Ancient Greek Theatre

Ancient Greeks celebrated life on a daily basis. Ancient Greek theatre was an important part of Greek society.

The theater was a way for ancient Greeks to give thanks to the gods. Ancient Greek theatre was created to honor Dionysus during festivals.

Today, ancient Greek theatre pioneered many theatrical ideas that are present in modern-day Western theater.

Ancient Greek Theatre Facts

  • Greek theatre began in the 5th century BCE.
  • Plays were held at religious festivals.
  • Dionysus: god of theatre & wine.
  • 3 genres: tragedy, comedy, and satyr play.
  • Masks are worn for character roles.
  • Chorus narrated & sang in plays.
  • Amphitheaters had great acoustics.
  • Male actors played all roles.
  • Famous playwrights: Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes.
  • Thespis: first known actor.

Plays occurred in open-air, semicircular amphitheaters with tiered stone seating. The unique design ensured superb acoustics and unobstructed views for all spectators. Performances featured tragedy, comedy, and satyr plays, honoring the god Dionysus. Masks helped actors portray various roles, while a chorus provided narration and musical accompaniment.

Ancient Greek amphitheaters

Ancient Greek theatre was performed in outdoor venues known as amphitheaters. Many present-day outdoor venues are fashioned after the original ancient Greek amphitheaters.

The amphitheaters had a semi-circular design and generally built into the side of a hill. The amphitheaters featured tiered seating that allowed for excellent sightlines and acoustics.


Ancient Greek theatre showcased many styles of acting and choreography.

The actors were all men.

Male actors would dress as females during performances. As you can imagine, the costumes played an important role during the show.

Costumes were bulky and this allowed for guests further away from the stage to see the actors. Thespis is known as the very first actor in ancient Greek theatre.

Present-day actors are sometimes called Thespians.


The choreography of ancient Greek theatre was unique. There were sound effects such as rain, horses galloping, and lightening as well as many others.

The Greeks used fire, enacted real-life battle scenes and they used cranes to help people soar across the stage.

The actors used everything imaginable to help bring the event to life.

Another interesting part of the choreography was music and dancing. Ancient Greek theatre featured plenty of music played on the aulos, a flute type instrument, and the lyre.

Singing was another important part of ancient Greek theater. Groups of singers would sing in unison and chant during the performances.

Types of performances

As with many other inventions by the ancient Greeks, the theater was no different. The ancient Greeks pioneered several new forms of entertainment.

There were two specific types of performances invented by the ancient Greeks which are comedy and tragedy.

Ancient Greek comedy was a way for people to laugh. The shows made fun of life or situations in life.

Other comedies were similar to a Vaudeville slapstick show such as Charlie Chapman or the Three Stooges.

It was not unusual for ancient Greek comedy to embarrass a well-known person from politicians to celebrities.

Ancient Greek tragedy had a more serious tone in the writing. Tragedy performances used a moral lesson within the show.

The shows showed humility, pride, and sorrow. Many tragic performances were based on mythical idols.

The idols might meet their death during the show to highlight the moral of the story.

Famous ancient Greek playwrights

Much like famous dancers or musicians, playwrights were seen as celebrities or gifts from the gods. There were numerous festivals that featured competitions between playwrights.

Think of the festivals like the Olympics but for the performing arts. The most important ancient Greek playwrights were Aristophanes, Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides.

Pericles and the Golden Age of Greece

Pericles, the famous 4th century B.C.E. ruler of Athens, was a big supporter of ancient Greek theatre. At a young age of 17 years old, he financed many festivals with his own personal wealth.

As ruler he made theater available to everyone. He created a welfare system that allowed poorer residents of the city-state to attend performances.

Facts about ancient Greek theatre

  • Ancient Greek theatre was created to honor the god named Dionysus.
  • Ancient Greek theatre was performed in amphitheaters. The venues were constructed to have perfect acoustics and sightlines from every seat.
  • The actors were all men. There were no women actresses.
  • Innovative sound effects like thunder, horses, and sounds of battle.
  • Music and dancing were used as part of the choreography.
  • Ancient Greek playwrights invented comedy and tragedy.
  • Pericles financed several festivals featuring ancient Greek theater.
  • Famous playwrights include Sophocles, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Aeschylus.


1. Who invented a welfare system that allowed poorer residents to attend performances?


2. Where did ancient Greek theatre take place?

Greek amphitheaters

3. What type of choreography was used to enhance ancient Greek theatre?

Music and dancing

4. What were the two types of theatre the ancient Greek playwrights invented?

Comedy and Tragedy

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