Titus Maccius Plautus is better known in English as Plautus, a prolific Roman playwright of the Old Latin period.
As can be expected little is known of his early life. Accounts are reconciled that he was born in Sarsina, a small town in Emilia Romagna in northern Italy, around 254 BC.
He first worked in the theatre as a stage-carpenter or scene-shifter. It would take quite some time for his acting talent to develop and then to be recognised. Redolent of the characters he originally portrayed he adopted the names 'Maccius' (a sort of clownish stock-character popular in farces) and 'Plautus' (to mean "flat-footed" or "flat-eared", like a hounds' ears). In acting he appears to have met with some success and from it a regular income.
An account now suggests that he then returns to manual labor and to have used his spare time to study Greek drama, especially the New Comedy of Menander. Whatever the impulse it is clear that he would, between c. 205 BC and the time of his death in 184 BC write a large and significant canon of plays. Indeed, his name became a byword of theatrical success.
His comedies are, in the main, sourced from standard Greek models and this includes his reworking and adapting the plays of the earlier Greek playwrights for a Roman audience, adding local nuance and cultural aspects to ensure both their acceptability and understandability.
These works are the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature. Unfortunately, of the 130 plays which are attributed to him a mere 20 survive intact and a further 30 only in part or fragmented form.
The historical context within which Plautus wrote can be seen, to some extent, in his comments on contemporary events and persons.
In Plautus's lifetime Rome was becoming increasingly powerful, gathering influence and flexing its undoubted muscle to its greater good. The 17 year Second Punic War (218 BC - 201 BC) where for many years Italy itself was rampaged by Hannibal and his armies before his own final, crushing defeat back in Africa were seismic events in the Ancient world, with hundreds of thousands killed and entire regions of Europe overrun and devastated. Against this horrific backdrop Roman theater was at the early stage of development and still dependent on the earlier Greek classics for a supply line of stories and characters. Expanding empires tend to appropriate from other cultures and call it their own.
Plautus was a popular comedic playwright, who along with his near-contemporary, Terence, was able to integrate these earlier works into the demands of a vast new cultural, economic and military power that was growing at an incredible rate.
Plautus died in Rome in 184 BC.