Nine centuries of the Roman stage are spotlighted in a new show opening next month on the biggest stage of them all, the Colosseum.
The 'In Scaena' (On Stage) show, running from October 4 till the end of the year, follows Roman theatre from its beginnings in rustic knockabout to the gritty comedy of Plautus, the Greek-influenced classical age of Terence and Seneca and a later return to broad farce, burlesque and circus-like entertainments.
It covers 900 years of theatre history, spanning the period from the third century BC to the sixth-century imperial dog days when drag artistes and clowns provided diversion from the Barbarian menace.
The exhibition also illustrates how the Romans' technical brilliance built on Greek models to conceive ever-smarter stage machinery and ever more opulent theatres, spreading classical tragedy and mass entertainment to the corners of the known world.
Some 70 objects are on show including comic and tragic masks, bronze statuettes, mosaics and terracotta vases from museums around Italy as well as the Vatican Museums and Pompeii.
The painted works showing stage performances include a celebrated red-figure Attic bowl from Puglia in southern Italy, the Promos Vase.
Other works highlight the bawdy influence of the peoples who ruled most of Italy before the Romans, the Etruscans of present-day Tuscany and Lazio and the Greek city states of southern Italy's Magna Graecia.
Another star of the show is a detailed reproduction of a Roman theatre house from the Archaeological Museum in Naples.
There is also a famous marble statue of Dionysus, the sex-and-wine god who was elected the theatre's presiding deity.
Among the musical instruments on show are ancient flutes, cymbals and an ancient pipe organ unearthed in the 1930s at the site of the Roman town of Aquincum in Hungary.