Location: In the centre of the south side of the Agora, in front of the south square, north of the Middle Stoa and next to the Southwest Temple. No 24 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: 15 BC, rebuilt in the mid-2nd cent. AD.
Periods of Use: Roman.
The Odeion of Agrippa was erected in the Augustan period as a grand hall for musical performances and philosophical lectures. The development of the Roman Agora and the erection of this imposing odeion, combined with the transplantation of certain other temples into this up to then unoccupied area of the Agora, altered the commercial character of the place. After the collapse of its roof it was rebuilt in the mid-2nd cent. AD following a different design, while in the Late Roman period its ruins were incorporated into a gymnasium or villa.
The odeion’s building, dominating the south unoccupied section of the Agora, was part of a wider building programme dating to the Augustan period. The parallel development of the Roman Agora and the transplantation of temples (e.g. of the ‘Temple of Ares’, the SE and SW Temples, the Altar of Zeus Agoraios) reshaped the area, which now sheds its commercial character and becomes a cultural sight for artistic and philosophical events.
The building was excavated by the American School of Classical Studies in 1934-1936; complementary research was done in 1937 and 1940. Based on the topographical clues provided by Pausanias (Attica 8, 6), the structure’s identification with “the theatre they call the Odeion” is certain.
First phase
Agrippa (Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa) was Augustus' son-in-law and his minister (victor in the naval battle of Actium in 30 BC). Pausanias connects the construction of the odeion with this person, which would have begun during Agrippa’s visit to the city (16-14 BC) and was probably completed before his death (12 BC). Philostratus also connects this building with Agrippa (Lives of the Sophists 2, 5, 4), mentioning “the theatre in the Kerameikos, which is called Agrippeion”.
The odeion was a two-storey structure, with an amphitheatre of 19 seating rows, with a capacity of 1,000 persons. Its dimension were 51.38m (N-S) x 43.20m (E-W). The main hall was approximately 25m long. Three of its sides (E, S, W) were framed by two-storey stoas. The ground floor, with walls 0.78m thick as these have been preserved in the southeast corner, was closed on all four sides (resembling the cryptoportici in contemporary basilicas of Corinth), while the second storey comprised columns. We should note that the roof did not rest on interior columns, but was supported only by the walls. The semicircular orchestra, with a radius of 10.17m, was covered with thin marble slabs, while the façade of the low stage was adorned with sculptures. The interior of the building was decorated with large columns and pilaster with Corinthian capitals. There were two entrances: the first was located in the north side and opened to the Agora, while the second one, to the south, was located on the second storey, which stood at the level of the Middle Stoa. The first, the formal entrance, was adorned with a monumental propylon.
The foundation of the walls, the floor, the orchestra and the lower sections of the stage, together with some of the amphitheatre’s seats, have been preserved in situ. Numerous architectural members were discovered during the excavations conducted by the American School.
The foundations were made up of poros. The walls, at their visible sections, were made up of hard Piraeus limestone. The stylobate, the staircases, the base of the stage building and the seats in the amphitheatre were made up of Hymettian marble. Pentelic marble was used in the other architectural members. Various other types of marble were used for the slabs which covered the orchestra (multicoloured marble), the floor of the stage (white and grey marble) and the façade of the stage building (green Karystos marble). The stage building was decorated with sculptures, Hermaic stele representing male and female divinities (some of these have been discovered), while the larger than life-size bronze statues were set on bases decorated with relief shields and in niches in the walls.
Second phase
The building is thought to have been destroyed by the collapse of its roof. It was immediately rebuilt during the period of Antoninus Pius, around 150 AD. Both the interior and the exterior of the building were drastically altered: in the interior, the large amphitheatre was divided in two spacious independent rooms by a large transverse wall, which shortened the length of the hall by 7.66m and thus the space that had to be roofed.
A small theatre was created in the north section, with a capacity of 500 persons, incorporating the stage building and half of the pre-existing seats. There was now the need the northern entrance to become somewhat more comfortable – previously it was used only by distinguished spectators, the musicians and the actors. The northern wall of the stage and the propylon were torn down and replaced by an open air stoa; this stoa did not rest on columns but on a series of sculptures depicting kneeling Giants and Tritons (half bearded men, half fish). Correspondingly, in the centre of the two pediments of the building there were reliefs depicting Athena's olive tree with the goddesses' sacred snake curled around it.
The dating of the building rests on the name of the archon Dionysios which appears on the seals that decorate the roof tiles. This dating is consistent with the style of the sculptural decoration. Travlos held that Pausanias had witnessed the building before the collapse of its roof that destroyed it. This view, however, rests exclusively on an argument ex silentio, i.e. that Pausanias makes no mention of that incident. This argument is not convincing: we only need to remember, for instance, that Pausanias is unaware of the crucial fact that the ‘Temple of Ares’ was transplanted to its current location from another place.
The sculptural decoration of the building alludes to Athens' mythological and artistic past. The Tritons, from the waist up, copy the figure of Poseidon as depicted in the west pediment of the Parthenon, while the figures of the Giants constitute creative renditions of Hephaestus’ figure from the east pediment of the said monument.
The building continued to be used as an odeion until c.160 AD at least, when Herodes Atticus built an odeion in the southern slope of the Acropolis, in honour of his spouse. With respect to its use, the sources only mention philosophers giving lectures. Philostratus mentions that Apollonius of Tyana attended a lecture in this building. Philostratus, however, is writing in the 3rd cent. AD and refers to events taking place in 117 AD; his testimony, therefore, can not be considered safe for either period. Another text mentions a lecture being delayed because Herodes’ had not arrived; the speaker, seeing the audience’s exasperation, decided to start his lecture without waiting for his patron.
After its destruction, parts of the building were used in the construction of the massive ‘Palace of the Giants’, possibly a gymnasium or a palace of some official – quite possibly the residence of the family of Empress Eudocia (5th cent. AD). This building included baths and featured many rooms opening to two peristyle courtyards and to the rather expansive garden. Placed on tall pedestals, four of the six Tritons and Giants taken from the second phase odeion decorated its façade. Three of these survive in situ, while various parts of the rest have also been discovered (two heads were found as far as Eleusina (Eleusis)!).
Works of Art
Pausanias mentions the Odeion only to describe a remarkable statue of Dionysus housed in there, making no reference to the imposing structure which dominated the south side of the Agora. Fragments of a colossal marble statue have been tentatively been attributed to this sculpture.
It is thought that statues of seated male figure, possibly depicting philosophers (two of these were unearthed in the nearby area, and one of these may represent Epicurus), complemented the sculptural decoration of the building’s second phase. Their low bases were set in front of those of the Tritons and the Giants. Two further pedestals may have stood in front of the pilasters flanking the Tritons and the Giants in the odeion’s stoa, so as to have 8 figures of philosophers, with two representatives from each of the major philosophical schools (Academy, Peripatos, Stoa, Garden).
A pedestal stands in front of the façade’s western stoa; it is thought that it supported a bronze statue of a male figure on a chariot.
Close to the ‘Temple of Ares’, i.e. close to the odeion, Pausanias recognised the statues portraying Hercules, Theseus, Apollo, Kalades (a figure unknown to us) and Pindar. Near that place stood the statues of the Tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogeiton. Pausanias also mentions statues of Hellenistic kings (Ptolemy Lagos or Soter and Ptolemy Philadelphos and his sister Arsinoe are mentioned by name), of Phillip and Alexander, of Lysimachus and Pyrrhus (although it is left unclear whether these last two were actually in the same part of the Agora or in another part of the city).

Αρχαία Αγορά της Αθήνας – Άρειος Πάγος. Σύντομο Ιστορικό και Περιήγηση, Έκδοση της Ένωσης Φίλων Ακροπόλεως (Αθήνα 2004), pp. 18-19.
ΒΟËTHIUS, A. – WARD-PERKINS, J.B., Etruscan and Roman Architecture, Pelican History of Art (Hanrmondsworth 1970), pp. 379-381.
DÖRPFELD, W., Alt-Athen und seine Agora. Untersuchungen über die Entwicklung der ältesten Burg und Stadt Athen und ihres politischen Mittelpunktes, des Stadtmarkets, ΙΙ (Berlin 1937), pp. 254-257 and pp. 270-272.
Mc CAMP II, J., The Athenian Agora: A Guide to the Excavation and Museum 4 (Athens 1990), pp. ...
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. 35.
Mc CAMP II, J., Η Αρχαία Αγορά της Αθήνας. Οι Ανασκαφές στην καρδιά της κλασικής πόλης 2 (Αθήνα 2004), pp. 220-222 and pp. 232-234.

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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