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The Theater of Dionysus: Introduction

The Theater of Dionysus is one of the most complex archeological sites in Greece, spanning some eight or nine centuries (6th century B.C. to 3rd/4th century A.D.), with up to eight or more distinct phases. There is little agreement about the development of the theater or the chronology of various developments: what follows is an attempt to present some basic background information that will help the viewer understand the images presented on the other pages dedicated to the Theater of Dionysus.

N.B. The viewer will find it useful to consult the state plan of the site and the simplified diagram below.

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  1. Theater of Dionysus
  2. Odeon of Pericles
  3. 5th-century stoa
  4. Old Temple of Dionysus (6th century)
  5. Newer Temple of Dionysus (4th century)
  6. Sanctuary of Dionysus Eleuthereus

Our concern will focus on the sixth and fifth centuries. During this period there are two distinct phases:

The Archaic Theater: this theater, which dates to the late 6th century, is represented by five archeological elements:

Dörpfeld connected SM1, J3, and the cuttings in V to form the retaining wall for a circular orchestra. This is not convincing: J3 is too weathered to make anything of it, while the cutting in V need represent no more than an attempt to smooth the ground (which rises as one proceeds north through the sanctuary) for the later orchestra. (In any case, Dinsmoor has effectively challenged the notion that these three elements could be incorporated into a circular retaining wall.)

The "Periclean" Theater: traditionally dated to the latter years of the 5th century, this theater is represented by three major archeological elements:

The stoa lay at a much lower level than Foundation T and the Periclean skenê. The footing wall acted in part as a retaining wall to keep the walls of the stoa from being knocked over by the weight of the earth behind it, but it also served as a foundation for the wooden superstructure of the Periclean skenê, as is evident from the ten post holes in its northern face (five to either side of Foundation T).

While the account presented in these pages follows what has been the traditional assumption of a late fifth-century date for the above features, exploration of the later temple of Dionysus (in 1962), along with more recent explorations of the orchestra, cast this in doubt. Those familiar with the most recent finds argue for an early or mid-fourth-century date for the stoa, the footing wall, and the related theater structures. See E. Csapo, "The Men who Built the Theatres: Theatropolai, Theatronai and Arkhitektones (with an archeological appendix by H. R. Goette)," in P. Wilson, ed., Epigraphy of the Greek Theatre (Oxford 2007) 87-115.

To examine the site in more detail, a good place to begin is the Old Temple to Dionysus.

To examine other pages on the Theater of Dionysus, click on any of the links above, or return to the Theater of Dionysus menu on the Skenotheke page.

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