Public spaces of protest in ancient cities, whether deliberately crafted or organically formed, can prove elusive, but the existence, appearance, and function of such spaces should not be ignored because of their relative invisibility. In Contested Space at the Entrance of the Athenian Acropolis, Jessica Paga looks to ancient Athens to demonstrate how such spaces were built and used, as well as their potential role in propagating the success of the world's first democracy. Concentrating on the archaeological record and the historical context surrounding the use and transformation of public spaces in Athens, Paga posits the entrance area to the Athenian Acropolis as a consciously elaborated site of dissent and unity for the burgeoning democratic polis in the late sixth and early fifth centuries BCE.
Moments of transition, unrest, and upheaval often leave marks on the landscapes and built environments of ancient cities. Destruction, dismantlement, and conflagration appear in the material record of antiquity as telltale signs that permit scholars to examine discrete points in time and consider the connections between the historical context and its physical traces. Such a pivotal moment occurred in ancient Athens when the polis became a democracy in the late sixth century BCE, a period of transition that was rarely peaceful and often contested.1 Here, at the very moment democracy came into being, it is possible to examine the intimate and intricate relationships among public space, political upheaval, and the emergence of democratic governance by paying attention to the deliberate choices visible in the archaeological record and the historical context surrounding their use and transformation over time.
It is my contention that in democratic Athens, physical public spaces and the buildings within them frequently functioned as arenas, both intentionally designed as such and otherwise, within which discussion and debate could occur, thus facilitating the practice of deliberative democracy.2 It was through various types of and opportunities for participation in the public sphere that the newly democratic citizens could come not only to recognize but also to engender their equality. Open spaces, in particular, were crucial for the success of the Athenian democracy because they could frequently function as arenas for the production of debate and action; examples include the central marketplace in the Agora, the hillside of the Pnyx, where the popular Assembly met, and the theatral, or viewing, areas that dotted the surrounding landscape of Attica.3 Open spaces also facilitate impromptu encounters, chance gatherings, and unplanned or unscripted interactions. The spontaneity of interaction facilitated by open spaces makes these areas unpredictable but at the same time allows them to be flexible and multipurpose.
In what follows, I consider the entrance area to the Acropolis as a space that was deliberately crafted by the early democracy to commemorate and serve as a site for dissent, protest, and, ultimately, triumph. The various elements of the entrance area are first described in detail; subsequently, the historical context of the late sixth and early fifth centuries is considered, with specific attention to the role of the entrance area in pivotal historic events connected to the early democracy; and finally, the entrance area is evaluated as a suitable site of protest and one that aided in the robust functionality of the nascent political regime.
The Entrance to the Acropolis
In ancient Athens, public space might take a variety of forms. In the Late Archaic period (roughly bracketed from the passage of the democratic reforms in 508/507 to the end of the Persian Wars in 480/479), such public spaces included the Agora (the marketplace and civic heart of the polis), the Old Bouleuterion (the council house for the Boule, or Council, of 500), the Pnyx (the area designated for meetings of the Ecclesia, the popular Assembly), the Theater of Dionysus (a space used by both the Council and the Assembly at certain times of the year, as well as for theatrical performance), and the Kerameikos (the state cemetery, where the war dead were buried), to name only a few.4 Several of these were deliberately created at this time to serve the needs of the nascent democracy and functioned as specific venues where political action occurred (the Old Bouleuterion and Pnyx). Some were initially created to serve other purposes but were adopted and adapted to political needs over time (the Theater of Dionysus). Still others might be considered more organic spaces, areas continuously used and frequented but endowed with a new resonance in the late sixth and early fifth centuries (the demosion sema, the burial area for the war dead, in the Kerameikos). The entrance to the Acropolis falls into this last category.
Since the Bronze Age, the principal entrance to the Acropolis was on the western side (Figure 1).5 This is one of the few areas where the steep bedrock crag is accessible, and it remained the sole point of entrance from the thirteenth century onward. In the Late Archaic period, more than seven hundred years later, most of the massive Cyclopean fortifications that had ringed the crest of the Acropolis since the Bronze Age were still in place, and it is likely that the original Bronze Age gate was also still functioning, in some form.6 During the late sixth and early fifth centuries, this gate was replaced in several phases and is generally known as the Old Propylon (3 in Figure 1). The gate was reached via a monumental stone ramp, measuring approximately 80–90 meters in length and 10–12 meters wide, built in polygonal masonry in the years around 570–560 (6 in Figure 1).7 To the south of the entrance stands the Nike bastion, a further remnant of the Bronze Age fortifications and home to the cult of Athena Nike (4 in Figure 1). These four elements—the Bronze Age fortifications, Old Propylon, ramp, and bastion with the sanctuary of Athena Nike—constitute the monumental components of the entrance to the Acropolis in the Late Archaic period.8
Given the numerous and thorough studies of the entrance area that have accrued since the excavations of the late nineteenth century, I will not undertake a full review of the scholarship here. It is sufficient to note only two of the principal problems around which debates have arisen.9 First among them is the form and chronology of the Old Propylon, including its attendant forecourt. The second is the chronology of structures on the Nike bastion and their relationship to the entrance area. I will address each of these problems in turn.
When the monumental ramp connecting the Panathenaic Way to the Acropolis was installed in the second quarter of the sixth century, some modifications to the original Bronze Age gate were likely made, although their scale and extent remain unclear. Depending on the size and disposition of the original gate, these changes may have been further necessary in order to facilitate the transportation of blocks up to the Acropolis for the construction of the monumental early sixth-century Bluebeard Temple.10 The first clear instance of modification of the gate, however, does not occur until the end of the sixth century, with the creation of what is referred to as the forecourt of the Old Propylon (Figure 2; 5 in Figure 1). At this time, a section of the west Bronze Age wall received a marble lining on its western face, near the southern extent where it abuts the Nike bastion. This lining consists of at least ten, but possibly up to eighteen originally, reused metope blocks—turned upside down, their crowning fascias chipped off, their overall height slightly reduced—repurposed to serve as both a protective revetment for the Cyclopean wall and a marble backdrop or dado for the newly created forecourt area.11 Three of these metopes can still be seen in situ to the east and south of the southwest wing of the Classical, or Mnesiklean, Propylaia (Figure 3). A small marble bench, only 29 centimeters high and 36 centimeters wide, which would have originally lined the entire forecourt, was placed in front of these metope blocks.12 The marble lining and bench included an integrated base at its northern extent, most likely for a perirrhanterion (lustral basin).13 Descending from the marble lining and bench were a series of five rock-cut steps with limestone fillers in places where the natural bedrock needed to be leveled.14 These three elements created an open area, bordered on the east and south by a marble dado and bench, with a stepped theatral area. This area had an original length (north–south) of at least 14.18 meters, a significant amount of space for an area as topographically limited as the western approach to the Acropolis.15
I believe the date of this first phase can be established with a relative degree of certainty. The metopes that were used as marble lining against the Bronze Age wall came from the Bluebeard Temple, which was probably dismantled in the last decade of the sixth century (1 in Figure 1).16 The metopes, however, could have been loose debris on the Acropolis or kept in storage for several years before their reuse in the forecourt area, although their relatively undamaged condition would suggest that this was not the case. The terminus ante quem is the Persian destruction of 480/479, on the basis of the survival of the metope blocks, which would very probably have been damaged and subsequently reburied if they had still been lying in storage on the Acropolis. In addition, in the south extension of the forecourt, just to the east of the Nike bastion, three step blocks are secured to each other by means of two Z-clamps.17 The Z-clamp was once thought to be a transitional clamp, between the Archaic swallowtail and the Classical double-T, but it was also used alongside the double-T on occasion.18 Comparanda for the earliest use of Z-clamps include buildings that date to the first two decades of the fifth century.19 The marble lining of the forecourt should therefore be placed between 508/507 and 480, although I am inclined to place it more precisely in the years immediately following the completion of the Old Athena Temple in ca. 500.20
At some point after the forecourt area was delineated, work began on an actual structure to replace the Bronze Age gate. This building, known as the Old Propylon, represents a construction phase distinct from the forecourt, and it was never completed (3 in Figure 1). The remains of this building are fleeting, and there is still debate regarding which elements are pre-Persian and which are post-Persian.21 Among the few elements that certainly belong to the Old Propylon are the southwest corner of the stylobate (topmost foundation course), two steps of Pentelic marble resting on limestone foundations, parts of the southwest interior wall and floor (although some of these remains might belong to the second phase of the building), and evidence for an anta (wall end with capital) and spur wall connected to the Bronze Age wall.22 The construction of this phase required the partial dismantlement of sections of the Bronze Age wall, as well as slight modifications to the marble lining of the forecourt.23
The overall ground plan, elevation, and dimensions of the building remain unknown and can be restored only on a hypothetical basis, in part because the structure was unfinished at the time of its destruction by the Persians in 480 and in part because its remains are largely obfuscated by the Mnesiklean Propylaia (Figure 4).24 That it was intended to be colonnaded seems evident by the load-bearing krepidoma (foundations) and the presence of the anta, although the precise number of columns and their arrangement is speculative.25 The reconstructed width and length of the building are also problematic and rely on the evidence of scattered bedrock cuttings below the Mnesiklean Propylaia, as well as the original and/or modified design and extent of the western Bronze Age walls and gate.26 The orientation of the building is also contested, although it should be restored with a generally north-northeast axis, which would direct worshippers toward the Old Athena Temple, the principal cult building on the Acropolis.27
If the forecourt can likely be dated to ca. 500, and the entire area was damaged by the Persians in 480, then there is a period of roughly twenty years during which construction of the Old Propylon could have begun. It may be possible to narrow that range. The building of the Old Propylon (both Dinsmoor Jr.'s phases I and II) certainly occurred after the forecourt was installed, which means it must postdate ca. 500. The forecourt and Old Propylon are unlikely to be components of a single plan, given the retrimmed metope just north of the in situ anta and the angled blocks of the krepidoma where they meet the steps of the forecourt. The decision to build the Old Parthenon occurred after the Battle of Marathon in 490, and construction of the massive podium would have started soon after.28 While this building activity was occurring, large quantities of stone would have to be transported up to the Acropolis, making contemporary construction on the gateway unlikely. The start of construction for the Old Propylon, therefore, should fall in the years soon after 500, and the project would have been halted around 490/489.29
Sanctuary of Athena Nike
Just to the south and slightly west of the entrance area to the Acropolis stands the Bronze Age bastion on which the sanctuary of Athena Nike is located (4 in Figure 1). The original form of the bastion in the Bronze Age LH IIIB and IIIC periods is debated, with some arguing that it functioned as a freestanding tower and others suggesting that it was physically connected to the western Bronze Age fortification wall.30 Regardless of restoration, the primary means of access to the sanctuary of Athena Nike from the Archaic period on seems to have been from the entrance area of the Acropolis rather than from the upper sanctuary.31
Around the same time that the ramp and Bluebeard Temple were built, ca. 570–560, the sanctuary of Athena Nike received its first monumentalization in the form of a limestone altar, dedicated by the otherwise unknown Patrokledes.32 It is possible that an enthroned cult statue of Athena Nike also existed at this time, supported by the limestone blocks (the so-called repository) that were later reused within the cella of the limestone temple.33 If there was a cult statue, we would naturally assume it was protected by and housed within a building. No remains of a built structure can be definitively associated with this altar, however, although Mark, following the hypothesis of Wiegand, has suggested that some of the remains of the A-architecture—one or two of the oikemata (small limestone structures) that stood on the Acropolis in the sixth century—could have functioned as an Early Archaic temple for Athena Nike.34
The next phase of activity on the bastion is of more interest for the current study. At some point between the dedication of the altar by Patrokledes near the mid-sixth century and the construction of the marble tetrastyle amphiprostyle temple in the 420s, a small limestone temple, often referred to as a naïskos, was built on the bastion, accompanied by a new and larger altar (Figure 5; see Figure 4). The small temple is Π-shaped, open on the eastern end, and measures approximately 3.65 meters long and 2.47 meters wide. The interior space of the shrine is largely occupied by a limestone statue base or repository, possibly in secondary use.35 A large rectangular altar was placed opposite the temple, facing the eastern opening. The altar, which measures 1.25 meters long, 0.78 meters wide, and approximately 0.50 meters high, is crowned by an elegant cyma reversa molding, while a near identical molding decorates the base (Figures 6 and 7). Both temple and altar were contained within an irregular trapezoidal temenos (precinct) wall that ran around the edge of the bastion.
The most widely followed chronology devised by Mark would date the limestone temple and altar to the mid-fifth century, sometime in the 440s.36 The argument is as follows: this small temple, built after the Persian destruction of the Acropolis in 480, served the cult of Athena Nike prior to the construction of the temple stipulated in the inscription designated IG I3 35, the Nike Temple Decree.37 The dating of IG I3 35 has long been contested, with some dating it to the 440s and others to the 420s. The arguments for placing the decree in the 430s or 420s, and thus divorcing it from the limestone temple and associating it instead more directly with the construction of the marble temple, are, to my mind, the most convincing.38
In addition to the controversial dating of the Nike Temple Decree, there is additional evidence for the date of the limestone temple. This includes the presence of a large, slightly trapezoidal block (1.24 × 0.64 × 0.58 meters) of Piraeus limestone that forms the underpinning for the southwest corner of the temple (Mark's block F2), the profiles of the cyma reversa moldings on the altar, the masonry technique employed for the temple and altar, and the masonry of the trapezoidal temenos wall or bastion crown.39 I will address each of these in turn.
As Mark notes, the block of Piraeus limestone (his block F2) is similar to the blocks used to construct the interior foundations of the Peisistratid Olympieion, the podium of the Old Parthenon, and the north and south walls of the Acropolis; to his list we can also add the Bluebeard Temple.40 Due to the size of the block, Mark rejects comparison to any structure except the south wall of the Acropolis, which was primarily constructed after the Persian destruction, although it is likely that some sections date to earlier in the fifth century.41 In addition to its size, Mark notes, the block has an oblique or “battered” face, a feature also seen on the visible portion of the south wall of the Acropolis.42 The size of the block, however, is not sufficient evidence to discount comparisons with earlier structures, such as the podium for the Old Parthenon, the blocks of which vary from 0.9 to 1.79 meters in length and 0.47 to 0.55 meters in height.43 The “batter” or trapezoidal shape of the block is also a weak dating element; as drawn by Mark, the batter could be a sign of reworking or general damage (such that the block was no longer acceptable for use in a more visible or structurally sensitive element but was good enough for the foundations of the small temple); even if intentional, the shape alone does not necessitate a connection with the south wall.44 The material, Piraeus limestone from the Akti peninsula, is the only element that provides any semblance of a terminus post quem, although even that is not firm: the Akti quarries were used during the Archaic period but saw their most intensive exploitation in the early fifth century. The construction of the Old Parthenon podium soon after 490 represents the first massive quarrying of Piraeus limestone on the Akti peninsula. Blocks intended for the podium would have littered the Acropolis during the early 480s, and it is not difficult to imagine a block of Piraeus limestone being repurposed or even quarried explicitly for use on the Nike bastion, although it remains unclear why the southwest corner of the temple required this type of stone when the rest of the structure was composed of Aeginetan limestone.45 In short, little about the block provides any positive dating parameters other than that it should probably postdate the intensive exploitation of the Piraeus quarries in the early fifth century, although even that is not certain.
The profiles of the cyma reversa moldings on the top and bottom of the altar are nearly identical (Figure 8; see Figures 6 and 7). Mark presents seven possible parallels, some closer than others.46 For the base molding, he suggests comparison with a Late Archaic statue base from Paros, the toichobate molding from the Classical Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, and the molded grille sills for the pronaos and opisthodomos of the Parthenon. The Parthenon comparison should be discarded outright: the projecting curve of the Nike altar base is far more rounded, the transition to the return is more vertical, and the return itself is not as scooped as the Parthenon example. Similarly, the comparison with the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion presents a return that is not scooped enough and an overall profile that is stretched horizontally to a greater degree than the altar. The Late Archaic statue base from Paros offers the best parallel, although Mark claims that this type was developed earlier in eastern Greece than on the mainland, which allows him to push the date for the altar molding back by several decades in comparison.47
Mark also suggests that the base molding on the Altar of Aphrodite Ourania in the Agora might be a good comparison, although he distrusts the date provided by the excavator.48 Examination of the base molding from the Aphrodite Ourania altar does, in fact, reveal the closest match with the Athena Nike altar. There is little doubt about the chronology of the Aphrodite altar: the pottery recovered from the earliest layers associated with the altar contained no sherds later than the last decade of the sixth century, as did the lowest layers of fill within the base. Moreover, the marble finials of the altar were repaired in the fifth century, indicating that the altar was probably damaged by the Persians in 480. The date for the first phase of the Aphrodite altar, therefore, must be ca. 500.49 The moldings of the altar of Athena Nike should place this structure in the same period.
The masonry techniques employed on the limestone temple and altar include the use of the claw-tooth chisel and drafted margins (narrow recessed bands along the edges of blocks, used on the temple only) (Figures 9 and 10). Mark interprets both as evidence for a date closer to the mid-fifth century than the early fifth century.50 The claw, however, was employed on architectural and sculptural members on the Acropolis as early as ca. 570–560, and its presence here could be an indication that the interior surfaces of the wall were prepared for plaster.51 Drafted margins appear on the podium of the Old Parthenon, where they can be seen in courses 18–20, as well as in the last (post-Persian) phase of the Old Propylon.52 Neither of these criteria can be used to necessitate a post-480 date. Similarly, the trapezoidal masonry style of the rebuilt bastion crown is not a firm dating criterion. Mark argues that the trapezoidal masonry style was a development that began only in the second half of the fifth century and became widely used in the fourth century; its use in the sanctuary of Athena Nike would be the first instance of this style in Attica.53 While it is true that trapezoidal masonry does not appear widely in Attica until the end of the fifth century, it is notoriously difficult to date walls based on masonry styles alone, a practice that has come under scrutiny.54 There is also no physical evidence to connect the rebuilt bastion crown with this phase of the sanctuary's development.55 The trapezoidal masonry temenos wall surrounding the Nike bastion is a potentially misleading element in the overall elaboration of the sanctuary.
One final piece of evidence that may help date this phase of the Nike sanctuary is the terracotta figurines found within the limestone repository inside the temple.56 The figurines are of a type popular in the Late Archaic period and rarely seen in the mid-fifth century. They depict a woman with upturned arms wearing a polos; they are handmade and share similarities with figurines found in other areas of Athens and Attica. They imply a deposition date far earlier than the suggested 440–430 chronology for the limestone shrine.
As is clear from the above discussion, establishing a construction date for the limestone temple and altar of Athena Nike is difficult. Nevertheless, I find the evidence adduced for a date in the 440s inconclusive; further, the same evidence can be used to argue for a much earlier date, within the first quarter of the fifth century and perhaps before the Persian destruction of 480/479.57 Indeed, there is one further element that might lend credence to a pre-Persian date for the limestone temple and altar: the physical relationship between the bastion and the forecourt of the Old Propylon, which we have already seen dates to ca. 500 (Figure 11). Access to the sanctuary of Athena Nike was achieved only from the area of the forecourt: an opening in the bastion crown on the northeast side, perhaps closed with a gate or door, linked the two areas via a short staircase, perhaps of a single step.58 This physical connection between the two areas, present in some form since the Bronze Age, seems to have been planned as an integral part of the overall monumentalization of this area at this time. Together, the two areas created a somewhat sheltered space, perhaps for gathering prior to entering the sanctuary, for inspection of processions, or for pausing to catch one's breath after the steep climb.59
Occupation, Siege, and Warfare in Late Archaic Athens
The last decade of the sixth century in Athens was a period of turmoil and upheaval. Following the assassination of Hipparchos in 514/513, the remaining Peisistratid son, Hippias, became a truly tyrannical tyrant. He put to death numerous citizens and sent many more into exile.60 He began to fortify the Mounychia in Piraeus as a new stronghold, and his overall oppression of the Athenians became worse than before.61 One of the families exiled was the Alkmaionidai, descendants of Megakles, who conspired both with and against Peisistratos during the latter's earlier attempts at the tyranny; this exile would prove to be the catalyst for the ultimate downfall of the Peisistratidai and liberation of the Athenians from the tyrants. The Alkmaionidai withdrew to Delphi, where they received the contract to rebuild the Temple of Apollo.62 It is here that the priestess of Apollo told the Spartans that before they could receive the prophecies of the god, they must first help liberate the Athenians and destroy the tyranny.63
Due to this divine prompting, the Spartans marched on Athens, led by their king Kleomenes, in 511/510.64 The Spartan troops defeated the hired Thessalian cavalry and entered the city, besieging Hippias and his supporters on the Acropolis, where they had retreated.65 The Spartans also captured several Peisistratid children as they attempted to escape, and the seizure of the hostages broke the resistance of Hippias.66 He was given five days to leave Athens, and he eventually withdrew to Sigeion before finally ending up at the Persian court of Darius at some point during the first decade of the fifth century.67
The Athenians were finally free of Hippias's oppression and the tyranny of the Peisistratidai, thanks to the help of the Spartans and the exiled Alkmaionidai in Delphi. After Hippias and his supporters left, all of the families previously exiled returned to Athens. The power void left by Hippias's removal, however, was soon filled with stasis, primarily between two men, Isagoras and Kleisthenes, an Alkmaeonid.68 In 508/507, Kleisthenes found himself losing and so attempted to win the support of the people, bringing them into his party.69 Once Kleisthenes had the support of the people, he began to implement a revolutionary series of reforms that would result in democracy. Isagoras, now finding himself on the losing side, sought Spartan assistance from the same king, Kleomenes, who had earlier helped the Athenians remove the Peisistratidai and end the tyranny.70 Prior to marching into Athens, Kleomenes first sent orders for the “Accursed” to be expelled from the city, a group that included the Alkmaionidai.71 Kleisthenes and seven hundred of his supporters withdrew from the city, but the Spartans came regardless.
Kleomenes and the Spartans first attempted to seize control of the newly established Council of 500 and transfer power to Isagoras and three hundred of his supporters.72 They were resisted, however, by the bouleutai (councilors), who drove them to the Acropolis and besieged them there. The bouleutai were joined by the multitude (συναθροισθέντος τοῦ πλήθους), and together they besieged Isagoras, his supporters, Kleomenes, and the Spartan troops.73 After three days, Kleomenes and the Spartans surrendered and were allowed to leave the city; Isagoras and his supporters were imprisoned and eventually killed.74
After the Spartans left, Kleisthenes and the other exiled families returned to the city, and the reforms that had previously been passed began to be implemented in their entirety, including new divisions of the citizen population. The new political regime, however, was soon beset with more challenges. A quadripartite attack of Spartans, Corinthians, Boiotians, and Chalkidians threatened the western border of Attic territory in 506/505 (Figure 12).75 The Spartans and Corinthians marched on Eleusis to attack the southwestern edge of Attica, the Boiotians seized the outlying demes (villages) of Oinoe and Hysiae along the western border, and the Chalkidians were to attack Attica from another direction, presumably the northwestern border.76 This three-pronged attack was designed to exploit the presumed weaknesses of the early democratic state. Instead of achieving victory, however, the Spartans were forced to withdraw when the Corinthians decided not to help them establish a tyranny, while the Boiotians and Chalkidians were roundly defeated, imprisoned, and ransomed by the Athenians.77
In celebration of this victory, the Athenians dedicated a bronze quadriga (four-horse chariot group) on the Acropolis to their patron goddess, as a tithe from the spoils, as well as the chains used to enslave the captured Boiotian and Chalkidian prisoners.78 The quadriga monument was destroyed in the Persian sack, but fragments of its inscription, as well as the inscription from the replacement monument, survive, and they emphasize the importance of this victory.79 The original monument, which is perhaps the earliest votive dedication made by the demos (the people), was erected on a base of gray Eleusinian limestone (Figure 13).80 The original location of this dedication is problematic, however. According to Herodotus, writing after the Persian destruction of the Acropolis, the chains were displayed against a wall that had been burned by the Persians, opposite “the megaron that faces west.”81 This has been interpreted to mean that the chains were hung on the western terrace wall supporting the Old Athena Temple, which was burned by the Persians. Herodotus reports the quadriga to be “on the left” as one passes through the Propylaia; it is unclear if this places the monument before the entrance gate or within the sanctuary proper.82 Pausanias, who saw the monument well over five hundred years after Herodotus, locates it near the Athena Promachos statue, which would place the quadriga inside the sanctuary near the chains.83 Both authors refer to the replacement monument, however, and it is unclear how far their remarks can be extended to the original.84
Regardless of their original location, the inscription and statue emphasize the success of the Athenians over their enemies and monumentally proclaim the growing military supremacy of the new democracy. If they were erected in the general area of the entrance to the Acropolis, near the Athena Nike sanctuary, that would accord well with the overall message of triumph encapsulated in the monument and underscored throughout the entrance complex. To illuminate this point, I turn now to a final consideration of the entrance area of the Acropolis as a deliberately created space of contestation and triumph.
The Entrance of the Acropolis as a Site of Protest
Over the course of approximately thirty years, from the expulsion of the last tyrant, Hippias, by the Spartans in 511/510 to the Persian invasion of 480/479, the Acropolis bore witness to repeated occupations, sieges, and displays of violence.85 The first siege saw the Spartans holding the entrance area, preventing Hippias and his supporters from escaping or controlling the affairs of the Athenians. The next siege, just a few years later, presented a flipped perspective. The Spartans were now the besieged, and the entrance area was controlled by the newly empowered Athenian demos. At the close of this period, another occupation and siege occurred; this time, the Athenians who trusted that the “wooden walls” of the Pythia's oracle referred to the Acropolis were besieged there by the Persian invaders.86
The two decades after the passage of the Kleisthenic reforms also witnessed a monumental elaboration of this entrance area. Parts of the Bronze Age fortifications were dismantled, and a forecourt was installed to frame the entrance and serve as a focal point for the large ramp. Plans were begun to create a new gate, the Old Propylon, the intended marble edifice juxtaposed with the remains of the Cyclopean masonry and creating an overall impression of strength, power, and divine protection. Nearby, the sanctuary of Athena Nike may have been embellished with a new temple and altar, forming a bookend with the Old Propylon and enclosing the space of the forecourt. Votive dedications like the Boiotian and Chalkidian monument may have populated the entrance area alongside the lustral basin installed in the forecourt. It is also possible that the Hekatompedon Decrees (IG I3 4A–B), documents that explicitly describe proper and improper activities within the sanctuary, were posted in this area.87 The pre-Mnesiklean cistern was also likely installed in this general area in the immediate post-Marathon period.88 Even in an unfinished state, these architectural changes indicate a deliberate attempt to craft a particular type of entrance area for Athens's most important sacred space.89
The forecourt, as described above, makes the most of a constricted and awkward space and provides some idea of the area as it existed prior to ca. 500 (5 in Figure 1). When combined with a portion of the open space around the entrance, the extent of this polygonal area is approximately 200 square meters (as measured from the gray polygon in Figure 5). From a purely mathematical standpoint, this area is of sufficient size to hold one thousand people, based on a maximum crowd density calculation of five standing people per square meter.90 This calculation does not, however, take into account the varying slopes of the entrance area (see elevation points indicated in Figures 4 and 11) and the areas of rough or unworked bedrock, nor does it factor in the additional space offered by the larger extent of the ramp, space on the Nike bastion itself, possible interior space of the gateway and Building B, and other unworked areas of the Acropolis bedrock surrounding the entrance complex, which may or may not have provided suitable areas for gathering.91 Taking the steep elevation and surface conditions into account, however, the thousand-person capacity should be significantly lowered; adding in the space of the ramp and bastion, on the other hand, would raise it slightly. Although surely speaking in hyperbole, Herodotus would seem to confirm that a large number of people could be accommodated in the space when he says that the five hundred bouleutai besieged the Spartans in 508/507, and they were subsequently joined by the “rest of the Athenians” (Ἀθηναίων δὲ λοιποὶ).92
While these measurements are based on the area as it appeared ca. 480, the extent of the entrance area prior to the construction of the forecourt and Old Propylon (and therefore during the siege of 508/507) was likely of a similar size, depending on how one chooses to restore the Bronze Age walls.93 The construction of the forecourt with its stepped theatral area emphasizes the possible use of this space for gatherings and provides a monumental articulation of the overall extent of the space.94 While it is impossible to provide a precise capacity number for the entrance area, we can reasonably estimate it to hold somewhere between three hundred and eight hundred individuals, a not insignificant capacity.95
In terms of accessibility, the Acropolis sits at the heart of the ancient city, at the terminus of the Panathenaic Way (Figure 14). When the Agora was transferred from the old part of the city, somewhere to the east of the Acropolis, to its Classical location northwest of the Acropolis, the sanctuary of Athena was even more integrated into the overall plan of the astu (city center).96 The path of the Panathenaic Way passes directly through the Classical Agora, leading up to the western entrance of the Acropolis; previously, access to the Acropolis from the Old Agora required a more circuitous route. Once this new Agora location was established, likely in ca. 500, movement and communication between the central marketplace and political hub of the city and its most sacred area could be more rapid.97
Both the size and the accessibility of the entrance area are related to the concept of visibility. The Acropolis itself is elevated above the rest of the city. The north side, in particular, is highly visible from the area of the Classical Agora. It is not by chance that the blackened remains of the entablature of the Old Athena Temple and unfinished column drums of the Old Parthenon, both damaged by the Persian barbarians, were so carefully rebuilt into this particular wall.98 From the new Agora, the Athenians who had survived the Persian attacks could, by lifting their gaze, see these emblems of survival and victory. Prior to the Persian destruction, the view from the new Agora would have included a glimpse of the Old Athena Temple as well as parts of the entrance area. During the siege of 508/507, people in the Agora would have been able to see and possibly hear the large crowd of the demos barring the entrance to the Acropolis. In the decades after this occupation and uprising, perhaps especially when the entrance area was undergoing embellishment, this view from the Agora would have been particularly charged.
Moreover, the built structures and dedications in the entrance area provide symbolic resonance to the repeated occupations over the thirty-year period from 511/510 to 480/479. The sanctuary of Athena Nike, especially if paired with the bronze quadriga monument commemorating the Athenian success against the Boiotians and Chalkidians, would have imbued the area with manifest symbols of the new democracy's martial prowess. The use of marble in the forecourt and Old Propylon, as well as the construction of so many structures and monuments in a short period, speaks to the financial resources of the polis. In addition, the preserved—and highlighted—Bronze Age fortification walls represent the strength of legendary Athens while serving as a mark of continuity in the divine favor bestowed on the polis by Athena. In many ways, the space itself became a symbol of Athenian resistance, perseverance, and success in the early fifth century.99
Aristophanes's Lysistrata, produced in 411, helps to demonstrate both the symbolic and the practical function of the entrance area and illuminates several of the points made above. In the first choral ode, the old men discuss how they plan to besiege the women on the Acropolis and compare the women's occupation of the sanctuary with the failed attempt by Kleomenes in 508/507. The historical siege is explicitly described as a victory for the old men, who exclaim that the Spartan king surrendered to them, weaponless, starving, dirty, and unshaven: “Kleomenes himself was hurtled out in sore defeat. His stiff-backed Spartan pride was bent. Out, stripped of all his arms, he went: a pigmy cloak that would not stretch, to hide his rump (the draggled wretch), six sprouting years of beard, the spilth of six years’ filth.”100
The chorus leader goes on to describe how he and the other men laid siege before the gate of the Acropolis: “That was a siege! Our men were ranged in lines of seventeen deep before the gates, and never left their posts there, even to sleep.”101 These events are recalled as a shining moment in the early history of the democracy, when the demos resisted and defeated the Spartans and their would-be puppet tyrant Isagoras, conquering the dual threats of tyranny and stasis. The act of besieging the women at the gate of the Acropolis reminds the men of the last time this act was performed, in the exact same location, despite the fact that it is extremely unlikely that any of the men involved in the historical siege of 508/507 would still be alive during the performance of the play. These comments demonstrate that when Lysistrata was produced in 411, these memories of besieging Kleomenes and Isagoras in 508/507, nearly one hundred years prior, were still living and retained in the minds of the citizen body, familiar enough to be used as satirical commentary during another historical conflict between the Athenians and the Spartans.102
These passages highlight the overall size and capacity of the entrance area, as well as its practical function as a gateway, a structure able to be locked and blockaded. The remarks of the chorus also demonstrate that the entrance to the Acropolis was a place pregnant with memory. Despite the physical changes that took place between the siege of 508/507 and the performance of Lysistrata in 411, the men (and, by extension, the Athenian demos in the audience) still viewed the entrance area as a space of contestation and as a place that evoked these specific memories. For the Athenians visiting the Acropolis prior to the Persian destruction, when these events would still be exceedingly fresh in their minds, the connection between the gateway to the sanctuary and the successful besieging of Kleomenes and Isagoras would have been unmistakably pointed. The lustral basin in the forecourt and the Hekatompedon Decrees, if located here, further underscored the sanctity of the Acropolis and the sacrilege committed by the Spartans when they occupied it. The Athenians, in besieging them, can thus be seen to be acting as defenders of their new democracy as well as defenders of the sacred citadel of their patron goddess.
In this way, the embellishment and monumentalization of the entrance area can be understood as a direct response to the successful siege of 508/507. The Athenians had triumphed over a foreign force occupying their sacred citadel, affirming the strength of their new democracy and dismissing any doubts about their power and organizational capabilities. At the same time, by celebrating this event through the act of articulating a new space, the Athenians were able to rewrite the memory of the earlier siege, when it was the Spartans outside the gate, liberating the Athenians from the tyrants.103
The entrance area of the Acropolis encapsulates the events of the late sixth and early fifth centuries, concretizing the multiple triumphs of the democracy. The military overtones are highlighted through the bronze quadriga dedication and the towering sanctuary of Athena Nike. The democratic ideals of accountability and visibility are written into the physical fabric of the space, with the prominent display of the Hekatompedon Decrees and the open, theatral forecourt. The use of new materials and construction of new built elements appear alongside the preservation of the city's Bronze Age past, a reminder of the historic role of the citadel in the continued defense and success of the city. The concepts of capacity, access, visibility, and potent symbolism are all embodied at the entranceway, and these concepts were in turn highlighted and even produced by the monumentalization of this space. Understanding this space as a site of occupation, siege, and protest allows us to consider its crucial role in the flourishing of the early democracy: it provided the Athenians with a physical arena for both conflict and unity, communal dissent and approval. The entrance to the Acropolis was not merely a gate to the sanctuary but a vibrant and dynamic space of memory and forgetting, where the Athenians laid claim to the heart of their polis and declared it, anew, as their own.