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Athens During the Roman Period: Recent Discoveries, New Evidence

July 2010 (114.3)

Book Review

Athens During the Roman Period: Recent Discoveries, New Evidence

By Stavros Vlizos (In Greek). Benaki Museum Suppl. 4. Pp. 488, figs. 412, maps 32. Benaki Museum, Athens 2008. €27. ISBN 978-960-476-002-2 (paper).

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This publication of the important symposium (“Athens During the Roman Period: Recent Discoveries, New Evidence”) held in Athens in October 2006 at the Pireos Street Benaki Museum has appeared with admirable speed. It offers essential reading on new discoveries and changing viewpoints about Roman Athens, supplementing finds from the metropolitan railway excavations (L. Parlama and N. Stampolidis, Athens: The City Beneath the City [Athens 2000]). As Vlizos notes, Greece in the Roman period has not received the scholarly attention it deserves. These papers aim to address that issue, and they do it remarkably well.

Stephanidou-Tiveriou establishes the basis for the conference. After reviewing Hellenistic history and Neo-Attic workshops, she masterfully presents Athens in the Augustan period. Dally debates Augustus’ influence on Early Imperial monuments. Inscriptions from Athens and Delos show that the local elite were of considerable importance in dedicating buildings and statuary during this time. Tsoniotis analyzes the Late Roman fortification wall. He charts new portions of the wall and gates, indicating Athens’ smaller size and changed topography. Heyken reviews Corinthian capitals from the Kerameikos. Those from the first century C.E. resemble production from Asia Minor and ancient Italy, while those from the second century C.E. find parallels in Greece itself.

Camp discusses the reuse of older temples in the Agora that possibly served the imperial cult. Recent finds include a late second-century portrait of a priest(?) wearing a bust crown, a commercial structure north of the Stoa Poikile, and a Late Roman ivory figurine of Aphrodite. For the Roman Agora, Sourlas reports on new walls and foundations, which yield a new complete plan and its single building phase. Choremi-Spetsieri and Tigginaga describe remains of houses beneath the west peristyle of the Library of Hadrian, showing the former wealth and orientation of this area. A Nike standing on a globe, possibly Augustan, appeared in a secondary context. Tigginaga also presents an architectural study of the library, especially its substructure and foundations. She highlights local building techniques: prefabricated constructive elements and supportive arches in the substructure.

Zachariadou details work in Syntagma Square east, Zappeion, and the National Garden of Athens. These areas contain Roman cemeteries, workshops, bathing facilities, the Gymnasium, large houses or villas, and possibly the Lykeion Palaistra. On the road to the Mesogeia, three large cemeteries with pit and tile graves were uncovered by Giatroudaki, Panayotopoulos, and Servetopoulou. Grave offerings feature glass vases, coins, mirrors, strigils, and jewelry. Eleutheratou documents urban planning in the Makrigianni area. The plan of the late fifth century is followed until the Sullan destruction; an industrial zone developed next, but residences were established during the second century and destroyed in 267 C.E. Bougia maps Late Roman shrines to the Mother of the Gods/Kybele; six sites produced diagnostic finds in household shrines and small sanctuaries. Saraga presents a partially excavated grain-processing installation in the western Makrigianni site. Besides the watermills in the Agora, this is the first grain workshop known in Athens.

Dakoura-Vogiatzoglou illustrates finds from roads, cemeteries, and sanctuaries in the western hills, which include marble figurines of Aphrodite and a colossal head of the so-called Dresden Zeus type. Karanastasi revisits Dörpfeld’s excavation notebooks from the west slope of the Athenian Acropolis, focusing on the Baccheion, the seat of the Dionysiac association. This site, active from the fourth century B.C.E. to the third century C.E., yielded altars and marble figurines, some unfinished. Stroszek examines tomb formats and burial contexts before the Dipylon Gate, which include kioniskoi, plain tombs, temple-like tombs, podium tombs, peribolos plots, and heroa. Tsirigoti-Drakotou reviews excavations along the Sacred Way to Eleusis. Simple pit graves, reused funerary monuments, a funeral stele, and a strigil sarcophagus occur among the finds.

Fittschen introduces sculptural production. Athens remained one of the more important artistic centers of the Mediterranean in the Roman period, despite many Greek sculptors working in Italy close to their patrons. Di Napoli treats portrait heads from the Odeion of Perikles; the strophion on one indicates a priestly office (late first century C.E.), an olive crown on another suggests an agonothete of the Panathenaic games. Krumeich investigates Late Hellenistic to Early Imperial statues honoring Romans on the Athenian Acropolis, often set up on older, reused bases. Portraits of important generals, exceptional for their physique, military bearing, and arete, make a show of Roman power in the eastern Mediterranean. Choremi-Spetsieri analyzes portraits of Aristotle, Plato, and an unidentified philosopher found near the Acropolis. A youthful bearded man with a myrtle(?) wreath probably depicts a priest.

Trianti presents statues of eastern deities from the Makrigianni area. An Artemis Ephesia comes from a domestic context; a Zeus Heliopolitanus wears a garment with busts of deities, animals, and stars; and an Egyptian statue, associated with a temple of Isis, includes a sun disk, flowers, grapes, ivy, aegis, corn husks, a snake, and a crocodile base. Vlizos discusses marble statuettes found south of the Olympieion; depictions of Aphrodite may have served as religious offerings or villa decoration. Niemeier and Hallof present a funerary stele from the Sacred Gate that depicts a youth and dog. Form, technique, and inscription indicate an early Antonine date. The youth is connected with Hermeias, son of Hermeias from Bisa, in an inscription of 163/4 C.E.

Hayes reviews Athenian ceramic material in some 70 vase types dating between ca. 50 B.C.E. and 560 C.E. from closed deposits for types, clays, grit contents, stamps, and painted patterns; information about pottery kilns and workshops is lacking. Tsouklidou analyzes an Early Roman Panathenaic amphora with Athena and warrior, identifying the man as Marcus Antonius, who was designated Antonios Theos Neos Dionysos, wedded to Athena, and celebrated at the Panathenaic games of 38 B.C.E. According to Stern, Roman glass from the Athenian Agora dates primarily from the first to fourth centuries C.E. Techniques include wheelmade ribbed bowls; linear-cut bowls; moldpressed, moldblown vessels; and cast, mosaic, and other polychrome vessels. Tselekas examines coins for evidence of public identity and official ideology. Pride in heritage is indicated by omitting imperial portraits from obverses; placing local cults, myths, monuments, and events on reverses; and retaining the ethnic. Kokkorou-Alevra and Palagia emphasize the important contributions made by these recent excavations for our knowledge of Roman Athens.

Mary Sturgeon
Department of Art
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599

Book Review of Athens During the Roman Period: Recent Discoveries, New Evidence, by Stavros Vlizos

Reviewed by Mary C. Sturgeon

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 3 (July 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1143.Sturgeon

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