Excavating the Athenian Agora: the Stoa Basileios

The Stoa Basileios, Athens © David Gill

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is marking 90 years of excavation in the Athenian agora. John McK Camp II, the director, has given an on-site webinar to explain the early fifth century BC Stoa Basileios on the north side of this public space adjacent to the Panathenaic Way. He runs through various features including ‘the oath stone’, the placing of herms, and the public display of the Athenian constitution. He then expands on the vision to make this part of the agora more accessible to the public. It is a privilege to hear such a distinguished excavator explain his work and thinking in situ.

The webinar is available here.

The Stoa Basileios, Athens © David Gill

Alan Sorrell: creating visions of the past

Sorrell_RB_cov
2018

How do you interpret archaeological sites to make them understood by the public? This book looks at the influential work of Alan Sorrell: the subtitle, ‘The man who created Roman Britain’, perhaps indicates the impact of his work.

Roman Britain features prominently: Hadrian’s Wall (fig. 99; Cover), the Carrawburgh mithraeum (fig. 102a–b), Housesteads fort (fig. 110), Caerleon legionary fortress (figs. 1), 80, the forum at Leicester (fig. 25), London (figs. 87, 104a–c, 106), Caerwent (figs. 28, 84a–b, 86a–b), Wroxeter (fig. 118), Bath (fig. 119a–b), Llantwit Major villa (fig. 85), and Lullingstone villa (fig. 98c). Medieval structures in state guardianship appear: Harlech and Conwy Castles (fig. 54a–b), the Bishop’s Palace at St Davids (fig. 69), Tintern Abbey (fig. 65a) and Jedbergh Abbey (fig. 65b).

Looking to Greece there are reconstructions of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos (figs. 17, 105), excavated by Carl Blegen, and the Palace at Knossos on Crete (fig. 41a).

The section on his work for the National Museum of Wales was particularly helpful. The reconstruction of Maen Madoc in the Brecon Beacons was instructive (fig. 89). Sorrell’s work with William Francis Grimes was given prominence.

The commissioning of reconstructions for sites in state guardianship is presented in some detail. We are presented with the views of P.K. Baillie Reynolds, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments: ‘They should have a good public appeal’. Yet at the same time Baillie Reynolds opposed the use of such reconstructions. This was in contrast with A.J. Taylor: ‘I should, personally, very much like to see in due course Sorrell drawings of all our North Wales Edwardian castles’. The use of Sorrell reconstructions in the Ministry’s ‘Blue Guides’ is itself constructive.

Sorrell, Julia, and Mark Sorrell. 2018. Alan Sorrell: the man who created Roman Britain. Oxford: Oxbow.

Corinth: guidebook

Image 009-Edit2
Corinth © David Gill

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens has published a new guidebook on Corinth. I have reviewed this for Bryn Mawr Classical Review [here].

The authors as well as the ASCSA design team have produced a highly functional guidebook to help lay and professional visitors to engage with the extensive excavated and visible remains. … This will be an invaluable aid to interpret what can be seen on the ground, and will serve as a model for guides to other archaeological sites.

The review gave me an opportunity to reflect on how to write a guidebook for such an extensive site. Roman urban sites in Britain such as Silchester and Caerwent have guides published by (respectively) English Heritage and Cadw.

Corinth_guide_cov
2017

Election promises at Corinth

Image (58)
Erastus inscription, Corinth © David Gill

The dedication of a square next to the theatre at Corinth by an official named Erastus was ‘in return for his aedileship’ (PRO AEDILIT[AT]E). Erastus would appear to be have made an election promise, and the square, edged with the dedicatory inscription, demonstrated that he had kept to his side of the agreement.

The benefaction of Erastus at Corinth

corinth_erastus_2
Erastus piazza, Corinth © David Gill

There is a small piazza at Corinth adjacent to the theatre. Along the edge are the remains of an inscription, originally with inset bronze lettering. This reveals that this public facility had been provided by Erastus-the full name is unknown due to the loss of part of the inscription-from his own money in return for being elected as aedile in the colony. Erastus had made an election promise, and the inscription showed that he had fulfilled his obligation.

The Tholos at Athens

agora_1259-edit
The tholos in the Athenian Agora © David Gill

The tholos is located at the southern end of a line of buildings linked to the Athenian democracy. These are positioned on the west side of the Agora, tucked into the Kolonos Agoraios.

The tholos was constructed in the 460s BC, and served as the headquarters of executive of the council (boule) that was situated in an adjacent building.

agora_1287-edit
The Athenian Agora and Akropolis © David Gill

Further details and reconstruction from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens [ASCSA].

The Palace of Nestor

Nestor_2_2
Archive Room, the Palace of Nestor © David Gill

One of my favourite archaeological sites is the ‘Palace of Nestor’ in the western Peloponnese overlooking Pylos. The Bronze Age palace contained a major archive of clay tablets written in Linear B that provide significant insights into the arrangements of Messenia in the Late Bronze Age.

Much of the site is protected by a specially constructed covering.

Nestor’s Guide

Image

One of my favourite sites is the Late Bronze ‘Palace of Nestor’ near Pylos in the Peloponnese. I first explored the site with a copy of the guide prepared by Carl W. Blegen and Marion Rawson in my hands: A Guide to the Palace of Nestor (The University of Cincinnati, 1967). There are 32 pages of text with 34 images along with an extremely helpful numbered plan printed inside the back cover. Among the illustrations are (black and white) reconstructions by Piet de Jong (see a review of his work here). The sections are:

a. Foreword. This has the helpful statement: ‘The purpose of this Guide is to help interested visitors to find their way about the Palace of Nestor’. (Writers of guides need to remember this!)

b. History of the excavations.

c. The site.

d. The palace.

e. Architecture.

f. Main building.

g. Southwestern building.

h. Northeastern building.

i. Wine magazine.

j. Northeastern part of citadel.

k. Tholos tombs.

l. Identification and date of the Palace.

The guide has now been updated with additions by Jack L. Davis and Cynthia W Shelmerdine, A Guide to the Palace of Nestor, Mycenaean Sites in its Environs and the Chora Museum (Princeton NJ: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2001).

Image

The illustrations include some of the colour reconstructions by Piet de Jong. The booklet includes a section ‘Life in Mycenaean Pylos’ based in part on the Linear B tablets. from the palace’s archive. There are helpful plans of the Chora Museum to help visitors around the exhibits.