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Durham University

Department of Classics and Ancient History


Publication details for Dr Edmund Thomas

Thomas, Edmund (2017). Performance Space. In The Oxford Handbook of the Second Sophistic. Johnson, William A. & Richter, Daniel S. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 181-201.

Author(s) from Durham


This chapter explores how public speakers of the second and third centuries ce, accustomed to extravagant physical demonstrations of their art, exploited the architectural spaces where they performed. Theaters, temples, and smaller roofed assembly buildings were all locations for oratorical performances and adapted to achieve stronger oral expression through sharper acoustics. As the demand for public speaking increased, halls were built specially, their materials chosen to enhance the voices of orators. With the vast wealth they accrued from their teaching and public speaking, “sophists” sponsored ambitious building projects, particularly gymnasia, which included spacious auditoria, as from the later second century the palaestra became an intellectual and cultural arena instead of an athletic space. Private houses too had lavishly decorated halls for public speaking, as both literary accounts and archaeological evidence attest. At Rome, the emperors’ projects, not only bath-gymnasia, but the imperial fora, were adapted to similar uses.