The Theatre of Dionysus is a major open-air theatre and one of the earliest preserved in Athens. It was used for festivals in honor of the god Dionysus. It is commonly confused with the later and better-preserved Odeon of Herodes Atticus, located at the southwest slope of the Acropolis.
In 534 BCE, the tyrant Peisistratus transferred the City Dionysia festival from the rural district of Eleutherae. The plays that formed a part of these festivals were at first performed on a flat circular area in the Agora of Athens, but were transferred around 500 BCE to the Theatre, located on the sloping southern side of the Acropolis, nearby a temple to Dionysus.
The theatre was dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and the patron of drama; it hosted the City Dionysia festival. Amongst those who competed were the dramatists of the classical era whose works have survived- Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Menander. It formed part of the sacred precinct, or temenos, of Dionysos Eleuthereus (“Dionysus Liberator”). The theatre was able to hold up to 25,000 people, with them all able to hear clearly what was being said on stage.
The Theatre of Dionysus also sometimes hosted meetings of the Athenian Ecclesia after the Pnyx was deemed unsuitable.
An enlarged, stone-version of the theatre, which was built c. 325 BCE, seated between 14,000 to 17,000 spectators. After this it fell into disuse and little is recorded until 61 CE where there is evidence of major renovations done by the Roman emperor Nero. The remains of a restored and redesigned Roman version can still be seen at the site today.
The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates near the Acropolis of Athens was erected by the choregos Lysicrates, a wealthy patron of musical performances in the Theater of Dionysus to commemorate the award of first prize in 335/334 BCE, to one of the performances he had sponsored. The choregos was the sponsor who paid for and supervised the training of the dramatic dance-chorus.
The circular structure, raised on a high squared podium, is the first Greek monuments built in the Corinthian order on its exterior. It was originally crowned with an elaborate floral support for the bronze tripod that was the prize Lysicrates’ chorus won. Its frieze sculptures depict episodes from the myth of Dionysus, the god whose rites developed into Greek theatre. It stands now in its little garden on the Tripodon Street (“Street of the Tripods”), which follows the line of the ancient street of the name, which led to the Theater of Dionysus and was once lined with choragic monuments, of which foundations were discovered in excavations during the 1980s (further reading…)