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Audio Engineering Society

Convention Paper 7797

Presented at the 126th Convention
2009 May 710 Munich, Germany

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Epidaurus: Comments on the Acoustics of

the legendary ancient Greek theatre
Christos Goussios1, Christos Sevastiadis2, Dr Kalliopi Chourmouziadou3 and Dr George Kalliris4
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Film Studies, Thessaloniki,
54124, Greece, cgoussios@hotmail.com
Technical Services Administration of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, 54124, Greece
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, 54124, Greece
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, Thessaloniki,
54124, Greece, gkal@jour.auth.gr


The ancient Greek theatres and especially the well preserved theatre of Epidaurus are of great interest because of
their legendary acoustic characteristics. In the present paper the history and the construction characteristics of the
specific theatre are presented. The differences between the ancient and modern use of it are explained. Important
acoustic parameters calculated using in situ measurements are presented. The conclusions show the relation between
its excellent acoustic performance and the obtained results.

eludes modern scientific theory and engineering practice

[1]. Recent rumors about the possible existence of
1. INTRODUCTION resonators under the orchestra of the theatre of
Epidaurus enhance this myth, neglecting the mass that
The theatre of Epidaurus is probably the best preserved lies on top of these hypothetical acoustic elements.
ancient theatre in Greece. Its acoustics lay somewhere
between the legend and science. The coin-experiment Many researchers have been attracted by ancient theatre
does leave most visitors with the impression that ancient acoustics and presented interesting and significant
architects had achieved a grasp of theatre acoustics that results. Methods of measurement that have been used
Goussios et al. Epidaurus: Comments on the Acoustics

include Time Delay Spectrometry [2], impulse 2.1. Seats

excitation [3], as well as Maximum Length Sequence
and sine sweeps [4] excitation. Also, acoustic The three basic components of the ancient theatre are:
simulations of the theatre have been held using the the koilon (rows of seats), the orchestra and the skene.
mirror images and ray tracing methods [5], [3]. A passage known as diazoma separates the koilon to the
upper and lower diazoma. In Epidaurus the lower
Unfortunately, there arent any measurements of the diazoma comprises of 34 rows of seats and the upper of
theatre when it is occupied and this seems to be of great 21. These specific numbers belong to the Fibonacci
importance in order to find out if there is anything that sequence and their ratio equals the golden section
makes the acoustics of ancient Greek theatres distinctive (0.6176/1.618). The interesting evidence is the different
and outstanding for speech. inclination between the two, 23o and 27o respectively
[8]. The rather steep slope of the audience offers the
In the present paper, impulse responses using bursting acoustic advantage that the sound from an actor reaches
balloon excitations were used in the unoccupied theatre. the highest part of the audience [9].
The energy ratio parameters Centre Time ts, Definition
D50, and Clarity C80, the Reverberation Time 20 [6] as Many different seat designs and materials are found in
well as the intelligibility parameters of RASTI and the theatres -and odea- of antiquity (Fig. 2-3). However
ALC% were calculated. The relation between the results the shape -vertical, inclined or concave- of the raisers
and the theatres acoustics are explained. cant affect the sound when the theatre is occupied.
Their design might be associated with the sound
reflection and scattering when the theatre is not fully

Theatres were built in order to satisfy the needs of sight

and hearing. The ability of hearing well is directly
related to having unobstructed line of sight to the actors,
hence the steeply sloped area for the audience was
wisely chosen from the beginning for theatrical plays
[7]. There are theatres carved on native stone and others
constructed on hill-sides from marble or stone seats
joined together. Later Romans constructed theatres on Figure 2: Odeion of Herodes Atticus (left), and odeion
plane ground. Epidaurus is constructed from carved of Kos (right)
porous stone elements that are placed as shown in the
Fig. 1.

Figure 3: Odeion of Rodos (left), Theatre of Epidaurus


The audience area represents the most important and

major absorption surface in the theatre. This absorption
is primarily due to peoples clothing which acts as a
porous absorber [10]. The absorption of porous stone is
small compared to that of the audience; however there
are openings and discontinuities where the stone seats
are joined together, with a definite result of a higher
Figure 1: Epidaurus carved porous stone seats

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Goussios et al. Epidaurus: Comments on the Acoustics

absorption coefficient. Still, the unoccupied theatre also confirm that the acoustics are being improved with
cannot be compared to the occupied since the audience the use of scenery [11].
contribution to absorption is significant. All the
measurements that have been considered in this paper
have been carried out in an empty theatre, and thus
cannot lead to a clear conclusion about the acoustics of
the theatre of Epidaurus.

2.2. Scene

Permanent scenery was one of the basic architectural

elements related with acoustics in ancient Greek
theatres. The leading actors of each play used to come
out on a balcony, called logeion, almost 2 to 3 meters
high, to perform, while the chorus was on the orchestra
level. Behind the logeion there used to be a wall
responsible for a major reflection. Also the chorus took
advantage of this construction due to the proskinion, the Figure 5: Odeion of Herodes Atticus, permanent scenery
wall under the logeion and the reflections on it.
2.3. Details of the theatre and plays

The law that is effective outdoors is the Inverse Square

Law. A further decrease of the sound level, in theatrical
applications, is attributed to the sound absorption by the
audience. There is also the absorption of the air. The
solutions that the ancient architects suggested and
applied to reduce these effects and effectively assist the
unobstructed transmission of the voice of the actors,
were the following:

i. The audience is arranged in steep sloped area

ii. The audience is seated as close to the

performance as possible; around the
performance with a highly reflective surface
(marble orchestra) between the actors and the
Figure 4: Epidaurus, temporary scenery (Orestes 2008) audience
Nowadays the conditions of performances are a lot iii. The leading actors were positioned on the
different: temporary scenery usually exists. The actors logeion with a wall behind them, while the
usually perform on the orchestra together with the actors on the orchestra (members of the chorus)
chorus, and are rarely placed above the orchestra level. used to talk together at the same time
The benefits of a permanent structure are lost, but the
audiences impression of excellent acoustics still iv. The theatre is located in a quiet site. The
remains. simple law to raise the intelligibility is to
reduce the inside and outside unwanted sounds.
The absence of scenery and the displacement of the
speaker-actor can lead to incorrect results. Most people v. The position of the theatre and the time of the
agree that the acoustics of Epidaurus are excellent (for performance (afternoon) have strong
theatrical applications), neglecting the presence or implications for prevailing wind direction and
absence of the scenery and the higher positioning of the sound refraction toward the audience [7], [8].
actors, which benefit the acoustics, while recent studies Bending of the sound waves due to the wind

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Goussios et al. Epidaurus: Comments on the Acoustics

and the difference in temperature have been

formerly discussed as conditions that affect the
acoustics of Epidaurus [2] and the semi open
theatre in general.

It is obvious that the geometric and structural

characteristics of the theatre are in favor of early
reflections enhancement. This is very important in the
resulting speech intelligibility of the theatre.


The measurements were performed by bursting balloons Figure 7: Clarity C80 [dB]
and recording their response. The recordings were taken
at 17 points along a line 18o off the central axis of
theatre symmetry. The points were averaged in six
groups of seating zones, four for the lower and two for
the upper part of the seating area.

The recorded impulse responses were used to calculate

the acoustic parameters which are more compliant for
the theatre usage. Speech is dominant but singing and
theatrical music can be met in performance.

The results for Centre Time show desirable low values.

The lower than 60 ms values of ts in the octaves
between 500 and 4000 Hz is important for the good
speech performance. Figure 8: Definition D50

The most important parameter of the energy ratio

parameters group is the Definition D50. It shows
adequate values in the lower frequency octaves and
close to the scene. Also, it has good values longer
distances from the scene in the octaves where the
speech lies.

The next parameter is the Reverberation Time for which

the T20 instead of T30 was calculated because of low
SNR during the recordings. The results show a relative
consistency along the recording positions as long as a
rise in time following the rise in octaves except the
small reduction in the 4 kHz octave. Overall, the
Figure 6: Centre time ts [ms] reverberation time is small as expected but is still there.
The higher T20 values of the middle right part of the
The Clarity C80 parameter indicates the transparency of frequency range of interest can be scored to the
music. The resulting values vary between 3 to 11 dB diffusion characteristics of the seating area construction
and are suitable for modern music, which is more usual and materials. Of course, the conditions should be
in contemporary theatre performances. Also, such different in the occupied case but it can be assumed that
Clarity values are satisfying for the use of sound effects the ratio between the octaves reverberation time values
in the performances. would not change very much.

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Goussios et al. Epidaurus: Comments on the Acoustics

listening behavior with high intelligibility. The energy

ratio, reverberation time and intelligibility parameters
are all in accordance with the perceived high acoustical
quality of the theatre. It is important to mention the
better results in the higher part of the seating area. Also,
the parameters values in the occupied case are expected
to be better. But this assessment has to be proven by


[1] Izenour G.,Roofed, Theaters of Classical Antiquity,


[2] Goularas D., Acoustics of Ancient Theatres,

unpublished diploma thesis, Department of
Electrical & Computer Engineering, Faculty of
Engineering, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,

Figure 9: Reverberation Time T20 [3] Chourmouziadou K., Kang J., The Contribution of
ephemeral sceneries in the increase of reverberation
At the end, the RASTI and the related ALC% parameters of ancient theatres, Proc. of Acoustics 2006, 3rd
were calculated showing a good performance and high conference of the Hellenic Institute of Acoustics,
intelligibility results. Again, as long as the distance from Xanthi, Greece, 2006.
the scene gets greater the results become better. The
higher seating areas, even with lower sound levels [4] Vassilantonopoulos et al., Measurements and
present better acoustical performance in speech Analysis of the Acoustics of the Ancient Theatre of
listening. Epidauros, Proc. of Acoustics 2004, 2nd
conference of the Hellenic Institute of Acoustics,
Herakleion, Greece, 2004, pp 359-366.

[5] Vassilantonopoulos S, Mourjopoulos J, A Study of

Ancient Greek and Roman Theater Acoustics,
Acoustica Vol. 89, 2003, pp 123-136.

[6] ISO 3382:2000, Acoustics - Measurement of the

Reverberation Time of Rooms with Reference to
other Acoustical Parameters.

[7] Cavanaugh W.J., Wilkes J.A. ed., Architectural

Acoustics Principles and Practice, John Wiley &
Figure 10: RASTI and ALC% Sons, New York, 1999.

[8] Canac F., L Acoustique des Thatres Antiques,

Editions du Centre National de la Recherche
4. CONCLUSION Scientifique, Paris, 1967.

The results obtained from the impulse responses of the [9] Cremer L., The Different Distributions of the
unoccupied ancient theatre of Epidaurus shows similar Audience Applied Acoustics Vol. 8, 1975, pp 173-
behavior as the other recent research; good speech 191.

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Goussios et al. Epidaurus: Comments on the Acoustics

[10] Rossell I., Vicent C., Acoustic Phenomena

Associated to the Audience, Forum Acusticum,
Sevilla, September 2002.

[11] Chourmouziadou K., Kang J., Acoustics Evolution

of Ancient Theatres and the Effects of Scenery: A
case study of the Theatre of Mieza, Proc. Of
Acoustics 2004, 2nd conference of the Hellenic
Institute of Acoustics, Herakleion, Greece, 2004, pp

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