The Attalids in Athens

The Stoa of Attalos © David Gill

I am looking forward to next in the seminar series from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens that will be looking at the Stoa of Attalos that forms the eastern edge of the Athenian Agora.

Complex heritage sites like the Athenian Agora and the Akropolis can present a series of narratives. The two-storeyed colonnade or stoa was dedicated by King Attalos II of Pergamon in north-west Anatolia (159–138 BC).

The Eponymous Heroes in the Agora © David Gill

The father of Attalos II, Attalos I (along with Ptolemy III Euergetes), was added to the representation of the ten heroes (The Eponymous Heroes) representing each of the Athenian tribes in 200 BC.

Retaining Wall of the Stoa of Eumenes © David Gill

Eumenes II (197–159 BC), the elder son of Attalos I, added a two-storeyed stoa on the southern slope of the Athenian Akropolis adjacent to the theatre of Dionysos. The rear of the stoa consists of a substantial retaining wall. Above and behind the stoa was the road that ran around the Akropolis and into the theatre of Dionysos. The effect of the colonnade would have mirrored the stoa at Pergamon that flanked the theatre on the slope of the royal city’s akropolis.

Monument of Eumenes II at the north-west corner of the Propylaia © David Gill

A major monument celebrating Eumenes II and dated after 178 BC was placed adjacent to the Pinakotheke at the main western entrance to the Athenian Akropolis. It in effect balances the temple of Athena Nike on the other side of the main access ramp. Eumenes was placed in a four-horse chariot. At the end of the 1st century BC the portrait of Eumenes was replaced by that of Agrippa.

Cutting for the Attalid monument at the north-east corner of the Parthenon © David Gill

The cutting for another Attalid monument, dedicated to Attalos II, can be found immediately to the north-east of the Parthenon. This also supported a monumental chariot; this referenced the chariot of Helios that appears in the most northerly of the metopes on the east side of the Parthenon.

To the east of the Parthenon itself were displayed a series of sculptures, seen by Pausanias (1.25.2), celebrating victories over the giants, the Amazons, the Persians and the Gauls. These had parallels in the sanctuary of Athena on the Pergamon akropolis.

The north-east corner of the Parthenon © David Gill

Excavating the Athenian Agora: the temple of Hephaistos

Temple of Hephaistos, the Athenian Agora © David Gill

John Camp has given another virtual seminar from the Athenian agora. The subject this time was the temple of Hephaistos that stands on the low hill overlooking the agora. He broke the temple down into its architectural elements from its foundations to the roof. His explanation of the proportions of the Doric order showed how a reconstruction can be made from the smallest of architectural fragments. Camp explained how the internal structure of the temple had been reorientated when the building had been converted into a Christian church. There was a reminder that the modern planting was informed by the excavated ‘plant pots’ around the temple.

The subsequent questions include a discussion of the date as well as the use pf polychromy.

These in situ seminars do so much to explain architectural remains.

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