Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2016.01.22 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2016.01.22

Emanuele Greco, Topografia di Atene: Sviluppo urbano e monumenti dalle origini al III secolo d.C., Tomo 3* e Tomo 3**: Quartieri a nord e a nord-est dell'Acropoli e Agora del Ceramico. Studi di Archeologia e Topografia di Atene e dell'Attica (SATAA), 1.3* -3**.   Atene; Paestum:  Scuola Archaeologica Italiana di Atene; Pandemos, 2014.  Pp. 264; 368.  ISBN 9788887744408.  €180.00.  

Emanuele Greco, Topografia di Atene: Sviluppo urbano e monumenti dalle origini al III secolo d.C., Tomo 4: Ceramico, Dipylon e Accademia. Studi di Archeologia e Topografia di Atene e dell'Attica (SATAA), 1.4.   Atene; Paestum:  Scuola Archaeologica Italiana di Atene; Pandemos, 2014.  Pp. 286.  ISBN 9788887744422.  €90.00.  

Reviewed by Balbina Bäbler, University of Göttingen (

The phrase "Topography of Athens" still recalls today the groundbreaking works of W. Judeich (Topographie von Athen, München, 1931) and J. Travlos (Bildlexikon zur Topographie des antiken Athen, Tübingen 1971). The Scuola Italiana of Athens has now provided volumes 3 and 4 of their ambitious project (8 volumes are planned), which constitutes far more than a mere updating of those previous works: the current project aims to rethink the urban space of the city of Athens from its beginnings to the form it took in late antiquity using historical, economic, and anthropological methods as well as those of religious studies. In doing so, the various authors also provide a critical assessment of earlier research.1

Volume 3.1 is dedicated to the area to the north and northeast of the Acropolis. The first section (pp. 629–707) of the volume covers Lycabettus and the area on and around the modern Syntagma Square in the heart of Athens, where a foundry, a Mycenaean cemetery, and late antique structures have been found. Recent excavations have brought to light new evidence for watercourses that ran down from Lycabettos and aqueducts built from archaic to imperial times. This section gives an excellent overview of the city’s demands for and supply of water.

The second section (pp. 709–847) deals with the area to the north of the Acropolis that represented a prosperous residential section of the ancient town that became "monumentalized" from the Hellenistic epoch onwards. Its most famous landmarks are the Tower of the Winds, the Roman Agora, and the Library of Hadrian. Many of the important monuments in this part of town are not mentioned in Pausanias’ Description of Greece (pp. 710ff.), probably because he was focused mainly on the classical period.

Volume 3.2 is entirely devoted to the Agora, the heart of Athens.2 Pages 918–921 present the history of its excavation from the mid 19th century; equally interesting for the history of scholarship is the section on the house of L.-F.-S. Fauvel, the first museum of Athens (p. 1093). Each monument of the Agora and the Kolonos Agoraios is introduced by a discussion of its history, its function, and the previous research on it (see, e.g., the splendid description of the Hephaisteion [pp. 923–941]). All the epigraphic remains are taken into account as well (e.g., pp. 956–960).

Volume 4 is dedicated to the Kerameikos, the Dipylon, and the Academy, i.e., the cemetery, the most important city gate of Athens, and all the grave monuments and sanctuaries alongside the Dromos (pp. 1313–1348) and the Via Sacra (pp. 1339–1396). The volume starts with an introduction into the Deme of Melite, one of the big demes of the inner city ( Asty) adjacent to the Kerameikos; its sanctuary of the Demos and the Charites remained in use until the end of the 2nd century A.D. Pages 1255–1282 cover the inner part of the Kerameikos that contained also the most important "cultic exit" of Athens: the Pompeion, where the worshippers would gather for the procession to Eleusis to celebrate the mysteries. It is flanked on either side by the Dipylon gate and the Hiera Pyle, or Sacred Gate. An interesting section offers an overview of the excavations in the cemetery from their start in the 18th century until the discoveries of 2002 (see below). Pages 1271–1274 present the newest insights on the city wall of Athens that intersects the area of the cemetery and shows in detail its building phases from the oldest construction of 478 B.C. to the repairs in the epoch of the Byzantine emperor Justinian.

The section that deals with the grave monuments along the abovementioned streets (pp. 1313–1462) is especially interesting since it discusses the discoveries of the last two decades. In front of the "Holy Gate" (Hiera Pyle) a series of exceptionally well preserved funerary sculptures were discovered in 2002 (pp. 1275–1277, 1288–1291): a kouros, a sphinx, and a majestically seated lion, all from the beginning of the 6th century B.C.

Another discovery (pp. 1379–1385) made over the years 1993–1995 in the course of works at the metro station "Kerameikos" (the area is called Lachanagora after the vegetable market that was situated there in the 19th century) brought to light two mass graves dated to the 430/20s B.C. into which the deceased had for all appearances been thrown hastily and without any of the required religious rituals. This site was the first confirmation of the breakdown of all civilized behavior that Thucydides (2.47.3–54) so impressively describes during the epidemic that struck Athens at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. However, although there were DNA tests performed on the remains, no consensus on the exact nature of the sickness has yet been reached.

The second section (pp. 1465–1510) is dedicated to the Academy, the area of the hero Akademos (for his sanctuary, see pp. 1465–1472) located about 1.5 km from the Dipylon gate, where Plato began to teach after his return from Sicily in 387/6 B.C. The reader is provided with a thorough understanding of the situation, equipment, and history of Plato’s philosophical school (see pp. 1480–1491 on the gymnasion; pp. 1501–1504 for a history of the institution from Plato to Proclos).

At the end of Volume 4 (pp. 1521–1548) the editor Greco gives a kind of preliminary conclusion ("L’Asty. Per una storia urbanistica di Atene"); the final great synthesis is planned for Volume VII. His outline of the history of scholarship impressively shows how long topography consisted mainly of identifying ancient monuments; only over time (pp. 1530–1540) did it become a modern science, thanks not least to the works of K. S. Pittakis, E. Curtius, and A. Kaupert, who began to make attempts at systematization in the mid and late 19th century. Greco convincingly argues for a diachronic approach: the most important axes and patterns of the city were already defined during the Late Archaic period. In this context he thinks that Thucydides’ descriptions are trustworthy, but that the historian’s criterion for what was worth describing was what Greco calls an "archaeology of the cult," which made ancient sanctuaries and shrines of the ancestors feature prominently in his history (pp. 1542-1544). Although in Roman times Hadrian’s activities profoundly changed the face of the city, many open questions remain about this emperor’s "New Athens," including the exact interpretation of his library, or the location of the so-called panhellenion; there is still no comprehensive topographical work on Athens in Roman times. In his thought-provoking preliminary summary Greco points out that while there are several homogenous areas with outstanding well-known monuments like the Acropolis or the Agora, the question remains whether it is possible to write an urban history of the city as a whole.

Volumes 3 and 4 include extensive bibliographies at the end of each section (pp. 1159–1210 and pp. 1549–1578) of the literature that is quoted in abbreviated form.

The Topografia di Atene is a monumental achievement that makes it difficult to do justice to its authors and its editor in this limited space. I shall therefore try to point out some of the most remarkable features:

These volumes are certainly not only the most exhaustive topographical lexicon on Athens today, but also the most up to date. An immense asset is that the research and finds that are presented here comprise the extensive works done in the city in connection with the Olympic Games of 2004. The findings that came to light when new underground lines were built greatly enhance our picture of the history and development of ancient Athens.

The reader is provided with detailed information on even the smallest and (seemingly) most unimportant ancient structures, while, in the same volume, the broader contexts are also provided, with extensive historical and archeological introductions to every part of the town, its cults, the building activities from the beginning to late antiquity, the political development of the demes, etc. (see e.g., pp. 885–917 on the Agora and its predecessors). There are, moreover, maps of every area of the modern city on which the ancient monuments are indicated so as to convey an impression of the actual situation. In addition, every monument is presented with a plan, its elevation, and pictures from every angle, and, if necessary, historical drawings from the 18th or early 19th century are also provided. In addition to the pictures, maps, and drawings found within the books, there are detailed large-scale area plans in the outer pocket of each volume, and in the fourth volume an overall map of the whole Asty is also included.

Another outstanding feature of these volumes is the background information provided on many subjects,3 e.g., on the aqueducts of Athens (pp. 674–685) or the institution and functioning of the palaistra (pp. 670–672). Pages 780–787 contain an exemplary discussion of the new research that has been done on the Library of Hadrian, taking as its focus the multifunctional aspects of the Library as a center of learning, a museum, and a place of imperial representation (in this aspect it was probably taking after its model, the library in the Templum Pacis in Rome4). In all these discussions, every source — archaeological, literary, epigraphic, and numismatic — is taken into account and carefully examined.

Moreover, the reader will find a great deal of information on every cult that is in any way attested in Athens and also on many historical events. See, for example, the discussions on the cults that are documented in literature, but not yet archaeologically verified in the deme of Melite (pp. 1245–1247); the Leokoreion (pp. 1259ff.), the Via Sacra from Athens to Eleusis, and the statues of the Tyrannicides (pp. 1075–1082).

These are only a few examples chosen at random to show that these volumes are much more than a straightforward topographical lexicon, rather, they constitute the work that all students and scholars will turn to when looking for information on any location, monument, or subject of ancient Athens, as well as the starting point for future research.

The authors and the editor have more than achieved their ambitious aims; we will all look forward to the subsequent volumes.


1.   The entire enterprise is designed as a continuous entity by the authors; volume 3.1 therefore begins with p. 589, the images with figure 310.
2.   The Italian term Agora del Ceramico is derived from the boundary markers (horoi) of the adjacent deme Kerameis or Kerameikos see pp. 853–855.
3.   Marked with an F for Finestre di Approfondimento.
4.   J. Bergemann, Die Hadriansbibliothek in Athen. Kaiserliches Bauwerk zwischen Klassizismus und romantischer Erinnerungskultur, in: Y. Perrin (ed.), Neronia VII: bibliothèques, livres et culture écrite dans l’empire romain de César à Hadrien (Bruxelles 2010), pp. 54–62.

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