Athens is the chief City of that Province of Greece, which was called, in times past, Attica; a City now reduced to near the lowest Ebb of Fortune: But of Fame so great, that few Cities in the World can dispute Precedence with her, or few pretend to have been her Equals.
A journey into Greece by George Wheler, Esq., in company of Dr. Spon of Lyons - 1682. Wheler visited Athens in 1678 before the conquest of the city by the Venetians in 1687, the effects of which are covered in a separate page with old views and maps of the Acropolis.
The Athenians began to slight the Vertue of their Ancestors, and to give themselves over to Luxury and Idleness, (..) preferring a lucky Satyrist, before the bravest Captain; and to hear a Play, before the gaining of the greatest Conquest: Which degenerous Disposition of theirs, in a short time, gave opportunity and leisure to the Macedonians to advance their Monarchy, and extend it by little and little over all Greece; a Design projected by Philip of Macedon, the Father; but achieved and perfected by Alexander the Great. (..)
At the little Convent of Capuchin Missionaries, is a curious piece of Antiquity. They call it The Lanthorn of Demosthenes. They tell you, That this was the Place, where he shut himself up, to follow the Studies of Eloquence with greater privacy.
(..) Upon the upper part of the Frize, is an Inscription, that no Authors have observed, before us (..) and importeth that Lysicrates, Son of Lysithidemus, was the Giver, or President of the Game; That the Lads of the Tribe of Achamas had the Victory (..) when Euaenetus was Archon.
So that this place must needs be very antient. For Euaenetus was Archon (..) three hundred thirty five Years before Christs Incarnation.
At the south east corner of the hill, is that curious small building, commonly called the lantern of Demosthenes; but it is said to be a temple of Hercules, built in all probability on the occasion of the victory of the tribe Acamantis, (..) as appeared by an inscription on the architrave now defaced or hid, the convent of the Capuchins being, built round the greater part of it; this circular building is of the Corinthian order fluted, having six pillars round it. There are two tripodes cut between the pillars in bas relief; (..) the cornish is composed ot seven stones, and the whole is crowned with a single stone hollowed within; it is adorned on the outside with leaves, and on the top there is an ornament which is very much defaced, but is something like a Corinthian capital: The reliefs of combats round the frieze, which are also defaced, are said by some to be the labours of Hercules.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745.
The monument was erected by Lysicrates, a wealthy patron of musical performances, to commemorate the prize in the dithyramb contest of the City in 335 BC, of which performance he was liturgist. At that time Athens was under the Macedonian hegemony and the small building can be considered the first Hellenistic monument of the city. It most likely influenced the design of later funerary monuments, e.g. the Mausoleum of the Julii at Glanum in France. In the XVIth century and in the following ones its description and the first engravings attracted the attention of many architects and perhaps also that of Francesco Borromini when he designed the roof of S. Giovanni in Oleo.
Statue of Emperor Hadrian as a military commander in the Greek Agora
Notwithstanding the Indulgences, which they had from several Emperours, the Athenians could never perfectly recover themselves from the sad Effects of Sylla's Cruelty, until the time of Hadrian, who being advanc'd to the Imperial Dignity, with great Munificence restor'd this City to its former Beauty: The reason whereof was, That in his younger Years he had been chosen Archon; that is, the chief Magistrate there; and had taken such a particular Affection to the Place, that being now made Emperour, and visiting the Provinces, he staid a considerable time at Athens, and gave them many Priviledges; (..) This Emperour not only rebuilt or repaired those publick Buildings, that Time, and the Wars had either defac'd or ruin'd; but added also, at his own charge, one whole Region of Buildings to the City, so large and beautiful, that it deserved to be call'd afterwards New Athens. Wheler
Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit (once Greece had been captured, it captured its wild conqueror - Horace Ep. 2.1) this sentence summarizes the influence of Greece on its Roman conquerors. In 196 BC the Roman legions defeated King Philip V of Macedonia and Greece fell into the Roman sphere of influence. During the Republican period the consuls and the Senate were not prepared to grant any favours to the Greeks who tried to resist the Roman rule. In 86 BC the rebellion of Athens was cruelly punished by Silla. Later on however things changed; Julius Caesar and Augustus were fascinated by the Hellenistic culture and after them many emperors had a predilection for Greece; Nero extensively travelled in Greece and granted a large tax exemption to the country.
Several monuments were built during the Roman rule, mainly to the north and the east of the Acropolis. Wheler and some other of the first travellers who visited Athens based their identification of its monuments on a description written by Pausanias, a Greek traveller and geographer, after the city had been enlarged by Hadrian (see page two).
Main entrance dedicated to Athena Archegetis (the leader)
Within the present town are the remains of a portico of four
pillars supporting a pediment; it is of the fluted Doric order; this is
commonly called the temple of Augustus, and there is an inscription on
the architrave of the time of the Roman emperors; it is so defaced I could
not copy it, but it is said to be to the honour of Caius (Julius Caesar).
At the initiative of Julius Caesar a new market was built in a spacious rectangular courtyard surrounded by stoas (roofed arcades), shops and storerooms. It had an east Ionic entrance and a west Doric entrance, known as the Gate of Athena Archegetis, the patroness of Athens. It was completed between 19 and 11 BC with donations by Augustus.
Overview of the eastern part of the Roman Agora with the Tower of the Winds
Not far from the Bazar, going up towards the Castle, is the Temple of the Eight Winds. (..) The Height of it we took not, because great part of it is buried under Ground. Wheler
What is commonly called the temple of Winds is an octagon building, and remains entire, but the ground has risen within a foot of the top of the door, which is next to the street. Pococke
After the invasion of the Heruli in 267 AD the administrative and commercial centre of the city was transferred from the Ancient Agora to the Roman Agora. During the Byzantine and Ottoman periods houses, workshops and churches along with a large mosque were built in this area above the ruin of the ancient monuments.
(left) Public toilets; (right) an inscription regulating the olive oil trade
On the other side the way, which through this Temple leads to the Basar hard by, on the Wall of a private House, is a large Marble Stone, standing an end, on which is written, The Law of the Emperour Hadrian, touching the Sale of the Oyl of Athens. It is great pity, it is so much defaced; for it teacheth not only this Law, but the manner of Appellation, and Proceeding in the Athenian Courts of Judicature; and from thence too, by degrees, to the Proconsul, or Governour, and from him to the Emperour himself. Wheler
On a long stone, which might be the side of the door-case, is that famous law of Adrian, concerning the custom to be paid on the oil of Athens. Pococke
The market was not limited to large imposing buildings, there were also some other aspects which needed to be addressed. Public toilets were housed in a rectangular building and consisted of an antechamber and a square hall with benches bearing holes (still visible) on all its four sides. They were constantly flushed and the water was collected by a sewage pipe underneath. They are dated Ist century AD (you may wish to see the latrines of the Forum of Ostia).
Ignorantia legis non excusat (ignorance of the law excuses no one) was a key principle of Roman Law. As a logical consequence care was taken to make laws known as much as possible; those regulating the various kinds of trade were written on upright slabs which were placed at key points of the market.
Andronichus Cyrrhastes, gave this Model to the Athenians: For he built a Tower eight square of Marble, and on every side he had carved the Figure of a Wind, according to the Quarter it did blow from. On the Top of the Tower he erected a little Pyramid of Marble, and on the Point of it placed a Brazen Triton; which held a Switch in his right hand, wherewith, turning about, he pointed at the Wind that then blew. This Tower remains yet entire, the Weather-Cock only excepted. (..) On each side of the Tower, is cut a Figure, opposite to the Eighth Quarter of the Winds; representing the Nature of that Wind for which it is designed. Under those Figures, on each side, are Sun-Dials. Each side is ten foot and a half long. Wheler
It was called by the antients the octagon tower of winds; (..) there is an entablature on the outside, and below the two faces of the architrave are the figures of the winds larger than life in mezzo relievo. They are in a flying posture (..) over every one, in the face of the architrave, is cut the name of the wind in Greek; and each wind has some emblem relating to one of the eight different seasons of the year, which seem to indicate that such a wind commonly reigns at that time; so that dividing the year into eight parts, allowing six weeks to each season, and beginning with the north east, and with the month of October; this wind has a plate of Olives in its hand, though I could not see it distinctly, by reason that a tree grows before it; this is the season for Olives, which in antient times, as well as now, were the great revenue of Athens: The next is the north wind, which has a shell in its hand to shew the power and dominion of the sea at that time: the north west, is pouring water out of a vase, being a rainy wind: the west, has a lap full of flowers, being a wind that reigns part of February and March: the south: this and the following are hid by the houses built against them; it probably may have later flowers, as the south west may have early fruits: the south east hold its garment as if it were windy; and the east, has in the garment the latter fruits, apples, peaches, pomegranates, oranges and lemons: Some of the antients called this the sun-dial, there having been on every side, below these figures, a dial. The figures of the winds are a great instance of the boldness of designing, and of the perfection of sculpture at the time this building was erected. Pococke
The tower was built in the first half of the 1st century BC by the astronomer Andronicos. In the early Christian period it was converted into a church or a baptistery of an adjacent church, and in the XVIIIth century it was attached to a tekke, a monastery of the Dervishes.
(above) In the foreground Temple to Rome and Augustus and behind it the eastern front of the Parthenon; (below) detail of the inscription: ROMIS KAI(SAR) SEBASTOY
Visitors to the Acropolis of Athens focus their attention on the key monuments of the Classical period and chiefly on the Parthenon and the Erechteion; they may fail to notice a Temple to Rome and Augustus near the eastern front of the Parthenon.
Temples to Rome and Augustus were built in many cities of the Empire; that at Ankara is famous for its long inscriptions; the temple on the Acropolis of Athens was circular and it was decorated with Ionic columns; it had a white marble entablature with a dedicatory inscription; in Latin augustus was an adjective meaning "inspiring respect and admiration"; in Greek it was translated with sebastos.
Site of the Odeon of Agrippa: in the left upper corner Thissio/Theseion (a classical temple to Theseus, the founder of Athens) and in the right lower corner Agii Apostoli
Out of Town is the Temple of Theseus; a Building in all respects like the Temple of Minerva in the Castle, as to its matter, form, and order of Architecture, but not so large. (..) The Beauty of this Structure is not at all prejudiced by its littleness. Wheler
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was a Roman general who defeated Antony at the 31 BC Battle of Actium; he was a friend of Octavian/Augustus and became his lieutenant; he was appointed governor of the eastern provinces of the Empire, a task which he chose to perform from Greece.
Agrippa promoted the construction of several buildings in Rome and in particular of the Pantheon. In Athens he built a large odeon in the ancient agora: the building had a grand entrance the entablature of which was supported by telamons portraying giants and tritons. The building was damaged by the collapse of the roof in 150 AD and a new odeon was built by Herodes Atticus at the foot of the south-western part of the Acropolis. The image used as background for this page shows a capital of Agrippa's Odeon.
Portico of the Giants: (left) a giant; (right) a triton
(left) Pedestal of Agrippa's Statue; (right) the same seen at sunset from the Greek Agora
A statue of Agrippa was placed on a high pedestal at the entrance to the Acropolis in recognition of his patronage; it was an indication of the popularity he enjoyed, because he was seen as the likely successor to the Emperor, who did not have male heirs. Augustus, following the advice of Maecenas, one of his closest friends, convinced Agrippa to marry his daughter Julia in order to strengthen his loyalty.
The pedestal was originally built to support a statue of Eumenes II, King of Pergamum, a key ally of the Romans in their conquest of Greece: it is slightly tapered and it is made of grey-blue Hymetus marble.
You must go almost to the East-end of the Southern-Wall of the Castle; and then turn into it by an old Gate. All between this Wall, and the Castle, is now disinhabited, and turned into Corn-fields. From this Gate, straight up to the Rock of the Castle, we went to see a little Church, called Panagia Spiliotissa, or Our Lady of the Grotto. For it is but a Grotto, hewn out of the Rock, on which the Castle standeth. (..) Above this Grotto are two Pillars standing upright, of the Corinthian Order: but the Leaves are different from the Thistle-Leaves of that Order, being long and smooth at the Edges. Wheler
On the same side of the hill, towards the south east corner, there is a grot cut into the rock (..) and a little higher on the hill are two Corinthian pillars. Pococke
On each Corner are Places, hewn like Pedestals, for two other Statues; upon which, and the Architrave, are Inscriptions; which we copied. These Inscriptions shew, That it either belonged to some Gymnasium, or was a Monument erected in honour of those, who had been Victors in those Exercises. (..) The Beginning of the Second Inscription telleth, That Andron, of the Tribe of Pandion, was Victor; That Nicocles, of Ambracia, was Musician; and That Lysippus, of Arcadia, made, or exhibited the Play. Suidas and Athenaeus mention one Lysippus, as the Author of many Tragedies. Wheler
The whole is crowned with a work, on which are two inscriptions relating to two victories gained at the games by two tribes; and the archons mentioned in the inscriptions shew it to be of great antiquity: (..) to the west of the front of the grotto are two or three niches cut in the rock, probably for statues. Pococke
Both Wheler and Pococke were aware that an ancient building stood beneath the cave, but could not identify it because they mistook Herodes' Odeon for the Theatre of Dionysus/Bacchus which was described by Pausanias. When the medievals walls were dismantled and the slope of the Acropolis was excavated the structure and some decorations of the theatre came to light.
Theatre of Dionysus: (left) Atlas; (right) Silenus
The original building fell into disuse until Emperor Nero promoted its reconstruction; the decoration was mainly based on statues and reliefs portraying Silenus, a companion to Dionysus; he was portrayed as a bald and fat aged man; he was usually drunk and because of this he had the power of prophecy (you may wish to see some bronze statues from Herculaneum or a floor mosaic from Byblos).
Theatre of Dionysus (Bacchus): (left) a seat reserved to the chief priest; (right) decoration of a seat
(left) Monument to Philopappus; (right) pillar with inscription
The Inhabitants call this Hill To Seggio; and some Francks, The Hill of the Arch of Trajan, from a Monument of Antiquity upon it: where indeed something is to be read touching that Emperour, but not any thing to justifie that naming of the place. It is a Structure of admirable white Marble, and no less curious Work, built a proportionable height something circular. In the middle was a large Niche, with a Figure of Marble sitting in it, (..) On the right hand of this is another square Niche with a sedent Figure within. (..). On the left hand we judge was another Statue to make up the Symmetry of the place, but now fallen down. Between the two Statues, upon a kind of Pilaster, (..) we discerned another Inscription, which says thus much, Caius, Julius, Philopappus, Son of Caius of the Tribe of Fabia, Consul, Frater Arvalis, chosen among the Praetors by the most good and August Emperour, Caesar, Nerva, Trajanus, who conquered the Germans and Dacians. Wheler
Monument to Philopappus: statues and frieze
On the top of the hill are remains of a very magnificent monument of
white marble, which is a proof both of the perfection of architecture and sculpture in Athens; it is a small part of a circle, about fifteen feet wide on the
outside; to the south there is a basement over which on four stones, there
are reliefs as big as life; beginning from the west is the figure of a man,
then one in a car drawn by four horses abreast led by one man,
another single man; and further to the east five men stand close one
before another; (..) between the two pillars to the east there is an oblong square nich, in which there is a statue sitting, supposed
to be the ancestor of the person represented sitting in a larger nich to the
west with a semicircular top; (..) on one side of the
pilasters between the statues is a Latin inscription to the honour of Antiochus Philopappus; and tho' this inscription is imperfect, yet it may be gathered from it that he was a consul, and preferred to the praetorian
order by Trajan. Pococke
The monument to Philopappus is dated 114-116 AD. It was erected on the hill of the Muses (opposite the Acropolis - see an early XIXth century view) by the Athenians in honor of a great benefactor of their city, the exiled prince of Commagene, Caius Julius Antiochus "Philopappus" (= Grandfather-Loving) who settled in Athens, became a citizen and assumed civic and religious offices (he was both consul in Rome and archon in Athens).
Commagene was a buffer state between the Roman and the Parthian empires. Today it is remembered for the colossal statues which one of its kings erected on the top of Nemrut Dagi, a high mountain in the district of Katha in south-eastern Turkey. In 72 AD Emperor Vespasian incorporated the kingdom of Commagene into the Roman province of Syria and the heirs of the last king were offered a golden exile and public offices in Rome. In 1687 the Venetian artillery hit the Parthenon from this hill (see a page on this topic).