Theatre of Dodona

Theatre of Dodona

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Dodona ( / d oʊ ˈ d oʊ n ə / Doric Greek: Δωδώνα, Dōdṓnā, Ionic and Attic Greek: Δωδώνη, [1] Dōdṓnē) in Epirus in northwestern Greece was the oldest Hellenic oracle, possibly dating to the second millennium BCE according to Herodotus. The earliest accounts in Homer describe Dodona as an oracle of Zeus. Situated in a remote region away from the main Greek poleis, it was considered second only to the oracle of Delphi in prestige.

Aristotle considered the region around Dodona to have been part of Hellas and the region where the Hellenes originated. [2] The oracle was first under the control of the Thesprotians before it passed into the hands of the Molossians. [3] It remained an important religious sanctuary until the rise of Christianity during the Late Roman era.


Dodona, in northwestern Greece, was a prehistoric oracle devoted to the Greek god Zeus and to the Mother Goddess identified at other sites with Rhea or Gaia, but here called Dione.

The shrine of Dodona was the oldest Hellenic oracle, according to the fifth-century historian Herodotus and in fact dates to pre-Hellenic times, perhaps as early as the second millennium BCE. Priests and priestesses in the sacred grove interpreted the rustling of the oak (or beech) leaves to determine the correct actions to be taken. Greek oracles are often misconstrued as having predicted the future.

When Homer wrote the Iliad (circa 750 BCE), no buildings were present, and the priests slept on the ground with ritually unwashed feet. Not until the fourth century BCE, was a small stone temple to Zeus added to the site. By the time Euripides mentioned Dodona (fragmentary play Melanippe), and Herodotus wrote about the oracle, priestesses had been restored. Though it never eclipsed the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, Dodona gained a reputation far beyond Greece. In Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica, a retelling of an older story of Jason and the Argonauts, Jason's ship, the "Argo", had the gift of prophecy, because it contained an oak timber spirited from Dodona.

In the third century BCE, King Pyrrhus grandly rebuilt the Temple of Zeus, and added many other buildings and a festival featuring athletic games, musical contests, and drama enacted in a theatre. A wall was built around the oracle itself and the holy tree, as well as temples to Heracles and Dione.

In 219 BCE, the Aetolians invaded and burned the temple to the ground. Though King Philip V of Macedon rebuilt all the buildings bigger and better than before, and added a stadium for annual games, the oracle at Dodona never fully recovered. In 167 BCE, Dodona was once again destroyed and later rebuilt 31 BCE by Emperor Augustus. By the time the traveller Pausanias visited Dodona in the second century AD, the sacred grove had been reduced to a single oak (Description of Greece, I, xviii). Pilgrims still consulted the oracle until CE 391, when Christians cut down the holy tree. Though the surviving town was insignificant, the long-hallowed pagan site must have retained significance, for a Christian Bishop of Dodona attended the Council of Ephesus in CE 431.

Archaeological excavations over more than a century have recovered artifacts, many now at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, and some in the archaeological museum at nearby Ioannina.


Dodoni (Greek: Δωδώνη) is a village and a municipality in the Ioannina regional unit, Epirus, Greece. Dodona (Doric Greek: Δωδώνα, Dōdṓna, Ionic and Attic Greek: Δωδώνη, Dōdṓnē) in Epirus is the archeological site of the Hellenic oracle. It is the most ancient oracle of Greece and it is associated with the oracle of Zeus Ammon of Libya. According to tradition, two doves departed from Thebes of Egypt and sat in the places, where the shrines of Zeus Ammon in Libya and Pelasgic Zeus in Dodona were founded. It is a relation that Alexander the Great knew too well, when, in 331 B.C., he visited the oracle of Libya, which architecturally resembles the Necromanteion in fact, it seems that it also operated in a similar way. The most important sanctuary in Dodona, around which the site was religiously formed, is the temple of Zeus "Hiera Oikia" (Sacred House), which is oriented to the southeast of the site. If we draw a straight line in the same direction, we will find out that it will lead us to Thebes of Egypt, passing over the Cave of Zeus of Crete. So the above myth is structurally confirmed. Namely the architect of the temple took under consideration the religious dependence of the sacred site in Thebes.

King Pyrrhus was the one who promoted the worship of Zeus, who embellished the site of Dodona, rebuilding it and creating new buildings, like the Bouleuterion, the Prytaneion, and the Theater. Thus Dodona became the seat of power of the Epirote League. Dodonaios Zeus expanded to the colonies of Sicily and Southern Italy during the campaign of Pyrrhus, who undefeated, but also with many casualties in his army, reached the outskirts of Rome, leading 25.500 infantrymen, 3.000 horsemen, and 20 elephants.


N39° 32.788' E20° 47.293'

In the above image, we can see a theater of 17.000 seats, which was built at the beginning of the 3 rd century during the reign of Pyrrhus (316-272 B.C.) who came into power in 297 B.C., at the age of 20 years. Through said construction, anyone can ascertain the high educational level of the residents of the area, in the most mountainous and most scarcely populated region of Greece, but also the high level of the leader of the region, who desired the upgrade it, despite his young age.

Starting from Ambracia (Arta), the believer, given his good physical condition, would travel on foot the 75 kilometers of poor road in 15 hours to reach the Oracle. Watching then the theatrical play, he should be well versed in Mythology, but also have deep knowledge and understanding of the events transpiring in the Greek region.

Unearthing the little-known ancient theatres of Greece's Epirus region

Greece's Epirus region hosts 5 of the country's most important ancient theatres. Some are famous, but others little-known. Now, a European-backed project will restore these architectural treasures from antiquity and weave them into a brand new tourist trail.

The circuit includes the sites of Dodona, Gitana, Amvrakia, Kassope and the Roman theatre of Nikopolis. From its inception, this project has been backed and co-financed by the European Union.

Though key to the project, the team's ambition goes beyond just renovating these ancient landmarks for people to observe.

"We are used to archaeological sites being extensive ruins that must be discovered. Yet, theatres are constructions that have, an inherent sociability. An ancient theatre can be used to teach theatre it can be used for educational purposes," explains architect and engineer Georgios Smyris. "People can meet and interact. The goal is not only to see but to use. This is the great challenge faced."

The Epirus region joined forces with the Diazoma association to launch this project called "The Cultural Route of the &Alphancient &Tauheaters of Epirus".

It boasts 5 archaeological sites, 344 km of trails to travel, 2,500 years of history. The project has a total budget of 24 million EUR of which 80% comes from the EU.

The aim of this trail is to attract Greek and foreign visitors who are interested in archaeology, history and the arts. To support this vision, a business cluster has been created with the participation of hotels, restaurants, tourist agencies and local producers.

"The cultural route will succeed when the visitors taste and feel the current culture, the daily culture of the region they're visiting," says Nikos Karabelas from the project's monitoring committee. "The tourists should have the chance to taste our excellent olive oil, sample some herbs that grow throughout Epirus and get some honey. In short, to experience Epirus' warm, authentic hospitality".

Ancient Dodona

In the shadows of Mt. Tomaros lie the ruins of the oldest oracle in ancient Greece, with researchers placing its origins as far back as the Bronze Age between 2600 and 1900 BC. It was dedicated to an early deity representing the Earth Mother similar to Gaia or Rhea.

Later, the site chiefly honoured the God Zeus, a change owed to the fact that power over Dodona changed hands quite often due to tribal wars. Inscriptions and artefacts recovered from the site make it apparent that the oracle was visited and controlled exclusively by tribes in the region such as the Thesprotians and Mollosians, though it is still unclear by whom it was founded. Visitors from other regions of Greece only began coming to the site during the 7th century BC, and it quickly became considered to be a sacred source of wisdom, second in significance only to Delphi. Unlike Delphi, the oracle here interpreted the future by the rustling of the leaves of a sacred Oak Tree around which the site was built.

Throughout its history, a theatre, stadium, several temples and public buildings were erected. The infamous King Pyrrus of Epirus greatly expanded the site and made it the capital of the region. During his rule, athletic contests and musical festivals were regularly held at Dodona. Due to the instability among tribes within the area, the site was often attacked. It was partially destroyed by the Aetolian Tribe during the 3rd century BC. King Phillip V of Macedonia had it rebuilt years later. The site suffered the same fate by the hands of the Romans in 167 BC but was later rebuilt by Octavian Augustus in 31 BC. The oracle continued to be consulted until the late 4th century AD when the Christian Emperor Theodosius put an end to all pagan activities at the site.

Today visitors can see a variety of surviving monuments from various periods of time during which the site operated. The theatre and some of the temples are the most well-preserved examples. Artefacts found during excavations at Dodona are now housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and the Archaeological Museum in Ioannina.

Description and Significance

Dodoni is a small archaeological site out of the main path of most tourists.

As such, it’s a quite place, with few groups and individuals strolling about the ruins.

The sanctuary of Zeus was a major spiritual place in ancient Greece. Only Delphi oracle enjoyed more fame than Dodoni in ancient times.

It was the oldest of the Greek oracles and ancient people traveled great distances in order to consult the priests who foretold the future.

Outside the temple of Zeus the priests gathered under the sacred Oak tree and listened to the sound of the leaves as they shivered in the breeze and glimpsed at the future.

People from the entire known world would make the pilgrimage in ancient times in order to consult the future-telling Oak tree and to attend cultural festivals that took place regularly at the sanctuary of Zeus.

The oracle at Dodona was the oldest in Greece, with only Delphi rivaling it in prestige. There was a main temple, probably dedicated to Zeus and Dione, with several smaller temples around the site. (At least one, near the theatre, had dedications to Aphrodite, Dione’s daughter by Zeus, according to local myth.)

While Dodona is often described as Zeus’ oracle, Dione was honoured alongside him: questions for the oracle were addressed to both of them and as Zeus Naios and Dione Naia they appeared on coins together. (Roberts, Piccinini) Or separately: there are coins showing Dione alone.

We know that there was a lavish and expensive statue of Dione, because Hypereides mentioned it in his speech defending Euxenippos, describing how it was commissioned, with a beautiful face and costly clothing, and honoured with a procession and sacrifices. (Pro Euxenippos 26) Apparently this was in obedience to a command from the oracle itself, seen as Zeus’ own order.

The Doves and the Oak

Part of Dodona’s mystique may have been its remoteness – in the north-west of Greece, with the mountain of Tomaros dominating the setting. The priests and priestesses used several different methods of divination, interpreting the rustling of oak leaves, thunder, the sound of water, the flight of doves that lived in the trees there, or the ringing of the bronze cauldrons surrounding the sacred oak tree. (The ringing of the cauldrons gave rise to the expression “Dodonian chatterbox”.)

Most of these methods are what you might expect from a shrine to a thunder-god, including the tree-shrine and the mountain backdrop. However, the doves introduce a feminine note, and some stories of the oracle’s origin credit a dove with pointing the way to its site.

In the beginning the oracle was tended by priests called Selloi, who went barefoot and slept on the ground to honour their connection to the site and the earth. Their name came from the rustling of the oak leaves. Later, as Strabo says, priestesses called Peliades or Doves also tended the site:

At the outset, it is true, those who uttered the prophecies were men (this too perhaps the poet indicates, for he calls them hypophetai, and the prophets might be ranked among these), but later on three old women were designated as prophets, after Dione also had been designated as temple-associate of Zeus.
(Strabo, Geography 7.7.9)

Herodotus, in his Histories, tells a more colourful story:

That, then, I heard from the Theban priests and what follows, the prophetesses of Dodona say: that two black doves had come flying from Thebes in Egypt , one to Libya and one to Dodona the latter settled on an oak tree, and there uttered human speech, declaring that a place of divination from Zeus must be made there the people of Dodona understood that the message was divine, and therefore established the oracular shrine. The dove which came to Libya told the Libyans (they say) to make an oracle of Ammon this also is sacred to Zeus. Such was the story told by the Dodonaean priestesses, the eldest of whom was Promeneia and the next Timarete and the youngest Nicandra and the rest of the servants of the temple at Dodona similarly held it true.
(Herodotus, The Histories 2.55)

Strabo dismisses this as invention (“more appropriate to poetry”) and says that the people of Epirus called old women pelai, so the priestesses were also called pelai, doves. The change from priests to priestesses probably reflects political changes when different tribes of Epirus controlled the oracle: the Thesprotians in the fourth century, followed by the Molossians. (Eidinow: 64)

Under Pyrrhus, in the second century BCE, Dodona was the religious capital of Epirus. Long before then, Dodona had its own games and theatre, with plays regularly performed there as part of its annual festival, dedicated to Zeus Naios and Dione Naia. (The name refers to the spring at the shrine, whose gurgling could also be used as an oracle.)

Protector of the Young

A bronze statue from Dodona shows a priestess with a dove perched on her hand. (Thompson: 156) Other figures from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE show priestesses or the goddess herself with a dove, and one image of a small boy, in bronze, shows him holding a dove. (Other Greek art also shows children with doves, perhaps pets.)

Thompson thinks his hairstyle indicates that he was dedicated to Dione, either to sacrifice a lock of his hair to her or to serve at the temple during his childhood. Children were often dedicated in such a way to the deities who were known to watch over children: Asklepios, Demeter, Artemis and Aphrodite. Dione, Aphrodite’s mother, must have been another such deity. At a time when many children never reached adulthood, such dedications would have been a form of divine insurance.

Dione appears in the Iliad comforting her own wounded daughter, and the Homeric Hymn to Apollo lists her among the goddesses who came to Leto during her labour pains:

But Leto was racked nine days and nine nights with pangs beyond wont. And there were with her all the chiefest of the goddesses, Dione and Rhea and Ichnaea and Themis and loud-moaning Amphitrite and the other deathless goddesses save white-armed Hera, who sat in the halls of cloud-gathering Zeus.
(Hm Hymn Ap: 94ff)

Archaeologists have found thousands of lead tablets inscribed with the visitors’ questions. The attendants returned these, with their answers, to the visitors. (Heras: 27) So many of them have been found at the site that scholars have wondered if the visitors were not allowed to take them away, or if they were meant simply as a record. Among the questions addressed to the oracle were queries from anxious parents or parents-to-be about the health of their children.

The oracle had a long run, answering questions both large and small, but it finally fell victim to the wars that racked Greece, being destroyed by the Aetolians in 219 BCE and then the Romans in 167 BCE. Then Mithridates IV ransacked it again in 88 BCE. The Romans rebuilt it later, and it continued to function, along with its games and theatre, until in the 4th century a Christian basilica was built inside the precinct and the sacred oak cut down.

Sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona

Archaeological excavations have taken place for more than a century, recovering items as early as Mycenaean. It was dug extensively by C. Carapanos in 1875-6, but was more like a search for Antiquities than archaeological excavation.

D. Evangelides did a great deal of intermittent but persistent work between 1929-58 exploring the sanctuary which made it possible for S. I. Dakaris to produce a picture of the various stages by which it developed.

In the neolithic period, Dodona was extensively inhabited but appear to had no permanent dwellings, but made a lot of pottery of the neolithic style. They were probably a pastoral community, living here in temporary huts for the summer: they left behind a thick layer of pottery. There is no certain evidence from archaeology of religious activity, but would be quite consistent with the primitive settlement centd on the oak tree, regarded as sacred to the god who thundered from heaven.

There is no evidence of occupation in 2nd millenium BC by people of dentral Greece and Peloponnese. No Helladic or Mycenaean pottery has been found.

Excavation exposed only a simple tree sanctuary. It was not until 4th Century BCE that a small temple was added, after the Molossian Kings of Epirus had assumed the protectorship of Dodona. From that time onwards Dodona had a certain amount of popularity, but it is mostly private individuals who wrote on the lead tablets asking the gods for help and advice.

In c. 290 BCE, King Pyrrhus made Dodona the religious capital of his domain and added a series of buildings including a grandly built Temple of Zeus plus several other buildings including a theatre. A wall was built around the oracle itself and the holy tree, as well as temples to Dione and Heracles.


Zeus- meaning "deity"
Earth Goddess- Gaia/Rhea
Dione- meaning "goddess"

Homer's Iliad: Achilles prays to "High Zeus, Lord of Dodona, Pelasgian, living afar off, brooding over wintry Dodona".

Ritual Activity

votive offerings

Illyrian Dedications have also been found from the 7th century BCE. After 650BCE it is thought that more Southern Greeks were visiting the Sanctuary compared with before 650BCE.

The Cult of Divine Birth-

add text here as appropriate

Rules and Regulations

Questions at Dodona were typically scratched on lead tablets, some of which have been discovered during archaeological excavation.

Other Activities

Historical Significance

The oracle at Dodona is considered to the oldest Oracle in Ancient Greece and second only to the Oracle at Delphi in presitige. It is situated in North West Greece in Eiprus, 1600 feet above sea level, east of Mount Tamaros. It is said to have been established by a priestess of Theban Zeus who had been carried off from Egypt by Phoenicians. (Another priestess, who was simultaneously abducted, founded the oracle of Ammon (also identifi ed with Zeus) in the Oasis of Siwah in ancient Libya.) Another foundational legend, told to Herodotus by three Dodonian priestesses of his day named Promeneia, Timarete, and Nicandra, the oracle was established by a “black dove” that fl ew away from Egyptian Thebes. The bird settled on the famous oak tree at Dodona, spoke in a human voice, and declared that an oracle to Zeus was to be establish here on this spot. (Again, a parallel with the fi rst version of the legend, a second black dove was said to have fl own to Libya and instructed the Libyans to found the oracle of Ammon/Zeus there, as well.) Herodotus suggests that the foundation of the oracle being a associated with 'black' doves may be in fact that it was founded by an Egyptian.

Particularly old and sacred was the oak (phegos) of Dodona which imparted the oracle with the rustling of its branches.

It is thought that two different cultures had provenance over this site. The earlier one is said to have worshipped the Earth Goddess but there are only taboos which suggest this, but a later culture around 1900-1400BCE then worshipped Zeus. So this particular site could be almost 4000 years old.

An indication that Ge/Gaia indeed may have been the fi rst goddess venerated at the site can be found in verses Pausanias (10.12.5) reports were first chanted by the Dodonian priestesses:

"Zeus was, Zeus is, Zeus shall be O mighty Zeus.
Earth sends up the harvest, therefore sing the praise of Earth as Mother."

"Ancient tradition, cult symbols unrelated with the worship of Zeus
in Greece (doves, boars, double-bladed axes, tripods), the prophetic
powers of the oak, the chthonian form of the temple of Zeus, confi rm
beyond doubt the preexistence of a chthonian cult to the Great
Goddess, who was worshipped in Greece at least from the beginning
of the third millennium B.C., if not from the Neolithic Age. The sacred
oak at Dodona is part of the cult of Mother Earth."

The idea of the Mother Goddess being there before the establishment of an oracle also corresponds with most if not all of the other Oracular sanctuaries in Ancient Greece, e.g. Delphi, Oplympia and Corinth. Zeus, therefore, must have "arrived" at a place that was an already functioning oracular sanctuary.

Herodotus reports on the “founding” of the site by the Egyptian priestess, that the Zeusian cult laid over the earlier cult was, in some sense, Egyptian. Herodotus (2.52) indeed further emphasises the influence of Egypt on Greek religion more generally. He states that the Dodonians of his day fully believed that the Egyptians had in fact brought to the Pelasgians (early Greek people) the names of all deities, and the Oracle at Delphi had sanctioned the use of these names. Before this, in remote antiquity, the Pelasgians were thought to have prayed to deities who had no names of titles and merely called them theoi (gods). This all began here at Dodona and then spread through out Greece (Parke 1967, 57, 59)

The God therefore must have been "Theban Zeus" whom Herodotus (1.182, 2.42, 4.181) confi rms was identifi ed with Amun-Re. So still Egyptian origins.

Cook (1914–40, 3.1:882) reports that Zeus was identified with Amun of Thebes at least as far back as 900 B.C.E. 10 The cult of Amun-Re at Thebes was associated with the practice of divine birth of the pharaoh throughout much of the Bronze Age.

As written above, it was mentioned in Homer's Iliad but also in the Odyssey. Odysseus tells Emaeus in Book 14 that he was seen among the Thesprotians at the Oracle at Delphi inquiring whether or not he will return to Ithace openly or in disguise (which he is doing). This is in his fictitious story.

The Sanctuary itself remained an important place right up until the rise of Christianity in the Late Roman era, which certianly emphasises how important it was.

Who used the site, and where did they come from?

Before 650BCE it is thought that only northern Greeks visited the site because of the Illyrian dedicatory evidence but after this it is thought that southern Greeks ventured up there.

Select Site Bibliography

Boardman, John (1982). The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries B.C.. (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.)

Kindt, J. (2012) Rethinking Greek Religion, (Cambridge University Press)

Marguerite Rigoglioso,. (2009) The cult of divine birth in ancient Greece, (Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan,.)

Sacks, D. Murray, O. Bunson, M., (1997). A Dictionary of the Ancient Greek World. (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.)

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Ancient Theater of Dodona

“There is a land with rich meadows, and rich in flocks and shambling kine,” writes the ancient poet Hesiod, “and Zeus loved it and appointed it to be his oracle.” Thus, Dodona became the earthly residence of the great god, second only to his palace on Mt Olympus. The worship of Zeus in Dodona was linked to divination. His priestesses and priests “interpreted” the rustling of the sacred oak and answered the queries of mortals.

Mortals held games to honor the gods at all the great sanctuaries. The Naia games to honor Zeus had possibly been held in Dodona for a long time, but it took the most famous leader of Epirus for them rise to renown befitting them. Pyrrhus of Epirus, king of the Greek tribe of Molossians, a relative and admirer of Alexander the Great, renewed or, in another version, established the games at the beginning of the 3rd century BC and “armed” the sanctuary with all the necessary buildings, including a Theater.

The Theater of Dodona was built on a grandiose scale to match King Pyrrhus’ ambitions. In any case, it had to be large enough to accommodate vast crowds, as the sanctuary and the games by then enjoyed panhellenic renown. Even Pyrrhus’… in-laws came from Egypt: his mother in-law Berenice and his father in-law, Ptolemy I, the founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, who distinguished himself in the chariot race.

The grand Theater of Dodona changed with the passage of time. The specialists studying the theater can distinguish the alterations, damage, additions. The greatest change, or rather, alteration is the one that occurred during Roman times, possibly at the time of Emperor Augustus. Complying with the mores and interests of the Romans, the theater’s orchestra was turned into an arena hosting wild animal fights.

When Emperor Hadrian visited Dodona in AD 132, the city was already in decline. A short while later, the ancient religion and its Theater would be abandoned for centuries. In the middle of the 20th century, the theater’s seats looked like stones scattered by nature on the hillside the orchestra and the scaenae were buried under farmland. Then, the situation was reversed. Excavations, studies and very recently new conservation and restorations works have restored the Theater’s form and the capacity to host spectators and performances once again.

Watch the video: Billie Eilish - ilomilo MBNN Remix (July 2022).


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