Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.12.44

Ralf Krumeich, Christian Witschel (ed.), Die Akropolis von Athen im Hellenismus und in der römischen Kaiserzeit.   Wiesbaden:  Reichert Verlag, 2010.  Pp. x, 445, 81 p. of plates.  ISBN 9783895007132.  €98.00.  

Reviewed by Jerker Blomqvist, Lund University (

Table of Contents

The scenery that meets the eye of a visitor to the Athenian Acropolis today, when stepping out of the Propylaea, is essentially a creation of two formative centuries in the history of the city. The two buildings that dominate the scene, the Parthenon and the Erechtheion complex, were both erected in the fifth century B.C.; so were the Propylaea and the Nike temple that visitors will pass on their way up to the Acropolis. The rest of the plateau, with its bare rock surface, only modest traces of other buildings and monuments, and with the Greek flag flying on its pole at the eastern extremity, is a gift to posterity from the nineteenth century A.D. When Greece had been liberated from Ottoman rule in the 1830s and Athens declared to be the capital of the new state, the symbolic value of the Acropolis demanded that it be purged of Turkish and other alien accretions and its Greekness be restored. Plans to build a vast royal residence on the plateau—complete with a hippodrome between the Erechtheion and the Parthenon—were abandoned,1 and instead focus was directed to what archaeologists, art historians, and philologists of the period regarded as the golden age of Greece, the “classical” period, spanning approximately the years between the battle of Marathon and the death of Demosthenes. Most later additions were cleared away; only those objects that could be identified as remains of ancient, although post-classical, constructions were left on the spot or deposited in museums and their storerooms. Much had already been lost in the intervening centuries, e.g., the numerous bronze statues that could be melted and recycled for other purposes. One of them, the twelve-meter Athena Promachos, had stood facing the Propylaea entrance only thirty meters from it.2 It must have been an impressive sight, and together with a great number of other statues and monuments, also now lost or relocated, it made the Acropolis landscape into something that a visitor of today cannot easily imagine.

It is the aim of the volume under review to reconstruct, as far as possible, that ancient landscape of Acropolis. It is a result of a research project initiated in 2004 by the two editors of the volume, Ralf Krumeich and Christian Witschel, now associated with the universities of Bonn and Heidelberg, respectively. The other participants in the project are historians and archaeologists of other European universities, most of them relatively young people. The project has been structured into three phases. The first two are now complete (‘Die Akropolis von Athen im Hellenismus und in der römischen Kaiserzeit’ [running 2004–2006] and ‘Die Akropolis von Athen im Hellenismus. Die Ausstattung des zentralen Polis-Heiligtums im Vergleich mit anderen öffentlichen Räumen in Athen und Attika’ [2006–2008]), the third one is still running (‘Die hellenistische Polis als Lebensform. Urbane Strukturen und bürgerliche Identität zwischen Tradition und Wandel’). The project started with a complete registration and documentation of all statue bases from the Acropolis and aimed at a reconstruction of the appearance and the function of the sanctuary complex in both Hellenistic and Roman times. In its two later phases the project concentrates on the Hellenistic period; on the other hand, it is no longer limited to the Acropolis but incorporates material from other parts of Athens and Attica as well. The project exemplifies the increasing interest of archaeologists in the post-classical periods of Athens that has manifested itself in the last few decades. It is contemporary with, and probably partly instigated by, the large-scale excavations that were made necessary by the building of the Athenian Metro and the new Acropolis Museum and by the general transformation of the city’s archaeological center.3

The completion of the first phase of the project was marked with an international colloquium in Bonn in June 2006. The contributions to that colloquium make up the present volume. In their introductory essay (‘Die Akropolis als zentrales Heiligtum und Ort athenischer Identitätsbildung’) the two editors describe their project and summarize the history of the Acropolis and its buildings from the archaic period down to the last decades of the fifth century A.D., when the pagan cult practices of the location ceased, the shrines were converted into churches, the Θεοτόκος superseeded the Παρθένος, and the bishop of Athens took up his residence in the Propylaea. They point out that all major building projects has been completed by 400 B.C. and practically the only significant addition to the architectural landscape of a later date was the round temple of Rome and Augustus to the northeast of the Parthenon. This does not mean that the rest of the landscape was left unchanged; the point of the Krumeich-Witschel project is precisely that the incessant erection of other sorts of monuments constantly transformed the Acropolis during antiquity. These monuments were for the most part of bronze and have consequently attracted pillagers, but statue bases and similar structural elements were of stone, so they were left in place and can now be used for reconstruction purposes. In many cases these stones had been used in medieval and later buildings on the Acropolis, so the archaeologists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries could identify them. One example of such recycling came to light when the west entrance of the Parthenon was dismantled in the twentieth century. At some date in late antiquity, the door frame had undergone a large-scale repair, during which most of the original building blocks were replaced with spoils from other monuments, including at least two inscribed statue bases (nos. A7 and B4 in Krumeich’s catalog).

The first three of the following papers treat post-classical Athens in a historical and urbanistic perspective. Michael Rathmann (‘Athen in hellenistischer Zeit — Fremdbestimmung und kulturelle Anziehungskraft’) points out that Hellenistic Athens, although politically no longer of prime significance, still could fascinate visitors by its cultural and intellectual traditions and attract donations from new powers, e.g., the Pergamene kings. When the Romans became active in the Eastern Mediterranean, their donations too soon began to appear on the Acropolis, as shown by Caroline Rödel in her contribution (‘Von Lucius Aemilius Paullus zu Augustus. Stiftungen von Römern in Athen’). The last century B.C. was a difficult period for Athens, when the Athenians repeatedly chose the losing side in internal Roman conflicts. It necessitated a new political and cultural orientation, evidenced also in the archaeological material, according to Elena Mango’s analysis (‘Tanta vis admonitionis inest in locis. Zur Veränderung von Erinnerungsräumen im Athen des 1. Jahrhunderts v. Chr.’).

Two papers are dedicated to the Acropolis in its capacity as the central religious focus point of the city-state. Jan Marius Müller (‘„... weihte es der Athena.” Basen von Weihgeschenken für Athena auf der nachklassischen Akropolis’) examines the post-classical offerings to the city goddess (from c. 200 B.C. often specified as “Athena Polias”). Ricarda Schmidt (‘Mädchen im Heiligtum. Die Arrhephoren auf der Akropolis im Hellenismus und in der Kaiserzeit’) examines the twenty preserved bases of monuments linked to young girls who had served as Arrhephoroi. It appears that this rite with pre-classical roots was celebrated at least until the second century A.D., a striking illustration of the continuity of Athenian cult practices.

“Political” aspects and the role of the Acropolis as a manifestation Athenian identity are treated by Riccardo Di Cesare (‘L’Acropoli dall’ellenismo all’impero ‘umanistico’. Aspetti politici di monumenti’). He points out that dedications by Alexander and the Hellenistic dynasts thematize the conflict of Greeks vs. (eastern) barbarians, just as the Athenian building program after the Persian wars had done, whereas the dedications of later centuries testify to obsequiousness towards Romans more than to anything else. It is only the “humanist” emperors of the second century, in particular Hadrian, who strive to restore Athens as the leading Greek city and as the chief exponent of Greekness. Andreas Scholl (‘„Es sind da auch alte Athena-Statuen ...” Pausanias und die vorpersischen Akropolisvotive’) also investigates Athenian attitudes to the glorious past of the city.

The three concluding contributions are more specifically focussed on groups of votive offerings and dedications. Sophia Aneziri (‘Kaiserzeitliche Ehrenmonumente auf der Akropolis: Die Identität der Geehrten und die Auswahl des Aufstellungsortes’) examines the identity of those individuals who received dedications in different localities of the city. Both Catherine M. Keesling (‘The Hellenistic and Roman Afterlives of Dedications on the Athenian Akropolis’) and Ralf Krumeich (‘Vor klassischem Hintergrund. Zum Phänomen der Wiederverwendung älterer Statuen auf der Athener Akropolis als Ehrenstatuen für Römer’) have studied the reuse of older dedications for the honoring of new dedicatees in the subsequent centuries. To judge from the Acropolis material, this was a common practice but, as the two studies also show, certain monuments were saved from being desecrated in this way.

This volume is undoubtedly a work of lasting value for anyone interested in the history of post-classical Athens. Future researchers will benefit from the rich bibliographic information provided by the generous lists of literature and detailed footnotes which accompany each individual paper. The volume contains no less than 81 plates with illustrations of high technical quality, including a foldout plan of the Acropolis and its immediate surroundings. Pl. 6 shows an Italian sepia drawing of the Acropolis of 1670, with the still largely intact south façade of the Parthenon. The drawing, which belongs to the Kunstmuseum of the Bonn University, is reproduced in color for the first time. The indexes are more extensive and detailed than is common in publications of this sort; they list geographica (including monuments), historical personalities, artists and architects, gods and mythological figures, inscriptions, and text passages. Another feature that also makes the book particularly useful is the addition of comprehensive catalogs of the objects discussed in certain papers: post-classical dedications to Athena (Müller), honorary monuments of the Roman period (Aneziri), reused statues (Krumeich).


1.   Cf. Eleni Bastéa, The Creation of Modern Athens: Planning the Myth, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-521-64120-9 (on the plans for the royal palace, pp. 88–92).
2.   Krumeich and Witschel (p. 15, n. 78) are skeptical to the identification of this Athena with the classical bronze statue that had been brought to Constantinople and was destroyed by the mob there in 1203.
3.   Stavros Vlizos (ed.), Η Αθήνα κατά τη Ρωμαϊκή εποχή. Πρόσφατες ανακαλύψεις, νέες έρευνες/Athens during the Roman Period. Recent Discoveries, New Evidence. Αθήνα: Μουσείο Μπενάκη/Athens: Mouseio Benaki 2008. ISBN 978-960-476-002-2. On pp. 353–370 Krumeich presents part of his project (‘Formen der statuarischen Repräsentation römischer Honoranden auf der Akropolis von Athen im späten Hellenismus und in der frühen Kaiserzeit/ Μορφές τιμητικών αγαλμάτων για τους Ρωμαίους στην Ακρόπολη της Αθήνας κατά την ύστερη ελληνιστική και την πρώϊμη αυτοκρατορική περίοδο’).

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2011
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review
Bryn Mawr Classical Commentaries

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
HTML generated at 15:35:30, Thursday, 15 December 2011