Location: Roughly north of the Agora’s west side, next to the Temple of Apollo Patroos and the Temple of Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria. No 3 in the Agora plan of the Guide: Μc Camp II, J., The Athenian Agora, A Short Guide to the Excavations, Excavations of the Athenian Agora, Picture Book no 16, American School of Classical Studies (Princeton 2003), p. 2 and pp. 24-25.
Date of construction: Based on the architectural members, the pottery discovered in the foundations and the construction techniques employed, it has been dated to 430-420 BC.
Periods of Use: Classical, Hellenistic, Roman
The Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios is the earliest monumental religious building erected in the Agora during the Classical period. It dominated its east side and, apart from its religious function, the building was a popular promenade and place of rendezvous. It is possible that it served as the seat some state officials, like the thesmothetai.
Part of the building, in its north section, was exposed and cursorily excavated in 1891, during the works for the construction of the Athens-Piraeus Railway. This is the first building exposed by the American School of Classical Studies in 1931.
Description of the ruins
Enough parts of the building survive to allow us to derive the building’s design in some detail. Its general plan is revealed by the traces of the cuttings on the bedrock. Several parts of the building’s foundations survive in the south side and the stoa’s rear section. In the north end, the foundations necessarily had a height of four or five layers, to compensate for the difference in elevation with the rest of the building which rests on the slope of the Hill of Agoraios Kolonos. The west end of the south side preserves a step of the foundation, and it is thought that three more existed. The foundations are made up of soft yellow poros, save for the exposed parts, where a more durable hard grey poros was used. In the steps themselves, Pentelic and Hymettian marble was used alternately.
Nowadays, this area of the square has been completely levelled, so as to illustrate the original plan of the building.
Building’s plan
During the Archaic period a small shrine dedicated to Zeus Eleutherios existed in the site of the building: its foundation measures 1.78 x 2m, comprising a single layer of soft yellow poros stones. The foundation of a pedestal which supported the devotional statue of Zeus has been discovered. The period of use and the date of this building’s destruction are unknown. It is presumed that it was destroyed during the Persian Wars. The area was subsequently occupied by pottery and metalworking workshops; these were probably removed shortly before the start of the works for the construction of the stoa.
The Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios was an elegant Pi-shaped Doric structure with prominent wings. Highly unusually for a building in the area of the Agora Square, its façade was made up of Pentelic marble. It rested on a stereobate of three steps.
The exterior colonnade featured 25 Doric columns, while there was a double interior colonnade of 7 Ionic unfluted columns. Both colonnades comprised columns of Pentelic marble. The discovery of a fragment from the lower drum, two intact uppermost drums and two small capital fragments from the exterior colonnade allows the representation of the Doric columns of the exterior colonnade. The lower diameter was 0.786m and the upper diameter 0.599m. The columns had 24 flutes. Some parts from the column shafts of the Ionic colonnade have survived – these were unfluted. The echinus’ decoration with ova and anthemia was engraved and painted. The lower diameter was 0.686m and the upper diameter 0.566m.
A section of the epistyle and the Doric frieze, with triglyphs and metopes, originating from the exterior colonnade was discovered in 1970 in the foundations of a Byzantine building on the northeast part of the Agora. The triglyphs were made up of Aegina poros and were relatively light. The metopes were made up of different material (probably Pentelic marble). The Doric frieze had a total height of 0.612m and a thickness of 0.789m. The width of the triglyphs has been calculated to 0.402m and of the metopes to 0.604m. The -inferred- regular intercolumnal spaces equalled 2.012m. The corners featured smaller metopes not flanked by triglyphs. The epistyle will have had the same height, in accordance with the standards of the period. The taenia and the regula were executed in red colour.
Several parts survive from the horizontal and the raking cornice. The horizontal cornice extended up to the corner of the building, without being completely connected with the raking cornice. A marble sime brought back the raking cornice to the area of the pediments.
The arrangement of the columns in the central part of the building has been interpreted as follows: at the centre, the intercolumnal spaces were larger, allowing the addition of a third triglyph and a third metope. To provide support and lessen the weight carried by the central columns, a combination of Aegina poros and marble was employed. The interior columns are precisely alined to the exterior ones. The foundations of all the columns have been discovered, except the one of the forward column in the north wing.
In the interior of the stoa there are traces of a continuous line of stones smaller than the ones used for the walls – obviously this supported and low bench coursing the building’s interior walls. This bench stops close to the façade of the lateral sides: we may infer, therefore, that the walls of the wings comprised posts and the facades had the form of prostyles.
Very few traces remain from the walls of the original building. Three of the blocks used in the masonry were discovered in the foundation of the annex built in the Roman period. These are made up of Aegina poros and have been finely worked only on one of their faces. They measure 1.023 x 0.702 x 0.351m.
The floor was made up of compacted earth and clay. Some of the roof’s clay Corinthian tiles have been discovered, these were obviously combined with antefixes at the lower line. The width of the stroteres (0.67m), equalled 1/3 of the regular intercolumniation (2.012m).
The building’s uses
Apart from its religious function, the building was a meeting place, frequented by many Athenians. This is where Socrates met and conversed with his friend, as mentioned in the works of Plato and Xenophon. It has also been suggested that it was the sear of the thesmothetai, magistrates with legal and judiciary functions. This was probably the place they dinned and convened. Previously, the building had been identified with the Stoa Basileios (a view endorsed by Boersma, for instance), but this stoa has now been located and excavated.
Altar of Zeus
In front of the stoa and 25m approximately to the east, on the ancient street coursing the west side of the Agora, an altar has come to light, evidently related with the worship of Zeus Eleutherios/Soter. Its dimension were 3.65m (N-S) x 1.22m (E-W). This altar was covered by orthostatai possibly made up of Pentelic marble (as indicated by the marble chips discovered in the surrounding area produced during monument’s construction). It is possible that the altar dates to the Archaic period; having survived the sack of Athens by the Persians it would have remained in use for several centuries until, obviously in the period when extensive works were carried out in the stoa (late 1st cent. BC – early 1st cent. AD), it was replaced by a more monumental structure. Judging from its foundation, its sole surviving part, it measured 13.25m (N-S) x 7.20m (E-W). This foundation comprised soft white poros stones in secondary use. The existence of steps on the monument’s west side is possible, as this was a common feature in the altars of this period.
In the account of his visit to the building, Pausanias mentions only the artworks he witnessed there. He describes the paintings that adorned the stoa's walls. These depicted the twelve gods, Theseus, Demos, Democracy, and the Battle of Mantineia, painted by Euphranor.
The bases of four statues were discovered between the wings, these too were described by Pausanias: the statues of Conon and his son Timotheos, Euagoras, king of Cyprus (all dated to the early 4th cent. BC), Hadrian and the statue of Zeus Eleutherios. The statue of Zeus was placed on the third base from the north, a circular pedestal with a diameter of 4.20m. The fourth, southernmost base was shaped like an exedra. This statue could be identified with a torso of a soldier discovered in the south section of the Great Aqueduct.
Pausanias mentions, on two occasions, the practice of dedicating the shields of soldiers heroically fallen in battle in this temple. The two occasions he provides relate to events of the early 3rd cent. BC (the battle of 287/286 BC against the Macedonian garrison stationed in Athens, and the war against the Gauls 279 BC respectively). These shields possibly decorated the building’s façade, and were removed by Sulla’s troops in 86 BC.

North and South Annexes
A simple rectangular building was added in the 2nd cent. BC on the rear part of the stoa, this had a separate entrance in the north and did not communicate with the stoa. During the Early Roman period, two more rooms were added to the west side, slightly more to the north with respect to the stoa’s central axis. The hill was cut back to make way for the construction of this annex. It measured 16.7m (N-S) x 15.30m (E-W) and was internally divided into two rooms roughly equal in size, each with a distyle in antis propylon. A narrow passageway was allowed between the old stoa and the annex. A section of the stoa’s north wall was removed and replaced by five columns. The traces of a bronze statue’s pedestal were discovered in the south room. These were probably used as temples and may have housed the cult of the Roman emperors and the goddess Rome.
During the Early Imperial period (late 1st cent. BC - early 1st cent. AD), the stoa’s floor was paved with marble slabs, which were, however, removed during the Late Imperial period (5th cent. AD), following the building’s destruction.
Αρχαία Αγορά της Αθήνας – Άρειος Πάγος. Σύντομο Ιστορικό και Περιήγηση, Έκδοση της Ένωσης Φίλων Ακροπόλεως (Αθήνα 2004), p. 11.
BOERSMA, J.S., Athenian Building Policy from 561/560 to 405/404 B.C., Scripta Archaeologica Groningana 4 (Groningen 1970), pp. 88-89, 216, no. 92.
LIPPOLIS, E., ‘Apollo Patroos, Ares, Zeus Eleutherios. Culto e archittetura di Stato ad Atene tra la democrazia e I Macedoni’, Annuario della Scuola Archeologica di Atene LXXVII-LXVIII (1998-2000), pp. 139-217 (esp. pp. 162-178).
Mc CAMP II, J., The Athenian Agora: A Guide to the Excavation and Museum 4 (Athens 1990)
Μc CAMP II, J., The Athenian Agora, A Short Guide to the Excavations, Excavations of the Athenian Agora, Picture Book no 16, American School of Classical Studies (Princeton 2003), p. 9.
Mc CAMP II, J., Η Αρχαία Αγορά της Αθήνας. Οι Ανασκαφές στην καρδιά της κλασικής πόλης2 (Αθήνα 2004), pp. 134-136.
STILWELL, R., ‘Architectural Studies. I. The Royal Stoa’, Hesperia 2 (1933), pp. 110-124.
THOMPSON, H.A., ‘Buildings on the West Side of the Athenian Agora’, Hesperia 6 (1937), pp. 1-222(esp. pp. 21-47).
THOMPSON, H.A. – WYCHERLEY, R., The Agora of Athens. The American Excavations in the Athenian Agora, vol. XIV (Princeton 1972), pp. 96-103.
TRAVLOS, J., Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens (Princeton 1971).

Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios, Representation in VR environment

The project "Virtual Reality Digital Collection 'The Ancient Agora of Athens'" has been co-funded in a percentage of 80% by the European Regional Development Fund and in a percentage of 20% by state funds in the framework of the Operational Programme "Information Society" of the 3rd Community Support Framework.

HellasEuropean UnionInfosoc newInfosoc