Location: Southeast corner of the Agora, between the Stoa of Attalos and the Southeast Stoa, east of the Panathenaic Way. No 21 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: During Emperor Trajan’s rule (late 1st cent. AD)
Periods of Use: Roman.
The Pantainos Library survives in a very fragmentary condition: part of it is located under the Late Roman defensive wall in the Agora and, more specifically, under a large tower. It is one of the most important buildings of the Roman Agora, where the study of philosophy and the worship of the Muses flourished. It was destroyed in 267 AD by the Heruli and later became incorporated (5th cent.) into a large peristyle structure.
The Library of Pantainos is one of the few buildings of the Athenian Agora the circumstances and date of construction of which are precisely known. This structure was dedicated by Titus Flavius Pantainos and his children to Athena Archegetis, Emperor Trajan and the people of Athens, as testified by the inscribed lintel of the main doorway, found incorporated in the Late Roman defensive wall. It is thought that the library was dedicated at some point between the accession of Trajan to power (98 AD) and his Dacian campaign (102 AD). This is based on the use of epithets for the emperor which were employed after the campaign against the Dacians and the later campaign against the Parthians (115 AD). There are, however, sound reasons to believe that the building was erected by Pantainos’ father and that it really constituted the seat of a school of philosophy. The area, the southeast corner of the Agora square, where the stoa was constructed did not previously feature any significant monumental or residential structures.
The excavation in the Late Roman defensive wall, during which the aforementioned important epigraphical find came to light, was conducted in 1933, but the ruins of the library were largely revealed in 1935, while the eastern part of the building was excavated in 1971.
The building’s design
Although the library's excavation was not completed, as its eastern part lies under the Late Roman defensive wall, there are enough evidence to allow us to infer its design with a degree of accuracy.
The ground plan of the building is rather unusual and rather dissimilar to other known contemporary Roman libraries (in Thermae and in Trajan’s Forum). This particular arrangement resulted from the need to build in a rather irregularly shaped plot, to the south of the Stoa of Attalos and the Panathenaic way. Its core consists of two spaces, a large open air courtyard measuring 20 x 13.5m, with a floor covered with irregularly shaped marble-chips set in mortar, and a large square room to the east with a floor covered with marble slabs. At a later phase a peristyle was added to the courtyard, the central part of which was also paved with marble slabs. The entrance of the building was located in the area directly below the spot where the inscribed lintel was discovered. The excavation of 1971 revealed that the building’s E-W side was 35m long, while the main room faced the east side of the courtyard, it was square in plan and measured 15 x 15m approximately. There are no traces of internal supports for the placement of shelves where the books could be stored. The walls were veneered with marble slabs on the inside, as was the floor.
The epistyle of the north and west façade rested on smooth Ionic columns made up of azure marble. The masonry was rather shabby.
Around the two rooms lay three stoas, which intersected forming irregular angles. The west stoa ran along the eastern kerb of the Panathenaic Way. This one survives in a relatively better state, for its stylobate was used as foundation for the Late Roman defensive wall. The small north stoa faced the south end of the Stoa of Attalos and it too is rather well-preserved. The long east stoa ran along the south side of the street connecting the Agora with the Roman Agora of Augustus for 70m. Soon after, this street was paved with slabs, a work funded by the deme of Athens. The paving of the street and the monumental connection of the Panathenaic Way, through the library, with the Roman Agora, led to the demolition of the south stairway of the Stoa of Attalos. In the southeast end of the stoa there was a monumental arched gateway which defined the entry to the Agora. In the western section of the south side of the arched gate a cistern opened. During the same period, the outer wall of the Stoa of Attalos was faced with marble, for aesthetic reasons.
South of the library there was a narrow passageway, where a stairway of Hymettian marble has been preserved – it was probably built in the mid-2nd cent. AD when the nearby SE Stoa was erected.
The rooms which created the three stoas were not related with the Library as such. The doors of these rooms opened only to the western stoa and to the Panathenaic Way. They will have housed shops and workshops, like the two continuous rooms south of the entrance, which, judging from the finds, harboured a sculptor’s studio.
Pantainos’ identity and the building’s uses
Pantainos was the son of Flavius Menander, who was called ‘the Successor’, which means he may have been the head of a school of philosophy. As mentioned in the dedicatory inscription, together with his children, his son Flavius Menander and his daughter Flavia Secundille, they provided the stoas, the peristyle, the library, its books and its furnishing at their own expense. Another inscription unearthed in the building states the library’s regulations: “No book is to leave the library, for we have taken an oath. The library is open from the first until the sixth hour”. Pantainos describes himself as a priest of the Philosophical Muses. Apart from the library and the commercial activities housed in the shops and workshops, evidently the building was used also for the cult of Emperor Trajan, as indicated by the discovery of the lower part of his statue, with a Dacian captive at his feet (thus dated after 102 AD), as well as by the base of one more statue of the Emperor, dedicated by his priest, Herodes Attikos Marathonios. Other finds include the complex of two armour-clad female figures, personifications of the Odyssey and the Iliad, bearing the signature of the sculptor Jason. The pedestal and the foot of the second figure were discovered in 1953. It is thought that the two female statues flanked a seated Homer.

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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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