Classical Civilisations: The Theatre and The Great Dionysia

This is a set of revision cards about the theatreand the great dionysia for people doing GCSE Classical Civilisations. I hope they help!!!

HideShow resource information


  • 15 men
    • Tragedies
  • 24 men
    • Comedies
  • Gave audience information at the beginning of the play to let them know what's been happening.
  • Trained to speak, dance and chant together.
  • Hired, paid and trained by the Choregos.
  • Chanted verse between main episodes of the play.
  • Ordinary citizens of Athens.
1 of 24


  • No women actors, only men.
  • Needed to be very fit.
  • Needed a strong voice that would carry in the large theaters.
  • Needed to be very versatile - had to play women.
  • Winning actor got a wreath and a prize of money.
  • Protagonist
    • Main actor.
    • Usually only played 1 role.
  • Deuteragonist and Tritagonist.
    • Would play a variety of roles.
2 of 24


  • Fitted over whole head with life-like hair.
  • Exaggerated features so the audience could see what the characters represented.
  • Made of stiffened cloth or a thin layer of clay over a wooden frame.
  • Paid for by Choregos.
  • Made it easier for men to play women.
  • Made it more important for actors to speak clearly and loudly.
3 of 24



  • Long, dignified robes covered by shorter cloak.
    • Long sleeves made it easier to play women.
  • Costume was stiff and heavy.
    • Would have restricted movement.
  • Boots.
    • Made of soft leather.


  • Body stocking with padding.
  • Wore a short tunic over padding.
  • Large paunch, bottom and mock phallus.
  • Female characters wore longer robes.


  • Same as tragedies.
4 of 24

Costumes cont...

  • Chorus - half man, half goat/horse.
    • Wore hairy shorts.
    • Long horse tail.
    • Artificial penis.
5 of 24


  • Seating Area.
  • Built into natural curve of hillside.
    • Provided superb acoustics.
  • Seats were wooden at first, then replaced with stone.
  • Seating for up to 20,000 people.
  • Broad gangways divide the area into sections to make it easier to enter and exit.
6 of 24


  • Enclosed by Theatron.
  • Chorus performed here and actors often joined them.
  • 20 meters across.
  • An altar to Dionysus in the centre.
    • A reminder of the religious function of the festival.
7 of 24


  • A passageway of arches on either side of the orchestra.
  • Chorus and audience entered through here.
8 of 24


  • Backstage building.
  • Located at the back of the stage.
  • Only roofed part.
  • A wooden structure on stone foundations.
  • Actors changed and put on masks here.
  • A storage area for props.
  • Roof could be used to show the appearance of a god or goddess.
  • Sometimes painted to look like a palace or forest or wherever the action of the play took place.
    • However the scenery was very simple.
    • Audience was used to listening to stories and using their imaginations to picture the settings.
9 of 24


  • A system of ropes and pulleys.
  • Allowed characters to fly through the air.
  • Used particularly in Comedies.
  • Would have been difficult to control and was almost certainly dangerous.
  • However it's used in many plays so must have been a favorite effect.
10 of 24


  • Used to show bodies of people who had killed themselves or been killed offstage.
    • Necessary as violent action was not portrayed onstage.
  • Used in different ways in comedies.
  • Either a large platform on wheels which could be pushed out through a wide doorway in the Skene.
  • Or a section of the wall of the Skene which pivoted.
11 of 24

Hand props

  • Evidence for these comes from vase paintings.
    • Swords
    • Shields
    • Drinking cups
    • Cooking pots
    • Sunshades
    • Rolled up carpets.
12 of 24

Sound Effects

  • Clapping two wooden cups together for horses' hooves.
  • Peas or pebbles moving in an earthenware pot for rain.
  • Crumpling thin pieces of wood for crackling flames
  • Chorus were expected to make sounds like waves booming on the shore, frogs croaking or doves cooing.
13 of 24



  • He lived from 526 to 456 BC.
  • He was the first great tragic playwright.
  • He wrote over 80 plays.
    • 7 survive complete today.
  • When he began writing plays he used a large chorus and 1 actor. In later plays he used a second and then a third actor and reduced the numbers in the chorus.


  • He lived from 484 to 406 BC.
  • He wrote over 100 plays.
    • 7 have survived completely.
  • He won the drama contest 24 times.
  • His most famous plays are Oedipus the King and Antigone.
14 of 24

Writers cont...


  • He lived from 484 to 406 BC.
  • We have 18 of his plays.


  • Circa 448 to 385 BC.
  • The only comic dramatist whose plays survive from this period.
  • Lysistrata is his best known work.
15 of 24


  • 10 men are chosen from each tribe in the city.
  • Before the first play, a magistrate draws 1 name out of each urn containing the 10 names.
  • These 10 men would then swear solemnly that they would judge fairly.
  • After the last play, each judge wrote on a tablet his chosen order of merit for the 3 playwrights, and these were put in an urn.
  • 5 tablets were drawn out of the urn.
  • The writer who had the most votes was declared the winner.
16 of 24


  • Winning actor and playwright received a wreath and a prize of money.
  • The prestige of winning was more important than the prizes.
  • The sponsor who had financed the winning plays could set up a monument to record his victory.
  • After the festival, the citizens held an assembly to discuss the way everything had been handled. If they felt that the festival had been of a poor standard the archon responsible could be fined.
17 of 24


  • He was in charge of the festival.
  • His role included:
    • Selecting 3 writers of tragedy and 3 or 5 writers of comedy.
      • He would usually select men who had won prizes at the previous festival.
      • If a writer wished to take part in the Great Dionysia, he had to apply ahead of time to the Archon.
  • The Archon would allot a wealthy sponsor (Choregos) to each playwright.
  • Chose the leading actors (protagonist).
18 of 24


  • The sponsor.
  • He welcomed this role because he could show off his wealth.
  • He was responsible for:
    • Paying the wages of the chorus.
    • Hire the musician that accompanied the Chorus.
    • Provide a room for the Chorus to rehearse in.
    • Pay all the expense involved in their costumes and masks.
    • Hire a professional to train them.
    • Pay for any special effects or scenery.
19 of 24


  • A ceremony held a few days before the festival.
  • Playwrights and their sponsors would appear (perhaps in the market place) and give details of the plays to be performed to arouse interest.
20 of 24


  • Choral recitations.
  • Performed by men and boys.
21 of 24

Order of Events

Day 1 There would be processions and a competition for reciting dithyrambs.

Day 2 A performance of 3 tragedies and a satyr play, followed by a comedy.

Day 3 The same as day 2.

Day 4 The same as day 2.

Day 5 Judging and prize giving.

22 of 24

Opening day of the festival

  • A colourful procession in honour of Dionysus.
  • Procession brought the statue of Dionysus into the theatre.
  • A pig or bull would be sacrificed to purify the theatre.
  • Wine would be poured on the ground to please the god.
  • A parade to show off the wealth of Athens as this festival was used as the occasion when cities and islands which owed tribute sent the money due.
  • A public holiday was declared for the time of the festival so that everyone could go to the plays.
23 of 24

War Orphans

  • The boys whose fathers had been killed in battle and who had been educated at the state expense paraded in the theatre.
  • Those who had just reached manhood wore the suit of hoplite armour.
  • A herald proclaimed they were now independent.
24 of 24




Thanks this helped.



This has been a life saver, thank you so much!!! Also, the Choregos could opt out of putting on a play for the state, and give them a batteship in stead!! :D



Thank you so much for this summed up a whole years worth of notes for me thank you so much! - internals are so pointless though! :D



So so helpful, thank you so much!



Very helpful! Thank you! :-)



Amazing thank you!

Alice Clare


No problem :) **

Ellie Nicholson


you are a lifesaver, been trying to contain my notes and summarise them to this size. This has done it perfectly!



Thanks, this is great!

Similar Classical Civilization resources:

See all Classical Civilization resources »