A guide to the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates
Situated in the center of Platia Lysikratous (Lysikratous Square) close to the Acropolis Museum and Theatre of Dionysus, stands a tall and elegant marble monument. With its decorative Corinthian-style columns that were once topped by a large bronze tripod, the choragic monument of Lysicrates is a good example of such a monument and has a fascinating story behind its construction…
A popular competition was held at the Theatre of Dionysus each year. In The Dithyramb Competition various plays were performed. Each play was sponsored by a chorego who was a wealthy patron of the arts in Athens, who funded and supervised all the costumes, masks, scenery and rehearsals of ‘his play’. The chorego who sponsored the winning play was awarded a prize which was usually a bronze trophy in the shape of a tripod.
Chorego Lysicrates was such a patron and when his play won the Dithyramb Competition in the city’s Dionysia in 335-334 AD he was awarded the trophy. To mark the success and to display the trophy, it was the tradition that the Chorego funded the building of a monument along the route to the Theatre of Dionysus.
The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates stands 12 metres tall. There is a large square stone pedestal at the base which measures 4 metres in height, with each side measuring 3 metres in width.
The pedestal is topped by a tall Column in smooth Penteli marble that is 6.5 metres high and 2.8 metres in diameter and decorated with Corinthian style columns. The column has a conical marble roof, crafted from a single piece of marble.
The roof was crowned by a decorated capital depicting acanthus flowers and the trophy was placed on top of this for all to see. Just below the roof of the monument, there was a frieze that encircled the top of the column and this depicted the story of the winning dramatic production.
The frieze on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates portrays the story that won the Dithyramb Competition. Dionysus, the patron god of the stage was sailing from the Ikaria to Naxos when his boat was raided by Tyrrhenian pirates.
Dionysus defeated them by turning the sails and oars of their boat into serpents and the pirates into dolphins.
There is an inscription written in Ancient Greek on the monument gives details of the competition.
“Lysicrates, son of Lysitheos, from Kikineus, was the choregus; the Acamantide tribe won the prize of the boys’ chorus; Theon was the flute player, Lyciades, the Athenian, was the master of the chorus; Evainetos was the Archon in charge”.
This monument is the only remaining monument of its kind and has been well preserved. The reason for this is because it was incorporated into a monastery that was built on the spot by French Capuchin monks in 1669. The monument was incorporated into the monastery library. An amusing fact is that In 1818, tomatoes were grown for the first time in Greece by monks at the monastery.
The monastery was destroyed in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottomans (1821-1830). Some years later, French archaeologists found the monument half-buried and cleared the site of debris. In 1876, the French government paid for the French architects François Boulanger and E Loviot to supervise the restoration of the monument.
The monument quickly became a popular symbol of ancient Greek culture and it inspired similar monuments that can be seen in Edinburgh, Sydney and Philadelphia amongst others. Today, the square in which the monument stands, is surrounded by coffee shops.
Key information for visiting the Monument of Lysicrates.
- The Monument of Lysicrates is situated close to the Acropolis Museum and a 10minute walk from Syntagma Square.
- The nearest Metro station is Acropolis (Line 2) which is about a 2.5 minute walk.
- The Monument of Lysicrates can be seen at any time.
- There is no entrance charge.