Stoa Poikile

Across modern Hadrian Street are the most recent excavations (2003), along the north side of the square. Here have been revealed the remains of another large stoa, identified on the basis of Pausanias as the Stoa Poikile (Painted Stoa). The stoa was of the Doric order outside, with Ionic columns inside, built mostly of limestone, with marble for the interior column capitals (Figs. 65, 66). Pottery suggests a date in the years around 470–460 B.C. for the construction.

Figure 65. Cross section of the Stoa Poikile, with Doric columns outside, Ionic within; ca. 470–460 B.C.
Figure 66. Reconstructed drawing of the west end of the Stoa Poikile as it would have appeared in about 400 B.C.

The Stoa Poikile, one of the most famous buildings of Athens, took its name from a series of handsome panel paintings that adorned it. Done by the best artists of Classical Greece, they were installed in the middle years of the 5th century B.C. Some 600 years later, in about A.D. 150, Pausanias could still describe four of them, showing Athenian military triumphs, both mythological and historical. Most famous, perhaps, was a picture of the battle of Marathon (490 B.C.) by Polygnotos. By A.D. 400 the paintings had disappeared, taken down by a Roman proconsul according to the Bishop Synesios, who was bitterly disappointed not to see them during his visit to Athens. Actual armor and weapons taken from defeated enemies were also displayed on the building to remind Athenians of former glory.

The stoa, unlike many of the buildings of the Agora, was a true public building, with no one official, group, or function claiming priority for its use. It was built and used as a popular hangout, and as such attracted huge crowds and those whose business required an audience: jugglers, sword-swallowers, beggars, and fire-eaters. Among those who plied their trade in the building were the philosophers of Athens, in particular Zeno, who came to Athens from Cyprus in ca. 300 B.C. and so preferred the Painted Stoa as his classroom that he and his followers became known as the Stoics.

"Zeno, son of Mnaseas or Demeas of Kition [in Cyprus], a philosopher who began the Stoic school. He was called Stoic because he taught in the stoa at Athens which at an earlier period was called Peisianakteios, but afterwards when painted with pictures received the name Poikile." (Suidas)
"Pass on in thought to the Stoa Poikile too -- the memorials of all your great deeds are set up in the Agora." (Aischines, vs. Ktesiphon 186)
"Of Polygnotos the painter, a Thasian by birth, son and pupil of Aglaophon, given Athenian citizenship when he painted free of charge the Stoa Poikile. . . ." (Harpokration)
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).