Sign up to our newsletter
Sign up to our newsletter
Το αρχαίο θέατρο της Δωδώνης

The Ancient Theatre of Dodoni: An Eternal Legacy Through Time

An ancient Greek archaeological treasure, inviting visitors to explore rich history and culture firsthand.

In a valley to the east of Mount Tomaros lies Dodoni, an important archaeological site. During antiquity, this place was the spiritual center of western Greece, dedicated to Zeus, the father of the Olympian gods.

The significance of Dodoni is underscored by a plethora of ancient texts referencing its oracle and sanctuary. The longstanding history of the area is confirmed by the poet Hesiod, who mentions a Dodoni favored by Zeus and designated as a revered oracle among mortals. Herodotus, on his part, recounts the mythical tale of the two black doves departing from the Egyptian Thebes, with one reaching Dodoni and encouraging the establishment of a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus.

Ancient accounts testify that initially, the oracle was served only by male priests, with women, known as the “Pleiades” (peristeria), being later added to the priesthood. These priests walked barefoot and slept on the ground to maintain a close connection with nature.

The ancient theatre of Dodoni

Dodoni: A journey through time from Homer to the discovery of the sacred oracle

The first recorded evidence about the oracle of Dodoni is found in the works of Homer. Specifically, in the Iliad, Achilles invokes Zeus of Dodoni, the Pelasgian, to honor Patroclus, while in the Odyssey, Odysseus visits it in order to learn information about his return to Ithaca. Aristotle argues that the Oracle existed since the time of the great flood. According to tradition, Deucalion, upon his arrival in the area, married the Oceanid Dodoni, who gave her name to the sanctuary, while Plutarch claims that Deucalion himself founded the sanctuary.

Source: The text has been translated from information we found here: Ιουλία Κ. Κατσαδήμα, Η Δωδώνη στους αιώνες

The central deity of worship at Dodoni was the sacred oak tree, also known as the beech tree, which is referenced in several ancient Greek texts as possessing prophetic powers. This worship was linked to Zeus, who at Dodoni takes on a chthonic aspect. The epithet “Naïos,” attributed to Zeus, seems to derive from the verb “ναίω,” meaning “to dwell.”

In addition to Zeus, the goddess Dione was also worshipped in this sanctuary. There is a belief that the worship of Dione retains elements of an even earlier female deity, based on an ancient hymn recited by the priestesses at Dodona. Dione is considered to have become the spouse of Zeus, the god of the underworld waters and rain, in a sacred marriage symbolizing fertility, with the sacred oak tree at its center.

Το αρχαίο θέατρο της Δωδώνης
The ancient theatre of Dodoni

The Theatre of Dodono: Monument of Civilization and Flourishing in Ancient Epirus

Source: The text has been translated from information we found here: Κωνσταντίνος Ι. Σουέρεφ, Αρχαία θέατρα της Ηπείρου

Beneath the shadow of the mountainous mass of Mount Tomaros, the ancient theatre of Dodoni stood out as the most magnificent in Epirus and among the foremost in the entire Greek territory, reaching a diameter of 136 meters and with the capacity to accommodate 17,000 to 18,000 spectators.

Το βουνό Τόμαρος ή Ολύτσικα
The mount Tomaros or else known as Olytsika

The creation of the theatre at Dodoni is attributed to the Molossians during the reign of Pyrrhus, exploiting the excessive fame of the earlier Oracle of Greece from the 5th century BCE. Places like Delphi and Olympia, despite their glory from the 8th to the 4th century BCE, began to lose their significance.

The era of Pyrrhus marked a phase of prosperity for Dodoni, with the construction of significant architectural complexes such as temples, stoas, the council house, the prytaneion, the theatre, and the stadium, constituting important monuments. Even after the devastations by the Aetolians in 210 BCE and the final subjugation by the Romans in 167 BCE, the buildings continued to be restored.

During the reign of Octavian Augustus, the theatre was transformed into an arena for animal fights and gladiatorial combat. For the safety of the spectators, a wall was installed at the lower part of the theatre, which separated the stage and the scene, creating an oval shape. The backstage areas were converted into rooms for housing the animals, and in the center of the arena wall, a rectangular niche was built, serving as a refuge for the combatants.

Το διάζωμα – https://diazoma.gr/theaters/archaio-theatro-dwdwnis/

The remaining buildings of the archaeological site are:

Source: The text has been translated from information we found here: http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/gh3530.jsp?obj_id=2365

The council house (vouleutirio)

There, the representatives of the League (342-233/2 BCE) convened, and later the Common Assembly of the Epirotes (233/2-168 BCE). It was built between the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd century BCE.

The Prytaneion

It served as the meeting place for the prytaneis, housing the eternal flame and accommodating for the residence and sustenance of the representatives of the Epirote tribes and other official visitors.

Το πρυτανείο και στο βάθος το βουλευτήριο και η δυτική πλευρά του θεάτρου
The Prytaneion in the foreground, with the council house and the western side of the theatre in the background.

The podiums

The podiums form a series of votive platforms with dedications and inscriptions in front of the religious buildings, leading towards the sacred precinct.

The western stoa of the Sanctuary

The western stoa of the Sanctuary is connected to the eastern stoa of the Prytaneion, creating a unified architectural complex.

The Temple of Zeus – Sacred House

The Temple of Zeus, or Sacred House, was a simple yet highly significant building for the worship of Zeus, as it enclosed the prophetic oak tree. The worship of Zeus initially took place outdoors until the construction of the temple in the early 4th century BCE, where the oak tree was enclosed by a peribolos, and the function of the oracle was strengthened with the introduction of the oracle. The operation of the oracle ceased with the spread of Christianity in the late 4th century CE.

Η ιερά οικία
The Sacred House

The oldest and the newest temple of Dodoni

The oldest temple was located northeast of the Sacred House, and after its destruction by the Aetolians, the second temple was built further south. The worship of Dione held primary significance in the sanctuary of Dodoni, where she was regarded as the mother of Aphrodite according to mythology. Along with Themis, they were called the “divine inhabitants, cohabitants, and partners of Zeus,” deities who cohabited and lived with Zeus, reinforcing the polytheistic nature of ancient Greek religion.

The Temple of Themis

The Temple of Themis, one of the three oldest temples around the sacred oak tree, dedicated to Themis, the wife of Zeus and daughter of Uranus and Gaia.

The Temple of Hercules

The Temple of Hercules was built in the early 3rd century BCE during the reign of Pyrrhus, reflecting the king’s effort to connect his lineage with Hercules.

The Temple of Aphrodite

The Temple of Aphrodite, centrally located in the sanctuary, is characterized by the terracotta figurines depicting a female figure with a dove, symbol of the goddess.

The Christian basilica

North of the Temple of Hercules, in a space partially occupied by its ruins, a triapsidal Christian basilica was built, which was later expanded to the east. The walls of the basilica were constructed from stone and lime, incorporating materials from previous ancient structures, such as limestone columns from the council house. The architecture of the basilica reflects two distinct phases of construction, showcasing the evolution of Christian architecture during this period.

The Acropolis of Dodoni

The Acropolis of Dodoni, occupying the summit of a 23-meter high hill, is surrounded by an isodomic wall from the 4th century BCE, connecting the monuments of the area with the sanctuary of Zeus.

The Naia

Source: The text has been translated from information we found here: https://www.naiosdromos.gr/naia-dodonis

The Naia, a festival in honor of the Naios Dios, were a significant religious and social event held every four years. The focal point of the festival was the athletic games, which featured a variety of events covering a wide range of cultural and sporting activities, including dramatic and musical contests, chariot races, and gymnastic competitions, according to the accounts of Athenaeus. The festive period of the Naias was designated for the month of Apellaios, which in the contemporary calendar corresponds to November, marking an important period in the ancient Greek calendar.

Μέσα από το θέατρο
Inside the theatre

The Naia games likely gained wide recognition and a pan-Hellenic imprint during the reign of Pyrrhus, culminating in magnificent celebrations, especially after the completion of the theater for tragedies and the sanctuary’s new grandeur with the addition of the sacred house and various temples. The absence of earlier documents does not confirm the view that the games were not held before this period.

In alignment with the Olympic Games where winners were crowned with olive branches, at Nemea with wild celery, and at Delphi with laurel branches, at the Naia games, winners were likely crowned with branches from the sacred beech tree, emphasizing the distinct significance and sanctity of the festival.

The tradition of the games in Dodoni came to an end in the late 4th century AD (391 AD), when Christian authorities banned worship and festive activities in the sanctuary of Dodona, as well as in all ancient sanctuaries in Greece, marking a significant milestone in the transition of the cultural and religious landscape of the era.

Το αρχαίο θέατρο της Δωδώνης
The ancient theater of Dodoni

The history of excavations

Source: The text has been translated from information we found here: ΔΩΔΩΝΗ, Σωτήρη Ι. Δάκαρη, Ιστορία των ανασκαφών

The history of excavations at Dodoni begins with the adventures of foreign explorers and educated Epirotes, who diligently sought the famous oracle among the ruins of the ancient acropolises of Central Epirus. The English traveler C. Lincoln, during his visit in 1832 to the foothills of Mount Tomaros, was the first to locate and place the oracle of Dodona in this area. He was followed by Ch. Wordsworth, who with his searches managed to correctly locate Dodoni and contributed significantly to the discovery and study of this important archaeological site.

The exploration and excavation of ancient Dodoni began with the initiative of Konstantinos Karapanos in 1875. Although not a professional archaeologist, he inspired the search and revelation of the ruins of the oldest Greek oracle at his own expense and with the permission of the Turkish government. Karapanos’ efforts from 1875 to 1877 revealed significant finds that enhanced the archaeological and historical understanding of the site. These findings were donated to the National Archaeological Museum, enriching its collection with valuable archaeological objects.

However, after Karapanos’ initial excavation activity, the ruins began to be covered by debris, and over time, they were lost underground again. The next significant phase of excavations began in 1913, eight years after the liberation of Epirus when the Greek Archaeological Society assigned Professor of History G. Soteriades to continue the excavation research. The war in 1921 interrupted these efforts, which were renewed in 1929 by the Epirote Professor of Archaeology D. Evangelidis, with work continuing until 1932.

After Evangelidis’ death in 1959, Professor of Archaeology S. Dakaris took over the scientific responsibility of the excavations, further promoting the research and revelation of ancient Dodona.

The Archaeological Museum of Ioannina places special emphasis on artifacts from the sanctuary of Dodoni, exhibited in a hall dedicated exclusively to one of the most significant oracles of the Greek world.

The excavations after 1981

Source: The text has been translated from information we found here: http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/gh351.jsp?obj_id=2365

Since 1981, research and excavation work in ancient Dodona have been conducted under the supervision of the Archaeological Society, in collaboration and co-funding with the University of Ioannina. Systematic efforts to stabilize and restore critical monuments of the site, such as the theater and the stadium, began in the 1960s based on studies by architect V. Charisis and were funded by the Archaeological Society and the Public Investment Program. By 1975, most of the theater had been restored, except for the third tier and some other sections, allowing its use for theatrical performances.

The ongoing effort to restore the theater and other monuments in the archaeological site of Dodona underscores the dedication to preserving and showcasing its rich heritage.

Despite the restoration works, the archaeological site remains accessible to the public, offering a unique opportunity for contact with ancient Greek history and culture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous Article

The Castle of Pente Pigadia: A Historical Jewel of Epirus

Next Article

A 3 day adventure in Zagorochoria

Related Posts

Η επιλογή αυτή είναι απενεργοποιημένη.