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Theatre of Dionysos, Athens

Theatre of Dionysos

<Location> Athens, Attika, Greece

Ancient Theatre on the souther skirt of the Acropolis. It is called the Theatre of Dionysos, because the central seat of the first row bears an inscription saying "the seat for the priest of Dionysos Eleutherios". The name "Eleutherios" derives from the myth according to which Dionysos came into Attica throught the town of Eleutherai.

We don't know very well the history of this theatre. It is certain that there was a theatre at this place already at the end of the 6th century, but it was still a modest wooden construction. At the end of the 4th century, an Athenian stateman, Lykourgos (ca. 390 BCE- 324 BCE), completed the construction of the stone-made theatre, but the construction in itself seems to have started earlier. Lykourgos staged great theatrical pieces of the fifth century BCE, of Aischylos, Sophokles, and Euripides, here. Since then, the Great Dionysia festival started to be celebrated here.

The separating panels between the stage and the spectators' seats must have been placed in the first century CE, when also the gladiatorial shows were held here. As the panels are closely fitted with water-proof material (this work might be executed later), it is possible that some spectacles required use of water. Also the floor of the stage was repaved with colour stones (as we see it now) in the imperial period. Under the emperor Nero, between 54 and 61, the scaenae frons was renewed. The friese (Bema of Phaedrus) behind the stage was probably made in the 2nd century CE.

Originally there were 64 (or 67) rows of seats, and later 14 rows were added so that the seating capacity should have risen to about 15,000- 17,000.

There used to be the Odeion of Pericles at the eastern side of the theatre, which was destroyed during the Mithridatic war. It was rebuilt by Ariobarzanes II of Cappadocia in the later half of the first century BC. Roman architects Gaius and Marcus Stallius brothers, and a Greek architect Melanippus perticipated in the project. Almost nothing is visible of this monument.

The scientific archaeological excavation was started in 1838, and then conducted between 1862 and 67 under the supervision of the Greek archaeologist A.S. Roussopoulos and German architect Ernst Ziller in cooperation with the German architect I.H. Strack. Between 1882 and 95, the German Archaeological Institute restarted the investigation under the direction of W. Dörpfeld.


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