Ancient Greek Theatre: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Ancient Greek theatre.

  • Ancient Greek theatre was popular in Greece between about 550 BC and 220 BC. Tragedies and comedies viewed by many, in the city of Athens and the rest of Greece.
  • Satyr plays were also popular. These were based on Greek mythology, and featured lots of singing, crude jokes, pranks, music, costumes and humour, rather like the modern pantomime.

  • Ancient Greek plays nearly always had political or religious subject matter.
  • Actors often wore elaborate masks, and playwrights were often seen as being important citizens.
  • Each town had at least one theatre and competitions between towns and villages were popular.
  • Attending the theatre was so popular that prisoners were temporarily released from captivity to attend.
  • One of the earliest and best preserved open air Ancient Greek theatres is the Theatre of Dionysus. It was dedicated to Dionysus, the patron of the arts and the God of wine and could seat 17,000 people.
  • Ancient Greek theatre probably developed from religious worship, which featured dancing and singing.
  • Almost all of the female roles were played by men in the theatre.
  • Sophocles was one of the most famous Greek playwrights and he wrote over 160 plays.
  • The first acting competition is believed to have been held in about 535 BC.
  • An Ancient Greek named Thespis had the first ever speaking role on stage and gave us the term ‘thespian’.
  • One of the main writers of comedy plays in ancient Greece was Euripides. He wrote over 90 plays, many of them written in a dark cave on one of the Greek islands.The word ‘theatre’ comes from the Greek word theatron, which means a watching place.
  • Greek theatres were cleverly designed with fantastic acoustics. The sound of the actors’ voices could be heard even at the back of the buildings.

What next? Learn more about Ancient Greece by visiting our resources page.