The first recorded form of European theater began in Ancient Greece around 600 B.C. with a religious festival to honor Dionysus (Di-on-i-sus), the god of wine and fertility. It has been said that a poet named Thespis (Thes-pis) won a dramatic play competition at the festival. Because he is considered to be the first actor, people sometimes refer to actors as thespians. Thespis also introduced the use of masks in Greek theater. Masks were designed to show the age and emotion. Women were not allowed to perform, so men wore female masks and played their parts. In Greek theater, the tragedy is the most admired type of play.
In 300 B.C., Romans were inspired by Greek art, culture and theater and wrote Latin versions of Greek plays. Comedy plays were more popular than tragedies. In the Roman theater, slaves served as actors. Unlike Greek theater, women were permitted to appear on stage but they did not play important roles. The Roman theater competed for the audiences that attended chariot races, gladiator contests and public executions. This brought about the need for impressive public theaters. For the next two centuries, Romans built about 125 structures. Eventually, plays included stage violence and crude humor. Christians disapproved and closed down all of the theaters.