Athens: the Library of Hadrian

The Library of Hadrian, west façade and propylon © David Gill

Visitors to Athens probably focus on the Agora and Akropolis rather than other equally important remains that can be found in the city. One of the most impressive is the Library of the Emperor Hadrian that lies in the district of Monastaraki, to the east of the Agora and immediately to the north of the Roman forum. The access is from the west, just like the Roman forum.

The Library of Hadrian, west façade © David Gill

The Library dates to AD 132, following Hadrian’s visit to the city. The entire complex measures approximately 125 m long.

The marble for the columns on the propylon were imported from Asia Minor, and those along the front of the building from Karystos on the island of Euboia. The rest of the western façade was made from Pentelic marble.

The Library of Hadrian, south-east exedra © David Gill

Four semi-circular exedra were placed at each end of the north and south walls of the Library.

The Library of Hadrian, east wall © David Gill

The library itself, along with adjacent lecture and reading rooms, was located at the eastern end of the complex. The eastern wall was limestone.

The Library of Hadrian, the Quatrefoil Building © David Gill

The Library was damaged during the Herulian attack on Athens in 267. Perhaps two decades later a new wall was constructed to enclose the area to the north of the Akropolis. This defensive wall incorporated the south wall of the Library; and the Library itself projected north of this new line.

The Quatrefoil Building (or Tetraconch) was constructed in the centre of the Library in the early 5th century AD. This is possibly one of the earliest churches in Athens. The bases for the Hadrianic peristyle, originally consisting of 100 columns made of Phrygian marble, can be seen in the foreground.

The standing columns come from a 7th century church.

The Library of Hadrian from the south-west with the Panathenaic Way in the foreground © David Gill

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

Athens: the Agora of Caesar and Augustus

Agora of Caesar and Augustus, Athens © David Gill

The city of Athens deserves to be explored on foot. The agora of Caesar and Augustus lies to the east of the main agora area. The monumental Doric propylon for this space still stands at the west end of the agora. The inscription shows that the gate was dedicated to Athena Archegetis; it is dated to the archonship of Nikias, i.e. 11/10 or 10/9 BC. The architectural style evokes the 5th century Athens of Perikles.

There is an open colonnade inside the propylon, some 111 m long.

Agora of Caesar and Augustus, Athens © David Gill
Agora of Caesar and Augustus, Athens © David Gill

Perikles and the present

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Perikles from Towneley Collection, British Museum © David Gill

The Athenian general Perikles died from the plague in the early years of the Peloponnesian War (see Thucydides Book II). As illness hit the city, sanctuaries were ‘doored up’ to prevent people taking refuge in the sacred spaces. The urban population had been swollen as people had fled inside the walls as a Spartan army ravaged the countryside of Attica.

This fifth century BC leader and the epidemic that hit Athens provide a model for our present time: “Coronavirus: What Boris Johnson’s Greek hero teaches us about epidemics“, BBC News 13 April 2020.

Tyntesfield and the Areopagos

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Tyntesfield, chapel © David Gill

The chapel at Tyntesfield (managed by the National Trust) contains this stained glass window designed by Harry Ellis Wooldridge in the 1870s. (The chapel was completed in 1875.) The scene shows the Athenians, seated on the rocky Areopagos, listening to Paul. The backdrop is the Athenian akropolis with the Propylaia and the Parthenon. Note that the view of the akropolis is not the one seen from the Areopagos.

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Athens, Akropolis © David Gill

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Athens, akropolis from the Areopagos © David Gill

An olive tree was inserted into the panel.

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Athens, olive tree adjacent to the Erechtheion © David Gill

Kennington and classical allusions

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St Mark’s, Kennington © David Gill

St Mark’s, Kennington was one of four churches built in London in thanksgiving for the victory at the Battle of Waterloo, opening in June 1824. The architectural style is neo-classical. The front entrance is in effect a Doric portico, but above it is an Ionic cupola. This evokes the 4th century BC choregic monument of Lysikrates in Athens (though constructed in a Corinthian architectural style).

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Monument of Lysikrates, Athens © David Gill

The front of the church is in the Doric style evoking classical buildings such as the Hephaisteion at Athens that stands above the Agora.

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St Mark’s Kennington © David Gill

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The Hephaisteion, Athens © David Gill

Celebrating Hadrian in Athens

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Colossal portrait of the Emperor Hadrian, found in Athens, 1933. Athens, National Archaeological Museum inv. 3729. © David Gill

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is celebrating the reign of the emperor Hadrian in an exhibition, “Hadrian and Athens: Conversing with an Ideal World“.

Dog and cat in the Kerameikos

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Athens, National Museum 3476 © David Gill

In 1922 the marble base of a kouros was found built into Themistoklean Wall in the Kerameikos in Athens. On the right hand side four youths watch as a god and a cat confront each other.

The sculpture is dated on the orthodox chronology to c. 510 BC.

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Athens, National Museum 3476 © David Gill

Brian Shefton: Classical Archaeologist

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2017

Oxford University Press has published a series of essays on refugee scholars who found a home and a welcome at the University of Oxford from 1930.

My contribution was on Professor Brian Shefton (1919-2012), who was brought to England with his parents in the summer if 1933. His father, Professor Isidor Isaac Scheftelowitz, initially found a home at Montefiore College in Ramsgate before moving to Oxford in the summer of 1934. Brian was a scholar at Oriel College, Oxford, where he came under the influence of Paul Jacobsthal and (Sir) John Beazley. His studies were interrupted in 1940 when many refugees of German origin were interned on the Isle of Man. Brian enrolled in the Pioneer Corps of the British Army serving in Yorkshire and Scotland. In 1944 he transferred to the Education Corps.

At the cessation of hostilities Brian returned to Oxford to complete us studies, and in 1947 obtained a School Scholarship at the British School at Athens where he assisted with the excavation of Old Smyrna. During this period he collaborated with colleagues at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) on the publication of some of the pottery from the Agora excavations. One of his significant publications from this time was on the monument to Kallimachos from the Athenian Acropolis.

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Nike from the Kallimachos monument on the Athenian Acropolis © David Gill

In 1950 he was appointed Lecturer in Classics at Exeter, and in 1953 moved to King’s College, Newcastle (now Newcastle University). One of his achievements was the creation of the Greek Museum (now incorporated in the Great North Museum). Among his research interests was the distribution of Greek and Etruscan material in Central Europe, a topic no doubt inherited from Jacobsthal.

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Brian Shefton lecturing at the opening of the Great North Museum © David Gill

Gill, D. W. J. 2017. “Brian Shefton: classical archaeologist.” In Ark of civilization: refugee scholars and Oxford University, 1930-1945, edited by S. Crawford, K. Ulmschneider, and J. Elsner: 151-60. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kerameikos: archaic stele

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Archaic stele, Kerameikos Museum © David Gill

This stele of a male with a stick and a sword was found in the Kerameikos cemetery at Athens. The two parts were found in 1935, and in 1937/38. It probably dates to the mid-6th century BC, and is considered to be one of the earliest Attic examples (Richter, no. 23; Knigge, fig. 24). It was associated with a mound on the west side of the Sacred Way. The stele may have been placed over the shaft grave that was found in the mound (Knigge, p. 105 under no. 15).

The stele appears to have had a sphinx mounted at the top.

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Mound to the west of the Sacred Way, Kerameikos © David Gill