Newly Discovered Tomb Proves Greek Theater was Alive and Well in Pompeii

The newly discovered tomb of Marcus Venerius Secundio, a former slave turned performer, provides the first evidence that Greek theater was performed in Pompeii.

Marcus Venerius Secundio’s skeleton in Pompeii. Pompeii Sites / YouTube

The ruins of long-annihilated Pompeii continue to prove themselves to be useful in terms of research in the present, and recently, another discovery has been made: a partially mummified skeleton whose tomb identifies him as a performer and stager of Greek plays. This skeleton, who went by the name Marcus Venerius Secundio when alive, was found in a hermetically sealed room and still has visible white hairs atop his skull. Secundio’s extremely well-preserved body and inscriptions at the base of his tomb offer fresh insight into the cultural figure’s activities: he was a member of the Augustales, the college of priests dedicated to the Imperial Cult, and he “gave Greek and Latin ludi for the duration of four days.”

“Ludi graeci are to be understood as performances in the Greek language,” Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the Director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, said in a statement. “It is the first clear evidence of performances at Pompeii in the Greek language, which had previously been hypothesized on the basis of indirect indicators.”

According to the materials analyzed by researchers, before embarking on establishing his theatrical reputation, Secundio was a slave and also worked as a custodian at Pompeii’s Temple of Venus. The facts surrounding his burial also offer interesting insight into the eventual status he attained: Secundio’s intact remains were found in an enclosure that also bore evidence of cremation. At the time, in Roman Pompeii, only small children were buried; adult remains were generally cremated. Therefore, the existence of Secundio’s extremely well-preserved skeleton is highly unusual.

“Even for those like me, who have been specialized in funerary archaeology for some time, the extraordinary wealth of information offered by this tomb, from the inscription to the burials, the osteological finds and the painted façade, is exceptional,” Professor Llorenç Alapont of the University of Valencia said in a statement. Newly Discovered Tomb Proves Greek Theater was Alive and Well in Pompeii