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Hellenistic Theater of ancient Dion

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The theatre is located on the archaeological site of ancient Dion, in Pieria Prefecture.

It is a theatral structure with a typical Hellenistic layout, consisting of an orchestra of beaten earth (conistra), a stone drainage duct running around the orchestra, a cavea constructed with a fill of debris, and a stone stage building, which is preserved in very poor condition.

The “Olympia at Dion” were, for ancient Dion, the sacred city of the Macedonians, an event which, apart from references by ancient authors (Diodorus XVII,16, 3-4), is also attested by an inscription on display in the Dion Archaeological Museum, which refers to the holding of athletic and theatrical games. Archelaus added lustre to this festival, which lasted nine days in honour of the Nine Pierian Muses. He invited Euripides, who spent his final years in Macedonia, where he wrote the drama Archelaus and the Bacchae. These two plays were almost certainly performed at the theatre of Dion, in the sacred city of the Macedonians.

To this theatre of the time of Archelaus and Euripides belongs a row of seats, formed of an upright half-brick, as a front, and a whole brick, as a footing. This row is laid out on a different centre, and the orchestra to which is belonged must have been set a little higher than the modern one. The stage building of this theatre would have been wooden, like those of other contemporary Greek theatres. Part of a poros stone proedria dates from the same phase.

The theatre in its surviving form is the result of renovation or rather rebuilding from the foundations on the same site, which took place in the second half of the 3rd century BC, when most Greek theatres acquired a stone stage building. More specifically, the reconstruction must be linked to the destruction of Dion by the Aetolians in 220 BC, in the reign of Philip V, who immediately aided in rebuilding the sanctuaries and the city, endowing it with generous adornments. This dating is confirmed by the form of the architectural members of the marble proscenium, and by the large number of coins of Philip V found inside the theatre.

A late phase, after the abandonment of the theatre and its stripping of useful material in Roman times, is hard to date due to its rough construction and poor state of preservation.

General Description of Monument

The theatre of Dion has been extensively damaged by stone-robbing from antiquity onwards, having been abandoned in the Roman imperial era, following the construction of a new theatre next to the Sanctuary of Zeus. Nonetheless, because it was not subject to Roman restoration, which would have covered or eliminated elements of the Hellenistic phase, and due to the careful nature of the excavation, valuable information has come to light, allowing firm conclusions to be drawn.

The site of the theatre outside the city, in relation to the sanctuaries, its careful construction, the mechanical equipment it contained and its size (with an orchestra diameter of approximately 26 m), all denote its importance to the sacred city of the Macedonians and confirm historical evidence regarding the holding of theatrical competitions there.

The orchestra (conistra), delimited by the well-made stone drainage duct running round it, had an earthen floor. The duct was open, and bridged only in front of the central cuneus and the north parodos.

Apart from the fact that the cavea is set on artificial fill rather than a hillside, as is the general rule in Greek theatres, it also has distinctive tiers of seats, built of special bricks measuring 50x50x7 cm and placed one on top of the other. Another characteristic feature is the absence of a retaining wall at the ends of the cavea along the parodoi, which are set on an incline.

In spite of its very poor condition, the stone stage building preserves several features permitting its reconstruction and confirming the existence, location and to some extent the function of several theatrical mechanisms used in ancient theatres.

When Euripides came here from Athens, where he had implemented many innovative scenic contrivances, he must have transferred his experiences to the theatre of Dion, creating a tradition which best served the increased demands of the theatrical competitions established by Archelaus. From Euripides’ time to the latter half of the 3rd c. BC, when the stone stage building was constructed, a technical expertise must have been acquired which was implemented in the form of permanent mechanical equipment of the new stage of the theatre.

The excavation revealed Charonian Steps with a room at either end, one at the proscenium and one roughly at the centre of the orchestra.

Parts of marble architectural members of the proscenium, which preserve traces of colour, combined with elements of the façade, have allowed us to reproduce it with great certainty.

To left and right of the centre of the stage building façade wall were discovered the foundations of two large pillars measuring 2.70 x 2.70 m. On the east side of the same wall were found four pits, in positions absolutely symmetrical to the axis of the theatre. Two of the pits are square, left by the removal of smaller pillars. The other two are round, left by the removal of elements with a round cross-section.

In front of the south large pillar, at orchestra level, was revealed an ashlar in situ, with a rectangular hole (16x22cm) in its centre, for placing a wooden support. There were similar ashlars in front of the other large pillar and the two smaller ones, where the pits left by their removal were found.

These features, together with other excavation data, resulted in the reproduction of the stage building. The two large pillars framed the opening of the “royal door” and also supported the platform of the theologeion. The two smaller pillars framed the doorways to right and left of the “royal door”, while the two round pits were set on the axes of two other doorways at either end of the stage building, in which, according to Julius Pollux, were set the revolving mechanisms of the periaktoi, triangular prisms used for automatic changes of scene during the play.

The two large pillars were used to support and assist the handling of the mechane or geranos, the crane used to move the Deus ex machina, and also to incorporate an internal staircase, giving actors unseen access to the theologeion during the course of the play.

The vertical wooden supports set in the ashlars with rectangular holes, which were located on the axes of the pillars, may, assuming that they had holes in their lateral sides, have served as guides for the operation of fabric curtains. These would have served as a kind of theatre curtain, divided into three, which descended below the proscenium via a slit in the wooden floor of the logeion, covering the front of the stage. It could also be manipulated invisibly under the proscenium, as its pillars were covered by tableaux.

The division of this early stage curtain into three parts solved the problems which the weight and swaying in the wind of a single, huge curtain would have caused.

The stage building is in a poor state of preservation. With the implementation of the study for the “Conservation, Promotion and Temporary Re-operation of the Hellenistic Theatre of Dion” (1990-1991), consolidation work was carried out on the surviving walls. The surviving tiers of brickwork seats have been covered with earth because they were in danger of disintegrating rapidly if they remained visible. Following the 1990-1991 work, the orchestra and the perimetric drainage duct are in good condition and may be used for theatrical performances. Prefabricated structures have been set up in the cavea to allow it to be used by audiences.

The theatre is open to the public as a monument of the Dion archaeological site. It is also used for approximately one month each year, during the Olympus Festival, for plays approved by the Central Archaeological Council. The theatre has a car park, mechanical equipment and dressing rooms.

History of Modern Uses

The theatre was reused for the first time in 1972. In 1975 it was used again for a play starring A. Synodinou. From 1991, when the conservation-promotion and temporary re-operation work was completed, to the present, it has been used regularly in the context of the Olympus Festival.

G. Karadedos
Archaeologist, Architect

D. Pandermalis
Archaeologist

Monument Name

Hellenistic Theatre of Ancient Dion

Category

Theatre

Brief Description

A theatral structure with a typical Hellenistic layout, consisting of an orchestra of beaten earth (conistra, a stone drainage duct running around the orchestra, a cavea constructed with a fill of debris, and a stone stage building, which is preserved in very poor condition.

Images - Plans

Photographic documentation and drawings of the whole monument and the excavation trenches, from 1977 to 1992, are held in the archives of the Dion University Excavation. They were prepared by architect-restorer and archaeologist G. Karadedos. The topographical plan is the work of topographers K. Toumakidis and I. Gatzios. There are also several aerial photographs. Reconstructions of the logeion and the whole of the stage building are found in the Department of Architecture of the Polytechnic School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Documentation - Bibliography

M.W. Leake, Travels in Northern Greece III (1835), p. 409 Γ. Σωτηριάδης, «Ανασκαφή Δίου Μακεδονίας», Π.Α.Ε. 1928, p. 78 Δ. Παντερμαλής, «Ανασκαφή Δίου», Α.Δ. 26(1971), Β΄ 2 Χρονικά, p. 401 Δ. Παντερμαλής, «Ανασκαφικαί έρευναι εις Δίον», Α.Δ. 29(1973-1974), Β΄ 3 Χρονικά, p. 699. Γ. Καραδέδος, «Το ελληνιστικό θέατρο του Δίου». Οι αρχαιολόγοι μιλούν για την Πιερία, ΝΕΛΕ Πιερίας, Θεσσαλονίκη, 1985, p. 26-30. Γ. Καραδέδος, «Το ελληνιστικό θέατρο του Δίου», Αρχαία Μακεδονία IV, Ι.M.Χ.Α., Θεσσαλονίκη, 1985, p. 325-340. Γ. Καραδέδος, «Τελευταία στοιχεία για τη σκηνή του ελληνιστικού θεάτρου του Δίου»Α.Ε.Μ.Θ. 5, 1991, p. 157-169. Δ. Παντερμαλής, Δίον. Αρχαιολογικός χώρος και μουσείο, εκδόσεις ΑΔΑΜ, 1997, p. 30-33 (tourist guide to the whole archaeological site). G. Karadedos, “Tecnologia dell’antico teatro Greco”, Eureka, il genio degli antichi, Electa, Napoli, 2005, p. 186-191. Γ. Καραδέδος, «Ένα αυτοματοποιημένο θέατρο στην υπηρεσία των θεατρικών αγώνων στο Δίον, την ιερή πόλη των Μακεδόνων», Α.Ε.Μ.Θ. 19, 2005, p. 381-390.

Location

Archaeological site of ancient Dion, Dion Municipality, Pieria Prefecture.

Dating

The “Olympia at Dion” were, for ancient Dion, the sacred city of the Macedonians, an event which, apart from references by ancient authors (Diodorus XVII,16, 3-4), is also attested by an inscription on display in the Dion Archaeological Museum, which refers to the holding of athletic and theatrical games. Archelaus added lustre to this festival, which lasted nine days in honour of the Nine Pierian Muses. He invited Euripides (Genos [Vita]2, 8f, Schwartz), who spent his final years in Macedonia, where he wrote the drama Archelaus and the Bacchae. These two plays were almost certainly performed at the theatre of Dion, in the sacred city of the Macedonians. To this theatre of the time of Archelaus and Euripides belongs a row of seats, formed of an upright half-brick, as a front, and a whole brick, as a footing. This row is laid out on a different centre, and the orchestra to which is belonged must have been set a little higher than the modern one. The stage building of this theatre would have been wooden, like those of other contemporary Greek theatres. Part of a poros stone proedria dates from the same phase. The theatre in its surviving form is the result of renovation or rather rebuilding from the foundations on the same site, which took place in the second half of the 3rd century BC, when most Greek theatres acquired a stone stage building. More specifically, the reconstruction must be linked to the destruction of Dion by the Aetolians in 220 BC, in the reign of Philip V, who immediately aided in rebuilding the sanctuaries and the city, endowing it with generous adornments. This dating is confirmed by the form of the architectural members of the marble logeion, and by the large number of coins of Philip V found inside the theatre. A late phase, after the abandonment of the theatre and its stripping of useful material in Roman times, is hard to date due to its rough construction and poor state of preservation.

General Description of Monument

The theatre of Dion has been extensively damaged by stone-robbing from antiquity onwards, having been abandoned in the Roman imperial era, following the construction of a new theatre next to the Sanctuary of Zeus. Nonetheless, because it was not subject to Roman restoration, which would have covered or eliminated elements of the Hellenistic phase, and due to the careful nature of the excavation, valuable information has come to light, allowing firm conclusions to be drawn. The site of the theatre outside the city, in relation to the sanctuaries, its careful construction, the mechanical equipment it contained and its size (with an orchestra diameter of approximately 26 m), all denote its importance to the sacred city of the Macedonians and confirm historical evidence regarding the holding of theatrical competitions there. The orchestra (conistra), delimited by the well-made stone drainage duct running round it, had an earthen floor. The duct was open, and bridged only in front of the central cuneus and the north parodos. Apart from the fact that the cavea is set on artificial fill rather than a hillside, as is the general rule in Greek theatres, it also has distinctive tiers of seats, built of special bricks measuring 50x50x7 cm and placed one on top of the other. Another characteristic feature is the absence of a retaining wall at the ends of the cavea along the parodoi, which are set on an incline. In spite of its very poor condition, the stone stage building preserves several features permitting its reconstruction and confirming the existence, location and to some extent the function of several theatrical mechanisms used in ancient theatres. When Euripides came here from Athens, where he had implemented many innovative scenic contrivances, he must have transferred his experiences to the theatre of Dion, creating a tradition which best served the increased demands of the theatrical competitions established by Archelaus. From Euripides’ time to the latter half of the 3rd c. BC, when the stone stage building was constructed, a technical expertise must have been acquired which was implemented in the form of permanent mechanical equipment of the new stage of the theatre. The excavation revealed Charonian Steps with a room at either end, one at the proscenium and one roughly at the centre of the orchestra. Parts of marble architectural members of the proscenium, which preserve traces of colour, combined with elements of the façade, have allowed us to reproduce it with great certainty. To left and right of the centre of the stage building façade wall were discovered the foundations of two large pillars measuring 2.70 x 2.70 m. On the east side of the same wall were found four pits, in positions absolutely symmetrical to the axis of the theatre. Two of the pits are square, left by the removal of smaller pillars. The other two are round, left by the removal of elements with a round cross-section. In front of the south large pillar, at orchestra level, was revealed a ashlar in situ, with a rectangular hole (16x22cm) in its centre, for placing a wooden support. There were similar ashlars in front of the other large pillar and the two smaller ones, where the pits left by their removal were found. These features, together with other excavation data, resulted in the reproduction of the stage building. The two large pillars framed the opening of the “royal door” and also supported the platform of the theologeion. The two smaller pillars framed the doorways to right and left of the “royal door”, while the two round pits were set on the axes of two other doorways at either end of the stage building, in which, according to Julius Pollux, were set the revolving mechanisms of the periaktoi, triangular prisms used for automatic changes of scene during the play. The two large pillars were used to support and assist the handling of the mechane or geranos, the crane used to move the Deus ex machina, and also to incorporate an internal staircase, giving actors unseen access to the theologeion during the course of the play. The vertical wooden supports set in the ashlars with rectangular holes, which were located on the axes of the pillars, may, assuming that they had holes in their lateral sides, have served as guides for the operation of fabric curtains. These would have served as a kind of theatre curtain, divided into three, which descended below the proscenium via a slit in the wooden floor of the logeion, covering the front of the stage. It could also be manipulated invisibly under the proscenium, as its pillars were covered by tableaux. The division of this early stage curtain into three parts solved the problems which the weight and swaying in the wind of a single, huge curtain would have caused.

Current Situation

The stage building is in a poor state of preservation. With the implementation of the study for the “Conservation, Promotion and Temporary Re-operation of the Hellenistic Theatre of Dion” (1990-1991), consolidation work was carried out on the surviving walls. The surviving tiers of brickwork seats have been covered with earth because they were in danger of disintegrating rapidly if they remained visible. Following the 1990-1991 work, the orchestra and the perimetric drainage duct are in good condition and may be used for theatrical performances. Prefabricated structures have been set up in the cavea to allow it to be used by audiences.

Excavations - Interventions

The first test trenches in the theatre area were dug by Professor G. Bakalakis in 1970. The main excavation, however, was initiated by Professor D. Pandermalis in 1973 and continued, after a two-year break, from 1977 to 1988 by Associate Professor G. Karadedos. The excavation brought to light the orchestra, the perimetric stone drainage duct, the parodoi, a major part of the cavea around the drainage duct, and the stage building. In 1988, although the excavation of the cavea had not been completed due to fears the theatre would be taken over for use in the “Olympus Festival”, the architect-restorer and archaeologist G. Karadedos prepared a “Study for the Conservation, Promotion and Temporary Re-operation of the Hellenistic Theatre of Dion”, which was approved by the Central Archaeological Council and implemented in 1990-1991. The orchestra and the perimetric drainage duct were restored, the surviving walls of the stage building were conserved, and the position of the walls which had been completely destroyed was marked out on the ground with a layer of stones, in order to show at least the outline of the stage building. The position of the logeion was also indicated by making its floor a different colour to that of the orchestra. The Charonian Steps were covered in such a way as to be open to the public and useable for some plays. The brickwork tiers of the cavea seats were covered over to protect them, as they could not be conserved. In the cavea, at a safe distance from the original seats, modern prefabricated tiers of seating were constructed, with the intention of only leaving them in the theatre during the Festival events and removing them afterwards, in order to keep the theatre open to the public. The study allowed for the possibility of continuing excavations in the cavea and the removal of all the modern structures there, if this were considered necessary by the definitive study to be drawn up after the completion of the excavations. In 2008-2009, following new approval by the Central Archaeological Council of a study by architect-restorer A. Kapandriti, the modern prefabricated seating was extended a short distance into the space between the original seats and the 1990-1991 structures, increasing the capacity of the theatre and improving audience contact with the actors, which had been problematic due to the distance of the seating from the orchestra.

Permitted Uses

The theatre is open to the public as a monument of the Dion archaeological site. It is also used for approximately one month each year, during the Olympus Festival, for plays approved by the Central Archaeological Council. The theatre has a car park, mechanical equipment and dressing rooms.

 

 

History of Modern Uses

The theatre was reused for the first time in 1972. In 1975 it was used again for a play starring A. Synodinou. From 1991, when the conservation-promotion and temporary re-operation work was completed, to the present, it has been used regularly in the context of the Olympus Festival.

Further Information