Friday, December 3, 2010


Version at BMCR home site

John McK. Camp II, The Athenian Agora Site Guide. Fifth Edition. Princeton, N. J.: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2010. Pp. 192. ISBN 9780876616574. $19.95.

Reviewed by Derek T. Irwin

[Table of contents is listed at the end of the review.]

Excavations at the ancient Athenian Agora have been ongoing for many years and a quantity of academic material including reports and articles has been written on the subject. At the same time, several guides to the site intended for visitors have also been published. This is a newly revised and updated edition of the popular guide to the Agora, earlier editions of which were published in 1954, 1962, 1976, and 1990. In this fifth edition, John McK. Camp II, the current director of the excavation, retains most of the elements of earlier versions of the book but updates and expands on them to include information on the most recent archaeological discoveries and changes to the site. The publication is not a report of the excavations carried out on the site and is therefore not intended as an academic publication; rather, it is designed for the visitor touring the site. For this reason, the book is arranged topographically, with each monument being presented one by one. To make it easier for the visitor to identify monuments, the book contains a number of photographs by Craig A. Mauzy, as well as illustrations of the monuments and a number of useful maps, including a foldout plan. The author begins with a brief foreword in which he presents the book in a straightforward and clear manner. This is followed by a simplified two page illustrated timeline of the history of Athens from prehistoric times to the early 19th century when Athens became the capital city of the modern Greek state.

In the introduction, the author gives a brief history of ancient Athens and a short description of the site of the ancient Athenian Agora. He describes its principle buildings such as the Royal Stoa and the senate chamber (bouleuterion) and underlines the important role that the Agora played in the lives of the Athenians.

In the first chapter, the author presents the history of the Agora, focusing on the key moments in its development. He begins by providing evidence of human occupation of the site from as early as the Late Neolithic period (ca. 3000 B.C.) and takes us through the history of the site up to the 19th century A.D. We are told of the development of the Agora under the rule of the tyrant Peisistratos and his family in the 6th century B.C., its destruction by the Persian army in 480/479 B.C., and its transformations under later Roman occupation. The author also tells us how the area in and around the Agora suffered from the barbarian incursions in the 580s as well as during the Ottoman occupation and finally the Greek War of Independence.

In a short second chapter, Camp presents the history of the excavation of the Athenian Agora. The author describes the stages of work that have been carried out on the site, from the uncovering of parts of the Agora in 1832 following the Greek War of Independence, to the granting of rights to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens to excavate the site in the 1930s, through to the current stages of excavation. We are told how the Stoa of Attalos was cleared during several campaigns carried out from 1859 to 1902 and the Stoa of the Giants between 1859 and 1912. Photographs of work in progress at the site in 1931, including one of the first day of the American excavations, are included at the end of this chapter.

The "Tour of the Site" is a detailed description of the archaeological site of the ancient Athenian Agora and its monuments. It is presented in the form of a tour. The author begins by explaining that the monuments of the site of the ancient Athenian Agora were identified by their inscriptions, as well as by information provided in Pausanias's Description of Greece. He then proceeds with presentations of the individual monuments, starting with one of the more prominent features of the Agora, the Temple of Hephaistos, and ending with the residential-industrial area west and south of the Areopagus, which included the state prison known as the "Poros Building". The author provides clear descriptions of each monument and places them in their historic, cultural and economic contexts. Photographs and/or illustrations are provided for most monuments, and all monuments mentioned in the text are cross-referenced by number (1-74) to the general foldout plan provided at the back of the book.

This is a very useful guidebook to what was once the civic and commercial centre of ancient Athens. The book is well organized and practical. It is small and light, yet it contains all the essential information needed to understand the Agora. The inclusion of maps, photographs (including aerial views), drawings and floor plans renders the identification of monuments easier for the visitor and is truly one of the strengths of this publication. This guidebook is an essential companion to the visitor of this fascinating site.

Table of Contents

Foreword, 7

History and Timeline, 8

Introduction, 10

History of the Agora, 13

History of the Excavations, 29

Tour of the Site, 35

List of Publications, 183

Index, 188

Plan of the Archaeological Site, Back Pocket

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