Odeion of Agrippa

Late in the 1st century B.C. the Athenians were given money for a new marketplace by Caesar and Augustus, and the northern half of the old Agora square was filled with two new structures, the Odeion of Agrippa and the Temple of Ares.

A large concert hall or odeion was given to the Athenians by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, the son-in-law and general of Augustus, in the years around 15 B.C. It was a huge two-storeyed structure that must have dominated the square (Fig. 52). The auditorium, with its raised stage and marble-paved orchestra, seated about 1,000 spectators. It was surrounded on three sides by a cryptoporticus (subterranean colonnaded hall) at the lower level, with stoas above. The exterior of the building was elaborated with Corinthian pilasters. Entry to the Odeion was either from the upper level of the Middle Stoa on the south or through a modest porch at ground level on the north (Fig. 53).

Figure 52. Cross section of the Odeion, 1st phase (late 1st century B.C.), looking east.
Figure 53. Ground plan of the Odeion of Agrippa, 1st phase. (late 1st century B.C.)

The great open span of the auditorium (25 meters) eventually proved too great and the roof collapsed in the years around A.D. 150. The structure was rebuilt as a lecture hall, with the seating capacity reduced to about 500, and a far more elaborate facade was built at the north, using massive pillars carved in the form of giants (snaky tales) and tritons (fishy tails) (Fig. 54).

Figure 54. Giant from the facade of the 2nd phase (ca. A.D. 150–175), as reused in the early 5th century A.C.
"The lecture was interrupted by much shouting and laughter. Philagros shouted and screamed that they were treating him badly in preventing him from using his own material; but he was not acquitted on a charge which was now well established. All this took place in the Agrippeion." (Philostratos, Lives of the Sophists 597)

The loss of this odeion for concerts presumably prompted Herodes Atticus to build his handsome new odeion on the south slopes of the Acropolis in the years around A.D. 160.

The Odeion of Agrippa was destroyed by the Herulians in A.D. 267. It was rebuilt in the early 5th century A.D. as part of a sprawling complex, perhaps a palace, with numerous rooms, a bath, and several courtyards, which extended southward all the way across the old South Square (Fig. 55). The Giants and Tritons were reused for a monumental entranceway, and their present position on high piers dates to this last phase of the building.

Figure 55. Drawing of the Late Roman reuse of the Odeion of Agrippa as part of a large palace-like complex, early 5th century A.C.
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).