Reconstructing buildings: the Stoa of Attalos

The Agora and the Stoa of Attalos © David Gill

Reconstructing archaeological remains can be problematic. How do they influence the visitor’s interpretation of an archaeological site? Do they enhance the visit?

The Athenian Agora © David Gill

One of the most successful reconstructions is the two-storeyed Stoa of Attalos that forms the eastern side of the Athenian agora. It is some 116 metres in length. It was given to the city of Athens by Attalos II (159–138 BCE) of Pergamon. The reconstruction was undertaken by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens from 1953 to 1956. Its colonnade not only provides welcome shade to visitors to the site, but the rooms to the rear of the colonnade house the archaeological finds made during the excavations.

Stoa of Attalos © David Gill
Stoa of Attalos © David Gill

The fragmentary dedicatory inscription that was originally placed on the architrave above the lower set of columns is displayed in front of the Stoa. It identified the donors as ‘King Attalos, son of King Attalos, and Queen Apollonis’. The text was not incorporated on the reconstruction in case new fragments required an adjustment.

Dedicatory inscription from the architrave of the Stoa of Attalos © David Gill
Fragmentary inscription from the Stoa of Attalos mentioning Queen Apollonis © David Gill

A large base made of Hymettian marble was found in front of the stoa. This may be the statue mentioned in the dedicatory inscription on the stoa. Cuttings suggest that it supported a bronze chariot, similar to that placed at the western approach to the Athenian acropolis. It was later rededicated to the emperor Tiberius.

Dedicatory base in front of the Stoa of Attalos © David Gill

Traces of history and the Parthenon

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Parthenon, north-east corner © David Gill

It is important to remember that the Parthenon was in use over several centuries and that it was adapted through time. In this north-east corner of the pediment is the (replica) of one of the horses of Selene, and at the south-east corner Helios emerging.

Below the pediment is a series of metopes showing a gigantomachy. (This theme was developed by the later Attalid sculptures, dated after 200 BC, placed in front of the east end of the Parthenon.)

The north-east corner of the Parthenon was later obscured by the construction of the Attalid monument, surmounted by a bronze chariot, for Attalos II, c. 178 BC. His chariot made the visual connection with the chariot containing Selene.

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Parthenon, south-east corner © David Gill

On the architrave below each metope is a hole with the shadow of a circle. These are where the 14 gilded shields from Alexander the Great’s victory at Granikos (334 BC) were mounted. Thus Alexander was making the point that his victory over the Persians was as heroic as the gigantomachy.

Between each of the shields, and immediately below the triglyphs, are a series of holes. These are the traces of a bronze inscription that was pegged onto the architrave during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero in AD 61/2. This text honoured Nero, and it was erected by Tiberius Claudius Novius. They may have reflected Nero’s campaigns against the ‘new’ Persians, in the areas of Armenia and Parthia. In this way the dedication picked up the original 5th century BC Athenian iconography that celebrated the Hellenic victories over the Persians at Salamis and Plataia.

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