The Altar of Zeus

The Agora Excavations began with the aim of revealing the monuments and history of the ancient Agora. Of course, every artifact or feature that was exposed held importance, but when something extraordinary was brought to light, its discovery generated great excitement.

View of the orthostate block (A 404) of the Altar of Zeus Agoraios
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Nb. Ε III, pp. 503–504; July 23, 1931.

On July 23, 1931, the excavator filled five pages of his notebook describing a significant discovery of the first excavation season: "A large structure once covered a large part of [the] area, it was almost certainly an Altar." A few pages later he added another entry describing an "Altar Block: the large block of white marble with moulding above and below; shown on photos p. 507" (Nb. Ε III, pp. 503–507). The altar was later identified as the Altar of Zeus Agoraios, an important ancient monument believed to have been erected first on the Pnyx in the 4th century B.C. and later dismantled and re-erected at the turn of the millenium in its present location.

View looking northeast across Section E at the end of the 1931 season. Visible in the foreground is a column base and foundation blocks of the Metroon; to the left the statue of Emperor Hadrian was found lying in the Great Drain. In the center background are the steps of the Altar of Zeus Agoraios and its large altar block. Visible in the middle foreground are the foundations for the monument of the Eponymous Heroes. The Church of Panagia Vlassarou is visible in the upper right corner.

The Statue of Hadrian

Inevitably something is found at the end of the excavation season that must be left for the next season to fully explore. Just a few days after the discovery of the Altar of Zeus Agoraios, exploration of the Great Drain was progressing on the west side of Section Ε when the excavator noted another surprising find: “Digging away earth between cover slab and this block was found Statue of Roman Emperor, preserved from just below kilt to about shoulders, lying at a slant, lower part resting on low end of the fallen cover slab and body slanting down and outward to E.”

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The statue of Hadrian lying face down in the Great Drain, February 5, 1932

The difficulty of making a fuller description and taking photographs is apparent in a later comment, “Earth roof must be supported and large block broken and removed before statue can be taken out” (Nb. Ε III, p. 518). The statue would remain lying in the ground until it could be properly excavated and removed at the beginning of the following season.

Lifting the statue to an upright position
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Cleaning and preparing to photograph the statue
The first formal photographic portrait of the statue of Hadrian
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).