Jul. 24th, 2012

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The South Slope of the Athenian Acropolis lies at the heart of the sacred architecture of ancient Athens, second only in importance to the top of the acropolis rock. There is evidence here for its habitation from the Late Neolithic, with finds recovered west of the Asklepieion and from a cave north of the Theatre of Dionysos. A Middle Helladic tumulus (1900-1600 BC) was excavated to the west of the Asklepieion at the end of the 19th century, and Late Helladic (1600-1050 BC) wells were uncovered north of the Stoa of Eumenes. Are you looking at your maps? Good. The area here was probably incorporated within the 13th BC fortification wall known as the Pelargikon, and the finds indication that from this point, the South Slope was continuously occupied, although we do not know the forms of its occupation until the Archaic period.

The first structures here were a springhouse and the Archaic, Peisistratid temple of Dionysos. The Peripteros, the road leading around the acropolis rock, was already in existence. Since we're following the road down from the Propylon and the temple of Athena, we won't be taking a strictly chronological approach. So before we talk about the Roman Odeion of Herodes Atticus that you see down there and that's the first stop on our list, I want to tell you about the Byzantine and Ottoman remains from the South Slope, which consist largely of fortifications. In the 13th century CE, the Byzantines fortified the area with a wall, call the Rizokastro wall. During the 14th century, during the time when Frankish crusaders had divvied up the former Byzantine possessions, the area was largely deserted, but when the Ottomans conquered Athens they resettled this area and repaired the part of the wall which enclosed the the Odeion of Herodes Atticus as far as the Theatre of Dionysos. In the 18th century, they built a new wall, called the Haseki wall, after the voivode, or governor, of Athens of that time. So it was a well-defended part of the acropolis citadel.

So, the Odeion of our favourite embellisher of Greek cities, the Athenian orator, Roman senator, and friend of the emperor Hadrian Herodes Atticus. He built it in the second half of the 2nd century CE, in memory of his wife Regilla. Mind you, Regilla's brother accused him of beating her to death and took him to court, so this might have been part of good PR for old Herodes. (He got off, of course. Friend of the emperor, remember?) As you can see, it's pretty impressive. Built to hold an audience of 5000, the seats are made of marble, the orchestra was paved with marble slabs, and the poros limestone wall of the stage building is almost completely preserved to its original height of 28m. It was partially roofed in wood, which probably burned when the Herules (barbarians from the north, oh noes!) invaded in 267 CE. Its restoration to its present state dates to the 1950s, and today it plays host to outdoor performances.

Next on our way down is the terrace of the South Slope, which played host to numerous sanctuaries. The oldest that we know of is a sanctuary to the Nymphs, established in the 7th century. It was an open air sanctuary, and women dedicated loutrophoroi to the nymphs. But! Do not be too certain that it stayed a sanctuary to the Nymphs forever, for the archaeology of the South Slope terrace is much contested, and we have evidence to suggest that the nymphs lost part of their sanctuary to a temple of Aphrodite, who was superseded by Isis by the Roman period. For the sanctuary of Isis and interesting discussion of the problems presented by this terrace, I refer you to Susan Walker's 1979 article in the Annual of the British School at Athens, "A Sanctuary of Isis on the South Slope of the Acropolis," available on JSTOR. Do I have a volunteer to look it up and give us all a summary tomorrow?

Moving along! To your right, you see the remains of the Stoa of Eumenes. Eumenes, like Attalos, was another king from Pergamon, and he donated this stoa around 160BC. It originally had two storyes, the bottom with a Doric exterior colonnade and and Ionic colonnade, and the top with Ionic pillars outside and columns with capitals in the slightly different Pergamene style inside. Interestingly enough, most of the fancy building materials were carved in Pergamon and transported to Athens. According to Vitruvius, audiences from the Odeion and the Theatre took refuge here in bad weather. In the late 3rd century CE, it was dismantled and used as building material for the Late Roman fortification wall, after the Herulian incursion.

And now for a structure very close to my heart, the city Asklepieion of Athens.It is situated between the Peripatos, the processional route which circumnavigated the acropolis, and the acropolis rock. The easternmost end of this terrace is bounded at the south by the retaining wall of the Theatre of Dionysos, and at the north by a cut-away of the facing rock of the acropolis. The terrace adjacent to the east contains the remains of a spring house originally built in the sixth century BCE, and a building of the Ionic order with four rooms behind a porch. It also contains the foundations of temples to Isis and Themis.T he early Asklepieion is defined by the bomos and the bothros, the altar and the sacred pit. The dating of the pit is disputed: its lip can be dated no earlier than 350 BCE, due to the materials and manner of its construction. The function of this pit is obscure, although care was taken to incorporate it into the plan of the later Doric stoa. It is possible that it was a reservoir. It may predate the sanctuary, but was certainly part of the sanctuary from the first quarter of the fourth century BCE, along with the peribolos, or enclosing wall.

The early sanctuary of Asklepios consisted of the altar and the bothros which may have been a water reservoir, and thus used for purification, entered from a wooden propylon and surrounded by an enclosing wall. The unbuilt area would have been planted with appropriate vegetation and very quickly it would have begun to fill up with dedications: pinakes, inscriptions, etc. This is the basic outline of the sanctuary for approximately the first hundred years of its existence. Changes to the sanctuary's plan, including the construction of a temple building and a covered stoa, would take place during the third century BCE.
On the north side of the shrine, a Doric stoa was built circa 300/299 BCE, the remains of which are still to be seen today. This stoa incorporates the bothros at its western end. It also gives access to the Round Spring House on the adjacent terrace by a shallow tunnel in the rear wall, just east of the short axis of the stoa. During the imperial period, this stoa was rebuilt with changes in plan, most probably in the 2nd century CE.

In the centre of the sanctuary are the foundations of a small temple, as well as the altar discussed above. The surviving remains of the temple are not earlier than c.300 BCE. This temple would be equidistant between the Doric stoa and the Corinthian stoa built on the south side of the sanctuary in the first century BC and dated by inscriptions to the reign of Augustus.

Bored yet, ladies and gentlemen? Want to ask me about what Asklepios did? He's a healing deity, and if you're interested in learning more (much more) catch up to me later and I will fill your ears. But it's damn hot, it's been a long day, and we still have the Theatre of Dionysos to talk about before we can flee into the blessed cool of the Acropolis Museum down over there.

Part two to arrive later.
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Section 1:

τοσαῦτα εἰπὼν καὶ διαλύσας τὸν ξύλλογον ὁ Ἀρχίδαμος Μελήσιππον πρῶτον ἀποστέλλει ἐς τὰς Ἀθήνας τὸν Διακρίτου ἄνδρα Σπαρτιάτην, εἴ τι ἄρα μᾶλλον ἐνδοῖεν οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι ὁρῶντες σφᾶς ἤδη ἐν ὁδῷ ὄντας.

When he had said these things and dissolved the assembly, Archidamos first dispatched into Athens Melesippos the son of Diakritos (Excellence), a Spartan man, in case the Athenians were more inclined to concede anything, when they saw that they [the Spartains] were already on the road.

Section 2:

οἱ δὲ οὐ προσεδέξαντο αὐτὸν ἐς τὴν πόλιν οὐδ᾽ ἐπὶ τὸ κοινόν: ἦν γὰρ Περικλέους γνώμη πρότερον νενικηκυῖα κήρυκα καὶ πρεσβείαν μὴ προσδέχεσθαι Λακεδαιμονίων ἐξεστρατευμένων: ἀποπέμπουσιν οὖν αὐτὸν πρὶν ἀκοῦσαι καὶ ἐκέλευον ἐκτὸς ὅρων εἶναι αὐθημερόν, τό τε λοιπὸν ἀναχωρήσαντας ἐπὶ τὰ σφέτερα αὐτῶν, ἤν τι βούλωνται, πρεσβεύεσθαι. ξυμπέμπουσί τε τῷ Μελησίππῳ ἀγωγούς, ὅπως μηδενὶ ξυγγένηται.

They did not receive him hospitably into the city, nor before the public: for there was a motion of Perikles which had prevailed first, to not admit a herald or an ambassador of the Lakedaimonians if they had already marched out. So they dismissed him with hearing him, and commanded him to be outside of the boundaries that very day, and the rest [of his people] were to retire back on their own territories, if they wanted to send an embassy. They sent with Melesippos guides, so that no one should converse [with him].

Section 3:

ὁ δ᾽ ἐπειδὴ ἐπὶ τοῖς ὁρίοις ἐγένετο καὶ ἔμελλε διαλύσεσθαι, τοσόνδε εἰπὼν ἐπορεύετο ὅτι ‘ἥδε ἡ ἡμέρα τοῖς Ἕλλησι μεγάλων κακῶν ἄρξει.’

And he, when he went to the boundaries and was about to be parted [from his guides], he went across saying so strongly that, "This the day will be the beginning of many evils for the Greeks."

Section 4:

ὡς δὲ ἀφίκετο ἐς τὸ στρατόπεδον καὶ ἔγνω ὁ Ἀρχίδαμος ὅτι οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι οὐδέν πω ἐνδώσουσιν, οὕτω δὴ ἄρας τῷ στρατῷ προυχώρει ἐς τὴν γῆν αὐτῶν.

When he arrived at the encampment and Archidamos knew that the Athenians would concede nothing yet, in this way setting out with the army, he advanced into their land.

Section 5:

Βοιωτοὶ δὲ μέρος μὲν τὸ σφέτερον καὶ τοὺς ἱππέας παρείχοντο Πελοποννησίοις ξυστρατεύειν, τοῖς δὲ λειπομένοις ἐς Πλάταιαν ἐλθόντες τὴν γῆν ἐδῄουν.

And the Boietians handed over their own share and their cavalry to the Peleponnesians to join the expedition, and with the remaining men, going to Plataia, they ravaged the land.
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The Theatre of Dionysos.

The Theatre of Dionysos lies within the sanctuary precinct of Dionysos Eleutherios, which dates from the Archaic period. It was first established under the Peisistratids, and it's this area that was at the heart of the celebrations of the Greater or City Dionysia, which took place around March or April yearly. During this festival, it hosted the dramatic competition. Each drama's chorus and production was sponsored by wealthy citizens or occasionally very wealthy and respected metics, resident foreigners. On the first day of the festival, there was a procession in which citizens and metics and so on carried a statue of Dionysos to the Theatre. Large wooden or phalloi were also carried on poles, and a cart pulled an even larger representation of the male genitalia. The bulls for the sacrifice were led along, and the chorus-sponsors, dressed in the richest materials. The choruses then competed in the dithyrambic competitions, and the bulls were sacrificed. After the sacrifice - meat! - a feast. Then there was another procession, most likely involving drunken revelry.

Then, the next day, the judges for the dramatic competition were chosen by lot, and the names of the plays read out. We don't know where this happened in the earliest times, but after the mid-5th-century BC, this happened in the Odeion of Perikles. Which I'm not talking about, but guess what? I wanted a volunteer to look it up and tell us about it tomorrow!

I promise, Athens is the only place where I will make you look stuff up. And I'll buy you icecream for doing so, so I think you're getting the best of this deal.

At least three days of the festival were set aside for tragic competition. Each of the three playwrights permitted to compete put on his three tragedies and one satyr-play on the successive days. Most of our extant Greek tragedies had their first performance here. Women, with the exception of a handful of priestesses, probably didn't form much of the audience - which is something to consider. After 486 BC, comic playwrights were allowed to compete - five of them were allowed to compete, but they only put on one play each. After the high point of Classical tragedy, new plays were written and performed on down to the 2nd century BC, but with frequent restagings of our surviving Classical greats. New plays, it seems, stopped being performed from the 2nd century on. Although the dramas were still produced after this, the prizes went to the sponsors and the actors instead.

The last procession and celebration was held on the final day, when the winners were crowned with ivy. Drinking, dancing, sacred revelry etc: the whole thing lasted about a week. And it had ties to the Eleusinian mysteries. Any volunteers to look up what those ties were? No? Well, we'll talk about it if we get to Eleusis, because I need to say something about the actual archaeology.

Excavations on this site started in 1836, six years after the treaty in which the Ottoman state recognised the newly independent Greek nation, and continued throughout the 19th century. The early theatre was very simple, merely a flat orchestra surrounded by a few rows of wooden benches stretching up the acropolis slope. The skene, or stage-building, was also made of wood. There was also a Peistratid-era temple.

In its present form, the theatre largely dates from the 4th century BC, although some of the wooden structures were replaced by stone before the end of the 5th century. In the 4th century, the politician Lykurgos, who had wrangled himself a job in charge of the city's finances, saw to its monumentalisation. At this time a larger, finer temple of Dionysos was also constructed to house the chryselephantine statue of the god, by the sculptor Alkamenes. This sculpture in fact predated the 4th century temple construction.

I'm not going to give you dimensions and shit like that. If you really want to know how many metres the 4th century theatre measured, you'll go look it up, or, well - look around you. The skene here is the earliest which has standing remains. The skene had projecting wings that probably helped with stage-setting, and look at the seating! Three sections!

Some minor alterations took place in the Hellenistic period, with 67 marble thrones added around the periphery of the orchestra, inscribed with dignitaries' names. It was damaged by the Sullan sack, but repaired. By the 1st century CE, the floor of the orchestra was paved with marble slabs, and an entirely new skene, stage frontage, dedicated to Dionysos and the emperor Nero, was added. Hadrian embellished it with more reliefs. It sometimes housed meetings of the Athenian assembly. In the late 2nd century, a high bema was erected around the (by now semi-circular) orchestra, and after this it was known to play host to Roman amusements like gladiatorial fights and beast-fighting. By the 7th century, it had fallen out of use and been destroyed.

Up on the sope of the acropolis above us, before we stagger onwards towards the shade, is the choregic monument of Thrasyllos, erected in 320/319BC. It enclosed a cave mouth in the natural rock of the acropolis. In Christian times, this place was host to a chapel of the Panaghia of the Cave.

And off over there is the Odeion of Perikles. Behind it, you can follow the road around to the Street of the Tripods, where the choregic and dramatic victors set up dedications to commemorate their success.

You now have five minutes to bugger off and take photographs, before we continue on down to the Acropolis Museum.

We will continue this series tomorrow, in Study tour notes for the Kerameikos.


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