Any discussion on ancient Greek culture would sadly be incomplete without a generous mention of its rich history of histrionics and theatrical arts. Theatre and dramatics have always been an integral part of many European cultures and ancient Greece can, literally, be called the point of Genesis of this form of audiovisual entertainment. Indeed, it is the Theatre of Dionysus, located at the foot of Acropolis, Athens, that is bestowed with the epithet of 'the birthplace of drama' due to this being one of the earliest open air theaters where festivities in the honor of ancient Greek gods, especially Dionysus (after whom it was named), and theatrical presentations were held for recreational purposes.
According to historical facts and archaeological evidence, the Theatre of Dionysus, which was meant as a venue of festivities for the City Dionysia celebrations, was not originally located in Athens, at the foot of Acropolis. It was shifted there about 2 centuries later and that is when a permanent stone structure was given to it.
While not much is known about the Theatre of Dionysus other than fragments of historical facts and legends (the accuracy of some of which has been difficult to acutely verify as the older a history is, the more likely it is to be distorted by myths, legends and folklore), we, have tried to compile various interesting facts about Theatre of Dionysus which have been collected from diverse sources. Read ahead to know about some amazing aspects of the history of this ancient birthplace of drama.
Theatre of Dionysus Facts
- First things first! When was the Theatre of Dionysus built? Well, the Theatre was built in the 4th Century BC. However, there seems to be some conflict regarding the exact year of its construction but this can be said that it came into being somewhere between 540 BCE and 500 BCE.
- There are two open air theaters located in the same region that are known as the Theatre of Dionysus. However, reliable sources claim that the structure which is the original Theatre of Dionysus is the one that is located in Athens, along the southernmost slope of Acropolis. The other structure, located along the southwestern slope, is actually the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and was an amphitheater made of stone with a wooden roof. The original Theatre of Dionysus, on the other hand, was an open air theater and, as such, had no roof.
- The Theatre was set up with the purpose of celebrating the annual City Dionysia festival and the Theatre served as the ideal ground for staging plays and holding the festivities. When first constructed, the Theatre had an audience capacity of 25, 000 such that each person present could clearly see whatever performance that was being presented on the stage. Later, seating arrangements were made and after that time, the Theatre could accommodate as many as 14, 000 - 17, 000 seated audiences.
- Legendary playwrights of ancient Greece such as Euripides, Aristophanes, Sophocles and Aeschylus participated in dramatic competitions that were held at the Theatre of Dionysus twice every year on the occasions of the spring festival of City Dionysia and the winter festival of Lenaia.
- The later version of the Theatre having seating arrangements was made of limestone and marble. All that is visible of this great historical monument today is a small part of the massive Theatre which was restored by Nero, the great Roman Emperor who also made some modifications in its design. This part was unearthed during an excavation mission in the 19th century. The aforementioned renovations and redesigning by Emperor Nero are believed to have been done around the earlier part of the 2nd century CE.
- It is believed that all the ancient classical Greek plays that still exist on the records of the history of world theater were performed for the first time at the Theatre of Dionysus. No wonder it is known as the birthplace of performed histrionics!
The original Theatre where the City Dionysia festivities used to be held before the venue was shifted to Acropolis was built in the 6th century BCE and was merely a flat ground. The original venue of these festivities was the rural district of Eleutherae but sometime around the third decade of the 6th century BCE, the tyrant ruler of Athens, Peisistratus, got the venue shifted from Eleutherae. That's when the permanent stone structure was erected and the Theatre was equipped with audience seating facilities.
Besides being the official venue for holding the City Dionysia festivities, the Acropolis location was also within proximity of a temple dedicated to Dionysus, the god of intoxication and drunken revelries. That was all the facts about Theatre of Dionysus that we could come up with as of now. We'll keep you posted as and when we get hold of more information!