Theatre: The Hellenistic theatre at Sicyon (modern
name Vassiliko. Greece)
was built between 303 and 251 BC and was altered at least
twice by the Romans; the scene building was expanded in
the 1st century and the stage was altered in the late
Roman period (Sears 405). With a seating area estimated
at 122 meters wide and 58 meters deep, it is one of the
larger theatres in the Peloponnesus. The present day
ruins at Sicyon are but a faint reminder of the Romanized
theatre Pausinias visited in the second century CE. "On
the stage of the theater built under the citadel is a
statue of a man with a shield, who they say is Aratus,
the son of Cleinias. After the theater is a temple of
Dionysus" (Pausanias 2.7.5).
visitor today finds little more than the exposed remnants
of the partially excavated
theatre: a bowl
shaped depression in a hill with a few rows of exposed
stone seats, a horseshoe shaped orchestra of packed earth
with evidence of ancient drains, the remnants of an
ancient skene and the foundations of a proskenion stage,
the remains of stone proskenion access ramps, and two
rather imposing arched passageways leading through the
hill to the cavea. The casual viewer will note the
picturesque view of the Corinthian Gulf some 2 kilometers
in the distance but the grandeur of a restored theatre
such as Epidaurus is noticeably missing. The "statue of
Aratus" has long since vanished, as have the columns and
carved marble ornaments that once graced the theatre's
façade. What remains are the foundations of a late
4th century Hellenistic theatre with evidence of
successive Roman alterations to the skene and proskenion
Seating Area: The koilon (bowl shaped seating
area) of the
ancient theatre at Sicyon is carved for the most part out
of living rock in the side of a hill. Initial excavations
in the late 19th century by the American School of
Classical Studies under the successive directorships of
M.L. D'Ooge and A.C. Merrim, and M.L. Earle, unearthed
portions of the lower 4 rows of seats. Successive
excavations exposed portions of the lower nine rows and
included a row of prohedriai benches (stone seats of
honor with backrests) that borders the orchestra. The
remainder of the koilon remains buried beneath several
feet of earth. Analemmata
(supporting or retaining walls) reinforce the walls of
the koilon facing
the parodoi. Composed of ashlar masonry, the stepped
analemmata heights correspond with the tiers of stone
seating before ending in the natural rock of the koilon
- The lower section of the
koilon is divided into 15 seating sections (kerkides) by
14 stairways. At least one diazoma (horizontal walkway)
separates the upper and lower seating areas. This first
diazoma was easily confirmed during early excavations due
to the remains of an upper retaining wall and portions of
an open drain that extended the length of the wall
(McMurtry 277). The Koilon measures 122 meters (400 feet)
wide by 58.41 meters (192 feet) deep as measured from the
back of the center prohedria to the rear of the
unexcavated koilon. Based on this measurement, Fossum
proposes the possibility of a second diazoma and a third
tier of seating (Fossum 264). The number of seating rows
is estimated at 40 to 60 but no approximate seating
capacity is cited.
front row of seating consists of 13 prohedriai (seats of
wide benches have arms as well as backs and each extends
the width of its corresponding kerkis. Unlike the marble
prohedriai at the Dionysiac theatre at Athens, the
prohedriai at Sicyon are carved from the same native rock
as the bulk of the ordinary rows of seats. Like their
counterparts in Athens however, ornamental scrollwork can
still be observed on the benches' exterior arms and bases
pair of vaulted passages
on the east and west side of the koilon provided audience
access to the first diazoma. Both extend approximately 16
meters (53 feet) through the theatron and were found to
be in good condition during initial excavations. The 2.55
meters (8.4 feet) wide tunnels are important examples of
true Greek arches. The vaults at Sicyon predate Roman
influence and are contemporary to the original
construction of the theatre; "the blocks have the same
dimensions and are laid in the same manner (close fitting
without mortar, ashlar masonry) as those in the Hellenic
stage foundation wall" (McMurtry 278). Winter sites
arch-and-vault Hellenistic constructions at Letoon, Assos
and Aigai in Asia Minor, but concedes Roman influence on
these constructions (Winter 110).
The orchestra at Sicyon has a diameter of 24.3 meters
(about 80 feet) if measured to the base of the prohedriai
(Sear 405). It is composed of packed earth and comprises
somewhat more than half the circumference of a not
entirely complete circle. A wide drainage
channel surrounds the
separates it from the prohedriai in the first row. As in
the Dionysiac theatre in Athens, stone slabs cover the
channel in front of each stairway acting as a bridge.
elaborate network of subterranean
from the center of the orchestra to the perimeter of the
prohedriai and to the rear of the skene. (McMurtry 276).
It is tempting to compare these covered tunnels to the
underground passageways for actors at the Hellenistic
theatres at Eretria, Corinth and Argos. These
passageways led to stairs (Charonian steps)
and allowed for
mysterious entrances of performers. Arguments have been
made that the channels served performance purposes along
with drainage needs; others contend that they are nothing
more than large drains suitable for an orchestra with a
clay floor and a coastal city with heavy rains (Brownson
provide side entrances to the orchestra.
approximately 5 meters (16.4 feet) wide and the remains
of gate supports and stone thresholds indicate gated
entrances similar to those at Epidaurus (Fossum
Bieber characterizes the Hellenistic scene building as
having "a two-story structure with a one-story
forebuilding facing the orchestra" (proskenion). The
forebuilding consisted of a colonnade supporting a long
and narrow stage. Stairs (Priene) or ramps running
parallel to the parodoi (Sicyon, Eretria, Epidaurus) at
the far ends of the stage provided access to the stage
from the orchestra level. Access from the rear was
provided through large openings (thyromata) that pierced
the second-story wall (episkenion). These 3rd and 2nd
century BC constructions imitated a two-story palatial
house with a one-story terrace supported by a colonnade
(Bieber 118 - 124).
excavations at Sicyon reveal a scene building 24.5 meters
wide and 12.11 meters
proskenion ramps carved out of bedrock on either side.
These ruins represent both Greek and Roman constructions
(Sear 405). The skene and proskenion are roughly the
width of the orchestra. Based on the incline and the
width of the stone-carved ramps, Fossum estimates that
the stage was about 3.3 meters (10.7 feet) high and 2.8
meters (9 feet) wide. He further notes that the height
conforms to the standard established by Vitruvius for a
stage "not less than 10 nor more than 12 Roman feet
ruins indicate Roman renovations in the 1st century BC
and in the late Roman
alterations extended the scene building away from the
audience and included a Doric portico at the rear. A late
Roman renovation replaced the Hellenistic proskenion with
a deeper Roman stage that extended forward to the edge of
the koilon. The Hellenistic proskenion wall was replaced
with a Roman wall and had three openings: a double set of
doors in the center flanked by 2 single doors. Little of
this wall remains (Fossum 270).
- Excavations at Sicyon by
the American School of Classical Studies ran from 1886 to
1891 under the direction of M. L. D'Ooge and A. C.
Merrim, and M. L. Earle. The Archaeological Society at
Athens conducted further excavations in 1920 and 1984.
The 4th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Archaeology
is responsible for all city excavations as well as those
in the surrounding area. Exhibits are housed in the
onsite Sicyon museum which reopened in 2007.
- - Author: T.
- Bieber, Margarete.
The History of The Greek and Roman Theatre. 2nd
ed. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press,
- Brownson, Carleton L.
"Further Excavation at the Theatre of Sicyon in 1891."
The American Journal of Archaeology and the History of
the Fine Arts, Vol. 8, No. 3. (Jul.-Sep., 1893), pp.
- Fossum, Andrew. "The
Theatre at Sikyon." The American Journal of Archaeology
and the History of the Fine Arts, Vol. 9, No. 3.
(Jul.-Sep., 1905), pp. 263-276.
- Haigh, A.E. "Dorpfeld's
Theory of the Greek Stage." The Classical Review, Vol.
12, No. 1. (Feb., 1898), pp. 1-11.
- McMurtry, W.J.
"Excavations by the American School at the Theatre of
Sikyon. I. General Report of the Excavations." The
American Journal of Archaeology and the History of the
Fine Arts, Vol. 5, No. 3. (Sep., 1889), pp.
- Pausanias. Description
of Greece. Trans. J.G. Frazer. Vol. I. New York: Biblo
and Tannen, 1965.
- Sear, Frank. Roman
Theatres: An Architectural Study. Oxford; New York:
Oxford University Press, 2006.
- Tomlinson, R.A. Argos
and the Argolid: From the End of the Bronze Age to the
Roman Occupation. Ithaca NY: Cornell UP,
- Winter, Frederick E.
Studies in Hellenistic Architecture. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 2006.
- The American School of
Classical Studies at Athens. Excavation
- Ancient Greek Cities
- Greek Travel Pages
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Ministry of Culture
- The Perseus
- The Princeton
Encyclopedia of Classical Sites (Eds. Richard Stillwell,
William L. MacDonald, Marian Holland