Ancient Athens’ Roman Past – Part 1

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In the Ancient Greek world, the city-state of Athens was the center of everything. The cultural, political, and social advancements made by the Athenians in a short 200 years were unparalleled by any rival Greek city-state. However  This period in Greek history is aptly known as Roman Greece. It began with the Roman’s victory over the Corinthians at the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC and lasted until the Roman Emperor Constantine founded the city of Constantinople in 330 AD. The latter, of course, would lead to the rise of the culturally Greek, Byzantine Empire.

The Roman Poet Horace wrote, “Greece, the captive, made her savage victor captive.” Potently explaining that although Rome had militarily defeated Greece, Greek cultural and civilization captivated the Romans and strongly influenced and shaped their civilization. This is seen in the way monuments were continually built in ‘conquered’ Athens throughout the Roman period. In fact some of the city’s most famous ancient landmarks are from this period. We’ll take a tour of seven of the most popular landmarks from Athens’ Roman past. First off we’ll take a look at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Arch of Hadrian and the Theater of Herod Atticus.

Temple of Olympian Zeus – Ναὸς τοῦ Ὀλυμπίου Διός
–          Area: Syntagma Area – Beside Amalias Avenue
–          Type: Monumental Temple
–          Date: 132 AD

About the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Located only a little over half-a-mile from the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus [Grk: Ναὸς τοῦ Ὀλυμπίου Διός] is a half ruined colossal temple dedicated to Zeus, the chief of the Olympian gods. The temple was actually started in the 6th Century BC, but was incomplete until the Roman Emperor Hadrian finished it in 132 AD, part of his numerous building programs in Athens.

Made with Pentelic marble, the temple is the largest in Greece, even larger than the famous Parthenon standing above it. Each gigantic, ornate Corinthian column stands at an astounding 56 feet tall and 6.5 feet thick. Today only 15 of the original 104 columns remain standing; the sixteenth column was blown over during a fierce windstorm in 1852 and was left lying where it had collapsed. Although only a very small fraction of the original temple remains it is still very easy to get a sense of how massive the temple is and must have been. The ruins have unsurprisingly become one of the most popular and significant monuments of the city.

Arch of Hadrian – Αψίδα του Αδριανού 
–          Area: Syntagma Area – Beside Amalias Avenue
–          Type: Monumental Arch / Gate
–          Date: 132 AD

About the Arch of Hadrian
The Arch of Hadrian [Grk: Αψίδα του Αδριανού] also commonly referred to as Hadrian’s Gate [Grk: Πύλη του Αδριανού] is a monumental gateway built by the Emperor Hadrian, who was an admirer of Greek culture. The 59 foot gate is made from Pentelic marble in the Corinthian order and stands only yards from the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

It was originally part of wall built to separate the old and new cities of Athens. There are two inscriptions above the arch. On the side facing the Acropolis it reads, “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus”, while the side facing the Temple of Olympian Zeus reads, “This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus”. Despite missing the columns on its lower level, the Arch has been extraordinarily well preserved. However, located mere feet from heavily used Amalias Avenue, the Arch’s marble has been significantly discolored and damaged from pollution.

Odeon of Herod Atticus – Ωδείο Ηρώδου του Αττικού
–          Area: Acropoli
–          Type: Amphitheater
–          Date: 161 AD

About the Odeon of Herod Atticus
The Odeon of Herod Atticus [Grk: Ωδείο Ηρώδου του Αττικού] also commonly called the Herodeion [Grk: Ηρώδειο] is a stone theater located on the southwest slope of the Acropolis. It was built in 161 AD by a wealthy Greek aristocrat and Roman senator in memory of his wife. To improve acoustics the theater was covered with a timber roof without any internal support. The amphitheater has a three story, arched stone façade that in large part still stands today. Its 30 rows of seating hold 5,000 people.

Unfortunately after only about 100 years it was destroyed and turned into a ruin by the marauding Heruli tribe in 267 AD. With the exception of the roof, the Odeon was completely restored in 1950 using Pentelic marble for the rows of seats. The restored theater is still in use today and has hosted countless Greek and internationally renowned musicians. It is used often during the summer when the Athens Festival takes place.

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This post was written by GreekBoston.com

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