Jul. 23rd, 2012

hawkwing_lb: (Helen Mirren Tempest)
Entering the Agora of Athens.

Enter from the gate by Adrianou. This tour is not going to be strictly chronological - in fact, we're going to hop all over. Further reading: start with JM Camp Excavations in the Athenian Agora, and move on to Volume IX in the ASCSA's Athenian Agora series, available as .pdf from JSTOR.

We enter by the Stoa of Attalos, which was reconstructed in the 1950s and now houses the Agora museum. It's a Hellenistic stoa, of a size to dwarf the stoas previously to be seen in the Agora, built in the 2nd century BC under the patronage of Attalos II, king of Pergamon (d.136 BC). (Historical note: Roman domination towards the end of the 2nd century BC.) It is contemporary with another massive stoa which was built towards the south and is known on plans as the Middle Stoa. These giant stoas changed the pre-existing function of a stoa: instead of being a discrete building with a few functions, they became the background and setting for numbers of other monuments.

The Stoa of Attalos dominates the standing remains of the Agora today. Imagine in antiquity another stoa of similar size, probably funded by a different monarch, at right-angles to it to the south, on the other side of the Panathenaic way.

Okay, so, the Stoa of Attalos. Throughout history a considerable part of it remain visible and standing. Originally it measured 116x20m, and today's is a reasonably faithful reconstruction, apart from the addition of rear windows and the fact that the lion-head spouts which drain water off the roof were made without tongues, and thus instead of throwing water clear of the building, tend to drool and drip water onto the steps below. Two storeys high, the main colonnade Doric with 45 columns, the hall of the stoa divided into two aisles with 22 Ionic columns, twenty-one rooms of varying width behind, with wooden doors, and light admitted through narrow slits in the back walls. The upper floor reached by stairways at either end of the colonnade, where the same arrangement was repeated. The rooms in this stoa were shops, probably rented out by the state to acquire revenue: in these forty-two individual shops under one roof, we see the precursor of the modern shopping centre. (There is nothing new under the sun.) It survived until it was destroyed in the 3rd century CE and the back wall incorporated into the Post-Herulian Wall.

This is a good time to digress about the Agora as a whole, its purpose and construction. Stand in the shade of the reconstructed SA. Right. What's an agora?

Right. The agora is the business and civic heart of a Greek polis. In Athens, the acropolis took religious primacy, but the Agora played host to many important civic festivals, and the Street of the Panathenaia passes through it from the South East corner to the North West, heading out towards the Dipylon Gate. The Athenian agora started life as a marshy plain, and ended life as a residential district of Ottoman and then independent Greece: at the start of the 20th century, the inhabitants were relocated, and in the 1930s large-scale excavation began under the aegis of the ASCSA.

The earliest evidence of human activity here dates from the Neolithic. A large Mycenaean cemetary, centred on the slopes of the Areopagus, covered part of this area, and burials continued into the Geometric. There was also some settlement: we have early well-shafts indicating this. But this site that we're standing on wasn't the first commercial centre of ancient Athens: in the Archaic period the administrative centre lay to the east below the citadel. Ancient sources testify to this, placing it directly in the neighbourhood of the Aglaurion [a sanctuary beneath the Erectheion], and they are supported by the find of an inscription in a cave on the east slope of the Acropolis. Up until now no archaeological remains of the Archaic agora have been found.

The partial removal of the Agora to the flat area north of the Acropolis may be connected with the beginning of Attic democracy under Kleisthenes; perhaps the Agora used earlier by the Peisistratids was integrated into the administrative centre of the new constitution. Some important functions did remain in the Archaic Agora: the Prytaneion continued to be there and the young ephebes were also sworn in there until late Antiquity, and the list of their names exhibited there engraved on marble stelai.

From the late sixth century BC the Agora developed as the centre of the city of Athens; the area was marked off with boundary stones (‘I am the boundary of the Agora’ is inscribed on them) from the public streets surrounding it, and the first civic buildings were put up for the administration of the city-state. They lay on the west side at the foot of the hill of Kolonos Agoraios, where we see the Hephaisteion.

The thing to remember about the Agora is that it's not a static site. Some of the buildings here were built early on and lasted for centuries, like the Hephaisteion, and a couple of the buildings we're going to look at, the Stoa of Zeus and the Royal Stoa. Others were dismantled and built over, and there were always buildings being erected and being taken (or falling) down. It's what makes it such a complicated site, and it's what means I get turned around here a lot.

Now, let's walk around the south edge of the agora and peer at the remains of the South Stoa. We'll walk around the south, pass under the lee of the Kolonos Agoraios, and finish up at the Hephaesteion. After which you'll have some time to poke about on your own, see the museum, and go get lunch: we will reconvene at the Stoa of Attalos after lunch to proceed to the Acropolis.

There were two South Stoas on this site. The first, SSI, dates from the Classical period. It's constructed is dated to 430-420 BC, during the Peleponnesian war. It seems to have served an official commercial function, and consisted of a double colonnade, Doric in order, with sixteen rooms behind. The lower parts were built of large squared blocks, but the upper were of mud brick covered in plaster, evidence of economising. SSI stood for about 270 years, but about 150 BC it was dismantled to be replaced by the second, Hellenistic South Stoa (SSII). Evidence from excavation suggests SSII served as a public commercial building, with a large number of bronze coins found. The doors to the rooms are offset, allowing the installation of couches for symposiastic dining. At a later date some of these rooms were fitted with simple benches instead of dining couches. It has been suggested that this is where some of the officials of some of the public boards and commissions who oversaw day-to-day civic business held office and dined at public expense. An inscription, found in 1967 close nearby, adds weight to this, since it recoards the handing over of official weights and measures to the metronomoi, the inspectors of weights and measures.

To the east of the SS very close by, is building first excavated in the 1950s and identified as the city Mint, where coinage was produced. It lies between the Panathenaic way, to its north, and an archaic fountainhouse. Inside the building were found furnaces for bronze-working, slag, water-basins, unstruck coin-blanks and other such things. From this evidence, we know that Athenian bronze coins were struck here in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, tho' the building itself is earlier, and according to pottery finds under its lowest floor, should be dated to c400 BC. This is earlier than many numismatists would prefer to date the striking of bronze coinage by the Athenians, although there are a handful of 5th century literary mentions of coins known as "chalkous," bronzes.

To the west of the SS, there stood the Heliaia, or lawcourts of the city of Athens. This building was one of the oldest constructions in the Agora, and unlike several other buildings, wasn't done away with until the Late Roman period.

Now, the first building in the lee of the Kolonos Agoraios that we're interested in is the Tholos. It's the headquarters of the prytaneis, which was essentially the executive committee of the Boule. Volunteers to explain what the boule and the prytaneis did? If I don't get volunteers, I'm going to conscript you. (Contingent of 50 men from each of 10 tribes. During the 35-36 days a tribal contingent held this presidency, 50 councillors were required to eat in the Tholos, and at least one third of them had to remain there overnight.) Essentially, it served as a dining hall.

In early times they were fed cheese, barley cakes, olives, leeks and wine, though by the late 5th century the menu also included meat and fish.

The Bouleterion, both the New Bouleterion and the Old Bouleterion, are just north of the Tholos. The Old Bouleterion dates to the 6th century BC. The New Bouleterion was built between 415 BC and 406 BC immediately west of it, and is very poorly preserved. Most likely the councillors sat on simple wooden benches. Pausanias describes it thus:

"Nearby is a bouleterion of the 500 who serve on the council of Athens for a year. In it stands a wooden image of Zeus Boulaios, an Apollo by Peisias, and a Demos by Lyson. The Thesmothetai were painted by Protogenes of Kaunos, Olbiades painted the picture of Kallippos, who led the Athenians to Thermopylai to guard against the incursion of the Gauls into Greece."

The Boule met daily except during festivals. A volunteer to explain the difference between the boule and the ekklesia? (Ekklesia all citizens, met every ten days to vote on legislation proposed by the Boule, met on the Pnyx.)

The archives of the city were kept in the Old Bouleterion even when it was in use for the Boule, and remained there after the construction of the new Boule. It became known as the Metroon, the sanctuary of Rhea, mother of the gods.

Directly in front of the New Bouleterion and intimately associated with the heart of Athenian democracy is the monument to the Eponymous Heroes. The earliest references to this altar come from Aristophanes in the 420s BC, although its present location dates only to the years around 330. Volunteer: what can you tell me about the Eponymous Heroes?

They're a result of the reforms of Kleisthenes, c.508 BC. He's credited with abolishing the old four Athenian tribes and created ten new ones, which were then associated with thirty geographical demes, ten each from city, inland, and coast. Membership in the tribes was hereditary and citizenship required tribal membership. Citizens fought in the army as part of tribal contingents, sat in the boule in tribal contingents, sacrificed to the eponymous hero and ate the resulting meat as part of tribal contingents, forming bonds of new loyalty. In order to properly sanctify this new arrangement, Kleisthenes sent the names of one hundred early Athenian heroes to Delphi, and the oracle picked out ten after whom the new tribes were named. The 4th century monument of the Epoynous Heroes was a long statue base which carried bronze statues of each of the ten heroes, with tripods at either end, standing on a high pedestal about 16mx2m, the whole base surrounded by stone fence posts with wooden railings. Notices concerning members of the tribes would be hung on the front of the base beneath the appropriate tribal hero, like lists for military conscriptions and public honours. General announcements, like the legislation to be submitted to the ekklesia, was also displayed here several days in advance.

I end part one here. Part two will complete the tour.
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A few words on the stoas that cluster here, at the NW end of the agora. There were four here in close proximity, the Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios, the Royal Stoa, and outside the extent of the present archaeological park, to the north across the railway, the Stoa of the Hermes and the Stoa Poikile, or Painted Stoa. These date from the 5th century BC, with the exception of the Royal Stoa, which was already here in the 6th century BC. I'm going to say a few words about the Stoa Poikile, the Stoa of Z.E. and the Royal Stoa. I want a volunteer to look up the Stoa of the Hermes and report back to me tomorrow, when we visit the Kerameikos. I will buy said volunteer an icecream.

Okay, let's start with the Stoa Poikile. You can read all about the paintings in Pausanias: the building presently believed to be the Painted Stoa was uncovered in the excavations of 1981 and much of it still remains under modern buildings. It measures 12.5m in width, and must be at least 36m long, possibly more. Doric in order outside, it had a row of interior Ionic columns. Most of the building was limestone, but the Ionic capitals were marble. It dates to 475-450 BC, and has a really choice location, looking right up the Panathenaic Way to the Acropolis. This stoa, in addition to housing paintings, also housed physical reminders of military triumphs, bronze shields taken from the enemy. The SP had no fixed function, being sometimes used for official functions and legal proceedings, but the written sources make reference to sword-swallowers, beggars, jugglers, fishmongers, and it seems to have usually attracted a crowd. It is associated with the teaching of philosophy, including Cynicism, but most famously - can any tell me? Stoicism.

A volunteer to tell me who began the Stoic school in philosophy, and when? (Zeno from Kition in Cyprus, who came to Athens around 300BC. You can look him up in the writings of Diogenes Laertius.)

The Stoa of Z.E. was not a secular building, being dedicated to the cult of Zeus Eleutherios (Freedom), a cult said to have been founded after the defeat of the Persians at Plataia. A building of the Doric order with two projecting wings, its construction is dated to 430-420BC, during the Peleponnesian war. The facade was, unusually, of Pentelic marble. The building was adorned with the shields of men who'd died while fighting for Athens. Socrates is said to have his friends and pupils there. It may have had a further administrative use as the official gathering-place of the judicial archons, the Thesmothetai.

The Royal Stoa was first built in the Archaic period, towards the end of the 6th century BC. Badly damaged in the Persian sack of 480, it was extensively rebuilt later in the century. Here the king archon, the archon basileus, held office, assisted by two paredroi (assessors). He was responsible for religious matters. In front of the Royal Stoa is a large unworked block of hard limestone, and it is thought that this is the Oath Stone, upon which various magistrates had to take an oath to guard the laws, uphold the constitution of Solon, and things like that. Read your Aristotle and your Plutarch and your Plato, ladies and gentlemen, they will tell you more. Plato, in particular, will tell you that this is where Socrates was indicted for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens.

Now let us stagger by degrees up the slope to the Hephaisteion. At the top, gather in the shade.

The Hephaisteion is contemporaneous with the buildings of the Periklean building programme, but is not, strictly speaking, part of the rebuilding after the destruction of the Persian invasion. There's no evidence of a prior structure on this site. And the Hephaisteion is one of the most complete surviving temples from the ancient world. It was long identified as the Theseion, and it has been also suggested that it was sacred to Artemis, but by far the most widely accepted identification is that of a temple sacred to Hephaistos and to Athena. The god of the forge and the goddess of crafts together overlook the commercial heart of the ancient city. Bronze- and iron-working pits and slag have been found on the slopes.

Except for the Parthenon, the Hephaisteion carries more sculptural decoration than any other temple. It owes its present state of preservation to its early (7th century CE, at best guess, dedicated to Saint Giorgos) conversion into a church. It's built largely of Pentelic marble, with the except of the limestone lower step, and sculptural decoration, which was carved of marble from the islands. The metopes of the front frieze carry the labours of Herakles, the easternmost metopes on both sides labours of Theseus. Other sculptural decoration includes the Centauromachy. Inside the temple were statues of Hephaistos and Athena in bronze by the sculptor Alkamenes.

The area around the temple was landscaped into a garden in antiquity. This has been reconstructed, insofar as possible, and the plants you see around you are as close as can be got to the contents of an ancient Greek temple garden.

A few more words before we release you to poke around on your own, visit the museum in the Stoa of Attalos - visit it! no skiving off for beer and crisps first - and have lunch. I want you to look down into the centre of the agora. No, not right now, but on your way back down. From the first century CE, it became a very busy place. The 5th century temple of Ares was taken up and moved stone by stone into the centre of the Agora in the 1st century CE. An odeion was built in front of the Middle Stoa. More temples and altars and statues were set up. A library - the library of Pantainos - was built south of the Stoa of Attalos. It became so busy, in fact, that much of the city's commercial enterprises moved off east to the Roman Forum.

In the Late Roman period, the Odeion, Middle and South Stoas were demolished and replaced by a large gynasium. It was no longer the city's beating heart, and Athens was no longer the proudest city of Greece. That honour moved north, to Constantinople, and during the Byzantine and then Ottoman period, the agora became a residential area. The 19th century, after the Greek state achieved its independence, saw renewed interest in the Greek past, and towards the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, the inhabitants were relocated and excavations began.

Now go away and for Zeus's sake remember to drink lots of water.

We will continue this endeavour in "Notes for a tour of the South Slope of the Acropolis." Later. Tomorrow later.


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