After centuries of study, an untold number of scholars have agreed that the City Dionysia of fifth-century Athens involved an animal sacrifice to the god Dionysos, and that this event took place in the theatre before the beginning of the play competition. The usual assumption has been that this sacrifice was offered upon an altar situated at the exact center of a circular orchestra.
This placement fits well with the theory that tragedy grew from a dithyrambic chorus dancing in a circle around the altar of Dionysos. But now that the dogma of the originally circular orchestra has been questioned, some attention must also be given to the location of the altar, a supposedly standard piece of theatre furniture. The following pages will (1) discuss the origin of the concept of a centrally located altar; (2) examine the literary, artistic, and architectural evidence which relate to altar placement; and (3) suggest a possible alternative to the central location.