Monument of the Eponymous Heroes

Across the street from the Metroon lie the remains of the Monument of the Eponymous Heroes (Fig. 21). When Kleisthenes created the democracy in 508/7 B.C., he assigned all the Athenians to ten newly-formed tribes; he then sent 100 names of Athenian heroes to Delphi, where Apollo’s oracle picked ten, after whom the tribes were named. Citizenship depended on membership in a tribe, the army was arranged in tribal contingents, one served in the boule as a member of one’s tribe, and festivals were held in honor of one’s tribal hero; the tribal system was the foundation on which the new Athenian democracy was built.

Figure 21. The Monument of the Eponymous Heroes, second half of the 4th century B.C.

The monument took the form of a long base for the ten bronze statues representing the ten eponymous heroes of the tribes (Fig. 22). It served as a public notice board and announcements concerning citizens would be hung on the face of the high base beneath the appropriate tribal statue. Military conscription, public honors, upcoming legal events, and proposed legislation would all be displayed. In the days before radio, television, newspapers, and the telephone, the monument was essential for the dissemination of official information.

Figure 22. Restored drawings of the Eponymous Heroes, second half of the 4th century B.C

Only parts of the stone sill and the surrounding fence survive, along with five limestone blocks from the base itself and two marble blocks from the crown. Literary references indicate that the Eponymoi were erected as early as 425 B.C., though the remains here go back no earlier than ca. 330 B.C. Cuttings in the sill show that the monument was refurbished on several occasions thereafter and these adjustments may well match changes in the tribal system itself. New tribes were created and new heroes added from time to time in order to flatter powerful rulers in the Hellenistic and Roman periods; the number of tribes -- and therefore heroes -- fluctuated between ten and thirteen.

"Higher up stand statues of heroes, from whom the tribes at Athens later took their names. Who fixed the number of tribes at ten instead of four and gave them new names instead of the old ones -- all this is related by Herodotos. Amongst the Eponymoi -- for that is what they call them -- are Hippothoon, son of Poseidon and. . . ." (Pausanias 1.5)
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).