Location: West end of the Agora Square’s south side. No 6 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. Mc Camp II., J., The Archaeology of Athens (New Haven – London 2001), p. 69, fig. 66, gives us the best representation of the Tholos and its surroundings in the 5th cent. BC.
Date of construction: 470/460 BC. The sources do not mention the date of its construction, but this can be established by dating the earlier pottery uncovered in the site and by the style of the decoration on the antefixes. If we correlate its construction with Cimon’s building project we should date it at some point between 466 and 461 BC.
Periods of Use: Classical, Hellenistic, Roman
The Tholos, or Skias, is situated in the west end of the Agora Square’s south side. It was excavated in 1933 and 1934, while complementary research was carried out in 1936 and 1937. It was readily identified as the Tholos mentioned by Pausanias (1.5.1) in the south-western corner of the Agora.
Building’s use
The name Skias is attributed to the Tholos in the works of a series of lexicographers (Ammonius; in Harpokration’s Lexicon, see under the entry on ‘Tholos’; Photius and the Suda, see under the entry ‘Skias’; Hesychius, see under the entry ‘Skias’; Etymologicum Magnum, see under the entry ‘Skias’), as well as in inscriptions. This name resulted from the building’s resemblance to a skiadion, a parasol or a straw sun-hat. The literary sources (Scholia in Aristophanem, Peace, line 1183) mention yet another name for the Tholos, the Prytanikon; it is also said that votive reliefs of the 3rd and 2nd cent. BC were placed there in honour of the members of the Boule serving as prytaneis. It is possible that the name ‘Prytanikon’ was used to describe both the Tholos and the area enclosed by the wall, the locus of various other activities. Other sources inform us that the greater area in which the Tholos stood was named ‘the Archives’ (Etymologicum Magnum, see under the entry ‘Tholos’; Photius, see under the entry ‘Tholos’).
The main function of the Tholos was to house the activities of the fifty prytaneis (chairmen), that is, the bouleutai of the tribe holding the prytaneia in that particular 1/10 of the year (a period of 35 or 36 days). The existence of a kitchen indicates that its main function revolved around the catering for the prytaneis, the expenses for which we covered by the state. The sources suggest that one third of the prytaneis (16 or 17 of them) spent the night there, while in extraordinary circumstances, like in the case of the incident of the mutilation of the Herms (415 BC), the entire body stayed the night there [Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution 44.1, Andocides, On the Mysteries, 45, cf. also Phoenix 21 (1967), pp. 79-84].
The suggestion has been made that, in order to accommodate the 50 bouleutai, a low bench coursed the inside of the wall of the Tholos, and this is where the prytaneis sat. It is thought that tables were placed in front of them. According to other views, the building contained six groups of beds arranged around the columns, as well as beds placed along the walls. Finally, for the meetings of the body we should imagine a different arrangement, with the prytaneis seated in concentric circles around the colonnade.
A little further to the north small rooms have been excavated, identified as a kitchen and a storeroom. The clay vessels unearthed there are simple black-glazed pots bearing the inscription ΔΕ(ΜΟΣΙΟΝ=public property), obviously to discourage outgoing prytaneis from keeping these as mementoes of their tenure.
Apart from the activities of the prytaneis, the Tholos also housed their secretaries, as well as other city officials (Demosthenes, 19, 249, 314, together with the ancient comments). This is also where the city's official standards of measurement were kept under the supervision of the metronomoi. These officials entrusted standards-setting specimens to three public slaves in the Tholos, in Piraeus and Eleusis. Like all the archives of the city, the Tholos served as a place of worship related to administration of the state. Inscriptions of the 3rd and 2nd cent. BC mention the deities to which the prytaneis sacrificed: Apollo Prostaterios, Artemis Boulaia, Artemis Phosphoros and the female divinities called Phosphoroi.
Movable finds
Drinking vessels have been discovered in and around the area of the Tholos (mainly from the kitchen), dating from the 4th cent. BC. Measurement standards made up of clay (5th and 4th cent. BC) have been unearthed in this site and elsewhere. The courtyard of the Tholos has also yielded some statues portraying divinities related to the rites of the Tholos (Phosphoroi), as well as several decrees and votive inscriptions of the 3rd and the 2nd cent. BC.
In his account, written in the 2nd cent. AD, Pausanias reports having witnessed silver statues inside the Tholos – of course these artworks have not survived.
The construction of the Tholos is dated to the period between 470 and 460 BC. Its date of construction is not mentioned in any sources: this results from the dating of the earliest pottery unearthed there and the style of the decoration on the antefixes. If we correlate its construction with Cimon’s building project we should date it at some point between 466 and 461 BC.
During the 6th cent. BC a number of buildings stood on the site of the Tholos, while part of it was taken up by a graveyard; these were raised to the ground during the Persian invasion of 480/479 BC.
Surviving ruins
Of the Tholos, 8 complete or fragmentary blocks from the lower section of the walls survive in situ. Another, originating from the second layer of blocks, survives in the west. On the other sides, the wall slid towards the bottom of the foundation ditch. Several blocks were discovered in secondary use in other buildings.
The bases for five out of the six columns have been traced in the interior of the Tholos. The sixth one was removed during the Mediaeval period. The lower part of the column was found northwest of the building.
The building’s plan
In the western part the wall rests directly on the bedrock, while in other parts on the ground raised by pilling crumbled limestone to a height of approximately 1.5m. The building's architect flattened an extensive section of the bedrock by cutting the hill to the west, and used this material to raise the ground in the east. The edge of the flattened part extends to the west to a distance of up to 3m from the outer side of the wall of the Tholos. In the southwest, the cutting had a height of up to 1.5m.
The original plan was simple: the solid external wall forms a cylinder, completely undecorated; there is a door on the east side, perhaps another one in the north and six columns in the interior, to provide support for the roof. Its radius at the surface of the lower blocks of the wall has been calculated to 8.45m. The circular plan has been executed with accuracy, and very few of the surviving blocks diverge -minutely- from the original plan. The diameter on the outside of the building is 18.32 m (height of blocks on the first layer: 0.46 m in the west and 0.42m in the southeast; length of blocks: 1.17-1.30 m on their external side; thickness 71cm approx.). As some of the second layer blocks preserve the spot for setting in the clamp, it is thought that there was a third layer of blocks. Most likely the upper part of the superstructure was made up of raw mud bricks. The total height of the building is uncertain, though.
There is a door in the east side of the Tholos. The existence of a second door in the north side has been suggested to provide the main building of the Tholos with a means of access to the kitchen.
The marble cyma surrounding the Tholos at a height of 1m approximately, was placed, according to one view, to function as a base for mural paintings, which will have been destroyed in 86 BC. Some traces of a perpendicular addition on the upper part of one of the surviving blocks have been taken as indications to the existence of windows. A similar feature has been observed in other Athenian buildings, like the Old Propylon of Athens and the Propylaea Gallery of Mnesikles. Two slabs of the cyma survive. One of these is only 0.728m wide, so as to protrude only imperceptibly from the wall, and has a thickness of 11 cm.
The column bases do not form a circle concentric to that of the wall; rather they are arranged elliptically – three are closer to the entrance and three closer to the opposite side of it. Every group forms an arc, the centre of the circle of which is located on the E-W axis of the building’s circle. The central column of the east group deviates by 13cm to the west of its supposed proper position. The maximum intercolumniation is 6.32m. In their upper section, the columns probably supported a series of beams forming an irregular hexagon in plan. In one of the representations of the Tholos these beams are depicted as being 40 to 50cm thick, but this is wholly speculative.
The interior columns rest on large blocks with a side of 1m approximately and made up of soft grey poros; these blocks rest on the bedrock. The columns were made up of hard grey poros. The lower diameter of one of the columns (it does not survive in situ) is 0.60m. Another column fragment from an upper section of the column also survives, with a diameter of 0.49m. These were unfluted, possibly Ionic. These columns remained in their place until the 2nd cent. AD, as can be deduced from their correlation with various floors.
In the middle of the building there are traces of a quadrilateral base, of which only the trace of its north side remains. This side measures approximately 1.08m. If we represent it as square, this base was located roughly in the centre of the structure. In fact, however, it was not arranged in accordance with the building’s ground plan. This base will have supported some light structure, possibly an altar. A likely candidate is the circular marble altar unearthed in the southwest of the building; it has been erroneously attributed to the New Bouleuterion [Hesperia VI (1937), p. 151ff, fig. 87; diameter: 0.95 m]. This divergence in terms of its orientation suggests that the base does not belong to the construction phase of the Tholos. It could have been installed during the works carried out in the Tholos in the late 5th cent. BC. It should be noted that the literary sources do mention sacrifices taking place in this building.
The main, perhaps the only, entrance of the building in its original form is located in the east side of its E-W axis. At that part the preservation state of the wall is poor, but as the open-air space connected with other activities is located in front of the east side, and because there is no confirmed spot for the existence of an entrance in the west, south or north, the excavators have accepted this solution with some degree of confidence. The width of the door opening is unknown. The excavators have suggested an original opening of 2.3m (on the basis of 2.186m door opening in the smaller Tholos of Delphi).
The roof is the most problematic feature in the representation of the building. We have evidence only for its first phase, thanks to the many clay tiles discovered there, and dated to 470-460 BC on the basis of the style of antefixes’ decoration (this results from a comparison with the antefixes of earlier buildings on the Acropolis). The tiles are dated to the period of the building’s construction, as they were unearthed in the destruction stratum of the late 5th cent. BC. It is possible that the Tholos was first destroyed during the rule of the Thirty Tyrants (404-403 BC).
There are three types of tiles. At the level of the cornice, on the first row covering the roof, there are two types of triangular tiles: kalypteres, with their base turned towards the interior of the building and decorated with antefixes, and stroteres with their tip facing outwards. In the first case, the outer tip connects to the main body at an angle of 61o, while the antefix has been designed with great accuracy so as to be on the level of the tip. Thus, in relation with the building’s horizontal axis, the roof forms an angle of 29o. There are no holes for clamps, but the tiles might have been connected with the use of a thin layer of mortar. Several antefixes survive; these are painted in scarlet and black colour.   
There are also rhomboid tiles, which covered the rest of the roof; at least 22 of these were recovered during the first excavation, while later investigations have yielded several fragments. We have the dimensions of 4 of these: 0.637 × 1.27m; 0.5 × 1.25m; 0.64 × 1.25m; 0.635 × 1.26m. It was initially thought that the tiles were roughly equal in size, irrespective of the row, and this indicates that they covered the roof in a uniform manner in an arrangement resembling a fish-net or fish scales. The pattern was as follows: a triangular stroter was placed at the lower edge of the row between two rhomboid tiles. Something similar will have been true for the top of the roof, with a stroter flanked by two rhomboid tiles.
Because there are no smaller tiles among the initial finds, it is thought that the tiles did not cover the roof up to its uppermost part. According to the view of the first excavators, the acumination of the cone could have been covered by a sheet of bronze, like in the Philippeion in Olympia. In this case the windows would have been necessary to provide light to the building. Scholars in favour of this view hold that part of a sculpture may originate from an akroterion of the original roof [see R. Nichols, Hesperia XXXIX (1970), p. 117].
The representation by Miller is totally different and rests on finds that have come to light after the original excavational research. These are rhomboid tiles in various sizes: to the original ones, which feature an angle of 57o at the top and base and an angle of 151o at the lateral surface of the connection point, he adds tiles of 90o and 135o, 47o and 155o, and 78o and 141o angles. In this way, it can be shown that in the case of the Tholos the principle that the size of the tiles (and not their number, as in the previous suggestion) should diminish row after row is adhered to.
This suggestion posits the existence of 16 rows with 60 tiles in each, of different dimensions: the closer we get to the upper rows the tiles become longer and narrower. At the lower row there would have been tiles of an almost square shape, 93cm in width, and slightly curved on their underside, following the circumference of the building’s walls. In the eleventh and final line premised in Miller’s representation Miller, the tile would have been 37cm in width and 159cm in length. Above this row there would have been another one with half-tiles of a triangular shape.
The tiles discovered, however, point to the existence of only nine rows of disparate tiles, while it has been calculated that 16 rows would have been required. Therefore, the centre of the roof will have featured an opening (lantern). Such an opening would have facilitated the ventilation of the interior allowing the escape of the smoke and the smells from the sacrifices and the meals, and also explains the extensive network of rainwater pipes discovered inside the Tholos. In this case the representation of the building should not comprise any windows, only a central door.
The literary sources are conflicting on this matter: some texts clearly mention a pointed roof (e.g. in Hesychius, see under the entry ‘Tholos’), while other sources allude to a conical one.
The kitchen
Four phases have been identified in the kitchen, three of which are examined here. Initially, (phase Ι) it was a simple quadrilateral building, adjoining the west part of the Tholos and built during the same period as the main building. Its dimensions were 4.25 × 5.15m and it had a small door in the north side, just 1.10m in width. The compacted earth floor of the kitchen was 0.60m lower than that of the Tholos. The roofing comprised tiles of the type used for the Tholos: there is a minor divergence in terms of the decoration (different alternation between the black and scarlet colour in the guilloche, and only one scarlet braid on the upper part of the tiles). This structure was destroyed in the late 5th cent. BC together with the Tholos. It was rebuilt with a different design approximately half a century later (phase ΙΙ).
Its foundation rests on an earlier wall, the ensuing stretch of which served as the southern boundary of the Tholos’ enclosure. It was made up of Acropolis limestone blocks, only one layer of which survives today. Of the north wall, only the lower layer of the foundation has been preserved consisting in rough Acropolis limestone. Very little remains of the west wall, as it was destroyed by Medieval structures that were erected in this site. The northwest corner and the east wall collapsed during the construction of later buildings.
The enclosure
During the first phase of the Tholos (470-465 BC), the enclosure begins in the southwest section of the Tholos following a SW course, but it immediately turns NW. The entrance to the enclosure was situated in the corner of the east wall. The north wall, which forms an obtuse angle with the east one, was contiguous with the south wall of the kitchen. The enclosure may have featured one more entrance, directly below the kitchen. In the E, N and SE the walls are built of unworked stones and follow the course of the buildings which predated the Tholos in this site. Generally, the building materials used in the construction of the enclosure vary greatly. West of the kitchen there was no wall or nothing remains of it.
The southeast corner, which was constructed during the same period as the Tholos, the enclosure survives to a height of 0.76m and for a stretch of approximately 2m. Unworked Acropolis limestone was used here and soft poros; the masonry is polygonal and clean brown clay was used as a mortar. Further on, the southeast wall rests on a crepidoma of stones of soft grey poros. Then, and for a stretch of 1.50m approximately, the wall survives to a height of 0.90m and has a thickness of 0.50m. On internal cheek of the south wall the ground level is slightly elevated compared to the external cheek. The ground on the inside gradually subsides to the level of the Tholos. When the New Bouleuterion is constructed in the late 5th cent. BC, the north wall is shifted by 5m and turns towards the Tholos so as to envelop the kitchen. This wall remains in use until the early 3rd cent. BC.
Monuments within the enclosure
In the southeast section of the propylon, which adjoins the original enclosure, there is a base of grey poros. Its upper part is a square with a side of 1.7m. It is considered contemporary to the Tholos.
Roughly abutting the southwest corner of this base is a quadrilateral foundation 1.10 x 1.40m, which supports a poros boulder.
Monuments within the enclosure
East of the north section of the Tholos’ propylon there are two quadrilateral monuments of the same dimensions dating to the Hellenistic period. To the east, in the early square stands yet another quadrilateral monument, measuring 1.20 x 2.00m.
The building’s plan
The Tholos of the Hellenistic period is largely the structure that resulted from the modifications and repairs of the late 5th cent. BC. Its roofing is unknown; possibly it comprises copper sheets, while we have the addition of the phase III kitchen.
The kitchen
Phase ΙΙΙ begins in the Early Hellenistic period (early 3rd cent. BC). The south wall is now coincides (like in phase II) with the circular outer wall of the Tholos. The west wall, 5.15m in length, is rebuilt and a door is opened there. Only one block has been discovered in situ. In general, the east wall follows the line of the corresponding phase II wall and has a total length of 12.30m. The north wall has a total length of 12.60m. Between the door and the new west wall a room was formed, most likely an unroofed space. The hypothetical north entrance of the Tholos now led to this room. The masonry of the walls is polygonal consisting of large, roughly hewn Acropolis limestone blocks. The level of the floor is slightly higher that of phase II (which was higher than the level of the original floor by 50cm).
The enclosure
In the early 3rd cent. BC, the propylon of the New Bouleuterion is built and the course of the north wall is modified again – it is now parallel to the south side of the Old Bouleuterion. The kitchen continues to be located within the enclosure. The course of the enclosure is also modified in the southwest part of the Tholos: the south wall changes direction and now turns towards the Tholos 2.5m before reaching the stairway leading to the New Bouleuterion.
Monuments within the enclosure
East of the north section of the Tholos’ propylon there are two quadrilateral monuments of the same dimensions dating to the Hellenistic period. East of the early square stands yet another quadrilateral monument, measuring 1.20 × 2.00m.
Surviving ruins
Of the marble pavement of the 2nd cent. AD phase survives the mortar bedding, on which all 31 of the fully or partially preserved in situ slabs rested. Below this stratum, an Augustan mosaic and the earlier compacted earth floor have been preserved. Several fragments of the clay tiles of the original roof have been found there.
The interior of the building suffers from later interventions dating to the Late Roman and Byzantine periods, as well as to the Modern era, due to the construction of a cellar of a residence built in this site.
The building’s plan
In the Late Hellenistic period, during the construction of the propylon, the cyma, and possibly the upper layers of blocks of the wall, were removed and replaced by brickwork.
When, in the 2nd cent. AD, the building’s floor was paved with marble slabs, the columns were removed and their foundations were covered. When the marble slab floor was added, the interior walls, at least at their lower part, were veneered with square slabs, obviously of marble. Some traces of their mortar still survive, 10cm thick, on which the footprint of a large slab, 72cm in width, has been preserved.
Of the 2nd cent. AD floor slabs, 31 survive; these were made up of white Pentelic marble, and at places, of Hymettian marble. The size of the slabs is irregular, but these were set so as to give the impression of a regular arrangement. The level of the floor would have been rather higher than that of the original floor, approximately 45cm higher.
The propylon
The propylon is constructed in the 1st cent. BC; only its foundations remain. It comprised three layers of unworked stones. A step of Hymettian marble also remains in the south side, while the different heights of the foundations in the different parts of the structure allow us to postulate the existence of only one more step. The interior of the propylon was paved with marble slabs. It is thought, insofar as the building’s dimensions do not point to the employment of Doric columns, that there were 4 Ionic columns. Many of the architectural members used for the construction of the propylon are in secondary use, and this indicates that it was built after some disaster had struck the city, which would have affected the Tholos itself. This incident is probably the sack of Athens by Sulla. The Tholos was probably repaired immediately afterwards, while the propylon was constructed after some time.
The roof
After 400 BC, it is possible that the roof was made up exclusively of bronze. After the removal of the columns (2nd cent. AD), it is possible that the roof was supported by horizontal beams, without any upright props. According to another view, during this period the building received a Roman type dome made up of concrete. This view has caused serious disagreement and this solution should not be treated as secure – it has been rejected by the excavators and by J. Travlos.
The kitchen
The shape of the kitchen changes again in phase ΙV. The east wall is rebuilt and shifted slightly to the west. Its length is 5.10m, and the level of the ground on which it rests is somewhat higher than that of the earlier wall. Its south end has been identified with a stone discovered in situ. Its edge had been smoothed to follow the curvature of the Tholos’ wall. The northeast corner has is shifted to allow the passing of a duct from that place. A transverse wall is built which divides the interior into two rooms. Only three stones remain from this wall. The western part will have been roofed, but not the eastern one. The level of the floor in the west room was 25cm higher than that of phase III, and 20cm higher than that of the east room.
The Tholos’ propylon
The addition of the propylon, after 22/21 BC, constitutes the most important divergence from the original design of the building. During this phase the wall’s entire superstructure repaired in the middle of that century (after the building’s destruction by Sulla) was torn down.
The propylon in the east, dating to the Augustan era, is orientated on the E-W axis of the building, and diverges by only 10cm from it. Its foundations, comprising three layers of stones, measure 6.50 × 3.50m. It is built over a duct dated to after 86 BC, as it contained material from an earlier phase of the Tholos. Part of a Hymettian marble step survives in the south side. There was at least one more step, as indicated by its traces on the surviving stones of the first step. Due to the height of the Tholos, the excavators believe that there were only two steps. Nothing remains of the door. The propylon consists in a façade with four columns. Due to its modest dimensions, it is thought to have been in the Ionic order. The suggestion has been put forth that it was quite similar to the propylon of the Horologion of Andronikos (Tower of the Winds).
West annex
This dates to the Augustan period. It is a quadrilateral space measuring 5.5 × 6m, divided into two rooms by a wall orientated to the E-W axis, with a door opening in its middle. The west room adjoined the wall of the Tholos. The north, east and south sides rest directly on the bedrock. The level of the north room is 1.27m higher than the floor of the Tholos. The entrance of the structure was located in the north side. In the south side there was a duct. To the west the bedrock rises abruptly. When the west annex was built, one important passageway leading to the New Bouleuterion from the Tholos fell into disuse. Thus, the bedrock west of the annex was cut and an opening of approximately 1.30m was created. This probably dates to 1st cent. AD.
The enclosure
According to Schmalz's view, the expansion of the enclosure to a triangular space by 72m2 (4m in width and maximum length 18m) should be dated to 22/21 BC. A new wall was erected to the south and southeast, the first one after the 3rd cent. BC. The wall follows the earlier course of the duct, which was now shifted. A monumental entrance was opened in the middle of this wall comprising a monumental Doric propylon.
The southeast wall in its south section passes over the foundations of the Doric propylon, while further to the north it follows the course of the earlier southeast wall, and yet further north it adjoins the rear section of the exedra. There is no evidence for any modifications in the east side.
The Doric propylon of the enclosure
During the same period, a Doric propylon was built in the southwest corner of the 1st cent. BC enclosure, between the Tholos and the Strategeion. Its foundation measure 6.22m in the façade and have a depth of 5.05m. Three layers of stones were placed in the abandoned duct in the western section of the Great Duct. Seven poros blocks survive from the euthenteria; these do not originate from the Tholos, but from some other building in which no joints were used.
The Doric propylon comprised 4 columns in its façade, with 20 flutes on each. The lower diameter of the columns was 0.55m. There were two access steps. The interior was paved with Hymettian marble slabs. The architects used material taken from different buildings and various kinds of stones, which they covered with a coating. The poros Doric epistyle discovered in the foundations of a contemporary residence originates from an earlier building. It belongs to the southwest section of the propylon, according to Thompson’s suggestion. Its height is 0.37m. Fragments of two stones of the epistyle also survive; these are made up of brown poros and had received a white coating.
Monuments within the enclosure
In the 1st cent. BC, a fountain was built exactly in front of the Tholos, NE of the Ionic propylon. Only its poros foundations remain in layers of stones and some architectural members that may originate from the Tholos' earlier phases. The foundation measures 3.00 × 3.41m. It appears that the monument is connected with the creation of a garden in the Tholos’ enclosure.
Later during this period, or perhaps in the 1st cent. AD, an exedra is added, measuring 5.50 × 9.50m; it is inscribed in the northeast corner of the enclosure. The exedra’s orientation coincides with that of the Middle Stoa. Its shape is quadrilateral, and there is a Pi-shaped addition of a foot as well as of a low bench of the same shape in its north side. It may have been used as a pedestal for statues. The exedra’s orientation matches that of the retaining wall of the Middle Stoa.

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Tholos, Representation in VR environment, Classical period

Tholos, Representation in VR environment, Hellenistic period

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.

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