Atellan farce, or Atellanae fabulae, was improvisational comic drama in Roman times originating in the town of Atella. As with its modern counterpart, this was a form of low comedy aimed at entertaining the masses. The characters in Atellan farce each had their own mask and costume, similar to the stock characters of the Commedia dell’Arte centuries later. Atellan farce existed for over 500 years, eventually losing popularity around 200 A.D.
Roman theatre is said to have begun around 240 B.C. Most Roman dramas were translations or imitations of Greek plays. While broader forms of entertainment such as athletic events, music, dance and chariot races played a pivotal role in Roman life, theatrical forms included mime and farce, with comedy being more popular than tragedy. Only some of the comedies of Plautus and Terence survive today, yet no tragic works have survived. Like the Greeks before them, the Romans performed plays at religious festivals in honour of their Gods. Roman theatres were huge architectural structures, of which several exist to this day.