ancient writers, all of whom were members of the elite, there could also sometimes be a very concrete reason for the apparent restraint amongst the higher orders, as Marion Bellissime points out. The spectators seated in the first rows, in this case the senators and the knights, were the most exposed to surveillance by and acts of vindictiveness by the emperor. Meanwhile, members of the plebs could probably allow themselves to express their emotions more freely on account of their seats at the top of the cauea. Still other testimonies, on the contrary, emphasize the unanimous reactions of the public, all social categories combined. For example, in several of his writings, Cicero evoked the unanimous reactions of theatergoers to the announcement of his return from exile, as Patrizia Arena recalls. In a completely different context, the authors of various treatises on the intelligence of animals examined by Sylvain Forichon and Marco Vespa highlight the admiration or the general amazement of the crowd in the presence of the prowess of certain species, which enhances all the more so the demonstration of these animals’ learning capacities. Ancient authors’ examples of the unanimity of the public, or – on the contrary – of the differences in reactions between certain categories, therefore often seems to have the aim of serving as a demonstration.

In addition to their immediate reactions that are sometimes described in texts, the tastes of the Romans towards spectacle left many epigraphic and iconographic traces. The exceptional conservation of the city of Pompeii has often led researchers to take it as a privileged object of study on this point. Thus, as shown in the study by Eloïse Letellier, inscriptions tell us that the inhabitants of this city in Italy also appreciated theater in the Greek language, and that pantomime had spread there from the Augustan period. Graffiti also testify to the presence of “fan clubs” attached to the promotion of such-and-such an actor, thanks in particular to the organization of claques which could reach beyond the framework of the games to ensure the promotion of a candidate in the elections. But it is often difficult to know more and to determine which theatrical genres and which plays were more specifically the predilection of the public, or any part thereof. Similarly, as Joe Sheppard explains, the painted inscriptions of Pompeii which acclaim the editor of this or that show did not in fact originate from enthusiastic individuals leaving the amphitheater: rather, their stylistic characteristics bring them closer to electoral inscriptions and show programs, painted by professionals. Produced at the initiative of the very individual whom they praised, these inscriptions therefore represented one of the modes of communication that were developed around performances – performances that allowed the elites to create the conditions for a consensus that legitimized and reinforced their dominant position. Likewise, the iconographic sources representing the different kinds of spectacles, in particular, have sometimes been overinterpreted, because they are often stereotyped images that are found throughout the empire. It is probable, however, that the tastes of the public may have diverged from one social category or region to another, and we can sometimes find clues to this. This is what Gian Luca Gregori and Fabio Mancuso suggest in their comparative study of graffiti which depict gladiators in Ephesus and Pompeii. Indeed, they observe that the final phase of the fight is one of the most frequently figured, and therefore undoubtedly most appreciated, moments in the Campanian city, whereas this does not seem to be the case in Ephesus. Similarly, representations highlighting the violent and bloody aspect of the fight are much rarer there than in Pompeii. Even if, as the authors point out, the comparison between these two corpora is nuanced, in particular because of their chronological difference, one can wonder if spectators all over the empire appreciated each moment of the show in the same manner. A broader study of graffiti discovered in different provinces of the Empire, as well as other types of iconographic representations, could perhaps allow us to better understand these differences in public taste from one region to another.

At the end of this analysis, we can therefore see that the hypothesis at the origins of our approach is verified: that of a greater diversity of audiences for Roman performances than what ancient sources on the subject might suggest. This diversity concerns all the points addressed: the terminology used to describe the spectator, the media of their representation, iconographic or literary, as well as the bias of those who depict them. This diversity is also glaring with regard to the public itself, whether in terms of social class, gender, age or profession, but also because of the variations that these different cleavages imply for the placement of these spectators. In turn, the different situations of these places have an obvious impact on the experience of the show that each group has, and beyond that on individual experiences. Finally, these diverse perceptions and receptions, and the preferences they may induce, can also be reflected in the way in which these shows will then be evoked, whether in writing or in images. On these different points, regional disparities, linked to different cultural contexts, often seem to be able to be identified.

We did not claim in this book to comprehensively address all facets of such a vast subject. The different chapters brought together in this volume are akin to many windows opening onto new horizons that future research should explore. Several lines of thought for the future already emerge more clearly at the end of this study. Firstly, a work of systematic analysis of the loca which remain today in the audience stands of certain spectacle buildings would allow us to better understand the distribution of the public in different kinds of building, and beyond that to highlight any regional peculiarities. There is also still much research to be done on the various facilities that the ancients had put in place to guarantee the comfort of their spectators. Lastly, the contributions of Marialetizia Buonfiglio and Sophie Madeleine demonstrate the potential of computer models and virtual simulations to reconstruct the sensory experience of ancient spectators in the stands according to the places that they occupied. Future collaborations between computer scientists, historians, archaeologists, architects, epigraphists, and philologists therefore appears to be a highly promising area for new discoveries.

ISBN html : 978-2-35613-549-0
Chapitre de livre
EAN html : 9782356135490
ISBN html : 978-2-35613-549-0
ISBN pdf : 978-2-35613-551-3
Volume : 23
ISSN : 2741-1818
Posté le 23/04/2024
5 p.
Code CLIL : 3385; 4117
licence CC by SA
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Comment citer

Bell, Sinclair W., Berlan-Gallant, Anne, Forichon, Sylvain, “Conclusion. An audience or audiences?”, in : Bell, Sinclair W., Berlan-Gallant, Anne, Forichon, Sylvain, dir., Un public ou des publics ? La réception des spectacles dans le monde romain entre pluralité et unanimité, Pessac, Ausonius éditions, collection PrimaLun@ 23, 2024, 417-421, [en ligne] https://una-editions.fr/conclusion-un-public-ou-des-publics-en [consulté le 24/04/2024].
Illustration de couverture • Montage S. Forichon et SVG, à partir de :
Sezione interna del Colosseo con spettatori e finta caccia al leone (1769-1770), Vincenzo Brenna, Victoria and Albert Museum, Londres (d'après Gabucci, A. ed. (1999): Il Colosseo, Milan, p. 166-167) ; Relief dit de Foligno (130×55 cm), Détail, Museo di Palazzo Trinci, Foligno, Italie (photo de S. Bell) ; Mosaïque dite du Grand Cirque de la villa de Piazza Armerina, Détail, Sicile (d’après Gentili, G. V. et A. Belli (1959) : La Villa Erculia di Piazza Armerina: i mosaici figurati, Collana d’arte Sidera 8, Rome, pl. X) ; Diptyque en ivoire dit des Lampadii (29×11 cm), Détail, Santa Giulia Museo, Brescia (d’après Delbrueck, R. (1929) : Die Consulardiptychen und verwandte Denkmäler, vol. I-II, Studien zur spätantiken Kunstgeschichte, Berlin-Leipzig, vol. II, pl. 56) ; Mosaïque dite de Gafsa (4,70×3,40 m), Détail, Musée du Bardo, Tunis (d’après Blanchard-Lemée, M., M. Ennaïfer, H. et L. Slim (1995) : Sols de l’Afrique romaine : mosaïques de Tunisie, Paris, p. 196, fig. 143).
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