Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Riccardo Di Cesare, La città di Cecrope: ricerche sulla politica edilizia cimoniana ad Atene. Studi di Topografia e di Archeologia di Atene e dell'Attica (SATAA), 11. Atene; Paestum: Scuola Archeologia Italiana di Atene; Pandemos, 2015. Pp. 392. ISBN 9788887744415. €70.00.

Reviewed by Luca Girella, Uninettuno University of Rome (

Version at BMCR home site


Di Cesare's book is the outcome of a fifteen-year research project dedicated to several aspects of the Cimonian period. As a volume of the SATAA series, which is overseen by Emanuele Greco, this work shares a lot of similarities with the Lessico Topografico di Atene (of which Di Cesare is one of the main contributors and to which he copiously refers in the footnotes) by collecting detailed topographical and historical syntheses of monuments.

The book covers seventeen years between Cimon's first strategia (478 BC) and the year of his exile from Athens (461 BC), but the text covers much more as it moves back and forth through the magmatic years that preceded and followed the so- called Cimonian age. This book had a long gestation of over fifteen years, and the result is a massive and up-to-date bibliography (44 pages in five languages) and an interpretative model of the first part of the so called Pentekontaetiathat discusses every single art-historical and archaeological trait of the Cimonian program. Consequently, the volume is extremely stratified and dense (see the in-depth analysis of the philolaconism of Cimon pp.170-172, which could have been discussed at the beginning of the work), and written in a sinuous and stylish language that does not make for easy reading.

Di Cesare provides a chronological and political framework in which to examine the main erga of the Cimonian program. Dissonant historical, epigraphical, and archaeological sources complicate even basic matters. And this is not the author's fault. Basically Di Cesare presents each building (or, with the intention of this book, each recherche) through a historical introduction (where he discusses ancient literary and epigraphical sources), followed by a collection of the archaeological information, and concluded by a paragraph that clarifies the ideological background of the project (where myth, philolaconism, and anti-Persian policy are linked together). Only a few historical dates anchor Cimonian building projects: the conquest of Eion (477/76 BC), that of Skyros (476/75 BC), and the battle of the Eurymedon (for which Di Cesare accepts the date of 470/69 BC). The massive income of war booty from these three events allows Di Cesare to date specific programs to these engagements: Cimon's first intervention in the classical Agora,1 the construction of the Theseion in the archaic Agora, and the restorations on the Acropolis, respectively. It is difficult to date the rest of Cimonian erga because of the lack of ancient sources. When the archeology offers data that support a Cimonian date for a given building, Di Cesare complements this information with a discussion of the ideological background of the building. However, we lack conclusive evidence on the dating of several buildings; in several cases, we are not even sure they can be attributed to Cimon's initiative.

Other aspects should be highlighted. For a book like this images are quite essential and Di Cesare has collected a decent selection; however, images at the end of the volume are arranged according to topography (from the Acropolis to the asty), whereas in the text the monuments are discussed according to their chronology: this dissimilarity, though unimportant and specified by the author, makes the use of images quite frustrating. Some errors appear in fig. 87 (where nos. 18 and 19 on the map need to be inverted) and fig. 156 (no. 11 is in the caption but not in the map, top-right). Perhaps the greatest editorial mistake is the absence of any index, an indispensable tool that would have helped the reader to locate material more easily and efficiently. The above criticisms, however, do not diminish the reader's confidence in the accuracy of the analysis presented.

The aim of the book is enunciated in Chapter 1, which provides information about Cimon's life and career, his pedigree and entourage. Di Cesare also deals with two main problems: the skillful use of the sources (both ancient sources and epigraphical evidence) about Cimon that largely lack clear chronological evidence about his building program and the consequent redefinition of the concept of program. Di Cesare suggests a flexible and unsystematic Cimonian building program, which conforms to the main historical events (e.g., the progressive imperialistic policy of Athens after the battle of Marathon) as well as the multifaceted nature of Cimon as a 'democratic conservator with princely traits' (among which, mainly his affinity with Sparta). Subsequently, the chapter compares and distinguishes Cimon's program from those carried out by earlier by Themistocles and later by Pericles (43–46, 244–246, 269). Four main themes derive from this first chapter and form the essential tools to investigate, date, and contextualize the building activity in the post-Persian period: the Athenian thalassocracy with the progressive conquests of northern Aegean communities, the consequent use of war booty to fund building activity, the use of myth to justify anti-Persian policy, and Cimon's philolaconism.

Chapter 2 analyses reconstruction in Athens after the two Persian sacks and the battle of Plataea (479 BC). Such a program is embodied by the reconstruction of the city walls and private houses. Di Cesare concludes that after these building efforts, the city of Athens retains its 'archaic' appearance; the Themistoclean program (43–46) predicts the Cimonian one in its process of memory reconstruction and celebration of the polis with an anti-Persian perspective.

Reconstruction and celebration are the main elements of Chapter 3. With this chapter we finally understand the beginning of Cimonian program with the Stoa of the Herms in the Agora. Di Cesare identifies this building with that found by the American School at the north-west site of the Agora and usually named as Poikile or Peisianakteion. The chapter also deals with the attribution to the Cimonian program of the Hipparcheion and the restoration of the sculptural pairing of the tyrannicides (Harmodius and Aristogeiton).

Chapter 4 is concerned with the archaic Agora, perhaps identified with the Cecropian square according to the definition given by the poet Melanthios (this identification forms the basis for the book's title, pp. 16, 93–94), which is still undiscovered, but possibly east of the Acropolis at the foot of the Aglaurion sanctuary (fig. 87). The chapter offers a useful and up-to-date overview of the identification of the archaic Agora and provides a framework to discuss what the author efficaciously defines as the 'topography of legend' (83), to which two main buildings are attributed: the Theseion (that housed the returned bones of the hero) and the Anakeion.

Chapter 5 turns its attention to the Acropolis. Again Di Cesare demonstrates that the purpose of the Cimonian program was not the reconstruction (except for the bronze statue of Athena Promachos realized by the young Phidias), but the celebration by means of the martyria related to the Persian wars and Athenian sacks and the creation of a proper memorial landscape. Di Cesare ascribed to Cimon not only the restoration of the northern wall, but also of the southern one with the reallocation of architectural parts of the so-called and extensively debated Urparthenon. More tenuous data appear to support a Cimonian program for the buildings located in the central part of the Acropolis plateau and other monuments on the northern (the Klepsydra fountain) and southern slopes (the Dionysus theatre).

In Chapter 6 we return to the Agora where Di Cesare describes the second monument of the Cimonian program in this area. As for the Tholos/Skias (163), he accepts a date before Ephialtes' reforms (462 BC). Furthermore, the philolaconism and the Spartan Skias are considered arguments to support a Cimonian phase for the Tholos. A long section concerns the identification of the Stoa Poikile (172–196), for which a hypothetical position east of the Stoa of the Herms is suggested (fig. 155). Also, Di Cesare describes two phases of the Stoa Poikile: a late archaic phase and a second when the stoa was decorated with the famous paintings by Polygnotus, Micon and Panaenus. In the second part of the chapter the author assigns three more buildings to the Cimonian program: the Aiakeion, the Triptolemus, and Eucleia temples.

Chapter 7 explores the proasteion, the suburban area between the Dipylon gate and the Academy. Two major building projects are assigned to Cimon: the structural consolidation of the Demosion Sema (the public cemetery where war casualties were buried) and the enrichment of the Academy with the planting of plane trees.

The final chapter discusses the unfinished projects of Miltiades' son, which are datable between Cimon's ostracism and the next decades. Di Cesare focuses on two projects: the 'Long Wall's and the Hephaisteion on the Kolonos Agoraios. From an archaeological perspective, few sections of the 'Long Walls' date to the Cimonian period, and, according to Di Cesare, they belong to a general plan of reclaiming extended marshy lands towards the Piraeus. As for the Hephaisteion, only the beginning of the construction is attributed to Cimon, since the project remained in progress over several decades and started again after the erga Pericleous, likely supported by the conservative party that signed the peace with Sparta.

This brilliant volume is by far the most complete study of the meaning of Cimon's building activity in Athens and its implications within the political and artistic context after the two Persian sacks (480/79 BC). It therefore can be recommended as an indispensable tool for both historians and archaeologists. In its multi-layered features, one main theme does come up at the end: this analysis efficaciously demonstrates that the relationship between space and time is often a dynamic process where mythical past and ruins are the main ingredients to re-invent the historical memory of the polis. This reinvention, right before the great program of Pericles that focused mainly on the Acropolis, is the core of Cimon's program. He realized it by intervening, in a very balanced way, in several parts of the wounded city; this program is thoroughly illustrated in this book. The different parts of the city represented the connective tissue through which the citizens of Athens proceeded toward the democratic reforms realized by Cleisthenes with Cimon as their undisputed leader.


1.   In this review we follow the same distinction used by Di Cesare and others between the Classical Agora of the excavated by the American team (here named as Agora) and the archaic Agora, whose location is still in doubt. See p. 87 and n. 72.

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