Theatre of Dionysus

The Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus is a major theatre in Athens, considered to be the world's first theatre, built at the foot of the Athenian Acropolis. Dedicated to Dionysus, the god of plays and wine (among other things), the theatre could seat as many as 17,000 people with excellent acoustics,[1] making it an ideal location for ancient Athens' biggest theatrical celebration, the Dionysia. It was the first theatre ever built, cut into the southern cliff face of the Acropolis, and supposedly the birthplace of Greek tragedy. The remains of a restored and redesigned Roman version can still be seen at the site today. It is sometimes confused with the later, smaller, and better-preserved Odeon of Herodes Atticus, located nearby on the southwest slope of the Acropolis.

The site has been used as a theatre since the sixth century BC. The existing structure dates back to the fourth century BC but it has had many other later remodellings. On November 24, 2009 the Greek government announced that they would partially restore the Theatre of Dionysus.[2][3]

Athen Akropolis (18512008726)
Present-day Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, Athens


The site of the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, which is on the south slope of the Athenian Acropolis, by valentinas house has been known since the 1700s. The Greek Archaeological Society excavated the remains of the theatre beginning in 1846 and throughout most of the 19th century. Early remains in the area relating to the cult of Dionysus Eleuthereus have been dated to the 6th century BC, during the rule of Peisistratus and his successors, but a theatre was apparently not built on the site until a century later. The only certain evidence of this early theatre consists of a few stone blocks that were reused in the 100 century BC.[4]

During the sixth century BC performances associated with the festivals of Dionysus were probably held in the Athenian agora, with spectators seated on wooden bleachers (ikria) set up around a flat circular area, the orchestra, until the ikria collapsed in the early fifth century BC, an event attested in ancient sources. After the collapse of the stands, the dramatic and musical contests were moved to the precinct of Dionysus on the slope of the Acropolis.

Theatre of Dionysus 03
Marble thrones in the Theatre of Dionysus

The early theatre must have been very simple, comprising a flat orchestra, with a few rows of wooden or stone benches set into the hill. The oldest orchestra in the theatre precinct is thought to have been square, although there is some debate as to its original size and shape.[5] A wooden scene building (skene) was apparently introduced at the back of the orchestra, serving for the display of artificial scenery and perhaps to enhance the acoustics.[6] It was in this unpretentious setting that the plays of the great fifth century BC Attic tragedians were performed.

By the end of the fifth century BC, some of the wooden constructions had been replaced with stone.[7] The Theatre of Dionysus in its present general state dates largely to the period of the Athenian statesman Lycurgus (ca. 390-325/4 BC), who, as overseer of the city's finances and building program, refurbished the theatre with stone in monumental form. The fourth century theatre had a permanent stage extending in front of the orchestra and a three-tiered seating area (theatron) that stretched up the slope. The scene building had projecting wings at both ends (paraskenia), which might have accommodated stairways or movable scenery.[8] According to Margarete Bieber, the earliest stone skene with remains surviving is that of the Theatre of Dionysus.[9]

Alterations to the stage were made in the subsequent Hellenistic period, and 67 marble thrones were added around the periphery of the orchestra, inscribed with the names of the dignitaries that occupied them. The marble thrones that can be seen today in the theatre take the form of klismos chairs, and are thought to be Roman copies of earlier versions.[10] At the center of this row of seats was a grand marble throne reserved for the priest of Dionysus.

The Theatre of Dionysus underwent a modernization in the Roman period, although the Greek theatre retained much of its integrity and general form. An entirely new stage was built in the first century CE, and was dedicated to Dionysus and the Roman emperor Nero. By this time, the floor of the orchestra had been paved with marble slabs, and new seats of honor were constructed around the edge of the orchestra. Late alterations carried out in the third century AD by the archon Phaedrus included the re-use of earlier Hadrianic reliefs, which were built into the front of the stage building.[11] The remains of a restored and redesigned Roman version of the theatre can still be seen at the site today.

Theatre of Dionysus 02
Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, Athens, Roman stage building with re-used reliefs

The theatre was dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and the patron of drama; it hosted the City Dionysia festival. Among those who competed were the dramatists of the classical era whose works have survived: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Menander. The advent of tragedy, in particular, is credited to the Athenians with festivals staged during specific times of year. These dramatic festivals were competitive among playwrights and involved the production of four plays, three tragedies and one satyr play featuring lighter themes. Early on, the subject matter of the four plays was often linked, with the three tragedies forming a trilogy, such as the Oresteia of Aeschylus. This famous trilogy (Agamemnon, Choephori, and Eumenides) won the competition of 458 BC held in the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus. The plays tell the story of the curse on the House of Atreus: Agamemnon’s murder by his wife, the revenge of their son, Orestes, upon his mother, and Orestes’ trial in Athens.

By the time of the Oresteia, dramatists would have had a skene and probably also a wheeled platform for special effects (ekkyklema) and a lifting device (mechane) available for their productions, as well as the use of a third actor. In the late fourth century exaggerated masks were worn and considered highly important for character identification to an audience consisting of thousands.[12] It is assumed that earlier masks, such as those worn in plays by Aeschylus, were more modest in expression and size.[13]

The Theatre of Dionysus also sometimes hosted meetings of the Athenian Ekklesia after the Pnyx was deemed unsuitable. In the Roman period, "crude Roman amusements" that were ordinarily restricted to the amphitheatre replaced the sacred performances once held in the theatre, and by the Byzantine period, the entire complex had been destroyed.[14]


  1. ^ Henry C. Montgomery, "Amplification and High Fidelity in the Greek Theater". The Classical Journal. Vol. 54, No. 6. (March 1959). Pages 242-245. www.jstor/stable/3294133
  2. ^ "2,500-year-old Greek theatre under the Acropolis to be restored", The Guardian (UK), Wednesday 25 November 2009
  3. ^ "Acropolis South Side", Athens Information Guide
  4. ^ Travlos 1999p. 537.
  5. ^ Bieber 1961 pp. 54-55, 63; Travlos 1971 p. 537.
  6. ^ Dinsmoor 1950 p. 208.
  7. ^ Dinsmoor pp. 208-209.
  8. ^ Dinsmoor pp. 246-249.
  9. ^ Bieber p. 67.
  10. ^ Bieber pp. 70-71; Dinsmoor p. 318; Richter 1966 p. 37, fig. 197.
  11. ^ Travlos p. 538; Bieber pp. 214-215, figs. 53-55.
  12. ^ Brooke 2003 p. 75.
  13. ^ Brooke 2003 p. 78.
  14. ^ Bieber 1961 p. 216; Travlos 1971 p. 538.


  • Bieber, Margarete. The History of the Greek and Roman Theatre. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961.
  • Brooke, Iris. Costume in Greek Classic Drama. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2003.
  • Brown, Andrew. "Ancient Greece." In The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Ed. Martin Banham, 441-447. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998.
  • Brockett, Oscar G. and Franklin J. Hildy. History of the Theatre. Ninth edition, International edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2003.
  • Camp, John M. The Archaeology of Athens. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001.
  • Dinsmoor, William Bell. The Architecture of Ancient Greece. London and Sydney: B. T. Batsford, 1950.
  • Flickinger, Roy Caston, The Greek theatre and its drama, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1918.
  • Hurwit, Jeffrey M. The Athenian Acropolis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Kopff, E. Christian (1997). Ancient Greek Authors. Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-9939-6.
  • Rehm, Rush. Greek Tragic Theatre. New York: Routledge, 1994.
  • Rehm, Rush. Greek Tragic Theatre. Theatre Production Studies ser. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.
  • Richter, G. M. A. The Furniture of the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans. London: Phaidon Press, 1966.
  • Travlos, John. Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens. London: Thames and Hudson, 1971.

Further reading

  • Pickard-Cambridge, Sir Arthur Wallace
    • Dithyramb, Tragedy, and Comedy , Oxford 1927.
    • The Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, Oxford 1946.
    • The Dramatic Festivals of Athens, Oxford 1953.
  • Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin (2008). Greek Tragedy. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub. ISBN 978-1-4051-2160-6. This contains an exposition and treatment of the Theatre of Dionysus.
  • Rozik, Eli, The Roots of Theatre: Rethinking Ritual and Other Theories of Origin, Iowa City : University of Iowa Press, 2002.

External links

Coordinates: 37°58′13″N 23°43′40″E / 37.97034°N 23.727784°E

Acropolis of Athens

The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon. The word acropolis is from the Greek words ἄκρον (akron, "highest point, extremity") and πόλις (polis, "city"). Although the term acropolis is generic and there are many other acropoleis in Greece, the significance of the Acropolis of Athens is such that it is commonly known as "The Acropolis" without qualification. During ancient times it was known also more properly as Cecropia, after the legendary serpent-man, Cecrops, the supposed first Athenian king.

While there is evidence that the hill was inhabited as far back as the fourth millennium BC, it was Pericles (c. 495–429 BC) in the fifth century BC who coordinated the construction of the site's most important present remains including the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike. The Parthenon and the other buildings were damaged seriously during the 1687 siege by the Venetians during the Morean War when gunpowder being stored in the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded.

Chi Omega Greek Theatre

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Classical Athens

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In the classical period, Athens was a center for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato's Akademia and Aristotle's Lyceum, Athens was also the birthplace of Socrates, Plato, Pericles, Aristophanes, Sophocles, and many other prominent philosophers, writers and politicians of the ancient world. It is widely referred to as the cradle of Western Civilization, and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of the then-known European continent.

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The Dionysia () was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia. The Dionysia actually consisted of two related festivals, the Rural Dionysia and the City Dionysia, which took place in different parts of the year. They were also an essential part of the Dionysian Mysteries.

Dionysiou Areopagitou Street

Dionysiou Areopagitou Street (Greek: Οδός Διονυσίου Αρεοπαγίτου, Greek pronunciation: [oˈðos ðjoniˈsiu areopaˈʝitu]) is a pedestrianized street, adjacent to the south slope of the Acropolis in the Makrygianni district of Athens. It is named after Dionysius the Areopagite, the first Athenian convert to Christianity after Apostle Paul's sermon, according to the Acts of the Apostles, and patron saint of the city of Athens.

The street runs from east to west. It starts from Amalias Avenue near the Arch of Hadrian and ends near Philopappos Hill where it continues as Apostolou Pavlou Street, the rest of the pedestrian zone which goes around the archaeological site of the Acropolis and the Agora.

The street was first mapped in 1857 in a more northern than today's position, adjacently to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. It was redesigned and acquired its shape in 1955 by architect Dimitris Pikionis who also designed the paved paths of the archaeological site. The street was finally pedestrianized in 2003.


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The Lenaia (Ancient Greek: Λήναια) was an annual Athenian festival with a dramatic competition. It was one of the lesser festivals of Athens and Ionia in ancient Greece. The Lenaia took place in Athens in Gamelion, roughly corresponding to January. The festival was in honour of Dionysus Lenaios."Lenaia" probably comes from "lenos" 'wine-press' or from "lenai", another name for the Maenads (the female worshippers of Dionysus).

List of ancient Greek theatres

This is a list of ancient Greek theatres by location.

Lycurgus of Athens

Lycurgus (; Greek: Λυκοῦργος Lykourgos; c. 390 – 324 BC) was a logographer in Ancient Greece. He was one of the ten Attic orators included in the "Alexandrian Canon" compiled by Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace in the third century BC.

Lycurgus was born at Athens about 390 BC, and was the son of Lycophron, who belonged to the noble family of the Eteobutadae. He should not be confused with the quasi-mythological Spartan lawgiver of the same name.

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Odeon of Athens

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In the culture of ancient Greece, the term paideia (also spelled paedeia) (; Greek: παιδεία, paideía) referred to the rearing and education of the ideal member of the polis. It incorporated both practical, subject-based schooling and a focus upon the socialization of individuals within the aristocratic order of the polis. The practical aspects of this education included subjects subsumed under the modern designation of the liberal arts (rhetoric, grammar, and philosophy are examples), as well as scientific disciplines like arithmetic and medicine. An ideal and successful member of the polis would possess intellectual, moral and physical refinement, so training in gymnastics and wrestling was valued for its effect on the body alongside the moral education which the Greeks believed was imparted by the study of music, poetry, and philosophy. This approach to the rearing of a well-rounded Greek male was common to the Greek-speaking world, with the exception of Sparta where a rigid and militaristic form of education known as the agoge was practiced.

Sappho and Alcaeus

Sappho and Alcaeus is an 1881 oil painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema. It is held by the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

The painting measures 66 by 122 centimetres (26 in × 48 in). It depicts a concert in the late 7th century BC, with the poet Alcaeus of Mytilene playing the kithara. In the audience is fellow Lesbian poet Sappho, accompanied by several of her female friends. Sappho is paying close attention to the performance, resting her arm on a cushion which bears a laurel wreath, presumably intended for the performer. The painting illustrates a passage by the poet Hermesianax, recorded by Athenaeus in his Deipnosophistae ("The Philosophers' Banquet"), book 13, page 598.

The location, with tiers of white marble seating, is based on the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, but Alma-Tadema has replaced the original inscribed names of Athenians with the names of Sappho's friends. In the background, the Aegean Sea can be seen through some trees.

The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881, and depicted in William Powell Frith's A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881, to the far right, being inspected by John Everett Millais. It was highly praised by critics: Punch described it as "marbellous". It was acquired by William Thompson Walters of Baltimore, and on his death in 1894 it was inherited by his son Henry Walters, who left it to the Walters Art Museum on his own death in 1931.

Stoa of Attalos

The Stoa of Attalos (also spelled Attalus) was a stoa (covered walkway or portico) in the Agora of Athens, Greece. It was built by and named after King Attalos II of Pergamon, who ruled between 159 BC and 138 BC. The current building was reconstructed in 1952–1956 by American architects along with the Greek architect Ioannis Travlos and the Greek Civil Engineer Yeoryios Biris.

The Bacchae

The Bacchae (; Greek: Βάκχαι, Bakchai; also known as The Bacchantes ) is an ancient Greek tragedy, written by the Athenian playwright Euripides during his final years in Macedonia, at the court of Archelaus I of Macedon. It premiered posthumously at the Theatre of Dionysus in 405 BC as part of a tetralogy that also included Iphigeneia at Aulis and Alcmaeon in Corinth, and which Euripides' son or nephew is assumed to have directed. It won first prize in the City Dionysia festival competition.

The tragedy is based on the Greek myth of King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agave, and their punishment by the god Dionysus (who is Pentheus's cousin). The god Dionysus appears at the beginning of the play and proclaims that he has arrived in Thebes to avenge the slander, which has been repeated by his aunts, that he is not the son of Zeus. In response, he intends to introduce Dionysian rites into the city, and he intends to demonstrate to the king, Pentheus, and to Thebes that he was indeed born a god. At the end of the play, Pentheus is torn apart by the women of Thebes and his mother Agave bears his head on a pike to her father Cadmus.The Bacchae is considered to be not only one of Euripides's greatest tragedies, but also one of the greatest ever written, modern or ancient. The Bacchae is distinctive in that the chorus is integrated into the plot and the god is not a distant presence, but a character in the play, indeed, the protagonist.

Theatre of ancient Greece

The ancient Greek drama was a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece from 700 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political, and military power during this period, was its center, where it was institutionalised as part of a festival called the Dionysia, which honored the god Dionysus. Tragedy (late 500 BC), comedy (490 BC), and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there. Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies.

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Major landmarks of Athens
Existent structures
Former structures

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