(Gk., odeion; Lat., odeum),

a small roofed theater, used for musical performances (Gk., ōdai), recitations, and lectures. The first monument of this kind was built by Pericles near the theater of Dionysus in Athens and was reconstructed In 52 BCE by two Roman architects. It is recorded only later (Vitruvius, 5.9.1; Plutarch, Pericles 13.9) as an odeum. The term is often incorrectly applied to any small theater (especially in cities that have more than one scenical building), to distinguish it from a city's sometimes more ancient (Greek) theater. For all of Greece, however, in the second century CE, Pausanias knew only four odea: those of Agrippa (1.8.6 and 1.14.1) and of Herodes Atticus (7.20.6) in Athens, and those built or rebuilt at Corinth (2.3.6) and Patras (7.20.6) by the same rich rhetor and benefactor; however, Pausanias, in the Periegeta was also aware of one at Smyrna (9.35.6). At Caesarea Maritima, in ancient Palestine, Vespasian built an odeum on the site of a destroyed synagogue (Malalas, 10.338, p. 261.13). In Rome, the word is used for, but limited to, the Domitianic construction in the Campus Martius (Suetonius, Domitianus 5). This kind of monument therefore seems to be much rarer than might be expected. Epigraphic evidence in the western as well as in the eastern provinces, has, however, added other examples (Carthage in North Africa; Gortyna on Crete; Patara; Qanawat; Thessalonike in Greece; and Vienna), which suggests that the problem of unidentified buildings of this or related types all over the empire needs to be reconsidered.

It was once argued that an odeum was characterized by the absence of versurae and of parodoi (“side entrances”) leading to the orchestra. However, the identification of the monument in Corinth, which is secured both by a literary source and by an inscription, also has versurae and parodoi. It is first of all essential to put aside an important group of monuments that are linked to an agora; they are probable bouleuteria, rather than real odea. Most have but a few, or reduced, scenical installations, others only a podium behind the facade. In some cases, too (e.g., at Gerasa/Jerash, in modern Jordan), the seats are inscribed with the names of the tribes into which the assembly of the people was divided; these point to a completely different use for the monument. Some of these constructions (Alabanda; Anemurium; Arykanda; the island of Cos; Iasos; Pinara; Selinos in Cilicia) have a rectangular plan that facilitated the use of a roof but limited the width of the cavea, or spectators' section; they are relatively small, the largest rivaling the boundary measures adopted, for technical reasons, by the Hellenistic bouleuterion at Miletus (34.84 × 24.28 m). The abandonment of this model in the second century CE, a time of splendor in urban life and architectural renewal in the provinces of the Roman Empire, allowed the development of a plan that is still nearer to—and very often quite the same as—that of the theaters, but roofed. The best examples of this type are at Aphrodisias, Aspendos, Cibyra, Ephesus, Magnesia ad Maeandrum, Sagalassos, and Sillyon in Asia Minor, at Nea-Paphos on Cyprus, and at Amman, Gadara, Gerasa (the North Theater), and Pella in the Near East. The cavea was then wider, with diameters ranging between 30 and 54 m. The building was still placed close to the city's agora or was directly connected to its porticoes. Whether these constructions were used both as bouleuteria and odea has been discussed: Reudiger Meinel (1979) speaks of a mixed type (Ger., mischtypus, or mischgebäude), on account of the development and magnificence of the rear wall of some of the facades. However, those walls were purely decorative and cannot be considered real scaenae fronte—limited as they were to displaying sculptured groups of the house of Augustus and of the municipal elites who took political advantage of acting as benefactors and propagators of the imperial ideology in their own cities. Despite a real influence by the plan of one and the decoration of the other, there are significant distinctions between the two kinds of buildings.

A second group that needs to be excluded is the small auditoria (of less than a half-circle) that are usually part of a gymnasium and correspond to what seems to have been called acroatēria (Apollonia of Illyria; Arykanda [no. IX on plans of the city]; Cnidus [the so-called bouleuterion], Epidaurus, Syracuse, and perhaps Ariassos and Termessos). Built as they are within the architectural structure of a monument devoted to education, they were clearly intended for lecturing and have no scenical purposes. The so-called odeum of Agrippa in the Athenian agora, dedicated in about 15 BCE, was itself established not far from the gymnasium of Ptolemy—and was probably connected with it.

Cultic assembly halls, either semicircular (as on Delos) or inscribed (as at Dura-Europos in Syria), have also been called odea. Indeed, at Delos, religious processions or epiphanies of the goddess's statue did certainly take place, but the monument has no scaena and was evidently not used for real sacred dramas, as has sometimes been thought. On the contrary, the auditorium at Dura, suggested by an imperial dedication and a graffito on one of the seats, was certainly the colony's bouleuterion in the third century CE and has nothing in common with the nearby hall of the Artemis Nanaia temple. Monuments at Gerasa (the festival theater at the Birketein), Saḥr, and El-Hammeh (?) seem to have been dependencies of their respective sanctuaries but do not share architectural characteristics with well-identified odea. They represent a third group of buildings whose purposes and functions were distinct from the odea's.

Real odea are certainly larger than a city's boulē, a gymnasium, or auditoria for religious spectacles, as they were intended for larger assemblies. The capacities of the buildings at Corinth, Lyon, and Vienna are calculated to have held some three thousand spectators and that of Herodes Atticus to have approached five thousand. There is, therefore, no comparison with simple auditoria and cultal theaters (such as on Delos), which seat only hundreds, and still less with the largest bouleuteria (Aphrodisias, Ephesus), which may have seated fourteen hundred.

With an exterior diameter of about 63–76 m, the odea at Athens, Corinth, Lyon, and Vienna are clearly situated between the largest bouleuteria and medium-sized theaters; the monument at Carthage, with its 95-meter diameter, was still wider, and nearer to real theaters. The smallest (Catania, Nicopolis, Patras) have the same diameter (about 43–48 m) as the largest uninscribed bouleuteria. In plan, many of the real odea “were simply theaters in miniature,” as John B. Ward-Perkins put it, which is the sense of the inscription of the theatroeidēs ōdeion at Qanawat (W. H. Waddington and P. LeBas, Voyage archéologiques en Grèce et Asie Mineure: Inscriptions et Applications, 3 vols., Paris, 1870, 2341) and the expression of the architectural evolution from inscribed rectangular buildings to wider semicircular constructions that clearly resemble theaters. The only significant distinctions seem to have been that odea were covered, in order to facilitate a better acoustic environment for concerts and lectures; their stage was of a simple and more severe design.

Except in the great cities of the empire (Athens, Carthage, Corinth, Lyon, Rome, Smyrna), which were often visited by famous rhetors and in which the spectacles were more diversified than in small cities, odea existed where there were special festivals and games: at Argos, the monument's orchestra is paved with a mosaic that bears an undisputable allusion to the Nemean games; at Nicopolis, it may well be related to the celebration of the Actiaca; at Carthage (built In 207 CE) it may be related to the Pythian games; and in Rome itself, the odeum of Domitian was probably intended, just as its stadium was, for the Certamen Capitolinum, instituted In 86 CE.

Odea are often directly connected with theaters (Athens, Corinth, Catania, Lyon, and Vienna); both constructions use the same lie of the ground, with its pending particularly adapted for the setting of a cavea. However, at Akrai, Soluntum, and Amman, the bouleuterion also takes the same topographic advantages of this proximity to become, as Statius said for Naples (Silv. 3.5.91), this geminam molem nudi tectique theatri, an important element in the city's landscape. The joining of the two monuments, interesting as it is for ancient town planning, is thus no absolute criterion by itself for identifying the smaller one as an odeum.

[See also Public Buildings; Theaters.]


  • Balty, Jean Ch. Cvria Ordinis: Recherches d'architecture et d'urbanisme antiques sur les curies provinciales du monde romain. Académie Royale de Belgique, Mémoires de la Classe des Beaux-Arts, Coll. in-4°, 2e sér., XV.2. Brussels, 1991. Devotes an entire chapter to bouleuteria (some of which had been called odea) with an inscribed rectangular and semicircular plan (see pp. 429–600).
  • Bieber, Margarete. The History of the Greek and Roman Theater. 2d ed. Princeton, 1961. Classic study, providing a list of odea throughout the provinces of the Roman Empire (see pp. 174–177, 220–222).
  • Broneer, Oscar T. The Odeum. Corinth, 10. Cambridge, Mass., 1932. Excellent monograph on the building at Corinth.
  • Crema, Luigi. L'architettura romana. Turin, 1959. One of the best guides to Roman architecture, with good coverage of odea (see pp. 92–93, 202–203, 425–428).
  • Ginouvès, René. Le théâtron à gradins droits et l'Odéon d'Argos. Études Péloponnésiennes, 6. Paris, 1972. Exemplary monograph on the odeum at Argos, with extended comparative material on other odea and roofed theaters in the Roman world.
  • Izenour, George C. Roofed Theaters of Classical Antiquity. New Haven, 1992. New and interesting approach to the problem by one of the leading specialists of modern assembly halls, unfortunately confusing odea, bouleuteria, and auditoria.
  • Meinel, Reudiger. Das Odeion: Untersuchungen an überdachten antiken Theatergebäuden. Frankfurt, 1979. Standard work on the subject, drawing special attention to the problem of construction, but uncritically mixing odea, bouleuteria, and auditoria.
  • Neppi Modona, Aldo. Gli edifici teatrali greci e romani. Florence, 1961. Brief, uncritical coverage of odea.

Jean Ch. Balty