The experience of spectators at the festivals in early imperial Ancient Rome. A case study of multisensory approach to spectatorship at the festival of the Saecular Games in 17 BC

Anna Trostnikova

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis is dedicated to the spectators’ experience at Ancient Roman festivals — in particular the Saecular Games of 17 BC. Spectatorship at
the Roman festivals was an integral part of the cultural and social identity of
Romans. However, the research concerning it is disparate and split between
the academic fields of Classics and Drama. from histories of an undifferentiated Roman crowd towards the identities and experiences of individual
spectators. Festivals have hitherto mainly been studied from the organisers’
point of view, and I shall shift the focus to the spectator.
Through the lens of Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space, the
Games are considered as a theatrical event, uniting religious rituals and performances, centred on structured movement through the monumental city
space of Rome. While monumental space is defined in Lefebvre’s terms
as conceived space, the spectators’ experience is theorised as Lefebvre’s
lived space and is accessed through the imaginative reconstruction of multisensory experiences of the Games — what the Games felt like — based on
historical sources.
The political implications of the Games, the spectators’ journey through
monumental space of Rome, the timeline, the spectators’ collective and individual identities, their agency, and finally the aftermath of the Games, seen
through the memories, are the major factors shaping the experience of the
Games. The multisensory perspective makes it possible to reveal previously
neglected details of the Games’ performance history, such as the changing olfactory experience of the Games, the access and crowding conditions,
and the visibility of rituals. This perspective demonstrates how the organisers’ plans and politics clashed with the spectators’ identities and justifies a
holistic approach to the study of Ancient Rome’s festivals.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Alston, Richard, Supervisor
  • Wiles, David, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Feb 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 30 Jan 2019


  • sensory studies
  • Roman theatre
  • Ancient Roman spectacles
  • spectatorship
  • audience studies
  • Saecular games

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