At Athens the choregia was a liturgy or public service performed by a rich citizen for the polis. A chorēgos (lit. ‘leader of a chorus’) was responsible for the recruitment, training, maintenance, and costuming of choreutai (members of a chorus) for competitive performance at a festival.
The choregia was central to the organization and funding of the dramatic festivals in Athens and its demes. The actors were appointed and remunerated separately by the polis, but the chorus involved the main part of the expense in these productions. In the City Dionysia choruses were required for each kind of performance: five for comedy (with 24 choreutai in each), three for tragedy and satyr‐play (see satyric drama) (12 or 15 choreutai) and ten each for the two categories of dithyramb, men's and boys' (50 choreutai). The competition at these festivals was as much between rival choregoi and their choruses as between poets, and the efforts of a choregos could crucially affect the success of a dramatic entry.
The history of the choregia roughly corresponds with the period of Athenian democracy. Choregoi for dithyramb at the City Dionysia were chosen by the ten phylai (‘tribes’) and the choregos represented his tribe in the competition. Choregoi for tragedy and, until the mid‐4th cent., for comedy at the City Dionysia were appointed by the archon, for the Lenaea by the basileus (see archontes), from the richest Athenians liable for the duty. Thereafter comic choregoi were chosen by the tribes. Choregoi were chosen several months in advance of the next festival; this allowed for a long period of training and perhaps also for the possibility that a chorēgos might claim exemption or undertake an antidosis. No one could be required to perform a major liturgy such as a choregia in two consecutive years, though rich men eager to secure the goodwill of their fellow citizens might volunteer to serve beyond what was officially required. In his speech Against Meidias Demosthenes (2) presents himself as having saved the honour of his tribe by volunteering as its dithyrambic choregos after it had failed to appoint one for two years running. Choregoi belonged to the highest socio‐economic tier, roughly one per cent of the citizen population.The sums spent on choregiai show that the duty could elicit vast expenditure. One extremely enthusiastic choregos catalogues a list which represents an outlay of nearly two and a half talents. This includes a dithyrambic choregia at the Little Panathenaea for 300 drachmae, and a tragic choregia for 3,000 dr. The latter figure is roughly ten times what a skilled worker might have earned annually. This was probably for the City Dionysia, whose prestige encouraged lavish outlay, and where the tragic choregia covered the costs for a group of three tragedies and a satyr‐play. In the same passage a comic choregia is said to have had 1,600 dr. spent on it, ‘including the dedication of the equipment’. A choregia for dithyramb at the City Dionysia, with its 50 choreutai, was likely to be a costly undertaking. The system was also widely adopted for festivals in the Attic demes (esp. the Rural Dionysia), though on a much smaller scale of expenditure.