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  • Writer's pictureGiorgia Capra, MA

A Brief History of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens

What is the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates?

The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates is a well-preserved marble monument in Athens that celebrates victory in a dramatic contest.



Choragic Monument of Lysicrates History

This circular marble structure is a perfect example of the many choragic monuments which, in antiquity, were displayed along the Street of the Tripods, an ancient promenade curving around two sides of the Acropolis and connecting the Agora with the Theatre of Dionysus. This is the only choragic monument left almost completely preserved, but gives us an idea of how the ancient road must have looked when it was lined by a series of such impressive celebratory structures, commemorating victories in the dramatic contests sponsored by the choregoi.


In Classical Athens, the choregoi were prominent and wealthy citizens who were in charge of producing and financing dramatic productions and choral performances, fulfilling a religious and civic duty. Competition between rival troupes brought honour to the choregos of the winner. Successfully observing this duty was considered to bring great honour but it could also be very expensive, which was why not everyone could afford to be a choregos!


Successful ancient ‘producers’ received great honours and were awarded precious prizes, which they then put on public display, being in this way recompensed for their service to the public in providing them with entertainment. Bronze tripods, often decorated and bearing inscriptions, were usually given as prizes in athletic games and dramatic contests, as in this case. These objects had high religious significance and were also often used as offerings to the deities and as presents for guests.


The bronze tripod of the choregos Lysicrates was once displayed on the top of this monument, a circular marble structure on a square base, surrounded by Corinthian columns. It celebrates his victory in 335 BC in the choragic contest of the Great Dionysia that he had sponsored. During the Dionysia, an important religious festival that took place in Athens in honour of the god Dionysus, playwrights would compete, presenting their newly written comedies, tragedies and satyr plays. Not by chance, the Street of the Tripods was situated next to the Theatre of Dionysus, where the artistic performances used to take place. The theatre was part of the sanctuary of Dionysus on the south slope of the Acropolis, where the procession that took place during the Dionysia culminated with the spectacular sacrifice of dozens of animals. On the monument, you’ll see Dionysus in the decoration of the frieze (the band of sculpture right at the top), where he’s depicted turning the Tyrrhenian pirates into dolphins, after they had captured him and planned to violate him and then sell him into slavery.


An inscription informs us that Lysicrates sponsored the production and also mentions the names of the artists and musicians who won the competition. People from every part of Greece used to come to Athens to attend the Dionysia, so the choregoi could be sure that every year a huge crowd of people would read their names inscribed on the monuments and admire their prizes.


Curiously, you may hear people referring to this monument as the ‘lantern of Diogenes’ or ‘lantern of Demosthenes’. The building received these nicknames during the Middle Ages, when the original function of the monument was unknown and it was thought to be connected either to the philosopher or the famous orator.


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