The Rebirth of Athens in the Roman Empire

Illustrations of Roman Athens /

Lecture by Dr. Diana E.E. Kleiner / 04.09.2009
Dunham Professor, History of  Art and Classics
Yale University

Introduction to Greek and Roman Athens

We have seen the Hellenization of Roman architecture, about the impact that Greek architecture had on Roman architecture. And we’ve talked in particular about the two philhellenic emperors, Augustus and also Hadrian, and the kinds of monuments they commissioned during their reign that were so clearly based on those in ancient Athens, especially of the Classical period, the cradle of civilization, and where scholars often speak of as the birth of democracy. I want to turn full circle to the whole question of Athens, by looking at Athens itself, because Athens also became a Roman colony. And you won’t be surprised to hear that it was built up under primarily two Roman emperors, namely Augustus and Hadrian, just as one would expect, the two major philhellenic Roman emperors.

Athens aerial view / Wikimedia Commons

I show you a spectacular view of Athens as it looks today. And you can see here that the city of Athens–and some of its antiquities extremely well preserved–is a city that is located — it’s actually a city that’s located in plains [on a plain], surrounded by mountains. And it also has three major hills, as I think you can see from this extraordinary image. One of those hills, of course, is the famous Acropolis. And I think, by the way, if one were to make–I don’t how many of you have been to Athens, but if one were to make a list of the ten places that one really must see, at some point during their lives, and experience, Athens is certainly one of them, mainly for the Acropolis, which you see in the center of this image here. That’s one of the major hills. The other two are Mount Lycabettus, which you see in the uppermost part; that’s actually the highest hill of Athens. And then there’s another one called the Mouseion Hill, which we’re going to actually talk about today, because there’s an important monument there — the Mouseion Hill or the Hill of the Muses. It’s located off this image, right where I’m standing here.

And those three hills, as you can see, rise up in the city of Athens. And it’s not surprising–and the rest of it surrounded essentially by a city that was constructed primarily after World War II, mainly residential houses of six, five, six stories, residences that are mostly white in color, as I think you can see here. But the Acropolis rising up in the center in an amazing way. The city of Athens we know was founded in the Neolithic period; it was founded in the Neolithic period. So it goes way back, in the same way that Rome does. And it’s not surprising to see them founding the city of Athens on one of those hills. And which hill do they pick? They pick the hill that’s the flattest, which makes it easiest to build on, and that is the rock of the Acropolis itself. So they put their religious structures on the Acropolis, and then over time the city begins to grow up around the rock of the Acropolis.

Now this is very interesting because if you think back to Rome and its beginnings, you’ll recall that Rome too was founded on a hill, because hills can be most readily fortified. So Rome was founded, you’ll recall, essentially on two hills, on the Palatine Hill, by Romulus, where he established residences, but also on the Capitoline Hill where they built the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus — so that being the religious center of the city. We see the same sort of thing happening here: the city growing up on the Acropolis, and then we’ll see that the meeting and marketplace is down below, in a valley, below the Acropolis, in the same way that the Roman Forum, or what became the Roman Forum, was in the valley beneath the Palatine Hill, and also the Capitoline Hill in Rome. So very similar beginnings for Greece, as also for Rome.

As you all know, Athens thrived particularly, Greece in general thrived particularly in the fifth century B.C., under Pericles, and continued to thrive into the Hellenistic period. But it was in 86 B.C. that Sulla, the Roman general Sulla, sacked Athens, sacked Athens, made Athens a Roman colony, and in fact destroyed the walls of the city of Athens. So that obviously a very major point in the history of Athens. When scholars talk about architecture that was put up by the Romans in Athens, during Roman times, they talk about it as being primarily uninspired and rather derivative. And you’ll find this in your textbook. Ward-Perkins talks about how derivative Roman architecture in Greece is, of its earlier counterparts, that is, from Classical and Hellenistic Athens. And I think he has a point, and it’s something that we should all think about as a group, whether we think that the buildings that we look at today are, for the most part, derivative from the Classical and Hellenistic past.

But I think to say only that is to miss the point in part, because what we are also going to see, as we look at these buildings today, is that the extraordinary marbles that come from this part of the world, Greek marbles–and we’ll talk about a number of them today–the quality of those is so high that it’s hard to imagine any building made out of these, not spectacular, just for the materials alone. And also because the artists and the architects, and the artisans who are responsible for carving this marble, had been carving it for centuries, and consequently they were particularly skilled at carving marble. And so what they produced has great beauty, as I think you’ll see today. So those two, again a very important point, I believe, about the quality of these works of art. And we’re also going to see works of architecture. We’re also going to see that at least two of them, in my opinion, are really distinctive structures; different than anything we’ve seen before. And I think that you’ll find they’re quite innovative in their own way. And we will look at, as I said, both of those today.

The city of Athens began to be excavated by archaeologists in the 1930s [correction: 1830s], and those excavations, which were scientific, very careful scientific excavations, those excavations, combined with information that we have from a writer of the Greco-Roman past, a man by the name of Pausanias, P-a-u-s-a-n-i-a-s, Pausanias, who was a Greek of the second century A.D., who traveled around Greece and described everything that he saw, and he created, in essence, a guidebook to the great Greek and Roman antiquities. The combination of his descriptions, from the second century, firsthand descriptions of the monuments that stood in the second century, along with the scientific excavations of the 1930s [1830s] and since, allow us to get an excellent sense of what, not only what, as we look at the remains today, not only of what was there, is there now, and was there once upon a time, but what these buildings actually were; their identities and what their function was in Athens, either in Greek or in Roman times. And we will use the information provided by both of those today to allow us to reconstruct the city, the Roman city in particular.

Erechtheion (“Porch of Maidens”), Athens / Wikimedia Commons

Now the building– as you can see from the view of the Acropolis, there are a number of Greek structures on the top of the Acropolis, and I’ll show them to you later. These include the great Greek entryway of the fifth century B.C., the so-called Propylaia; the famous Parthenon of course; the small Temple of Athena Nike; and also the Erechtheion, which is the only building we’ve really discussed in any detail in the course of this semester. A fifth century B.C. building–you see it here in an extraordinary view above, which we believe was built sometime between about 421 and 406 B.C., And the reason that it’s important is not only because it’s an incredible example of fifth-century Greek architecture, but also because of the buildings up on the Acropolis it is the one that seems to have captured the imagination of Augustus, and also Hadrian, when both of them visited the city of Athens, but also of the Romans as a whole. And you’ll remember the reason for that is essentially the Porch of the Maidens, which you can see so well in this view — the Porch of the Maidens that exerted a very strong impact on Augustus and Hadrian.

Before I talk a little bit more about the Porch of the Maidens though, just something about the rest of the construction. You can see as you look at the columns that they are of the Ionic order, a particularly attractive and elegant version of the Ionic order, with the Ionic capitals, with their very attractive volutes. You can also see the materials that are used here. What you can’t see is what’s used for the foundations. That material is called poros, used for the foundations of the Erechtheion and also many other of the buildings that we’ll look at today. And then most importantly, most of the building, the walls and the columns, are made out of pentelic marble, which is from Mount Pentelikon in Greece and is the marble that is used most often for buildings in Athens, both in Greek times and also in Roman times, as we shall see today. And it’s characterized by being gleaming white, really blindingly white, as one looks at it in the very bright Greek sun against the blue sky.

With regard to the caryatid porch, the Porch of the Maidens, the very famous Porch of the Maidens, you’ll recall that both Augustus and Hadrian visited Athens. They both saw this monument. The Erechtheion had fallen into disrepair by the age of Augustus, and Augustus was so admiring of this porch that he made the decision to have his own architects and artisans come to Athens to repair the porch. And they not only repaired the maidens, themselves, but also replaced one. One was in such bad shape–I think it was the one in the back right–it was in such bad shape that they restored that one entirely. When they were there, looking at those maidens, restoring them, they were so taken by them that they made plaster casts of those, and they brought them back to Rome. And you’ll recall that they were used in Rome as the models for maidens that were put up.

Erechtheion (“Porch of Maidens”) / Wikimedia Commons


Forum of Augustus caryatids / Photos by Diana E.E. Kleiner, Yale University, Creative Commons

Hadrian’s Villa Canopus caryatids / Photo by Patrick Denker, Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a view, of course, of those on the Acropolis, from the front. They made reduced scale copies for the Forum of Augustus in Rome, the second story of the Forum of Augustus, as you’ll recall. And then down here you’ll be reminded of the caryatids, also based on those of the Erechtheion: in this case to scale, same scale as those in Athens, used to line the Canopus of Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli. So both emperors, again Augustus and Hadrian, very admiring of these works of art, and wanted copies of them for, in Augustus’ case a public structure in Rome, in Hadrian’s case a private villa at Tivoli.


Caryatids found near Tomb of Annia Regilla, Rome / Wikimedia Commons

And we even believe that Herodes Atticus, in the tomb that he made for Annia Regilla in Rome, that brick tomb, the second century A.D. on the Via Appia, there were two female figures that were found near, excavated near that tomb, and it has been suggested that they too may belong to that tomb. And while they are variations rather than copies, you can see that they too owe their origins to the caryatids. So this building, the Erechtheion, cast a spell on Augustus and Hadrian, and was widely imitated in Rome. What we’re going to see today is that this building continued to have a very strong impact also on the buildings that these same emperors, Augustus and Hadrian, put up in Athens itself.

Augustus and the Athenian Acropolis

Before we look at Athens, I want to take a very short trip to another city, the city of Eleusis in Greece, because I want to make one more point about the caryatids and about the important exchange that we believe was going on between Rome and Athens, already in the late Caesarian period and into the age of Augustus. Augustus is sending his architects, but we think they are going back and forth, and that there is an important exchange of building techniques, as well as architectural ideas, that is happening between Rome and Greece in the age of Augustus.

Ruins of Eleusis, Greece / Wikimedia Commons

Eleusis–and you see what it looks like today–is a hilly town that is located not too far from Athens. And it was particularly popular in the Greek period because–or particularly important in the Geek period–because it had a sanctuary of the goddess Demeter, the goddess Demeter. And the goddess Demeter, surrounding her was this very important mystery religion, the so-called Eleusinian Mysteries, after Eleusis, Eleusinian Mysteries, that took place here. And people came from far and wide to partake of those Eleusinian Mysteries, and so the city was built up in Classical and Hellenistic Greek times. It also remained important in the time of Caesar and into the time of Augustus, and actually into the first and second centuries A.D., and over time decisions were made to add to the Sanctuary of Demeter, by the Roman emperors and generals, and also–and using, of course the service of their own architects from Rome, but working in concert with those in Greece.

Acropolis 3D model / Yale University, Creative Commons

I want to begin again with the Acropolis. Here are 3D versions of the ancient buildings. And we can see the ones that I’ve already mentioned. As you enter, you see the Greek Propylaia, of the fifth century B.C.. You see the Parthenon, which is the largest building, a Doric building, on top of the Acropolis. And then to its left you see the Erechtheion.

Temple of Roma and Augustus, Acropolis, Athens / Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto, Wikimedia Commons

I want to turn to what’s interesting actually about what the Romans do in the age of Augustus, when Augustus goes up here himself, sends his architects to repair the porch, is a decision is made to build a little shrine to Augustus and to Rome: a Temple to Augustus and Roma. And they decide to put it in the back left corner of the Parthenon. And you can barely see it the 3D illustration above, but it’s a small round building at the uppermost part of the Parthenon, between that and the museum, and they build that from scratch. But they also take a pillar that is located right at the beginning, or right in front of the Propylaia that was put up in Hellenistic times, and they transform that into a Roman monument.

Location of Temple of Roma and Augustus on the Acropolis / City of Athens, Creative Commons

The fact that the Temple of Roma and Augustus is so small I think is strikingly interesting, because it shows that although Augustus was willing to have a building put up to himself, and to Roma, on the Greek Acropolis, and so he wanted to make his presence known, he did it in a very modest and very respectful way, it seems to me. He could’ve built much larger than he did, and he opted not to do that, which tells us something about Augustus and perhaps his reverence for things Greek.

Temple of Roma and Augustus / Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto, Wikimedia Commons

It’s not standing any longer, but you can see parts of columns and parts of the curved entablature, curved architrave, and some of the other building elements very clearly here, including one of the capitals. Again it was a round structure. It had nine Ionic columns. It was made entirely out of stone, and it had a sloping stone roof. And this restored view shows us exactly what it looked like, as well as how small it was in relationship to the Parthenon, which absolutely dwarfs it in scale, as you can see in this restored view. Here, the small Temple of Augustus and Roma. It was built sometime after 27 B.C., and you see it here: Ionic capitals and then a sloping stone roof.


Ionic capital from the Temple of Roma and Augustus (left) and the north porch of the Erechtheion (right) / Wikimedia Commons

You can see one of those Ionic capitals still preserved here, and we compare that Ionic capital to the Ionic capitals of the Erechtheion in Athens, on the Acropolis, we see the close resemblance between the two. And the reason for this almost certainly that because Augustus’ architects were working on the Erechtheion, were restoring it, were repairing it, they were captivated, not just by the caryatids, but also by the rest of the structure: by the quality of the marble, by the attractiveness of the Ionic columns, with their spiral volutes at the top. And they not surprisingly used those as the model for the capitals that they carved for the small shrine of the Temple of Augustus and Roma.

Eleusinian marble frieze on the Erechtheion / Wikimedia Commons

But I think it also shows their reverence for things Greek, and their desire to establish a dialogue between the fifth century B.C. structure and the Roman structure built right after Augustus became emperor. I wanted to mention one other material that is used in the Erechtheion. We talked about the poros for the foundations, the pentelic marble for the walls and the columns. But if you look here you’ll see the slight blue cast to the marble that is used for the frieze. That is so-called Eleusinian marble, from that part, from the Eleusis area of Greece: Eleusinian marble with this slightly blue cast, and that is used in the Erechtheion as well.

Agrippa’s Building Program in Athens

Pedestal of Agrippa, Acropolis, Athens / Photo by Kayoko Tabata, Wikimedia Commons

I mentioned that the Temple of Roma and Augustus was put up, was built from scratch; there was nothing there before and it was built anew during the Augustan period. But I also noted that there was another monument that we could call a Roman intervention to the Acropolis that was actually already there, but was transformed in Roman times. And I show it to you now.At the entrance into the Greek Propylaia of the fifth century B.C.

Pedestal of Agrippa / Wikimedia Commons

And we see next to it this pillar. It’s a very interesting pillar. It’s very prominent. It’s the first thing you see when you enter the Acropolis. So whoever built this initially wanted to be noticed; that’s for sure. And we know it was a Hellenistic king; a Hellenistic king by the name of Eumenes II, who was king of the Hellenistic Greek kingdom of Pergamon, or Pergamum –whether you use the Latin or the Greek spelling, and he commissioned this monument in 178 B.C. to honor himself. And you can see that the purpose of the monument was to create this pillar upon which a statue of him would’ve been placed. And I show you the pillar once again here. And you can see its shape. It has a stepped base and it tapers at the top. And you have to imagine a statue of Eumenes II of Pergamon on the top of this monument, in the second century B.C.

And it was altered in the first century B.C. when Marcus Agrippa, the close childhood friend, confidant, right-hand man of Augustus, his son-in-law, in fact, decided to replace the statue of Eumenes with one of himself. So he transforms this Greek Hellenistic monument into an Augustan monument: an Augustan monument that honors Agrippa. And Agrippa, it’s not surprising to see Agrippa honored in the East. He was involved in eastern military campaigns. And we’ll also see that he not only–and I mentioned this earlier in the semester–he not only instituted a building program in Rome; he was responsible for the so-called Baths of Agrippa that bear his name–not much is preserved so I didn’t show those to you–and also a Pantheon, the first Pantheon that I did mention, the Pantheon that Agrippa built, that’s referred to in the inscription that Hadrian placed on the Pantheon: “Marcus Agrippa made this building,” as you’ll recall, the Pantheon that we know had a caryatid porch.

So Agrippa in Rome is also carrying the caryatid imagery into Rome in his building program. But he also instituted a building program in Athens, as we shall see. So it was not surprising to see him honored along with Augustus on the Acropolis, and actually in a way that was much more noticeable. To be hit by that statue of Agrippa as you climbed the Acropolis and went into the Propylaia must have been very striking indeed. This particular structure is made of a different kind of Greek marble called hymettian marble, h-y-m-e-t-t-i-a-n, from Mount Hymettus: hymettian marble. You can see a little bit of pentelic here, but much of it is hymettian marble. So the Romans using–the Greeks and the Romans using a variety of marbles, but a variety of marbles that come from Greece itself; we’re not talking about imported marbles from elsewhere in the ancient world.

I mentioned already that below the Acropolis was the Greek Agora, or the meeting or marketplace. I show to you here a view from Google Earth of the Greek Agora, as it looks from the air today. You can see it is essentially an open rectangular space. It has colonnades on some of its sides; one set was re-erected. This is a structure, a covered colonnade, that comes from the Hellenistic period that was re-erected by American archaeologists who were responsible for excavating the agora. They re-erected it, in part, to use as a place to display works of art and for offices and so on. But there was more than one in Greek times. And this stoa is the counterpart to a Roman portico; a covered colonnade, but they called them stoas. So we look at the stoa here, from the Hellenistic period. There’s a Classical Greek temple, the Hephaisteion over here. And in the center there is a building called the–a music hall, that was built by Marcus Agrippa, the so-called Odeion of Agrippa, that we know quite a bit about and that we’re going to look at today.

But again what’s particularly interesting, I think, is the fact that we see the Greeks building their religious structures on the Acropolis, and then down below the meeting and marketplace. And you can see the impact that this sort of thinking must have had on the Romans when they made their own decisions about building Roman forums. But there are distinct differences–and we’ve talked about them already this semester–between a Greek agora and a Roman forum. What Greek agoras do not have is that central, that focus of having a single temple on one end, dominating the space in front of it. And they’re more square, whereas Roman forums, as we’ve discussed, are more rectangular in shape, with again the temple at the short end.


Plaka, Athens / City of Athens, Creative Commons

Any of you who’ve been to Athens know that the Agora is surrounded by an area of Athens called Plaka, a great place–a fun place to go. It has been very gentrified in recent years and now has these wonderful pastel colored restaurants and shops, with the ubiquitous white umbrellas, just as you see them in other Mediterranean countries like Italy. I lived in Athens for two years in the 1970s, and Plaka did not look like that then. But it was an incredible place to go then, as it still is now, if you want to really get into the Greek spirit and dance on tables and break plates. You could definitely do that in the ’70s; a little less ubiquitous today, but there are still places that one can find to sort of play Zorba the Greek in Plaka.

Agora, Athens / Wikimedia Commons

Odeion and Theatre of Pompeii aerial view / Getty Images

Here is a panoramic view of the Greek Agora of Athens, as it would have looked as it grew up from the Classical through the Hellenistic period. But the building in question for us is the one that is smack in the middle of the Greek temple and of the Hellenistic stoa, and that is music hall, or Odeion of Agrippa, which was put up we believe in around 15 B.C. And it’s to that structure that I want to turn now. And this building, this odeion, which Agrippa commissioned himself, is very important to us in large part because it demonstrates that ideas were not only flowing from Greece to Rome, as we’ve already both discussed today and in the past, but from Italy to Greece. And this is a prime example of that.


Plans of the Odeion of Agrippa (left) and Odeion of Pompeii (right) / Wikimedia Commons

Because if we look at this axonometric view of the Odeion of Agrippa, as designed for Agrippa, in 15 B.C., we will see that the plan of the Odeion of Agrippa is based very closely the Odeion of Pompeii. You see it here from the air, next to the Theater of Pompeii. You’ll remember that the Odeion of Pompeii dated to 80 to 70 B.C. It was quite early, built just after the Romans made Pompeii into a colony. And it is that exact plan that is used here. So clearly again an important exchange going on, of ideas, of architects, between Greece and Rome, in the Augustan period, and in this case using an Italian plan, a plan from Italy, as the basis for a structure in Greece.

We see that it follows all the features of the Pompeian structure: the semi-circular orchestra; the cavea, divided into cunei; a stage front here; pilasters, tall pilasters, on some of the walls; an open stoa on this wall over here. You can see two sets of columns, an inner row and an outer row. We know that the spectators entered the structure through this porch when they were coming to a musical recital. And over here there was another entranceway that was used by the musicians and also by visiting dignitaries.

Odeion of Agrippa restored cross-section / Wikimedia Commons

Odeion of Agrippa model / Wikimedia Commons

Another view, a cross-section of the Odeion of Agrippa–you can see it here–which shows you the same sort of thing: the tall pilasters on the outside of the structure; the entranceway through the stoa for the spectators; the other entranceway, the smaller entranceway into that part of the structure, all very well shown. And maybe, and this may even be better, this model of the Odeion of Agrippa, where we can see what it looked like from the outside. We’re looking at the northern end, which is the end where we have that small entranceway, with the–very simple temple-like in appearance. We can see a series of columns engaged into the wall; then the very tall pilasters, with windows between them. A quite conventional building, but one again clearly basing–this is the most important point that one can make about it–clearly based on an earlier model in Italy.

Corinthian capital from the Odeion of Agrippa / Wikimedia Commons

The capitals are interesting. One of them is Corinthian, as you can see here. I think that’s the outer, but I may have that backwards. One of them had Corinthian capitals, and you see those here, with the narrow–the elegant volutes growing out of–the elegant spirals growing out of the acanthus leaves. And the other is of this type; a type that we have seen before, but not frequently, where we have lotus leaves growing out of the acanthus leaves.

And that, of course, is a kind of capital that we mentioned is inspired by capitals in Egypt, and was used also much later, in much later times, at the Forum at Leptis Magna, the Severan Forum at Leptis Magna. So a type of capital that is characteristic of Egypt, that turns up here. So it’s another example of the way in which these architects and patrons are looking at models from all over the world–not only the odeion in Pompeii, but also structures from Egypt–and combining those motifs in a very–in a new way, in a very fertile mix, as you can see.

With regard to the later history of the Odeion of Agrippa, over the years students sometimes have asked me–I haven’t heard–gotten this question this semester yet–but students have asked me, or have said to me: “Professor Kleiner, you show us, in the course of this semester, all of these great works of Roman engineering and architecture–the Pantheon and the Colosseum and aqueducts and so on and so forth–and everything–you do tell us about fires, that fires sometimes destroy these works of art, or works of architecture are destroyed because other natural events, like events of nature like earthquakes and so on. But you never tell us about the buildings that failed. Were the Roman architects always successful, or did they build buildings sometimes that fell down?” And so I always use this as an example. Because yes, they sometimes did make mistakes and some of their buildings did collapse. And this is one of them, the Odeion of Agrippa.

After it was viewed and described by Pausanias, the roof collapsed; collapsed entirely. Now it had lasted quite awhile, from the time of Augustus to the time–to the second century of Pausanias, but nonetheless the roof collapsed entirely, and the roof had to be completely rebuilt. And at the same time the architects decided to modernize the northern end of the structure and to add a new portico to the building. They also changed its use, by the way, from an odeion to a general lecture hall, during that period.


Odeion of Agrippa triton remains / Wikimedia Commons

There are a series of male figures–these are male tritons, which are essentially male mermaids, on these tall decorated bases, as you can see here. And their gestures are mirror images of one another, or reversed images of one another, which creates a certain liveliness to the façade, to the northern façade, that this building did not have before. And that happened again in the mid-second century A.D.

And interestingly enough, much of what survives today are those tritons. You can still see them on their bases here, on their tall bases, or part of them here. And you can see the relationship of the Odeion of Agrippa, in this very good image, to the Acropolis in Athens. You can see the Erechtheion peeping up over there. You can see the great pedestal that Agrippa would’ve had his statue on, right here. So I’m very tempted to say–in fact I will say–that I don’t think that was lost on the designers, that when they chose this spot for the Odeion of Agrippa they had very much in mind that it would be in one of these interesting architectural dialogues with the pedestal that had the statue of Agrippa at the entranceway to the Acropolis.

I think that was certainly very carefully orchestrated, in the same way you’ll remember Julius Caesar and his architects orchestrated a relationship between the Temple of Venus Genetrix and the Temple of Jupiter OMC on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. Despite the fact that you see, when you visit the Agora, the Greek Agora today, and look at these statues, despite the fact that they are all that stands, there’s a lot, you will see that there’re lots of other remains on the ground, and with those remains and the excavations that were done by the American archaeologists in the 1930s, the reconstruction that we looked at, from Ward-Perkins, we believe is a very accurate reconstruction of what the Odeion of Agrippa looked like.

The Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds

Roman Agora, Athens / Wikimedia Commons

I want to look at the Roman Agora, because the Romans themselves added an agora to Athens. If they were going to have a Greek Agora, they were going to have a Roman Agora. We don’t know if there was a practical need for it, but I guess Caesar and Augustus wanted to emblazon their name on an agora or a marketplace in Athens. It was put up again in Caesarian and–started in the Caesarian period, and completed by Augustus. It is right near the Greek Agora. We see a view of it here: a large open, square space, with a colonnade around it; in this case stoas–we would call these stoas in the Greek context–with tabernae or shops at the uppermost part. An entranceway, an elaborate entranceway on the western end, and another entranceway on the eastern end. But as you can see it differs. It is done in the mode of a Greek marketplace, because it is more–well it’s sort of in between a square and a rectangle here, but it’s not as long as a Roman forum, and it does not have a temple on one short end. So it follows in the mode of Greek agoras, rather than Roman fora.

Roman agora entrace, Athens / Wikimedia Commons

You can see the remains of the Roman agora today. We’re looking at the entranceway. You can see Plaka actually pre-gentrification in the back. It gives you a sense of what–I mean, it was really crumbling, as you can see, some of the buildings that are surrounding it. But nonetheless it was fun.

Roman agora Gate of Athena / Wikimedia Commons

This is a view of the gate; it’s called the Gate of Athena Archegetis. This is the western gate into the Roman Agora. We see it here in two views. And you can see, when you look at this building, you can see what Ward-Perkins and others mean when they say that architecture in Athens, under the Romans, is derivative and uninspired. It’s this kind of thing that I believe he’s talking about. Because you can see how beholden it is to traditional Classical Greek architecture, in the way in which we see these great Doric columns, looking very similar to those of the Propylaia or the Parthenon. You see them here. You see the triglyphs and metopes. You see a triangular pediment. We never see, we never see the Greeks–at least the Greeks in the Roman period–breaking their pediments. They always have complete pediments, and in that sense, of course, a very conservative approach to architecture during this period. We know that this, the gate, was begun by Caesar, completed by Augustus. And there’s an inscription that tells us that.

Tower of the Winds in the Roman agora, Athens / Wikimedia Commons

This is the so-called Horologion of Andronikos, or as it is nicknamed, the Tower of the Winds; the Tower of the Winds, which is easier to remember, the Tower of the Winds. It’s very controversial in date. I date it here to the second half of the first century B.C., which is when I do believe that it dates. But there are others who think otherwise, and I’ll tell you about that in a moment. You can see how well preserved it is. You can see that it is indeed eight-sided. You can see one of the porches. There are two porches that had temple fronts with triangular pediments, columns below, on those two sides. There was also a staircase that surrounded the structure. What this was we believe is some kind of a clock tower, a very inventive clock tower.

And although again I think it was probably built in the Caesarian period, late Republic, John Camp, who’s an expert on things Athenian, who wrote a book on the archaeology of Athens, who has been excavating the Greek Agora since the 1970s and is a true expert of architecture in this part of the world, he thinks the date is earlier than that. He dates it to 150 to 125 B.C., and he brings it into connection with the Ptolemies of Egypt, the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, because of their great interest in the telling of time and the fact that they did have important connections with Athens during this period. I think he has a point; he could be right.

But I would add that connections with Egypt were very strong in the late Republic as well; I mean, keep in mind the affair between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. Keep in mind that we know that statues of Cleopatra and Mark Antony were put on the Acropolis. We know that there was a lot of interaction. Cleopatra herself came to Athens. So I don’t think it’s inconceivable that if one wants to connect this to things Egyptian, that one couldn’t date it also to the Caesarian period. But whatever its date, it’s fascinating in its own right, again because it’s octagonal. We’ve talked about the fact that we don’t have octagons in Rome until the time of Nero. But we do see them. You saw another example, also in Leptis Magna, the market there, of the Augustan period. It’s interesting to see this form emerging–possibly under Ptolemaic influence, we’re not sure–emerging in the provinces, before it seems to emerge in Rome itself, and this being another example.


Left: Tower of the Winds, current front view / Wikimedia Commons
Right: Reconstructed front elevation drawing of the Tower of the Winds by Stuart and Revett / Wikimedia Commons


Tower of the Winds frieze winds personification / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a view of the monument again, but also compared to an engraving done by Stuart and Revett, who made drawings of monuments that were in better shape in Athens, in the eighteenth century. And what this tells us, besides showing us what the porch looked like–and you can see it well here–it also shows us that there was a weathervane on the top that would have gone in the direction of the prevailing winds. And the reason that we call this the Tower of the Winds is not only because of that weathervane that once stood there, but also because of the depictions of male personifications of the winds on all eight sides of the structure. And those are extremely well preserved, as you can see here: a frieze of these male winds. And if you look carefully at the Stuart and Revett drawing, you also see that there was a sundial on all eight sides of the monument; so its purpose, needless to say, to tell time.

Tower of the Winds Stain-Grade Round Wood Capital restored illustration by Chadsworth Columns / Wikimedia Commons

The capitals from those porches are these lotus leaves growing out of acanthus leaves. So another Egyptian touch here, this looking back to Egyptian-type capitals, using them here — the same kind of capitals that we know had turned up much later at the Severan Forum in Leptis Magna. A detail of those winds; and here a better detail of at least one of them, to show you what they looked like close up. And each one of them has a different attribute, which has led scholars obviously to speculate about which particular wind, which of the cardinal points of the compass, which wind they were in actuality; we won’t get into those arguments here, but there’s been a lot of time spent by scholars on trying to sort that out.


Tower of the Winds interior / Archaeology News Network, Creative Commons

What is also interesting is the interior of the building, which is also extremely well preserved. And you can see here, all in stone, the way in which the octagon becomes a dome. And it is done extremely well. This goes way beyond any kind of stone dome that we see, either in Etruscan or Roman architecture in Italy. And it shows us–once again, it underscores, more than anything else I could show you, the talent of these particular architects who had been carving this Greek stone for centuries; the way in which they are able to make this transition from octagonal shape to regular dome here is extraordinary. They did not need concrete to create a great dome in this wonderful structure, the Horologion of Andronikos, or the Tower of the Winds, in Athens.

Architecture in Athens under Hadrian

Aqueduct of Hadrian ruins in Athens / Wikimedia Commons

The other great philhellenic emperor was of course Hadrian. We know Hadrian came to Athens on three occasions, and we know the exact dates of his visits. The first visit, 124 to 125, Hadrian was in Athens. He came another time in 128, and he came a third time in 131 to 132. And all the buildings that I’m now going to show you date to, roughly, to the times of those three visits. The first one you see above. This was an aqueduct. When Hadrian came to Athens for the first time in 124 to 125, he said, “We need to supply water to the people of Athens.” And so he set his architects at work to build an aqueduct for Athens.

They created a reservoir on Mount Lycabettus, the highest mountain in Athens; a reservoir. And then on the side, one of the sides of the mountain, facing the city, they had–they built a kind of a structure, a kind of a bridge that in part carried that water into the city. It no longer survives–there are a couple of bases from it; that’s it. But we do fortunately have engravings that were made when it was in better shape, when part of it still stood, and we see one of those engravings here. And what we can see right off, Ionic capitals: Ionic capitals clearly based on those of the Erechtheion. So the Erechtheion still a beacon for architects, still a monument to be emulated; emulated in the time of Hadrian, as it was under Augustus.

Aqueduct of Athens at Mount Lycabettus engraving by Stuart and Revett / Wikimedia Commons

We see an inscription, and then we see something quite extraordinary. If we look very closely above the right-hand Ionic capital, we see the beginning of an arcuated lintel; straight lintel, the beginning of an arcuation. So what does that tell us? That tells us clearly–and here’s a Stuart and Revett drawing of that element, when it was in better shape again; a straight lintel, an arcuated lintel, with an inscription mentioning Hadrian. This lintel motif is very much associated with Hadrian, says this is a Hadrianic building essentially, and used not just in Italy but elsewhere in the Roman world. So again these exchanges of ideas and motifs and artists and architects during the Hadrianic period, as was the case under Augustus.

Library of Hadrian, Athens / Wikimedia Commons

This is the Library of Hadrian, next to the Roman agora in Athens, constructed during the Hadrianic period; specifically in 132 A.D., connected to the last visit that Hadrian made to Athens. The façade has projecting columns. There’s some later buildings built into it. And here we’re looking at the back wall of the façade, which we’ll see has projecting columns on it.

Library of Hadrian plan / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a plan of the Library of Hadrian of 132 here on the right-hand side of the screen. And you should be struck immediately as you look at this plan, with its open rectangular space, with a pool here in the center, with the columns going all the way around, with an entranceway in the front, with projecting columns on that façade, with a series of niches that are alternating, segmental and rectangular, with again the library located in that uppermost part with other rooms forming a kind of wing on either side.

Templum Pacis, Rome / Wikimedia Commons

This reminds us of the Forum Pacis, the Forum of Peace, or the Templum Pacis, of Vespasian, in Rome. So once again–and it is a near-clear duplicate. Even though this is a library and this is a temple or a forum–although we talked about the fact that we weren’t absolutely sure how this was used; it may have been used as a kind of museum in Rome for the spoils and other works of art that Vespasian and the Flavians wanted to display. But once again we are looking–the influence does not flow only from Greece to Rome, but from Italy to Greece. And in this case they are also using, as a model for the Library of Hadrian, an important building type in Rome. They’re using it, you know, perhaps in a different way, but nonetheless they are using almost that exact plan for this second-century building.

Library of Hadrian model illustration /

And I show you here a model of the Library of Hadrian in Athens where we see that it was planted with greenery. The library was located in the back. There was a fairly conventional entranceway, looking like a typical Greek temple. But then these columns that project in front of the wall; the statuary on top, looking very much like the Forum Transitorium, which you’ll remember bordered the Forum Pacis in Rome, and that probably was also something that they were looking at. And here creating–this is as far as the Greeks go to creating one of these undulating walls with the projecting and receding elements. It’s still fairly conservative, but nonetheless they’ve injected a little motion here, using the traditional vocabulary of architecture.

Library of Hadrian / Wikimedia Commons

And here we see a view of the wall, of that façade; what survives of it today. The wall is made out of white pentelic marble, and the columns are made of a slightly–I don’t know if you can see it from where you sit–but a slightly greenish tinged marble, that comes from a place in Greece called Karystos. So again this interest in varied marbles; varied marbles that come only from the very rich quarries that Greece has. They did not have to go anywhere else to get high quality marble and to get marble of a wide variety of colors.

Olympieion columns with Corinthian capitals /

I want to turn now to a structure that has one of the most complicated building histories of any building I’ve shown you in the course of this semester, and I’ll run through that relatively quickly. This is the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the so-called Olympieion, that was put up, or that was dedicated, by Hadrian, in the year 131 to 132, on the occasion of his third visit to Athens. But it had again a very long building history. It goes back to the Archaic Greek period, when it was begun. It was begun by the so-called Peisistratids–I’ve put these words on your Monument List for you–the Peisistratids, who were Athenian tyrants. They began to build it in the Archaic period as a Doric temple.

The construction was stopped, however, at the end of the sixth century B.C., in 510. It was resumed in the Hellenistic period, in 174 B.C., when Antiochos Epiphanes, a king of Syria, decided to employ a Roman architect by the name of Cossutius to finish the building; a Roman architect. That’s interesting that we see a Greek Hellenistic ruler hiring a Roman architect; speaks to that exchange again that is going on. He, Cossutius, decides to use the Corinthian order; the Corinthian order. And he finishes it up to the architrave, the building up to the architrave. And when Antiochos dies in 164–that’s where he’s up to; that’s where — 164 they built the building up through the architrave using the Corinthian order.

Olympieion plan, Athens / Wikimedia Commons

Sulla sacks Athens in 86 B.C. And you’ll remember what Sulla does. This is that very temple, with the 55-foot tall columns, that Sulla eyes and says, “I want those.” And he brings several of those back to Rome, to be used in his renovation of the Temple of Jupiter OMC; those very columns. It was the introduction of those Corinthian columns and capitals to Rome that made that the most popular capital in Rome and in the Roman Empire, as we’ve seen. Augustus wanted to complete the structure. He did not do so, and it was left to Hadrian to finish it, and Hadrian finished it according to Cossutius’ plan, in 131 to 132.

And what Hadrian did was put in this structure statues of himself and Zeus, the Greek equivalent to Jupiter; statues of Hadrian in one part of the structure, to Zeus in the other part of the structure, and tons and tons, lots and lots of statues, additional statues of Hadrian outside the temple in the courtyard. It looked like a typical Greek temple, as opposed to a Roman temple, it does not have a façade orientation. It has two entranceways, one with a statue of Hadrian, one with a statue of Zeus, and that it has columns that encircle the entire monument–a peripertal colonnade–as well as a staircase that goes all the way around. So a typical Greek temple; 131 to 132. It’s the same time that we see the Temple of Venus and Roma going up in Rome; what I described as a Greek import. Hadrian is responsible for both. And so we see again this important interchange between the two, at this particular time.

Olympieion view from the Acropolis / Wikimedia Commons

A view of what survives of the Olympieion, its columns, its Corinthian columns–you can see the small people wandering around; so this is a very large structure–that I took from the Acropolis. Once again here’s a wonderful aerial view of the Olympieon, this combination of what it looks like today, with sort of this 3D imaging that makes it look also like it looked in antiquity. Here you see some of the columns of the Olympieon, the ones that still survive. They are incredibly large and incredibly handsome. And I think, when you look at the high quality of the carving, you are struck, as I am, at why the Romans decided the Corinthian order was the order for them, when they saw these exact columns on the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus in Rome.

Olympieon columns / Wikimedia Commons

When Hadrian made his visit to Athens, the last visit to Athens, in the 130s, the city busily–benefactors busily got together to put up an arch that would be ready for Hadrian when he arrived. And that he could parade through, and that is the so-called Arch of Hadrian, which you see here, in a view of what it looks like today, and in a Stuart and Revett drawing on the right-hand side of the screen. Again, a quite conservative arch: a very simple, single arcuation in the center; pilasters done with Corinthian order; columns would have been added here; a second story, with a pediment. No split pediment here. We see a straight, conservative pediment here. And the Stuart and Revett drawing tells us that in antiquity there was a marble slab that was located in the center of that aedicula, in the second story.

And we know there were statues, the inscriptions tell us that there were statues on both sides of this. And the statues are very interesting, because on the side that faces the ancient Greek city there was a statue of Theseus, and an inscription that said This is Athens, the City of Theseus; and on the other side, of course, they put up–in order to pay obeisance, to honor Hadrian, and to try to extract favors from him undoubtedly, they put up a statue to Hadrian on the other side, and that inscription says This is the City of Hadrian, not the City of Theseus.

The Monument of Philopappos on the Mouseion Hill

Arch of Hadrian, Athens / Wikimedia Commons

The last monument that I want to show you is a monument that is near and dear to my own heart, because in the two years that I lived in Athens, in the 1970s, I was working on a book on this particular monument. The monument doesn’t date to the Augustan period and it doesn’t date to the Hadrianic period, which makes it all the more interesting. It dates to the time of Trajan. And it has nothing to do with either of those two emperors, but with a man whose name is mouthful, and that is Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos. I like to call him Uncle Phil.

Nonetheless, he was a very interesting man, and we know a lot about his bio. We know, for example, that he was the son of a king of Commagene, a Hellenistic kingdom in the eastern part of the Empire, in ancient Anatolia, what is now Turkey. He was a son of that king of Commagene and his relatives had been kings for some time. But he was unfortunate; although he was slated to become king himself, he was unfortunate that Vespasian, the Roman emperor Vespasian, conquered Commagene, made it a Roman colony, deposed the kings and became ruler himself, in a sense. And so Philopappos, because of the Romans, never became king of Commagene.

He seems to have made the best of it by making his way to Rome, using his influence and his high station, as a deposed king, to finagle for himself a position as suffect consul in Rome. What was a suffect consul? A suffect consul was kind of a consul in waiting; by that I mean that if one of the regular consuls couldn’t do his job, the suffect consul could be brought in as a substitute. So Philopappos could sort of stand and wait and hope that someone got sick and he could come in–or got, you know, was in war or involved in a military campaign, and then he would be called in to take his place. So he hangs around Rome for awhile, and then he eventually goes back, goes to Athens.

He moves to Athens, he’s honored with all kinds of titles in Athens, and he eventually ends up being–dying in Athens and being buried in Athens. And a tomb gets put up in his honor between 114 and 116. And we know the precise date because of an inscription on the monument, the still surviving monument, that makes reference to some of Trajan’s titles, titles that Trajan held between 114 and 116, but does not include titles that he got after that. So we know that it was put up between 114 and 116. And we’re going to see that it features a frieze depicting Philopappos at the high point of his life: his processus consularis, his consular procession, when he was made a consul in Rome.

Mouseion Hill with the Monument of Philopappos / Wikimedia Commons

Above is a view of the Mouseion Hill, the Hill of the Muses. Now what’s most extraordinary is that there’s only one ancient monument on the Mouseion Hill, and that is the Monument of Philopappos. And you can see not quite at the apex but almost near the apex, the sole monument that stands on this hill, the Monument of Philopappos. How did he rate to be able to get this sole monument on one of the three major hills? You can see it–it’s marble–you can see it popping up–pentelic marble–you can see it popping up almost near the apex of the hill.

View of the Acropolis directly across from the Monument of Philopappos on Mouseion Hill / Wikimedia Commons

The monument is sited exactly in relationship to the Acropolis, lined up with the Erechtheion, this building that was so revered by the Romans. It’s lined up exactly with it, at midpoint, between the Propylaia and the Parthenon, exactly on the Erechtheion. And this is the view–here we are standing right in front of the monument, looking back at the Acropolis.

Tomb at Nemrud Dagh / Wikimedia Commons

Now why is Philopappos buried on this hill? This is interesting, because if you think back to tomb architecture that we’ve looked at, we didn’t see people buried on hills. The Romans don’t bury people on hills. They bury people on flat ground, outside the walls of the city, in their necropolises. Every tomb we’ve seen was on flat, essentially on flat land. Why is Philopappos buried in a tomb near the apex of a hill? Well as I was writing this book I looked back to his own ancestors, to people in this part of the world, to a group of dynasts in a place called Nemrud Dagh, also in Anatolia. And I show you one of their well-preserved tombs here, and you can see that the tomb is built not quite at the–not at the apex of the hill, but on the slope of the hill; in this case not as close as Philopappos’s is to the apex, but moving on that–moving up on that slope toward the apex. And if you look very carefully at this monument, you will see among the remains some seated statues of the dynasts of Nemrud Dagh, of this area that Philopappos also comes from.


Monument of Philopappos / Wikimedia Commons

This is the Philopappos Monument, as it looks today; made out of pentelic marble, beautifully carved. It is a kind of a tower tomb with a plain base, a curved second story that has the scene of Philopappos in a chariot, at the time of his consular procession. And then some statues in niches, seated statues, looking very much like those of Nemrud Dagh. Up above we think it’s Philopappos himself, with a bare chest, headless, in the center. A figure in a toga over here, and certainly another figure flanking him, another male seated figure on the right-hand side of the screen [second story].


Arch of Titus and relief / Wikimedia Commons

Why do I show you the Arch of Titus in connection to this? Because we know that Philopappos’ father and uncle participated in the Jewish Wars, on the side of the Flavian emperors, in order to gain–even though they’d been deposed, they wanted to gain favor with them. And when Philopappos went to Rome, this is the monument that he would’ve seen, this monument that Domitian put up to those Jewish Wars that his father and his uncle had participated in, on the Velia, with that representation of Titus in a chariot. And I think there’s no question–and I present this in the book as a theory–that the processus consularis of Philopappos closely based on the triumphal scene of Titus. And perhaps it’s no coincidence–we don’t have too many pentelic marble buildings in Rome–the Arch of Titus is made out of Greek pentelic marble. Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so.

Monument of Philopappos base / Wikimedia Commons

This is the base, the consular procession, the statue of Philopappos in the center, the inscription to the left, which is the pilaster that survives, with the inscription making reference to Trajan’s titles, that allow us to date it. And then probably a missing attic with an inscription at the uppermost part. This view over here shows you some graffiti that have fortunately since been erased. I show you the interior of, or what survives of, the back wall that would’ve been the burial chamber.

Monument of Philopappos cross section showing sarcophagus outlined in black / Wikimedia Commons

A statue of him on a console that still survives in a niche, and then columns and a straight lintel that formed what we call a naiskos, which served as a kind of shrine to honor him, on the inside of the monument. And if we look at this cross-section of the tomb, we see the sarcophagus, we see the statue of Philopappos, and we see the way in which it is lined up with the representations of Philopappos on the outside, in his–it’s kind of midway between the scene of him in his chariot and the scene of him with the bare chest, in heroic nudity. So during his lifetime in the consular procession, after death up above. So honored three times in three statues on this monument.

You see on the frieze above some of the figures that accompany him. They’re wearing Roman togas, because the scene is taking place in Rome; that’s where the consular procession is. They’re carrying fasces like the bodyguards do for an emperor; and that too shows the relationship of this to the Arch of Titus. Here we see the scene of the Arch of Titus, triumph, and the scene of Philopappos’ triumph; clearly the one on the right, in my mind, based on the one on the left. If you look at details of the chariot, you see a naiskos, again decorating the chariot, a naiskos that has a figure of none other than Hercules. We can see him wearing–holding a club. So once again, just like Caracalla, we see, in this case earlier, Philopappos associating himself with Hercules. If we look at a detail of his head, which is unfortunately not that well preserved, we see that he is bearded, we see he wears a rayed crown. So although he is represented in this consular procession, his kingly, what he–that he might have been a king, is referred to. But also his triumph over death.

Stele from Nemrud Dagh of Antiochus I Commagene shaking hands with Hercules / British Museum

And if we look at sculpture from Nemrud Dagh, we see once again this interesting relief–so there’s more than one of these–of dynasts of Nemrud Dagh shaking hands with Hercules with his club and wearing a rayed crown. So this is another one of these wonderful examples of this fertile mix that one gets so often in provincial Roman art, where you see a monument clearly based in part on Roman precedents, but also based on the bio of this particular man and more on local precedent.

Monument of Philopappos seated states of Philopappos and Antiochus IV / Wikimedia Commons

Colossi of Memnon, Thebes / Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly enough this monument was put up by Philopappos’ sister, a woman by the name of Balbilla. I wanted to make this point because we have seen so few examples; it’s not that there were none but they were small in comparison to those of men, that there are–fewer women seem to have put up monuments than men. But the examples that we have are very interesting indeed. And in this case we know that the tomb was put up by Balbilla, a woman who became very friendly with Sabina, wife of Hadrian. In fact, the three of them traveled together to Egypt, to Thebes, to see the Colossi of Memnon, which I show you up there. And Balbilla leaves an inscription when she goes that she was there; so she tells us that. So a very interesting example of an extraordinary tomb in Athens, but one that was built by a woman.