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Theatre of Dionysus

The Theatre of Dionysus is the first theatre of human history, as we know it.

  1. Modern and Contemporary era (1821 - )

    1862 Excavated.

  2. Ottoman era (1453- 1821)

  3. Byzantine era (331 AC- 1453)

  4. Roman era (30 BC- 330 AC)

    The space was formed to be able to host animal fights and naval battles, endearing in Roman public.

  5. Hellenistic era (322- 31 BC)

  6. Classical era (478-323 BC)

    330 B.C. At about this time the wooden seats and the hollow were replaced with stone.

  7. Archaic era (800-479 BC)

    After 500 BC, performances of drama contests are transferred from the ancient Agora to the theatre of Dionysus.

  8. Geometric era (-1100- 800 BC)

  9. Prehistory (-1100 BC)

What I can see

The Theatre of Dionysus is the first theatre of human history, as we know it. It appears as a standalone monument but during ancient times it was part of the sanctuary of Dionysus. The amphitheatre and the stone seats we see today were built in later years. Originally, the auditorium was rectangular and the seats were wooden. In the classic years, the stone seats used to extend to the base of the Acropolis wall, as seen today from the traces on the ground. The theatre had a capacity of 16,000. During the roman years, the decoration of the lower foreground depicts kneeling forms of Sileni, Dionysus’ followers and episodes of the god’s life, which are partially preserved.

What I can't see

The first great plays were performed here. The public criticism of authority and injustice of their narratives first resonated inside this auditorium, through the spoken verse of the great Greek tragedians and comic playwrights, whose statues were placed on both sides of the theatre. The words “theatre”, “scene” and “tragedy” were first used on these grounds before they were adopted by the rest of the world’s cultures. The story behind the origin of the word “scene” in particular, goes back to the Battle of Salamis, when the Persian King Xerxes pitched a huge, luxurious “scene” (=tent) on Mount Aigaleo to comfortably watch what he was certain would be a defeat of the Greeks in the sea below. His hopes were soon crashed however, and the Persian army retreated in panic. The victorious Athenians dismantled the king’s tent and brought it back to Athens. Its luxurious wood was used to build their theatre’s stage, which was named after King Xerxes’ “scene”. The word was passed on to the Romans at first and later, to the rest of the world.


Camp J., (2001), The Archaeology of Athens, Yale University Press, New Haven and London

Franz A., (1982), The Date of the Phaidros Bema in the Theatre of Dionysos, in Studies in Athenian Architecture, Sculpture and Topography, (1982), Princeton, New Jersey: American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Travlos J., (1980), Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens, New York: Hacker Art Books

Giannikapani Ε., (d.u.), Θέατρο Διονύσου Ελευθερέως, [Theatre of Dionysus Elefthereos] Odysseus,

Last visit 3/8/2013

Foka Ι., Valavanis P., (1994), Περίπατοι στην Αθήνα και την Αττική, τόποι, θεοί, μνημεία [Strolls in Athens and Attica, places, gods, monuments], Kedros