Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.02.24

Heiner Knell, Athen im 4. Jahrhundert v. Chr.--eine Stadt verändert ihr Gesicht. Archäologisch--kulturgeschichtliche Betrachtungen.   Darmstadt:  Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2000.  Pp. 219.  ISBN 3-534-14987-4.  DM 128.  

Reviewed by Eva Parisinou, School of Archaeological Studies, University of Leicester (
Word count: 2118 words

This monograph, as reflected by the title, focuses on the nature and processes of transformation in Athens in the fourth century BC. More specifically, it deals with the "changing of the face" of the city of Athens, and her transition from the position of a hegemonic superpower among the Greek states in the fifth century to a major cultural centre in the fourth.

Knell admits right from the outset that his study will not attempt to provide answers to every question about this period of complex developments in Athens and clearly sets out his aims and method. He promises to write the cultural history of the city within a well defined chronological frame, from the end of the Peloponnesian war which signalled the humiliation of Athens on a military and political level to the final loss of her autonomy in 317 BC as a result of the rise of the Makedonian kingdom. The author further explains the topographical focus of this study on Athens itself rather than Attica and his classification of the material available for the fourth century in eight broad thematic entities (chapters), all with a strong topographical orientation. Key issues, such as the transformation of the architectural layout of the city and the new priorities in public building undertakings, are addressed here as unmistakable mirrors of cultural change. These issues reflect the principal methodological foundation of the work which is archaeology and the analysis of the artistic production of Athens in the fourth century, with particular emphasis on architecture and sculpture. Literary production forms a solid and indispensable background to the discussion of the material remains of the city in the fourth century, giving the study a broad interdisciplinary aspect. Knell is not only aware of the advantages of such an approach but also of its pitfalls, especially with respect to the achievement of a firm and even distribution of scholarly treatment over every angle of the book's central theme. As an overview of the cultural history of Athens with a primary focus on art (mainly sculpture) and architecture, and to a lesser extent portable finds from the excavation of the areas considered, Knell's study is successful.

Knell uses primary data as a springboard to pursue further issues of the spatial, social, political, intellectual and artistic development of the city. The discussions are excellently illustrated with well-chosen and good quality drawings (many of which are reconstructions) and photos leading the reader effectively through the surviving monuments. This study supplements well the already high-quality historical works on the period and the city of Athens, and at the same time, adds a new dimension to archaeological publications of individual monuments of the city.1 On the other hand, the scope of Knell's work goes beyond, and at the same time builds on, more focused works on the cultural policies in Athens implemented by Euboulos and Lykourgos as shown in the recent study of B. Hintzen-Bohlen.2

If one can speak of a major drawback in this study, this should clearly be the omission from the discussion of the important discoveries made by the Greek Archaeological Service during the last decade's rescue excavations for the construction of the Metropolitan Railway of Athens. The findings of this vast excavation project have considerably altered and expanded our perception of the development of Athens in all periods; particularly rich results have been yielded about the layout of Athens' public cemetery (Kerameikos) in the fourth century. Although the first full publication of the project has just come out in 2000 reports of the progress of the excavations were regularly published in the nineties.3 Further bibliographical updating was needed in the discussion of the Eleusinian (p.45 n.22) as well as Panathenaic procession (p.54 n.12) and torch-race (p.45 n.14), especially in view of recent studies published by J. Neils, N. Robertson, K. Clinton and D. Kyle on related topics.

Moving to the structure of the book, the introduction [pp. 11-22] explores many of the themes first presented in the preface. Here, Knell offers a brief outline of the burst of architectural activity in fourth century Athens, making interesting remarks about the nature and extent of the city's expansion. The focus of the latter is no longer the Akropolis as in the fifth century, but the areas of the city which accommodated vital public functions, such as the city's public cemetery (Kerameikos) including the Pompeion, the place of the Athenian Assembly on the hill of Pnyx and the market place of the city (Agora). Separate discussions are devoted to contexts which assumed their definitive layout in the fourth century, such as the sanctuary of Asklepeios on the south slope of the Akropolis, the theatre of Dionysos, major choregic monuments, the Panathenaic stadium and the gymnasia.

Knell then goes on to unfold deftly the history of the period, beginning his narration with the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian war and covering the whole of the fourth century. This broad overview of the cultural history of Athens is a tightly knit synthesis of the major military and political events of the period and cultural changes or development of other kinds, such as the intellectual and artistic production, the transformation of the living space in Athens and the new shift of priorities for building operations as well as major institutional reforms, the organisation of the city's finances and human resources and aspects of social crisis.

After establishing the historical frame of the period, Knell commences a series of case studies--each comprising a chapter--focusing on the above mentioned areas of public life in Athens. Beginning with the Kerameikos [pp.232-46], Knell works along the same lines by inserting discussions of the spatial development of the site as well as notable examples of sepulchral sculpture into the broader historical context of the cemetery's life. The latter includes a useful summary of funerary legislation and practices in Athens from the late archaic times onwards, offering the reader multiple insights of the use of the cemetery in connection with the broader political, economic and social developments in the city of Athens itself. It is a pity indeed that discussion of the new data from the above mentioned Greek excavations in the area is missing from both the text and the bibliographical references.

The reader is led through the principle topographical features of Kerameikos and gains a good overview of the standing sculptural monuments used as grave markers. The iconography of death and funerary customs is another important theme in this chapter, which is treated along with representations on white-ground lekythoi from the site. In his discussion of sculptural monuments, Knell skilfully combines traditional art-historical approaches with comments on the socio-political significance of the pieces in a fourth century Athenian context. Updated plans and photographs from the site accompany the discussion and are invaluable for the orientation of the reader through the site but less helpful for an assessment of portable finds from the funerary contexts. Further links of function (though not as updated as they might be) between the Kerameikos and the city of Athens or other Attic sites are highlighted here, such as the famous Panathenaic torch-race or the procession of the Eleusinian mysteries which passed through the 'Sacred Way' of the city's public cemetery.

Following a sensible topographical sequence between the sites within the city, Knell next discusses the Pompeion [pp.47-54]. Here he builds on previous full architectural analyses of the building made by W. Hoepfner4 and works around them by elaborating on the use of the Pompeion in antiquity on various occasions according to literary and epigraphical records. A wealth of illustrations of the building accompanies its description. The role of the Pompeion--especially its peristyle court--as the point of assembly during the preparation of public processions is emphasized by the author but perhaps not in as much detail as it might.5

The Pnyx is discussed next [pp.55-62] with particular reference to its three major building phases; each of these phases is considered in context, with regard to the impact of the size and form of the public assembly place on the spatial arrangement and running of public meetings. Knell places the full span of Pnyx's building history within the broader frame of Athenian politics, constitutional developments and attitude of citizens towards the state in the period from the Kleisthenic reforms to Lykourgos in the first half of the fourth century and, beyond that, until the end of the century. Excellent drawings are included, reflecting not only the architectural but also the spatial transformation of the area.

The same may be said about the following section of Knell's book, which presents the market place of Athens [pp.63-114]. After a brief introduction about the use of the area in the fifth and fourth centuries, Knell devotes separate discussions to building complexes in the Agora which were significantly transformed in the late classical period. He commences with the sourthern part of the western side of the site (old and 'new' Bouleuterion, the monument of the Eponymous Heroes and the Tholos), then moving northwards to the temple of Apollo Patroos and its neighbouring stoa buildings and the Stoa Poikile which closes off the civic centre from the north. At the same time, the political and social significance of the transformed, fourth century layout of the site is highlighted, based on a synthesis of a range of data; these mainly comprise detailed observations of the architectural layout of the site, its associated artwork (mainly sculpture) and, to a lesser extent, some conspicuous archaeological finds which enhance our image of the function of the place as the civic centre of Athens in the fourth century. Particularly interesting (and lengthy) is the discussion of the statue of Eirene (personification of Peace), work of the sculptor Kephisodotus, which is discussed in the context of the cult of Eirene in the city centre and its relationship with the peace politics of Athens in the second quarter of the fourth century. The cult statue of Apollo Patroos is also discussed in relation to its architectural surroundings and its political significance. The buildings along the southern side of the Agora are presented next (south stoa I, fountain houses and the court-building) together with the large peristyle house on the north eastern side of the site.

Similar lines of synthesis are pursued in the following chapters of the book. The neighbouring architectural monuments of the south slope of the Akropolis are tackled first, namely the sanctuary and cult of Asklepios [pp.115-125] and the theatre of Dionysos [pp.126-147], with further discussions devoted to significant choregic monuments in different areas of the city [pp.148-166]. Knell places much emphasis on the cultural renaissance of the city in the fourth century within its legal and political framework. He marks a clear distinction between the birth of such a phenomenon in the fifth century and its heyday in the late classical period as reflected in the form, elaboration and types of building undertaken in that period. In this context, the theatre of Dionysos serves as a good case study. On the other hand, the increasing significance of the democratic institution of choregia is considered against the political and social context of fourth century Athens. A range of archaeological examples from the city is discussed beginning with the monument of Lysikrates in the street of Tripods and including other choregic monuments, such as those of Thrasyllos and Nikias.

Finally, the image of the cultural rebirth of Athens is supplemented by two further chapters, both focusing on the construction and expansion of athletic grounds and buildings, such as the Panathenaic stadium [pp.167-172] and other gymnasia in the town [pp.173-195]. The author describes the monuments with detail and clarity, including the artistic production associated with them, and effectively links them with the cultural and educational policies implemented in Athens by Eubulos and Lykourgos.

The short and very helpful conclusions [pp.196-203] are followed by a glossary and full indexes including a list of literary works used. Here, one could have wished for a section on bibliographical references which would have provided the reader with a fuller and clear picture of the research available for the period.

Overall, one has to admit that Knell went about a highly demanding task with a clear purpose, caution and thoroughness, and with sensitive consideration for a whole range of readers who will undoubtedly find this work not only instructive but entertaining too. His book will serve as a useful tool, though perhaps not as the reference book for fourth century Athens one might have wished, both for the general reader and the student who wishes to be initiated to the study of the period, and will also serve as a first station to scholars on their way to their specialised fields of interest in the period.


1.   For example, Morgens Herman Hansen, The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes: Structure, Principles, and Ideology. (Oxford UK and Cambridge USA: B.Blackwell 1991); The Athenian Ecclesia II: a Collection of Articles 1976-83 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press 1983); The Athenian Assembly in the Age of Demosthenes (Oxford UK and New York: B.Blackwell 1987).

2.   Brigitte Hintzen-Bohlen, Die Kulturpolitik des Eubulos und des Lykurg. Die Denkmäler- und Bauprojekte in Athen zwischen 355 und 322 v. Chr. (Berlin: Akademie Verlag GmbH 1997).

3.   For a full list of references to those reports: Liana Parlama and Nikolaos Chr. Stambolidis, The City beneath the City. Antiquities from the Metropolitan Railway Excavations. (Athens: Greek Ministry of Culture and N.P. Goulandris Foundation 2000), notes on p.275 with discussion on pp.265-275. Among the significant finds for fourth century Athens is a stele recording a financial report of the Athenian Amphiktyons on Delos [p.139 no123] with more epigraphical material on p.166 no137 and pp.388-9 nos 446-7.

4.   Wolfram Hoepfner, Das Pompeion. Kerameikos 10 (1976).

5.   Recent works on pompai include the article of Fritz Graf, "Pompai in Greece. Some Considerations about Space and Ritual in the Greek Polis" in Robin Hägg ed., The Role of religion in the Early Greek Polis. Proceedings of the Third International Seminar on Ancient Greek Cult, organized by the Swedish Institute at Athens, 16-18 October 1992. (Stockholm: Paul Aströms Förlag 1996), pp. 55-65.

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