The Play Competition at the Dionysia
or festival of Dionysos, took place in Athens every March, and lasted for
five days. As part of the festivities there was a play competition. From
about 500BC there was a chorus, and two actors who spoke the lines,
sometimes speaking to the chorus. The chorus would sing and dance.
There were three playwrights, each of whom had to present three plays, called tragedies, and one satyr play. In 486BC comedies were added, and five different playwrights would enter one comedy each. That meant that five plays in all would be performed each day, for four days.
The choregia was a tax on the rich. Wealthy citizens were picked by the ruler of Athens (the archon) to be a choregos - a manager, or producer, of the plays. The choregos fund a playwright to write and put on his plays, including paying for the clothes, scenery and props.
All the famous plays of the ancient Greeks were entered in this competition.
Lysicrates Monument, Athens
The playwright had to write the plays, direct them, choreograph the dancing, and write the music. In the early years playwrights also acted in their own plays. It was a huge task.
The plays were judged by 10 men, one from each of the ten tribes of Attica (the area around Athens). Rivalry was fierce, and it was a great honour to win the competition. Winners would often raise stone monuments to show off their victories. The picture shows a monument built by Lysicrates, who won the play competition in 335BC.