Terra cotta representation of two comic actors wearing masks with pallia slung over their shoulders

Fabula palliata is a genre of Roman drama that consists largely of Romanized versions of Greek plays.[1] Palliata comes from pallium, the Latin word for a Greek-style cloak. It is possible that the term fabula palliata indicates that the actors who performed wore such cloaks.[2] Another possibility is that the fabula itself is metaphorically "cloaked" in a Greek style.[3] As in all Roman drama, the actors wore masks that easily identified which of the stock characters they represented.[1]


The only complete, extant fabulae palliatae are the comedies of Terence and Plautus. Plautus introduced Roman manners and customs to the plays and filled the plays with boisterous humour and musical performances, while Terence kept his plays close to their Greek originals and sometimes combined two plays into one. Consequently, a common misconception is that the genre is inherently comedic. In fact, any Roman play that is based on Greek drama qualifies as a fabula palliata.[1] The extant fabulae palliatae adhere to the style of Greek New Comedy, but references to and fragments of the works of Livius Andronicus, Gnaeus Naevius, and Ennius indicate that all three wrote tragic fabulae palliatae.

Fabulae palliatae are usually set in Greece, feature mostly Greek characters, and, as far as we can tell, base their plots on Greek originals.[1] The plays usually featured musical performances and boisterous humour. They were often more tame versions of their Greek counterpart that featured family problems, political criticisms and Roman sensibilities. The stories were usually disjointed, illogical and were out of chronological order. This was opposite to their Greek counterparts which where more condensed and straightforward. Roman plays' main deviations from the Greek source material are the absence of a chorus and a willingness to have more than three characters on stage simultaneously.[1]

Definition and history of the conceptEdit

Knowledge of the genre comes from a 1st-century BC literary critic named Volcacius Sedigitus, of whom nothing is known except his report in Aulus Gellius.[4] Livius Andronicus was one of the first playwrights to bring the idea of Fabula palliata to ancient Rome. Of the writers whose works have survived at all Sedigitus identifies as well Naevius, Plautus, Ennius, Caecilius and Terence as contributors to the genre. In addition were Licinius, Atilius, Turpilius, Trabea and Luscius Lanuvinus. Out of all of fabula palliata only twenty-one plays still survive.


  1. ^ a b c d e OCD, sv. palliata
  2. ^ "Fabula palliata". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
  3. ^ OCD, sv palliata
  4. ^ Smith, William; Anthon, Charles (July 9, 2006). A new classical dictionary of Greek and Roman biography, mythology and geography. 2. Kessinger. p. 794. ISBN 978-1-4286-4561-5. Sedigĭtus, Volcātĭus, from whose work De Poētis A. Gellius (xv., 24) has preserved iambic senarians, in which the principal Latin comics are enumerated in order of merit.

External linksEdit

  • S. Hornblower, A. Spawforth, & E. Eidinow (eds.) (2012) The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.
  • Smith, William; Anton, Charles (July 9, 2006). A new classical dictionary of Greek and Roman biography, mythology, and geography. ISBN 978-1-4286-4561-5
  • Jürgen Blänsdorf "Palliata" in: Brill's New Pauly, Antiquity volumes edited by: Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider. Consulted online on 21 July 2017
  • Evangelos, Karakasis. Terrence and the language of Roman Comedy. Cambridge University Press. 197-198 2005.
  • Manuwald, Gesine. Roman Republican theatre. Cambridge University Press. 144-149 2011
  • Conte, Gian Biagio, Latin Literature: A History. The Johns Hopkins University Press 125-127 1994
  • Gill, N.S., Types of Plays in Ancient Roman Theatre. Thoughtco. March 8, 2017
  • Lefèvre, Eckard (2003–2004). "Asides in New Comedy and the Palliata" (PDF). Leeds International Classical Studies. 3 (3). ISSN 1477-3643. Archived from the original (pdf) on 2009-12-21. Retrieved 2008-09-18.