Last Updated on 19 August 2017

Today it is quite an achievement be recognized with an Academy Award for Best Picture, Tony Award for the Best Play, or Grammy for Best Song of the Year. However, rewind 2500 years ago in Athens, and the prize was even bigger.

Each spring, the city of Athens would turn into a party town with a festival celebrating the wine god, Dionysus. During this “Greater Dionysia” celebration there was music, merriment, dancing, and even more wine drinking. The festival lasted for five days, and each afternoon in the Theater of Dionysus (pictured below) either a dithyramb (ancient Greek hymn) was sung, or a tragedy performed followed by a comedy.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Athens

Instead of Oscars, Tripods & Choragic Monuments

At the end of the performances, citizens voted which they considered the prize-winning play. The producers (called choregoi) erected monuments to commemorate their victories. Choregic monuments were usually temple-like structures, simple columns, or cylindrical constructions that supported a “tripod” – the trophy from the contest – a bronze cauldron with a tripod base (see inset) that stood about waist-height.

Monument of Lysikrates

The Monument of Lysikrates
a choragic monument in Athens

The stonework on the roof originally the tripod received by Lysikrates when the choir he financed as choregos was victorious in the tragedy competition in 334 B.C.

The Street of the Tripods, which runs along the base of the Acropolis and toward the Theater of Dionysus, was lined with choragic monuments.