Roman Oratorical Gestures


My earliest research focused on attempting to recreate the gestures used by famous Roman orators such as Cicero, Caesar, and Quintilian. Many of these gestures were used to indicate what emotion the audience was meant to be feeling in response to the words of the orator, while others were used for emphasis or to accompany certain types of speech. These gestures, as well as the crowd's response in the form of shouted acclamations, were the subject of my first book, Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome (1999).

The 30 second video clip below was shot in the theater of Ostia and shows me demonstrating a few of these Roman oratorical gestures. The line that I am performing is the first sentence of Cicero's speech, the Pro Ligario, and translates roughly as "Of a new crime, Gaius Caesar, and one never heard of before today, my relative, Quintus Tubero, has accused you." The meanings of the gestures used, in order, are: aversion, grief, wonder, modesty, indication, narration, and anger.

roman gestures

Oratorical Gestures Demonstration

This video clip was shot and edited by documentarian Nick Quinn.