Tag Archives: archaeology

Graffiti of Pompeii

There are thousands of graffiti recorded in the time capsule town on Pompeii, the town destroyed and buried by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD. They offer a glimpse into everyday ancient life in an unprecedented way. I hope you will find this list an amusing diversion or a useful resource for research.

Note – technically this list is a mixture of graffiti and dipinti. A dipinto is a drawn message or doodle, either made with paint, charcoal etc. A graffiti is incised into the surface, perhaps with a nail or tool. For the sake of simplicity, I’m using the word graffiti as a catch-all term, in keeping with the majority of guidebooks and websites.

I shall provide the location of each graffito wherever possible. Not only will this help tourists find them (if still visible,) but noting which types of graffiti appear where is a fascinating insight into the different neighbourhoods of the town. When I provide a building code, it breaks down into 3 sections. The first part notes the Regio, one of 9 zones of the town carved up by archaeologists. The second number notes the insula, or city block. The final number is the door number. So the House of the Surgeon is categorised as vi.1.10 – Regio 6, block 1, door 10. Some houses are known by a number of names, I’ll use whichever I think is the better known. A lot of buildings have multiple numbered entrances, I shall use the entrance closest to the graffito.

Where I can, I’ll also provide the catalogue number of each graffito in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. Volume IV is dedicated to graffiti recorded in Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae. The online database I use is the Epigrafik-Datenbank Clauss-Slaby. This will be handy if you wish to read any of these in the original Oscan, Greek or Latin. If I can’t find a translation or attempt a clumsy one myself, I won’t include an example. This list is intended to be accessible for everyone (or at least those who don’t mind sexual themes or naughty language…) I’m not going to shy away from graffiti that use ‘naughty’ language as some books/sites do. The Pompeians weren’t prudes so I see no reason why I should be. However, perhaps you may wish to bookmark this page to read away from school/work…

If you spot any mistakes, can fill in some missing information or think I’ve missed a great example, just let me know.


If the graffiti is anything to go by, Pompeiians loved politics. The huge number of electoral slogans reminds me of my clogged Facebook timeline during our own modern elections. Official dipinti were written by professional scriptores, usually in red paint in an elegant script. Some of the others may be a teensy bit sarcastic…

  • I ask you to elect Numerius Barcha, a good man, as duovir. May Venus Pompeiana be favourable to your offerings. – CIL IV 00026, House of the Anchor vi.10.7
  • Numerius Veius, a good man. Colonists, I ask you to elect him duovir. – CIL IV 00045 Facade of a shop, viii.5.29
  • Numerius Veius Barcha, I hope you rot! – CIL IV 00075
  • Nymphodotus with Caprasia asks you to elect Marcus Cerrinius Vatia aedile. CIL IV 207
  • All the late drinkers ask you to elect Marcus Cerrinius Vatia aedile. Florus and Fructus wrote this! – CIL VI 581, Taberna Hedones, vii.2.44
  • I beg you to elect Marcus Epidius Sabinus duovir with judicial powers, he is worthy. May you elect one who is a protector of the colony according to the opinion of Suedius Clemens, the worshipful judge, and by agreement of the council on account of his merits and his honesty, worthy of public office. Sabinus, the theatre official, elects him with applause. CIL IV 768, Shop of Sabinus, i.4.18
  • Popidius Natalis, his client, with the worshipers of Isis, call for the election of Cuspius Pansa for aedile.  CIL IV 1011, Bakery of Felix, viii.4.27
  • The ball players ask that you elect Aulus Vettius Firmus aedile, worthy of public office. CIL IV 1147, Estate of Julia Felix, ii.4.4
  • Elect Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus aedile, worthy of public office. Masculus and all those who have a tail recommend him… CIL IV 7240 Caupona of Masculus, i.7.14
  • All the late sleepers ask for Marcus Cerrinius Vatia for aedile. CIL IV 575
  • Vatia for aedile: supported by the petty thieves… CIL IV 576
  • Vote for Isidorus for aedile, he licks cunts the best! CIL IV 1383, Brothel of Aphrodite, Secunda, Nymphe, Spendusa, Veneria, Restituta, Timele vi.11.15
  • Lucius Popidius Ampliatus, son of Lucius, for aedile: supported by his client Montanus in conjunction with the brigands.  CIL IV 7851
  • Valens, you’re sleeping; you’re asleep and dreaming; wake up from your slumber and make Helvius Sabinus aedile. 
  • The neighbours of Lucius Statius Receptus urge you to elect him duovir with judicial power. He is deserving of the office. Aemilius Celer, his neighbour, wrote this. If you deliberately deface this sign, may you fall gravely ill! CIL IV 3775 House of Primigenia ix.8.8
  • Statia and Petronia beg you to elect Marcus Casellius and Lucius Albucius as aediles. There are excellent citizens for the perpetuity of the colony.  CIL IV 3294
  • Bruttius Balbus for duumvir. His actions will be fiscally responsible. Genialis supports this. CIL IV 3792 Shop, ix.2.20


Pompeiians loved a good gladiatorial spectacle. Theirs is the oldest surviving permanent amphitheatre in the Roman world. Politicians hoped to win over the citizens by sponsoring lavish spectacles and certain gladiators became ancient celebrities. It seems that ancient Campanians were quite willing to travel to see a good show, following their favourite troupes in the same way that modern sports fans go to away matches. That explains why the amphitheatre at Pompeii is so large for such a small town. Keen fans scribbled the results of fights alongside doodles of their favourite fighters.

Note – the term ‘Neronian’ indicates the gladiator trained at the Imperial training school in Capua.

  • The gladiatorial troupe of Aulus Suettius Certus, aedile, will fight at Pompeii on 31st of May. There will be a hunt and awnings. CIL IV 1189 The Eumachia, vii.9.1
  • At the dedication of the Games of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius… There will be a hunt, athletics, aprinklings, awnings. Good fortune to Maius, leader of the colony. CIL IV 1177 Forum Baths vii.5.2
  • 20 pairs of gladiators of Decimus Lucretius Satrius Valens, perpetual priest of Nero and 10 pairs of gladiators of his son Decimus Lucretius Valens, will fight at Pompeii on 8,9,10,11,12 April. There will be a regular hunt and awnings. Aemilius Celer wrote this on his own by the light of the moon.  CIL IV 3884 Shop facade, ix.8.1
  • Celadus, belonging to Octavus, fought 3 won 3. CIL IV 4297 House of the Gladiators, v.5.3
  • Rusticus Malius – 12 fights, 11 wins. Marcus Terentius – 3 fights, 3 wins. CIL IV 4302 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • Celadus the Thracian gladiator is the delight of all the girls! CIL IV 4289 House of the Gladiators, v.5.3
  • Mansuetas the provocator will dedicate his shield to Venus if victorious! CIL IV 283, Quadriporticus viii.7.16
  • Faustus, slave of Ithacus, Neronian, at the amphitheatre; Priscus, Neronian, fought 6, victor; Herrenius, fought 18, killed CIL IV 1421 House of the Labyrinth vi.11.10
  • Asteropaeus, Neronian, 107 victories, victor. Oceanus, freedman, 6 victories, reprieved CIL IV 1422 House of the Labyrinth vi.11.9
  • In honour of the Safety of the Emperor Vespasian Caesar Augustus and his House, on the occasion of the dedication of the altar, the gladiatorial troupe of Gnaeus Allius Nigidius Maius, Flamen of Caesar Augustus, will give games at Pompeii on July 4. Beast hunt. There will be awnings. CIL IV 1180 Large Theatre exterior
  • Oceanus, of free status, victorious 13 times, won. Aracintus, of free status, victorious 4 times, earned a reprieve. CIL IV 8055 House of the Ceii i.6.15
  • Severus, of free status, victorious 13 times, earned a reprieve. Albanus, left-hander, of free status, victorious 19 times, won CIL IV 8056 House of the Ceii i.6.15 Left handed gladiators were quite rare and would have drawn a large crowd.
  • Marcus Attilius. Marcus Attilius, fought 1, won 1, victor. Lucius Raecius Felix, fought 12, won 12, reprieved. CIL IV 10236A Tomb 14 Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • Marcus Attilius, novice, victor; Hilarus, Neronian, fought 14, 12 victories, reprieved CIL IV 10238A Tomb 14 Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • Games at Nola given by Marcus Cominius Heres over 4 days. ‘The Chief’, Neronian, fought 13, 10 victories, victor. Hilarus, Neronian, fought 14, 12 victories, victor. Creunus, fought 7, 5 victories, reprieved.  CIL IV 10237 Tomb 14 Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • Twenty pairs of Gladiators, belonging to Aulus Suettius Antenio and to his freedman Niger, will fight at Puteoli on the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th of March. There will also be a beast hunt and athletic contests. CIL IV 9970
  • Sold to the wife of Decimus Lucretius Valens: Onustus, horseman of prime quality, Sagatus, Thracian murmillo, prime quality! CIL IV 8590 It would be extremely odd for a wife to buy gladiators on her husband’s behalf. It seems likely that this matron was in fact buying/hiring these gladiators for her own entertainment…
  • 20 pairs of gladiators of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius, quinquennial, and their substitutes will fight without any public expense at Pompeii. Greetings to Gavillius Tigellus and Clodius. Greetings to Telephus, head gladiator instructor. Good luck, Diadumenus and Pyladio CIL IV 7991 House of Trebius Valens iii.2.1
  • Good fortune to Gnaeus Alleius Maius, the prince of the games! CIL IV 7990 Palaestra ii.7.7
  • Marcus Casellius Marcellus, a good aedile and a great giver of games CIL IV 4999 House of M Casellius Marcellus ix.2.26
  • Felix, belonging to Cassius, 13 fights 13 wins. Florus, belonging to Octavius, 14 fights 14 wins CIL IV 4378 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • On the 28th of July, Florus won at Nuceria, on the 15th of August, he won at Herculaneum CIL IV 4299 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • On the … Of May, the gladiator troupe of Ampliatus will fight at Formia. There will be a beast hunt, sprinklings and awnings. As the whole world desires to see my troupe, I shall provide games everywhere. CIL IV 1184 Gladiator Barracks viii.7.16
  • You have been victorious in every single one of your bouts! It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World! CIL IV 1111 Amphitheatre ii.6
  • Chariot fighter Philippus from the school of Tettius. 8 fights, 8 wins! CIL IV 4280 House of the Gladiators v.5.3



  • A small problem gets bigger if you ignore it… CIL IV 1811, Basilica, viii.1.1
  • What’s happening? Oh, eyes, you forcibly dragged me into the fire;
    Now, unforced, you flood my cheeks.
    But never can the tears extinguish the flame, t
    hey inflame the face and melt the spirit. Tiburtinus composed this. IV 4966, Odeon, viii.7.19
  • Once you are dead, you are nothing CIL IV 5279 House of the Centennial, ix.8.3
  • Nothing can last for all time: When the Sun has shone brightly it returns to Ocean; the Moon wanes, which recently was full. Even the fierceness of Venus often becomes a mere puff of wind. CIL IV 9123 Shop of Successus ix.13.4
  • Avoid giving killer looks to the wives of others with desirous expressions, harbour modesty in your mouth. CIL IV 7968A House of the Moralist iii.4.2
  • Remove lustful expressions and a flirtatious gaze from another man’s wife; may there be modesty in your expression. CIL IV 7968B House of the Moralist iii.4.2
  • Postpone your tiresome squabbles if you can, or leave and take them home with you. CIL IV 7968C House of the Moralist iii.4.2
  • When an old man lies on his back, his bollocks cover his arsehole. CIL IV  4488
  • The one who buggers a man on fire burns his penis CIL IV 1882 Basilica viii.1.1
  • He who despises life easily spurns god CIL IV 5370 House of the Arches ix.7.20
  • Beware of wives! CIL IV 4238 Caupona V.2.3
  • The doorman should be awake for those who come bearing gifts. If, however, someone should knock on the door empty handed, the doorman should be deaf or sleeping with the latch firmly shut… CIL IV 1894 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Now, when anger is still fresh, it is time to leave. When grief has departed love shall return. Trust me! CIL IV 4491 House of Sextus Pompeius Axiochus vi.13.19


  • Stranger, my bones beg you not to pee at my tomb: if you want to do the deceased an even bigger favour: take a dump! You see the tomb of Urtica [= ‘Stinging Nettle’]: go away, shitter! It is not safe for you to open your buttocks here. CIL IV 8899 iii.5.4
  • Secundus took a shit here.  (This was written three times on the same wall…) CIL IV 5243 House of the Centenary ix.8.3
  • Lesbianus, you poop and you write, ‘Hi, everybody!’ CIL IV 10070 Shop of Nicanor ii.3.9
  • This is Martha’s dining room, as she shits in this dining room. CIL IV 5244 House of the Centenary ix.8.3 The graffito was found in what is thought to be the slave’s quarters.
  • One day you will understand how I feel. When I need to have a shit I’ll come and shit! CIL IV 5242 House of the Centenary ix.8.3
  • Shitter! Beware misfortune! CIL IV 3832 Caupona of Tertius ix.7.2
  • To the one defecating here.  Beware of the curse.  If you look down on this curse, may you have an angry Jupiter for an enemy! CIL IV 7716 House of Pascius Hermes iii.5.1
  • We have pissed the bed, I confess. We have erred innkeeper, though if you ask us why; there was no chamberpot! CIL IV 4952 Unnamed house viii.7.6


  • Gaius Pumidius Dipilus was here five days before the nones of October in the year that Marcus Lepidus and Quintus Catulus were consuls (2nd October 78 BC) CIL IV 1842 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here.  The women did not know of his presence.  Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.  CIL IV 8767 Large Palaestra ii.7
  • Glyco was here with Martialis while the sun was boiling, we were thirsty. CIL IV 89 Tomb 18 Porta Ercolano necropolis
  • We two dear men, friends forever, were here.  If you want to know our names, they are Gaius and Aulus. CIL IV 8162 Bar i.7.8


  • Sabinus, my beauty, Hermeros loves you! CIL IV 1256 House of the Tragic Poet vi.8.5. This is just one of many graffiti about love/sex between two men.
  • No young buck is complete until he has fallen in love CIL IV 1787 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Let everyone one in love come and see.  I want to break Venus’ ribs with clubs and cripple the goddess’ loins.  If she can strike through my soft chest, then why can’t I smash her head with a club? CIL IV 1824 Basilica viii.1.1
  • If you are able, but not willing, why do you put off our joy and kindle hope and tell me always to come back tomorrow.  So, force me to die since you force me to live without you.  Your gift will be to stop torturing me.  Certainly, hope returns to the lover what it has once snatched away. CIL IV 1837 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Love dictates to me as I write and Cupid shows me the way, but may I die if the god should wish me to go on without you! CIL IV 1928 Basilica viii.1.1
  • I’m hurrying to you, my Sava. Try to love me! CIL IV 2414 Corridor into the Large Theatre viii.7.20
  • Methe of Atella, slave of Cominia, loves Chrestus. May Venus Pompeiana smile favourably on their hearts and let them always live in harmony. CIL IV 2457 Corridor into the Large Theatre viii.7.20
  • Whoever loves, let him flourish.  Let him die who knows not love.  Let him who forbids love die twice over.  CIL IV 4091 House of Caecilius Jucundus v.1.26
  • If you felt the fires of love, mule-driver, you would make far more haste to see Venus.  I love a charming boy; I ask you, goad the mules; let’s go!  Take me to Pompeii, where love is sweet.  You are mine… CIL IV 5092 House of Poppaeus Sabinus ix.5.11
  • Oh, if only I could grasp my gentle arms around you and and give kisses to your delicate little lips. Come now, my little darling, entrust your pleasures to the winds. Believe me, the nature of men is fickle. Often as I have lain awake in a wasted night, I think on these things: many whom Fortuna raised high, now suddenly rush headlong, and fall, overwhelmed by her. Thus, just as Venus joins the bodies of lovers in a moment, daylight divides them and you will separate their love. CIL IV 5296 ix.9.f
  • Marcellus loves Praenestina, but she doesn’t care for him CIL IV 7679 House of Pinarius Cerialis iii.4.b
  • (Written by Severus) – “Successus, a weaver, loves the innkeeper’s slave girl named Iris, She, however, does not love him. Still he begs her to have pity on him. His rival wrote this. Goodbye”(Answer by Successus) – “Envious one, why do you get in the way. Submit to a handsomer man and one who is being treated very wrongly and good looking”(Answer by Severus) – “I have spoken. I have written all there is to say. You love Iris, but she does not love you!” CIL IV 8258 Bar of Prima i.10.2
  • Secundus says hello to his Prima, wherever she is.  I ask, my mistress, that you love me. CIL IV 8364 House of the Cabinetmaker i.10.7
  • My Ceres, may he who loves prosper, who forbids love may he perish badly. I loved Leda, but in a manner in which it was acceptable. Greetings, Tiberius Claudius. I loved Leda – the girl from Samos. CIL IV 9202 House of Caecilius Jucundus v.1.23
  • A blonde girl taught me to scorn brunettes. I will scorn them if I can; if not… I will reluctantly love them CIL IV 9839 Vineyard wall i.11.10
  • Blondie has taught me to hate dark-haired girls.  I shall hate them, if I can, but I wouldn’t mind loving them.  Pompeian Venus Fisica wrote this CIL IC 1520 House of the Scientists vi.14.43
  • Lovers are like bees; they live a honeyed life! CIL IV 8408a Bar of Astylus and Pardalus ii.2.1
  • If only that were true… CIL IV 8408b Bar of Astylus and Pardalus ii.2.1
  • I don’t want to sell my husband, not for all the gold in the world! CIL IV 3061 House of Caprasius Primus vii.2.48
  • If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should take a look at my girl friend! CIL IV 6842 House of Pinarius iv.16.15
  • Greetings to Primigenia of Nuceria.  I would wish to become a signet ring for no more than an hour, so that I might give you kisses dispatched with your signature… CIL IV 10241 Tomb, Porta Nocera necropolis
  • Sarra, you are not being very nice, leaving me all alone like this! CIL IV 1951 Basilica viii.1.1
  • A woman has borne a son of her own; he isn’t mine and doesn’t look like me, but I wish he was mine and I was wanting him to be mine. CIL IV 1877 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Juvenillia was born on Saturday in the second hour of the evening, Aug 2nd. CIL 294 vii.3 Juvenilla was therefore 3 weeks old when Vesuvius erupted.
  • Let him constrain the winds, he who rebukes lovers! And let him him forbid the waters of a stream from continuing to flow! CIL IV 1649 Shop, vii.6.35


  • Hedone says, “You can get a drink here for only one coin.  You can drink better wine for two coins.  You can drink Falernian for four coins.” CIL IV 1679 Bar of Hedone vii.2.44
  • Whoever wants to serve themselves can go on an drink from the sea! CIL IV 3494 Bar of Salvius vi.14.36
  • What a lot of tricks you use to deceive, innkeeper. You sell water but drink unmixed wine!  CIL IV 3498 Workshop of Potitus vi.14.37
  • I fucked the barmaid! cil iv 8442 Caupona of Sotericus i.12.3


Whilst the Romans did have an unwritten code of morality, it seems that their attitude to sex was open, not to be matched until, perhaps, the 20th century. Erotic images taken to the museum in Naples were kept in a secret, locked room that was only opened up to the public in 2005. Whilst the modern idea of constant orgies is inaccurate (and influenced by the early Christian church,) erotic images and graffiti were not limited to brothels and dive bars and were found in the grandest of houses. There is no Latin term for homosexuality as it was not seen as particularly remarkable (even Julius Caesar had an affair with the King of Bithynia,) although a Roman citizen should always seek to be the penetrator, not the penetratee. Fellatio, cunnilingus and heterosexual anal sex were common and frequently advertised by prostitutes. Hookers could be hired for the price of a loaf of bread or beaker of wine, although those with particular talents or services could charge a lot more. Prostitution was legal and regulated and by no means a career solely for women. Visiting prostitutes was not frowned upon and was vastly preferable to seducing another man’s wife/daughter. Some clients even left glowing (and not so complimentary) reviews!

  • Thrust slowly!  (found above a doodle of doggy style sex) CIL IV 794 House of the King of Prussia vii.9.33
  • Atimetus got me pregnant CIL IV 10231 Tomb, Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • I don’t care about your pregnancy, Salvilla; I despise it. CIL IV 8384 House of Minucius i.10.8
  • Fortunatus will fuck you really deep. Come and see, Anthusa! CIL IV 1230 House of the Surgeon vi.1.10
  • Here I’ve finally screwed a beautiful girl, praised by many, but inside there was a mudhole. CIL IV 1516 House of the Scientist vi.14.43
  • My life, my sweetheart, let’s play for a moment, let’s imagine that this bed is a field and that I am your horse… CIL IV 1781 Basilica viii.1.1
  • It is much better to fuck a hairy cunt than a smooth one: it both retains the warmth and stimulates the organ. CIL IV 1830 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Take hold of your servant girl whenever you want to; it’s your right. CIL IV 1863 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Order your cock, it’s time for love! CIL IV 1938 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Restitutus says: “Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy cunt!” CIL IV 3951 Tavern of Verecundus i.2.23
  • Fortunatus, you sweet soul, you mega-fucker. Written by one who knows. CIL IV 4239 House of the Silver Wedding v.2.e
  • My lusty son, with how many women have you banged? CIL IV 5213 House of the Centenary ix.8.3
  • Cock, you are enormous! CIL IV 7089 v.7.4
  • Matrenia with the hot ass CIL IV 8473 Caupona of Hermes ii.1.13
  • Palmyra, you horny beast! CIL IV 8475 Caupona of Hermes ii.1.1
  • Dionysios is allowed to fuck whenever he wants CIL IV 8897 Shop iii.5.3
  • Crescens declares his penis hard and huge! CIL IV 10085b Imperial House ii.1.10
  • Jucundus fucks badly. CIL IV 8715b Large Palaestra ii.7
  • Here I have penetrated my lady’s open buttocks; but it was vulgar of me to write these verses. CIL IV 9246b Villa of the Mysteries
  • Virgula to her friend Tertius: you are so dirtyminded! CIL IV 1881 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Fortuna licks arseholes. CIL IV 4954 House viii.6.5


  • If anyone sits on this bench, let him read this first of all: if anyone wants a screw, he should look for Attice; she costs 4 sestertii. CIL IV 1751 Porta Marina
  • If anyone’s looking for tender embraces in this town, he should know that here all the girls are available. CIL IV 1796 Basilica viii.1.1
  • 15 June, Hermeros fucked here with Phileterus and Caphisus CIL IV 2185 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Phoebus the perfumer is the best fuck CIL IV 2184 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Garlicfarticus’ fucked well here whom he wished CIL IV 2188 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Here Harpocras had a good screw with Drauca for a denarius. CIL IV 2193 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • He butt fucks Aplonia, gives it good, Nonius, fucking… CIL IV 2197 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • When you hand over the money, Batacarus, then I’ll fuck you in the arse! CIL IV 2254 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Restituta with the pretty face CIL IV 2202  Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Mola the fucktress CIL IV 2204  Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Felicla, slave born of the household, costs 2 asses CIL IV 4023 unnamed house v.1.15
  • Menander, nice manners, costs 2 asses CIL IV 4024 unnamed house v.1.15
  • Successa, slave born of this household, costs 5 asses. She has pretty manners. CIL IV 4025 unnamed house v.1.15
  • Felix costs four asses. Florus ten. CIL IV 7339 unnamed house i.10.3
  • Afillia costs 2 and a half asses CIL IV 7764
  • Communis: 3 asses, Successus: 3 asses, Nicephorus: 2 asses, Amunus: 4 asses, Cresimus, house born slave: 4 asses CIL IV 3964 Bakery i.3.1
  • I’m yours for 2 asses CIL IV 5372 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Athenais costs 2 asses. Sabina costs 2 asses CIL IV 4150 House of Jupiter v.2.15


  • Amplicatus, I know that Icarus is buggering you.  Salvius wrote this. CIL IV 2375 House of the Citharist i.4.5
  • Let Damoetas surrender to me and he will be happier than Pasiphae.  Zosimus wrote this. CIL IV 3299 House of M Casellius Marcellus ix.2.26
  • Weep, you girls.  My penis has given you up.  Now it penetrates men’s behinds.  Goodbye, wondrous femininity! CIL IV 3932 Bar of Innulus and Papilio i.2.20
  • I have buggered men CIL IV 4523 House of Orpheus vi.14.20
  • Albanus takes it up the arse CIL IV 4917 House of L. Caecilius Phoebus  viii.2.36
  • Lucius Habonius injures Caesonius Felix when he makes him suck his cock CIL IV 10232a Tomb 12 Porta Nocera necropolis
  • Vesbinus is catamite, Vitalius fucked him CIL IV 2319b between vii.2.16 and vii.2.17
  • Cosmus, slave of Equitia, is a great catamite and cocksucker who keeps his legs apart! CIL IV 1825 Basilica viii.1.1
  • I want to bugger a boy CIL IV 2110 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18


There dozens of references to cunnum recorded in Pompeii. Here are just a few…

  • Satyrus, don’t lick cunt inside the opening but outside the opening. CIL IV 2400 House of M Epidius Sabinus ix.1.22
  • Saturninus, don’t lick cunts! CIL IV 3925 Caupona and brothel of Demetrius and Helpis Afra i.2.19
  • Isidorus, slave born in the household, from Puteoli, muff diver. CIL IV 4699 between vi.15.22 and vi.15.23
  • Theophilus, don’t lick cunts against the city wall like a dog! CIL IV 8898 Shop, iii.5.3
  • Asbestus licks cunt CIL IV 763 viii.4
  • Centius licks Dionusia’s cunt CIL IV 1425 House of the Labyrinth vi.11.10
  • Fronto openly licks pussy CIL IV 2257 Lupanar (brothel) vii.12.18
  • Glyco licks cunts for two asses. CIL IV 3999 Bakery i.3.27
  • Maritimus licks cunt for four asses. Virgins are free of charge CIL IV 8940 Shop, iii.7.1


It’s not a shock to find scores of graffiti mentioning blow jobs, ranging from tips, reviews and prices.

  • Rufa, may life be as good as your cocksucking! CIL IV 2421 Corridor of Large Theatre viii.7.20
  • Sabina, you suck cock, but you do it so badly! CIL IV 4185 House of the Silver Wedding v.2.1
  • Secundus, a cocksucker of rare skill CIL IV 9027 House of the Peristyle vii.6.28
  • Lick, girl!the mouth is not despised by anyone who is ready to come with the hand! CIL IV 10197 House of the Ship Europa i.15.3
  • Romula sucks her man here and everywhere. House of Marcus Fabius Rufus vii.16.22
  • Veneria sucked the cock of Maximus through the whole grape harvest, leaving both of her holes empty and only her mouth full! CIL IV 1391 Lupanare of Aphrodite, Secunda, Nymphe, Spendusa, Veneria, Restituta, Timele VI.11.15
  • Go down with your mouth along the shaft, then still licking, withdraw it upwards. Ah, there, I’m coming! CIL IV 760 Stabian Baths
  • Euplia sucks cock for 5 asses CIL IV 3330
  • Narcissus is the greatest cocksucker CIL IV 1825a Basilica viii.1.1
  • Felix sucks cock for one as CIL IV 5408 Tomb, Porta Nocera necropolis
  • Lais sucks cock for 2 asses CIL IV 1969
  • The man who shits a dick, what would you think he dined on? CIL IV 1884 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Myrtis, you give great head CIL IV 2273  Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18


  • Epaphra, you are bald! CIL IV 1816 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Chie, I hope your hemorrhoids rub together so much that they hurt worse than when they every have before! CIL IV 1820 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Phileros is a eunuch!  CIL IV 1826 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Samius to Cornelius: go hang yourself! CIL IV 1864 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Epaphra is not good at ball games. CIL IV 1926 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Good fortune to the Puteolans; good luck to all Nucerians; the executioner’s hook to Pompeians and Pithecusans CIL IV 2183 Amphitheatre
  • Euplia is slack and has a huge clitoris CIL IV 10004 House of the Floral Cubicula i.9.5
  • Lucius Statius Philadelphus, freedman of a woman, is a thief! CIL IV 3990
  • Servilius is n love, he shouldn’t be allowed the chance. Go lick a cunt, Servilius. CIL IV 4304 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • Chloe says goodbye to Symphorus. Naeve should drop dead, he really should. CIL IV 4430 House vi.7.1
  • Erotaria, you jealous old bitch! CIL IV 9945 Tomb, Porta Nocera Necropolis


  • A copper pot has gone missing from my shop.  Anyone who returns it to me will be given 65 sestertii.  20 more will be given for information leading to the capture of the thief. CIL IV 0064 Shop viii.5.33
  • On April 20th, I gave a cloak to be washed.  On May 7th, a headband.  On May 8th, two tunics CIL IV 1393 Unnamed house vi.11.13
  • It took 640 paces to walk back and forth between here and there ten times CIL IV 1714 vii.1.40
  • Epaphra, give the paintbrush back CIL IV 1787 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Health to whomever invites me to lunch! CIL IV 1937 Basilica viii.1.1
  • On April 19th, I made bread CIL IV 8792 Large Palaestra ii.7
  • If you wish to waste time, spill millet and pick it up again CIL IV 2069 House of Holconius Rufus viii.4.4
  • Since 14 days before the Kalends of April our wages have been overdue CIL IV 6733 Bakery 6733



O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin. CIL IV 1904 Basilica, viii.1.1



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Ancient Athletics – The Events

The modern Olympics have a raft of events that would have had the ancient Greeks discombobulated. There were no aquatic events, ball games or team sports. Racewalking and beach volleyball would have been a mystery.

That said, the ancient Greeks had a few events and customs that would seem equally utterly bizarre in Rio 2016. For a start, all athletes competed naked unless stated otherwise. No brightly coloured team shell suits or lycra shorts, but some athletes did wear a kynodesme (“dog leash”) to compete in. This consisted of a leather cord that was tied around the protruding tip of the foreskin (the akroposthion) and pulled up to be tied to a waistband or the base of the penis. The idea was to prevent the foreskin riding up and exposing the glans of the penis. That was an absolute taboo, only slaves and barbarians didn’t worry about flashing their glans accidentally. Regular use of a kynodesme possibly permanently stretched the akroposthion which would have pleased the wearer as a large akropisthion was considered highly desirable. There may have been some practical aspects of wearing a kynodesme whilst competing but comfort seems to have been very much the secondary purpose. They were also worn by men of other professions whilst in public, such as actors. Even in private situations like drinking parties, respectable men would be wearing their kynodesme, so seeing athletes wearing them during their events would not only have been unremarkable but expected.


Races were the oldest events at the Olympic Games. In fact, the first 13 Olympics consisted of a single foot race called the stadion. It simply involved sprinting from one end of the track to the other. The length was standard across all Greek games and was set at 600 feet (mythically determined by Heracles.) The length of a foot varied from region to region; the tracks at Olympia and Isthmia are 192 modern metres long. At Nemea the track is a more gentle 178 metres and competitors in the Pythian Games at Delphi had a mere 177 metres to run. The word stadion not only referred to the track but as a standard of measurement for 600 feet.

At the Olympics the winner of the stadion gave his name to the entire Games and of that Olympiad period of four years. Everyone in the Greek world knew that Coroebus of Elis was the first Olympic victor (776 BC.) If you were to ask an ancient Greek when the Battle of Thermopylae took place, he would tell you it was the year when Astyalus of Croton won the stadion race for the third time in a row at the 75th Olympiad (480 BC.) Even late into antiquity a Greek would think that dating everything by the birth of an obscure eastern preacher would be a bizarre idea.

The diaulos was added at the 14th Olympic Games in 724 BC and simply doubled the length of the stadion requiring the athletes to turn at the far end and run back to the starting line.

At the 15th Olympics four years later the dolichos race was added to the programme. This race was not a sprint, lasting a whopping 20 stadia (10 full laps clocking in at 12,000 feet.)

So far, so recognisable. One race that is quite odd to modern spectators is the hoplitodromos race added in 520 BC at the 65th Olympic Games.

Each runner wore a helmet and greaves and carried a shield, elements of the full armour of a hoplite infantryman. The race made perfect sense to the ancient Greeks; armies were made up of citizen soldiers who needed to be able to display speed and agility in heavy armour. Shields weighed 7 kg alone (standard weight shields were kept at Olympia in the Temple of Hera to prevent cheating. The helmet and greaves would add another 3kg and the weight was not exactly conveniently distributed for running long distances in scorching summer heat. The race appealed to the war mongering Greeks who, when they weren’t fighting invaders like the Persians were constantly squabbling with rival city states. The race had what modern HR managers would call ‘transferable skills;’ with Greek hoplites fiercely charging at a Persian army at Marathon only three decades after the first hoplitodromos race.

Contact Sports

If the runners were lean and agile, the wrestlers and boxers were enormous. With shaven heads (to prevent hair pulling,) and flaunting scars from previous fights, these men were formidable. After qualifying rounds before the Games began, the cream of the crop would fight in out before the braying crowds. At Olympia, 16 athletes qualified for each event meaning that the victor would have to win four fights in a single hot, summer afternoon. There were three contact events and two classes, men and boys.


OK, so the modern Games have boxing. What the boxing in our Games also has is a long list of rules. Not so much in Greece.

There were no boxing rings to fight in, the contenders used the entire stadium. Bouts ran until a boxer signalled defeat (by raising his middle finger of his right hand,) or until someone was knocked unconscious. Greek boxers only aimed for the head and were allowed to strike in any way, whether it be a fist, open palm or jabbing fingers. A good boxer would use a mixture of punches to keep his opponent on the back foot, only gouging is forbidden. If a boxer fell to the ground, his opponent was allowed to keep punching him. All holds were banned.

There were no weight classes and it was entirely possible to see a wiry, lean man take on a human mountain, although Greek boxers were generally thickly built with broad, muscled shoulders and huge arms. Opponents were drawn at random, so tactics played an important part of each bout. A smaller, faster man may try to tire out a larger foe and wait to land a knock out punch, a heavy man may attempt to get his opponent down onto the ground and simply punch him repeatedly until he surrenders.

Ancient boxers didn’t fight their bouts in rounds with a short break for a drink and a pep talk from their trainer. Fights were continuous and lasted as long as they needed to. Neither did they use large, padded gloves. Ancient boxers wound 4 metres of leather softened with oil called himantes around each hand and wrist, leaving the fingers free. This protects the hands of the wearer but certainly not the skin of the opponent. Himantes caused such stinging cuts that they were nicknamed ‘ants.’ Certain boxers boasted that their faces were still unmarred because of their great skill. One, named Meloncomas of Caria,  remained undefeated for his entire career without ever throwing or receiving a punch, relying on nimble footwork and the ability to keep his guard up for up to two days at a time. Otherwise, veteran boxers would have been instantly recognisable from their cauliflower ears, broken noses and numerous scars, perhaps with a few teeth knocked out for good measure. Eurydamas of Cyrene lost every single one of his teeth in a single fight. Apparently an aristocratic Roman entered the Olympic Games and when he got home was disowned by his family, losing his inheritance. He was so badly disfigured during his bout his family didn’t recognise him.


The fact that all blows were aimed at the head made boxing the most deadliest of all ancient contact sports. There is a memorial at Olympia from the 1st century AD to a boxer known as the Camel of Alexandria. It reads

He prayed to Zeus, “Give me victory or give me death!” And here in Olympia he died, boxing in the Stadium at the age of 35. Farewell!”


After oiling their hulking bodies and dusting themselves with coloured powders (to provide grip,) ancient wrestlers entered the stadium for their chance at glory. Wrestling was generally quite sedate in comparison with boxing and pankration, with far more rules to ensure a graceful(ish) match. Victory was earned by throwing an opponent three times so that either his shoulders, back or hip touched the ground. Punches were forbidden as were kicks, although tripping up opponents was allowed (unlike modern ‘Greco-Roman’ wrestling.) There were several throws and above-waist holds in the repertoire and skill was just as important as brute strength. Perhaps moreso, as conserving energy was essential if an athlete was to have the stamina to succeed in successive rounds.


Pankration was a mixture of boxing and wrestling with more possibilities and fewer rules. To a modern eye, pankration is utterly savage. To the ancient audience it was a highlight of the Games and a masterful display of skill, strength and determination.

Pankration needed a special court as the stadium floor was too hard. Instead it was played out on freshly turned earth, muddied with water until it was sticky, nicknamed keroma – ‘beeswax.’. Pankratiasts fought naked and didn’t bother with the leather himantes. 

A bout didn’t end after three throws. The only way to win is for your opponent to concede, although sometimes even the death of a opponent did not secure a victory. Holds (including below waist,) arm and head locks, punches to the body as well as head and kicks were all allowed. Throws were used liberally and strangulation was seen as a perfectly logical way to ensure an opponent submitted. Genitals were a legitimate target not only for punches but for twists. The only forbidden moves are biting and eye-gouging.

With such freedom came a host of fighting styles within the event and the random lots must have made bouts between famous pankratiasts with differing techniques a must-see event. Determination and the endurance of pain were seen as honourable in the eyes of spectators and, as we often do now, crowds would sometimes cheer for underdogs if they showed fortitude.

To die fighting was often seen as preferable to admitting defeat and those who chose to die rather than give up were greatly admired. It was a brutal sport for men who lived in brutal times and pankratiasts were among the most revered of the celebrity athletes.

There have been several attempts to get a watered down version of pankration introduced as an event in the modern Olympics in recent years, hopefully with fewer broken bones and dislocated limbs…


Little has changed from the ancient pentathlon to the modern. Athletes of diverse talents competed in the discus, long jump, javelin, stadion race and wrestling.


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This is a mid 2ndC AD marble copy of the c. 450 BC bronze original #Discobolus ("Discus thrower") statue by #Myron. Many copies were made, this is the most complete. Adolf #Hitler loved this very statue so much that he bought it in 1938 and displayed it in the Munich Glyptothek as a symbol of Aryan perfection (it was returned to Italy a decade later.) It shows a #Greek #athlete drawing back his #discus just before he starts his throw. Myron was famous for his sculptures of athletes and his style was part of an art revolution in ancient Greece, moving away from stiff poses and simple bodies to show something more fluid and idealised. Now on display at the #MuseoNazionaleRomano at the #PalazzoMassimo #igersrome #igersroma #ig_rome #ig_roma #olympics

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The ancient discus event was not the same as our modern revival.

Firstly, ancient athletes had to be far more accurate with their aim. A modern stadium has a looped track that echoes an ancient hippodrome, the stadiums at Greek sanctuaries usually had straight tracks where sprinters simply turned around a post at the far end.

So in modern stadiums there is a large space in the middle of the track where it’s possible to hold other events and discus throwers have a 35° wedge of field to throw into. Ancient pentathletes had to throw far more accurately as they had only the straight track to aim for, otherwise they risked lobbing a huge piece of metal into the crowd (which wasn’t unheard of.)

There were no standard weights across Greece and athletes needed to adjust their technique for their location. Olympia apparently had the heaviest although none of the three official Olympic discuses have been discovered, so we can’t know exactly how heavy they were. Discuses found across Greece range from 3 to 9 pounds, making the modern discus look modest at 4.4lb.

You wouldn’t see an ancient pentathlete spin as he started his throw. He would stand with his right leg back and raise the discus to eye level in his right hand. He would then twist his body backwards to the right with his weight on the right leg. As he swung his right arm to throw the discus he would transfer his weight to his left leg for extra propulsion. The ancient method allows more control but a shorter distance, perhaps half that of an Olympic discus thrower today.

Competitors would have a few attempts (some Games allowed three, others 5) and their best distance would be marked. Distances don’t seem to have been measured and recorded for posterity, only being the best on the day mattered.


Most Greek men would have been somewhat proficient with a javelin. Javelins were used for hunting and also were a standard aspect of military training in a world where all male citizens were expected to fight for their polis. Athletic javelins were smaller, about 2 metres long and thinner.

Unlike the discus, ancient pentathletes threw their javelins far further than modern pentathletes. This is because they used an ankule, a thin leather thong that was wound around the javelin at the middle with a loop at one end. When the athlete held the javelin he hooked two fingers into the loop. As he threw the javelin the ankule, tethered to his hand, would cause the shaft to spin as it flew forward. This improved aim in the same way a gun with a rifled barrel will shoot straighter than one that is smooth.

The competitors each took a run up being careful not to cross the starting line of the track. Again, the best attempt was marked.

Long Jump

A skamma 15 metres long was created on the stadion floor close to where the judges were seated by raking up and moistening the hard ground. Historians are apparently at odds as to whether ancient long jumpers took a run up or jumped from a standing position. Two things make me plump for the latter:

  • Vase paintings depict long athletes mid-jump with their feet both together.
  • Ancient long jumpers held weights (called halteres,) which they swung backward and forward before they leapt to gain momentum.

Modern athletes have tested these weights and they only give an advantage when used from a standing jump, usually hindering a running one.

The weights weren’t apparently regulated and each athlete had his own personalised pair, carefully weighted to suit his strength and technique. Halteres have been found in stone, lead and bronze. Some are highly decorated, some smooth and basic. Most had finger grooves or were shaped a little like an old fashioned telephone to ensure a firm grip. The weight of halteres recovered by archaeologists vary wildy with some apparently as heavy as 10lbs, so either some athletes were enormous of halteres were also used as dumbbells.

One thing missing from the modern long jump is musical accompaniment provided by a flautist, presumably to help the athletes settle into a rhythm.

So how far was the average jump? As usual, the annals are mainly silent, but two boasting athletes may hold the answer. Chionis of Sparta managed a 52 foot jump. Phayllus claims to have jumped a whopping 55 feet. To put that into perspective, Greg Rutherford won a gold medal at the 2012 London Games with a 8.31 metre jump, just over 27 feet, using the modern run-up method.

Was the ancient long jump more like the modern triple jump? Modern records do surpass Chionis and Phayllus, but again it uses a run-up. Also, halteres have been shown to be actually detrimental when using a running start.

I’m inclined to believe that ancient athletes jumped from standing  3 or perhaps 5 times, either in succession or repeatedly from the edge of the skamma with their distances being totalled.

If one athlete came first in the discus, javelin and long jump, he was immediately declared the victor.

Otherwise, athletes without a win were eliminated, leaving either two or three athletes to run the stadion sprint.

If after 4 events an athlete triumphed in three of them, he was victorious. Only if two athletes were left with 2 wins each did they advance to the wrestling round.

The pentathlete was admired for being versatile as the Greeks loved an all-rounder, but they never achieved quite the celebrity of sprinters or wrestlers.


Forget show jumping and banish all thoughts of dressage, there were no prancing ponies in ancient Greece. Equestrian events were frequently the most lethal events of the Games. They took place in hippodromes, of which few traces survive. We do know that hippodromes were large, flat and had a turning post at each end.


The four-horse chariot race consisted of 12 full laps of the hippodrome which is equivalent to 72 lengths of the stadium. There was fencing around the course to protect the spectators from loose horses or flying bodies. At most Games there were simple starting lines which gave chariots on the outer side a disadvantage, being farther from the turning post. At Olympia there were elaborate starting gates called the aphesis that allowed for staggered starts, ensuring that each chariot reached the turning post at roughly the same time. Deliberate crashing and other acts of sabotage were against the rules, but there were so many accidental crashes that the chance of every chariot finishing was incredibly slim.

There are arguments about how many chariots competed and ancient sources are rarely forthcoming. At the Pythian Games at Delphi in 462 BCthe tethrippon had 41 chariots compete and yet only one, owned by King Arcesilas of Cyrene, managed to finish the entire course.

The chariots were lightweight for speed and quite slim, constructed from wood with wicker panels and tied together with leather thongs. They were similar to ancient war-chariots, though the Greeks had long ceased to use them, considering them old-fashioned and by then, somewhat barbaric on a battlefield. Chariots were often brightly decorated with vivid paint and metal inlays, horses wore decorated reins. Charioteers wore an ankle length chiton.

The inner pair of horses called zugoi were harnessed to the chariot yoke whereas the outer pair, known as seiraphoroi, were harnessed with leather straps. Each horse had a rein and the charioteer had to maintain control of all of them, using one hand to control the zugoi and one hand to control the seiraphoroi.  Some tied the ends of the reins to their belts so as not to drop them, however there was a risk that if a charioteer fell from the chariot he would be dragged along the ground.

Charioteers were sometimes slaves bought by wealthy chariot owners for the purpose. Whereas some were bought and trained by their owners, no doubt trained slave charioteers could fetch a high price. Other charioteers were free men who could be hired out for a single Games or longer. It rarely mattered which city the charioteer was from, it was the owner who won the victory and had their names recorded in victory odes. This is firstly because buying and maintaining a chariot and four thoroughbred horses was cripplingly expensive to all but the very aristocratic, but also because chariot racing had such a high mortality rate that few nobles wanted to risk their lives in pursuit of glory when someone else was willing to do it for them for a handful of drachma. Occasionally a thrill seeking aristocrat would insist on driving their own chariots but they were a rarity. Owning a slave or hiring a driver also allowed women their shot at Olympic glory. The first woman to compete was a Spartan princess named Kyniska and she won not once, but twice in 396 and 392 BC.

Most spectators wanted to be close to the turning posts where there was a greater chance of a multi-chariot pile up. It would have been a brutal, violent, noisy race that claimed several victims and whilst it was never given the same prestige as the stadion sprint, the tethrippon was hugely popular and highly anticipated.

There were also races with two-horse chariots (synoris,) that were 8 laps long and for a short time at Olympia, chariots drawn by mules (apene,) that were 3 laps long. There was a horseback race of 2 laps known as the keles (a name also given to an energetic sexual position offered by the better class of  prostitutes plying their trade at the Games!) In Olympia the equestrian events were important enough to be the first events of the Games, at Delphi they were the grand finale.


Olympia only held the athletic events above, but Nemea, Isthmia and particularly Delphi had further events in music.

There were prizes for playing a pair of auloi, which was a reeded instrument not unlike a modern oboe, and the kithara which was a type of lyre. There was also a prize for playing the kithara with a vocal accompaniment.

Over time more disciplines were added for the writing and recitation of poetry and prose, acting, dancing and even painting.

Olympia held a competition among their own trumpeters and heralds (sent across Greece to announce each Games,) as to which would be the trumpeter and herald of the Games. The trumpeter would perform fanfares to get the attention of the crowds, the herald would announce events and introduce the athlete by stating his name, his father’s name and his hometown. The trumpeter and herald were also indispensable at prize giving ceremonies.


The Prizes

The Panhellenic Games offered a ceremonial crown called a stephanos, becoming known as stephanitic Games. Until the prize giving ceremonies athletes wore ribbons around their heads.

  • Olympia – an olive wreath from a sacred tree in the sanctuary of Zeus
  • Delphi – a wreath of bay-laurel from Thessaly which was a sacred tree of Apollo
  • Nemea – a wreath of wild celery
  • Isthmia – originally celery, later wreaths of pine leaves

Bragging rights were more than a worth prize, along with any gifts showered upon you by a grateful city and your admirers. There were no prizes for second or third.

‘Prize’ games across the Mediterranean offered the chance for financial gain, (Sybaris in Italy once tried to hold a prize Games at the same time as the Olympics in a fit of pique,) with prizes being rather extravagant. At the Panathenaic Games in Athens the victor of the chariot race were given 140 amphorae (about 5,000 litres) of expensive olive oil pressed from Athena’s sacred olive trees.

Another prize was fame that could endure for centuries (and in some cases, millenia,) if an athlete was endowed with (or could afford,) a victory statue in his home town or the sanctuary where he won his event.

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Sicily comes to Blighty

As some readers of my travel journals may know, I visited Sicily in the spring of 2015 for an exhaustive study trip. Sicily is a ridiculously easy place to fall in love with despite her flaws. I’ve grown increasingly fascinated with the rich history of the island and I’ve been lapping up stories from her history since I returned. It’s a place of stark contrasts, irresistable food and dramatic landscapes. However, for my money the main draws are the archaeological sites. In particular, Greek colonists took their homegrown architecture and supersized it, everything seems bigger and ever so slightly flamboyant. A temple on Sicily is a Greek temple on steroids.

Come to Sicily for the temples, stay for the multi faceted history of the peoples who erected them.

Whether you have a penchant for military history, naval warfare, underwater archaeology or even (whisper it) a secret flirtation with medieval history, Sicily draws you in with a warm, lemon scented hug.

I was therefore very pleased to learn that two major museums on my home turf were to have Sicilian themed exhibitions this summer. The British Museum has an exhibition called Culture and Conquest running until August 14th and the Ashmolean has Storms, War and Shipwrecks: Treasures from the Sicilian Seas until September 25th.

I decided to visit both in two days with a lecture thrown in for good measure to fondly reminisce and hopefully see some of the pieces that I missed due to the Palermo museum closure. If only Maria Grammatico could also make the trip north my 48 hours would be complete!

And so to the British Museum (as if I ever need an excuse…) for a dose of wide eyed wonder and lots of contented sighs.

The larger exhibition space was taken up by Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds (which I’ll describe later,) and so the Sicily exhibition was rather restricted in scale.

Last year I was cursing the temporary closure of the Regional Archaeological Museum Antonio Salinas in Palermo. At every archaeological site on the western side of the island were signs declaring that the statue/frieze/metope from this temple/sanctuary/city could be found on display in Palermo. I was denied entry to an Aladdin’s cave. This London exhibition would be, I hoped, my chance to catch up on missed treasures.

Not so much…

The exhibition had large posters of Sicilian sites that made me long to return but was, for my insatiable appetite, a little light on actual exhibits. Call me greedy, but the sheer volume of artifacts in even the teeniest of provincial Sicilian museums can spoil a girl. What British museums do increasingly do well is signage. The BM had lots of large maps and info boards to give context to what was on show. Cohesion was sometimes lacking on my trip with some Italian museums preferring to group artifacts by type rather than giving a chronological narrative. I also don’t have to worry about my abysmal grasp of the Italian language…

I would have loved to take a few photos but they were forbidden. I find this policy a bit strange, there were no restrictions on the exact same pieces when they were displayed at their homes in Sicilian museums. For blogging purposes I’ll use my photos from last year.

I enjoyed seeing a few familiar friends like this marble statue of a warrior from Akragas (Agrigento.) The BM has beautifully lit this piece, (far better than Agrigento Archaeological Museum, if I’m honest…) so it was a shame not to be able to photograph him this time around, but for nostalgia purposes it was great to see him again.

The exhibition is a perfect introduction ti Sicilian history so while I didn’t learn anything new at the BM this time around, I did get to see a few nice pieces that I hadn’t managed to get to last year. In particular there were some lovely exhibits from Gela.

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This snake-headed bracelet (one of a pair) and gold ring were discovered on Sicily with hoards of gold and silver coins. All were deliberately buried by their owner, who intended to recover them but never returned. Around this time, about 330–300 BC, there was political unrest on the island and the added threat of attack from invading forces. For much of its history, Sicily was admired and envied for its wealth and fertility. In Greek Sicily, wealth was displayed through sumptuously decorated homes and gold jewellery like this. Learn more about the rise of Greek Sicily and its lasting impact in our #SicilyExhibition, until 14 August 2016. Gold bracelet and ring. Found at Avola, Sicily, about 330–300 BC. #jewellery #bracelet #Sicily #gold #ancientGreece

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These 2,000-year old terracotta figures depict the gods of #love. Scantily clad and casually poised, Aphrodite and winged Eros are typical of the terracotta and pottery workshops of the town of Centuripe in Greek Sicily. Terracotta modellers and potters in Centuripe favoured large, flamboyant, brilliantly coloured figures. Although sometimes found in graves, these may originally have been made to decorate the houses of the rich. Rivalling the most culturally dynamic Greek regions, Sicily became an arena for artists and intellectuals during this period. See these wonderful objects in our #SicilyExhibition, until 14 August 2016. Terracotta figures of the gods of love, painted after firing. Centuripe, #Sicily, about 200 BC. #Italy #history #ancientGreece

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The highlight of the day instead came from the accompanying lecture given by Dr Michael Scott. I had high expectations having been so impressed with his book about Delphi (as I reviewed here) that I eagerly devoured in the weeks running up to my trip to Delphi in May 2014 (insert shameless plug for my travel journal here…) Modern historians can so easily over simplify their subject to patronise their readers/viewers (mentioning no names of course!) or conversely wrap themselves up in a dense fug of academia in an arrogant attempt to repel the casual audience members. Dr Scott mercifully does neither in his books or broadcasts.

Dr Scott chose to talk about ancient Sicily not from what they left behind them at home, but abroad. As an expert on Delphi it was not a surprise that the sanctuary featured heavily along with Olympia. Personally I was thrilled to learn of the many ways my two favourite places in the ancient world were linked.

It’s important to remember that Delphi was the centre of the world for Greeks and if Sicilian cities wanted to make an impression on the world they needed to head to Delphi to do it. One could never set foot on Sicilian soil, but by visiting Delphi they would have been able to see Sicilian art and architecture, read of the exploits of Sicilians tyrants, watch Sicilian athletes, listen to Sicilian musicians and have a chat with any Sicilians also making a pilgrimage.

I visited Delphi 12 months before Sicily, otherwise I may have noticed just how many Sicilian connections are there.

For instance, I didn’t pay that much attention to this base before and I can’t recall reading a sign about it. Even if I had, Gelon was a name that had popped up in my reading but I probably wouldn’t become well acquainted with the tyrant of Gela and Syracuse for another year.

The base once supported a bronze column topped with a statue of Nike with a tripod above her. Gelon had erected this close to the temple of Apollo within a stone’s throw of the serpent column and tripod celebrating the Greek victory over the Persian invaders at Plataia in 479BC. Gelon’s structure was a celebration over his victory at Himera over the Carthaginians. Gelon was apparently very keen for the Greek world to know that his victory over a worthy foe was just as important and deserving of respect as a victory over Persians (which was a war that Gelon coincidentally refused to contribute to…)


On the right, (which to my shame, I did not bother fitting in the frame) can be seen another base of another tripod dedicated by Gelon’s brother and successor, Hieron I. According to Dr Scott, Hieron made sure his monument was ever so slightly more impressive that of his brother, today only the slightly larger base leaves a clue.

Hieron left a greater impression on Delphi than his tripod, however. It seems a little strange that one of the highlights of the Delphi museum should be Sicilian.

Four years after defeating the Etruscans in naval combat at Cumae (initiating the decline of Etruscan dominance in Italy,) Hieron balanced his tyrant duties with being a top ranking athlete. He won the the chariot race in the Pythian Games at Delphi in 470BC, inspiring Pindar to write his 1st Pythian Ode. Hieron continued to compete at Delphi and Olympia picking up further prizes.

Hieron commissioned the bronze statue to commemorate his athletic prowess and installed it close to the temple of Apollo. It originally also featured four bronze horses along with slaves holding their reins, now sadly lost.

The lecture was fascinating and I am now pining to return to Sicily AND Delphi. I could write far more, instead I urge you to keep an eye on the Hellenic Society YouTube channel as everything was filmed.

Should anyone spot a lecture by Dr Scott, I urge you to grab a ticket. Watching anyone talk about a subject they so evidently love is always a joy to watch and Dr Scott is so effortlessly engaging it is impossible not to be swept up with him. I only wish I could persuade him to actually guide me around Sicily and Delphi instead of a lecture room in London.

Should you be brazen enough, Dr Scott was also gracious enough to chat with a few of us afterwards and was a delight to talk to. I left the museum with a spring in my step.

The following day it was the turn of the Ashmolean. I have a deep love of underwater archaeology as I find a certain romance to things being found where they were never meant to be. Little stirs my soul like a shipwreck does, so the Ashmolean exhibition called to me like a siren.

Again, no photography, again, no one in Sicily cared…


Hercules has made the journey from Catania to Oxford for a holiday…


This statue was brought up from the sea floor off the coast of Lilybaeum, now known as Marsala. It’s possible to tell which side of the statue was safely buried and which side was exposed to currents and sea life.

It was lovely to see part of the exhibition dedicated to the work of underwater archaeoligy pioneer Honor Frost. I’d had the pleasure of viewing the jewel of her maritime excavations when I went to Marsala to see the remains of a Carthaginian warship sunk off of the Egadi islands.



The Ashmolean exhibition added to my excitement by including several bronze rams found on the seafloor. One Carthaginian ram displayed the dents made by bashing into a Roman ship, a Roman ram still had a chunk of Carthaginian ship wedged in. It’s strange to think that had they not fallen into the sea, these rams would have been carted off to Rome to adorn the rostrum in the Forum.

The Ashmolean puts on a good show, but so far I’ve yet to see anyone (including the Underwater Archaeology Museum in Bodrum!!!) put on a better exhibition about shipwrecks than the 2014 Antikythera show at the National Archaeology Museum in Athens. I fear I’ve been spoiled for life…


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Statue from the Antikythera shipwreck

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The Acropolis (Athens Travel Journal – Day Seven)

14th May 2014

My final day in Athens. I have saved the iconic for last as I plan to see the Acropolis this morning.

The lovely staff at my hotel agree to keep my bags for the day after I check out. I’m happy I chose a chain hotel and I don’t even regret the proximity to Omonia Square, the warm welcome I’ve received from everyone here has been worth it.

I’m up early, I plan to be the first one through the gates at the Acropolis.

On the metro I am admittedly distracted by how much I don’t want to go home. There is so much about Athens to love. Even the metro stations play music on the platforms, something you’d never get in London. I’ll also miss the 70 cent journeys, which make me increasingly resentful of the ridiculously prices charged by TfL at home.

My favourite part of the Athens metro system has to be the mini museums. At various stations archaeological finds have been found during construction. Where other cities may have bulldozed such finds out of the way, Athens has kept them, preserved in situ, with signs explaining what the remains consist of. I doubt the locals notice much, but it’s a  nice touch that I appreciate.

Emerging at Akropoli station, it’s a pleasant walk down the pedestrianised Diontsiou Areoagitou street towards the Acropolis entrance. I’ve so far seen it thronged with people, it’s wonderful to be here so early in the morning and be practically alone.

I’m excited for today. The first (and until now, last) time I was on the Acropolis I was ten years old. My family were staying on Kefalonia and my parents had booked us on an overnight coach tour to the capital. My memories of the trip are a little hazy, but I’d never forget the Parthenon. My mother still remembers the tour guide asking the group if anyone knew any of the Greek myths and being amused that a precocious little girl began reciting them back to her. Now, having grown up a little and read dozens more books I’m more in love with ancient history than ever and I’m looking forward to appreciating my surroundings from an adult perspective.


Me, my incredibly mid 90s leggings and my Dad


Seriously, the leggings were fashionable at the time…


I’m still incredibly early, even though the Acropolis opens at 8am. I therefore attempt to sneak a peek into the Odeon of Herodes Atticus which never seems to be open for tours, only performances.

The back of the skene (background behind the stage areais easily viewed, marking this out as a theatre built with Roman influence. Greek theatres rarely had any permanent buildings behind the performance area, letting the landscape provide most of the scenery. Over time small buildings were constructed to allow for costume and prop changes, but it was the Romans who really kicked skene building up a notch. The fact that it was built by Herodes Atticus will come as no surprise to anyone who has visited archaeological sites in Greece or Italy either, as he was an illustrious builder.


Born in Marathon in 101 AD, Herodes Atticus came from a Greek family with a political background in Athens and Rome. He was educated in Greece and Italy, becoming a great politician himself. He was Archon of Athens in 140 AD and Consul of Rome in 143 AD, naming several emperors among his close friends. He had a penchant for building wherever he went. Already on this trip I’ve seen the stadium at Delphi which was rebuilt for the final time by Herodes Atticus, as well as a nymphaeum I saw a couple of years ago at Olympia.


You can peek at the seats from behind the skene…

Heading up the path to the Acropolis entrance, I’m still really early, so I take the opportunity to climb the Areopagus again when it is practically empty. Only one other person is up there, we share a conspiratorial smile.

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One of the unexpected bonuses of being the first to arrive at the Acropolis is that I get to witness the Greek soldiers perform the ceremonial raising of the national flag above the city, which they do every morning and return to take it down each evening.



I’m smug to be literally the first tourist following them up, greeted by the virtually empty Acropolis.

People started to inhabit the Acropolis about 6,000 years ago, being easily defendable. Buildings and temples started to crop up but the entire hill, along with the city below, was razed by the invading Persians in 480 BC. The Athenian statesman Pericles ordered the destroyed buildings on the Acropolis to be rebuilt, bigger and grander than before. He moved the treasury of the Delian League (a group of city states who had allied with each other to fight off the Persians) from Delos to Athens and essentially used the ‘keep the Persians out of Greece’ fund to pay for his elaborate building project whilst asserting greater and decidedly imperialistic dominance over the other members of the League.

Pericles employed the very best architects and craftsmen to build his grand vision. Mnesicles was chosen to design the Propylaea, Ictinus and Callicrates were the architects of the Parthenon and the designer of decoration was the superstar sculptor, Pheidias. Pheidias also personally created the huge statue of Athena that stood within the Parthenon.

Critics, (of which there were many,) condemned the building programme as unnecessarily expensive, a misappropriation of the defence budget and as a vain display of egotistical arrogance on the part of Pericles. One complained that Pericles was “dressing up Athens like a painted whore.”

Nevertheless, jobs were created for thousands of labourers, skilled and unskilled alike.The results were undeniably impressive.

The Propylaea was the only gateway to the Acropolis, the steep gradient of the slopes leaving only one side of the hill suitable for an ascent up to the flat top of the Acropolis. It is built with the same Pentelic marble as the Parthenon. There were two wings, the one on the left acting as an ancient art gallery.

On the right, as you approach the gate, there is a bastion on the defensive wall that is crowned with a small but beautiful temple to Athena Nike. The temple was erected in thanks for victory over the Persian invaders and housed a wooden statue of the Goddess that was saved from their destruction of the city. Honey cakes and flowers would be left as small sacrifices at the altar within.

Approaching the Propylaea

Approaching the Propylaea

Sunrise through the Propylaea

Sunrise through the Propylaea

Temple of Nike

Temple of Athena Nike

Monument to Agrippa

Monument to Agrippa, originally built to commemorate Eumenes II of Pergamon in 178 BC

Temple of Nike

Temple of Athena Nike

The altar to Athena Nike dates from 566 BC, the year of the inaugural Panathenaic Festival. The temple was build to house it during the middle of the Persian Wars (490-480 BC,) and was remodelled and rebuilt later by Kallikrates in 425 BC.

Once through the Propylaea the Parthenon looms on the right and the Erechtheion on the right.


The triangular space between the Propylaea, the Erechtheion and the Parthenon once featured a colossal bronze statue of Athena Promachos by the superstar sculptor, Pheidias. It was placed in 456 BC and was made from bronze melted down from Persian armour and spoils seized after the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. The statue was 9 metres tall and could apparently the sun shining on the spearpoint could be seen by sailors approaching from Cape Sounion. The statue stood over Athens for a millenium before it was moved to Constantinople in the middle fo the 5th C AD where it was eventually destroyed.

The Parthenon basks in the early morning sun

The Parthenon basks in the early morning sun

The Erechtheion was completed in 406 BC on the site of an earlier temple and various shrines. The necessity to preserve these sacred areas, situated over various levels, resulted in a multi-level temple with several dedications.

The Erechtheion viewed from the southwest

The Erechtheion viewed from the southwest

An olive tree stands where the sacred olive tree of Athena once stood in the Pandroseion, an open sanctuary dedicated to Pandrosos by the Erechtheion

An olive tree stands where the sacred olive tree of Athena once stood in the Pandroseion, an open sanctuary dedicated to Pandrosos by the Erechtheion

It stands on the site of the home of Kekrops, the half-man half-snake mythical king of Athens. Legend records that Poseidon and Athena both wished to become patron deity of the city. Athena suggested that they both present the city with a gift and Kekrops would judge the contest and choose who was most worthy. Poseidon struck the rock with his trident and a spring appeared which he named the Erectheis Sea. The citizens were thrilled with the source of water until they tasted it and realised that Poseidon, God of the Oceans, and made it salty. Athena created an olive tree that would produce olives for eating, oil for cooking, heating and lighting and wood for building. Kekrops duly declared Athena the worthy victor for her practical gift and the city is named after her to this day.

The Erechtheion

The Erechtheion

Erechtheion - the entrance to the western portion of the temple that was divided into three sections, dedicated to Poseidon Erectheus, Hephaestus and a hero named Boutes.

Erechtheion – the entrance to the western portion of the temple that was divided into three sections, dedicated to Poseidon Erectheus, Hephaestus and a hero named Boutes.

detail of the Erechtheion

detail of the Erechtheion

The Erechtheion - this entrance led to the eastern part of the temple that was dedicated to Athena Polias, protectress of the city. It housed the cult statue carved of olive wood that received a new set of clothes each Panathenaic Festival.

The Erechtheion – this entrance led to the eastern part of the temple that was dedicated to Athena Polias, protectress of the city. It housed the cult statue carved of olive wood that received a new set of clothes each Panathenaic Festival.



Porch of the Caryatids

Porch of the Caryatids

The circular remains of the Temple of Rome and Augustus stood at the eastern end of the Parthenon, completed in the 1stC BC.

The circular remains of the Temple of Rome and Augustus stood at the eastern end of the Parthenon, completed in the 1stC BC.

The pinnacle of the Periklean building project is obviously the Parthenon. Designed by Iktinos and Kallikrates, the temple building was finished in 438 BC after 9 years of construction. The decorations were concluded six years after that with the pedimental statues by Pheidias. The temple is the largest Doric temple to ever be completed in the Greek world (two would be attempted to dwarf it in Sicily, both would never be finished.) It was built to replace an older temple that was razed by the Persians, Perikles ensured that this new temple would be larger, grander and far more beautiful.

The Parthenon famously has no straight lines in the architecture. Instead, every line is a graceful, subtle curve. This creates an optical illusion that each line is perfectly parallel when seen as a whole.
IMG_9038 The temple housed a gigantic chryselephantine (ivory and gold) statue of Athena designed by Pheidias and completed in . At 12 metres tall, it was an entire 3 metres taller than the Athena statue just outside the Parthenon. The statue would be the downfall of Pheidias. The enemies of Perikles tried to hurt him through his friendship with Pheidias, whom they charged with stealing gold designated for the decoration of the statue and that Pheidias was blasphemous enough to create portraits of himself and Perikles in the decoration on the shield of the statue. Whilst he was able to prove he stole no gold, Pheidias was thrown into prison for impiety. Some believe he died there, although some scholars now theorise that he was exiled to Elis, where he completed an even bigger chryselephantine statue of Zeus which would later be considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Historians can’t seem to decide which statue was completed first, shedding no light on the fate of Pheidias which will apparently remain a mystery.IMG_9066 IMG_9090

Ongoing restoration work

Ongoing restoration work


Restoration workers

Restoration workers

The temple, along with all other pagan temples within the Byzantine Empire, was closed by decree of Theodosius III in 435 AD. The cult statue was removed along with the bronze Athena Promachos to Constantinople where it too was eventually destroyed. The temple was then converted into a Christian church in the 6thC AD, undergoing some structural changes. Ottoman Turks invaded Athens in 1456 and the building soon became a mosque, complete with minaret.

The Venetians were next to attack Athens in 1687. The Ottoman Turks used the Parthenon as a gunpowder magazine. On the 26 September the Venetians fired mortar rounds from the Hill of the Muses toward the fortified Acropolis. One scored a direct hit on the Parthenon, igniting the powder stores and destroying much of the building which had, up until now, managed to survive practically intact.

The Venetians eventually gave up and left and the Ottoman Turks remained, their power eventually declining in the 18thC.   In 1801 the Sultan allowed the British Ambassador, Lord Elgin, to collect statuary from the ruins and transport them to the UK, a decision of which the legality has been debated furiously ever since.

When Greece gained independence in 1832 all traces of the mosque and other medieval structures were slowly removed from the Acropolis. In 1975 a grand scheme of restoration began, which is finally nearing completion. Fallen stone blocks are being slowly rearranged and moved back to their original positions, rebuilding as much of the Parthenon as possible from what remains.

The massive fortification walls of the Acropolis

The massive fortification walls of the Acropolis

The Theatre of Dionysus viewed from the Acropolis

The Theatre of Dionysus viewed from the Acropolis

The Odeion of Herodes Atticus viewed from the Acropolis

The Odeion of Herodes Atticus viewed from the Acropolis

The crowds entering through the Propylaea are getting a lot busier than an hour previously...

The crowds entering through the Propylaea are getting a lot busier than an hour previously…

I'm glad I visited first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds...

I’m glad I visited first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds…

The western gate

The western gate

Temple of Nike

Temple of Nike viewed from the Peripatos road

Visitors descend the Acropolis down the southern slope with another set of gorgeous ruins.


The Asklepion was built in the late 5thC BC, encouraged by Sophocles who was an active worshipper of the healer God.

Choregic monument of Nikias. Nikias won the honour of teaching the chorus of boys for theatrical performances in 320 BC.

Choregic monument of Nikias. Nikias won the honour of teaching the chorus of boys for theatrical performances in 320 BC.

The Theatre of Dionysus

The Theatre of Dionysus

The Theatre of Dionysus is one of the earliest theatres in the Greek world, dating from the 5thC BC. Originally a set of wooden benches surrounding a beaten earth orchestra, it is believed that stone seating was installed and the seating area enlarged in the 4thC BC.

An ancient festival to Dionysus was refounded here in 534 BC by the tyrant Peisistratus and rapidly grew in importance. Theatrical plays were performed here in competition in the month of Elaphebolion (late March.) Over five days the festival celebrated the God of Wine, Dionysus. After processions and sacrifices, the plays were performed. Three writers would each produce a three tragic plays and a satyr play for some bawdy relief. Comic plays were introduced in 487 BC allowing five comic playwrights to submit a single play and compete for a separate prize. In  449 BC a prize was introduced for best dramatic performance.

The first recorded winner is a man named Thespis who entered the winning tragedy in the inaugural 534 BC Dionysia. He performed in his own play and is apparently responsible for characters having their own lines rather than having the chorus explain events to the audience. Thespis would become so famous that all actors would forever be known as thespians in his honour.


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It’s very special to stand in the same theatre where Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles all debuted their tragedies that are still being performed regularly two and a half millenia later.

Aeschylus won in 484 BC with an unknown tragedy, in472 BC with The Persians, in 467 BC with Seven Against Thebes, in 463 BC with The Suppliants and again in 458 BC with the Oresteia.

Sophocles wrote 123 plays of which only seven have survived. It’s believed that Sophocles won the Dionysia about 18 times and never came lower than second. His trilogy of Theban plays following the life of Oedipus were not written for a single festival, but spread out over several years.

Euripides only won on five occasions but has nevertheless secured his place in theatrical history with Alcestis, Medea, Electra, The Trojan Women, Orestes and The Bacchae which won Euripides a posthumous first prize in 405 BC.

It’s amusing to imagine Euripides watching tight lipped from the cavea seating as the comic poet Aristophanes skewered him in at least three comedic plays. It must have been quite the experience to be a renowned tragedian and have to sit through watching yourself as the character in a comedy written to poke fun at you whilst thousands of Athenians laughed to see your satirised and parodied.

If it was any consolation to Euripides (and it probably wasn’t,) Aristophanes was infamous for taking aim at prominent Athenians in the thirty comedies he penned. Plato accused him of slandering Socrates so badly in The Clouds that he considered the play instrumental in Socrates’ trial and subsequent execution.

Tragedians and comedians alike used their plays as a platform to discuss politics and current events, offering morality tales and provoking discussion. Playwrights helped shaped Athenian history, right here in this theatre.

The festival continued for around 300 years.

After a break in the shade for lunch, I decided to head to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and enormous structure that took a mammoth 638 years to complete. The Arch of Hadrian marks where the ancient road led from the centre of Athens to the sanctuary.


The Arch of Hadrian was built circa 132 AD, either to welcome him on a visit to the city or to thank him for patronising the city with his building projects


The Acropolis viewed from the sanctuary

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The temple was probably started by Peisistratus or his son, Hippias in the 6thC BC. They never got near to finishing it and in the Classical period it was deliberately left uncompleted to warn against hubris. In the 3rdC BC Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted to continue with the building work when Athens was under Seleucid control. Under the Romans, Sulla stole two columns in 86 BC and sent them to Rome to incorporate into the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline hill. Hadrian finally managed to complete the temple in 131 AD. The temple didn’t stay pristine for long, being seriously damaged in the Herulian sack of Athens in 267 AD and there are no signs that attempts at repairs were made. The temple turned into a medieval quarry and remnants are scattered amongst the walls of many a medieval Athenian church.

None of the tourists surrounding me seemed to bother with the lower half of the site which includes sanctuaries erected along the banks of the Ilissos river. A shame, as the ruins are quite atmospheric and the area was a popular haunt of Socrates. It was a notorious ‘pick up’ spot in Athens for men seeking men, and whether Socrates indulged in homosexual activities with men he met here or not (and he probably did,) he definitely enjoyed spending considerable time here striking up philosophical conversations.

Parilissia Sanctuaries

Parilissia Sanctuaries

Temple of Apollo Delphinios - mid 5thC BC

Temple of Apollo Delphinios – mid 5thC BC

Final stop of the day before my flight home is the Panathenaic Stadium.

A stadium has stood on the site since about 565 BC, rebuilt in marble in 329 BC by Lycurgus and enlarged by Herodes Atticus in 140 AD bringing the spectator seating area to a capacity of 50,000.

The ruins of the stadium were rebuilt in 1870 and used in the first modern Olympics in 1896. Olympic events were also held here in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

It’s fabulous seeing a building in situ, looking as fresh as it did to ancient eyes.

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With a heavy heart, the time has come for me to reluctantly return home to the UK.

I’ve fallen in love with Athens, no longer the smoggy, congested mess that I vaguely remember from the mid nineties. I will be back…

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The Sicilian Expedition Travel Journal – Day 14

18th May 2015

5.30 am

Oh sweet baby Jesus, that alarm is early. My bus to Piazza Armerina leaves in one hour. Thankfully I deliberately sacrificed a nicer hotel for a spartan one situated a short walk from the bus terminals. This gives me ample time to puke in the bathroom sink, apparently. Terrified that I’ve caught some horrible disease from my mosquito bites the day before my flight home, I nevertheless decide to drag myself to the bus terminal and force myself to Piazza Armerina, refusing to spend another afternoon cooped up in the hotel watching Grey’s Anatomy dubbed into Italian like I did yesterday afternoon. It will be worth it. I hope. And the weather seems to have cleared up, the storm clouds having spent themselves out overnight.

The journey from Catania to Piazza Armerina takes 1 hour and 45 minutes. Arrival at Piazza Aremina can be confusing, especially as everyone else on the bus was a Sicilian using the service to commute. Don’t expect an announcement that you’ve arrived at the right place and don’t assume that the stop is at a terminal. I miss my stop and have to walk back to it, if you’re going to Armerina as a tourist, get off at the large square that has a yellow petrol station.

From there you can catch a minibus service that shuttles you to arguably the only reason to visit at all, the Villa Romana del Casale.

The villa is late 3rdC AD and evidently belonged to someone with wealth and status. Landslides covered up the entire complex in the 12thC and it wasn’t rediscovered until the 1920s. What archaeologists found was a collection of mosaics so beautiful and masterfully created that they’ve become world famous.

When I visit, only the triclinium seems to be closed off. Not bad considering how many things I’ve been blocked from so far on the trip…


The octagonal frigidarium, the cold pool of the private baths

The octagonal frigidarium, the cold pool of the private baths

Slaves depicted on the floor of the massage room where they would have worked.

Slaves depicted on the floor of the massage room where they would have worked.

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The Palaestra. The floor is designed to show a chariot race featuring the four teams competing in the Circus Maximus

The peristyle

The peristyle

The highly decorated floors of the porticoes around the peristyle

The highly decorated floors of the porticoes around the peristyle

Mosaic floor of the 'Room of the Dance' - a guest bedroom

Mosaic floor of the ‘Room of the Dance’ – a guest bedroom

The Room of the Fishing Cupids - part of the guest wing

The Room of the Fishing Cupids – part of the guest wing

The Diaeta of the Small Game Hunt - a south facing winter living room

The Diaeta of the Small Game Hunt – a south facing winter living room

Detail of the Small Game Hunt depicting a wild boar. I adore the expression of the man at the top...

Detail of the Small Game Hunt depicting a wild boar. I adore the expression of the man at the top…

The Ambulatory of the Big Game Hunt separates the peristyle from the Basilica and the private quarters of the owners

The Ambulatory of the Big Game Hunt separates the peristyle from the Basilica and the private quarters of the owners. It depicts exotic animals from all over the empire being captured and transported to Ostia

Ostriches being loaded onto a ship at Carthage

Ostriches being loaded onto a ship at Carthage

A rhino being captured on the Nile Delta

A rhino being captured on the Nile Delta

An  elephant being loaded onto a ship at Alexandria

An elephant being loaded onto a ship at Alexandria

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A tiger and a gryphon are caught in India

A tiger and a gryphon are caught in India


The Vestibule of the Little Circus - an amusing image of chariot racing, only with birds instead of horses. The four factions are represented by child charioteers

The Vestibule of the Little Circus – an amusing image of chariot racing, only with birds instead of horses. The four factions are represented by child charioteers

A semicircular atrium with an impluvium for collecting rainwater

A semicircular atrium with an impluvium for collecting rainwater

The portico around the semicircular atrium depicts cupids fishing

The portico around the semicircular atrium depicts cupids fishing

Vestibule of Eros and Pan

Vestibule of Eros and Pan

The Diaeta of Arion - the private living room of the mistress of the house features a beautifully intricate depiction of the myth of Arion. Arion was a bard from Lesbos who, whilst travelling by sea, was robbed and beaten by the sailors. They granted him one last wish and Arion asked to play his lyre one last time. The music he produced was so beautiful that dolphins were attracted to the noise. Arion threw himself into the sea where the dolphins saved him and took him to safety on the Peloponnese.

The Diaeta of Arion – the private living room of the mistress of the house features a beautifully intricate depiction of the myth of Arion. Arion was a bard from Lesbos who, whilst travelling by sea, was robbed and beaten by the sailors. They granted him one last wish and Arion asked to play his lyre one last time. The music he produced was so beautiful that dolphins were attracted to the noise. Arion threw himself into the sea where the dolphins saved him and took him to safety on the Peloponnese.

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Arion doing his thang

Arion doing his thang

This vestibule depicts Ulysses (the Latin name for Odysseus,) offering the cyclops Polyphemus wine. Once drunk, Ulysses  will blind Polyphemus in retribution for devouring some of his shipmates.

This vestibule depicts Ulysses (the Latin name for Odysseus,) offering the cyclops Polyphemus wine. Once drunk, Ulysses will blind Polyphemus in retribution for devouring some of his shipmates.

The Basilica, the largest room in the house, is where the master would conduct official business

The Basilica, the largest room in the house, is where the master would conduct official business

Cubicle with an erotic scene

Cubicle with an erotic scene

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The villa has a shop and cafeteria area, it’s well worth buying the hefty guidebook by Luciano Catullo to help you make sense of the villa and the mosaics. Otherwise there is a little collection of stalls and food trucks by the coach car park for small, cheap souvenirs and panini.

If, like me, you’re travelling independently, the shuttlebus back to Piazza Armerina will pick you up at the same bus stop as you were dropped off. A nice little touch is that it also has a little stop outside the cathedral of Piazza Armerina for your daily dose of Baroque.

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The Sicilian Expedition Travel Journal – Day 10

14th May 2015

I’d arrived at Siracusa the previous night. Not being able to afford accommodation on the prettier Ortygia, I’d found my run down hotel on the mainland after a bit of searching and swearing at my map. I had planned to spend today on the Siracusa mainland and the next day on Ortygia. Little yet did I know what a contrast the two districts would be.

Mainland Siracusa isn’t as much of a garbage dump as Palermo and certainly nowhere near as depressing as Catania, but boy does it give them a run for their money.

I only have myself to blame for the dreadful hotel. Even though my funds are extremely limited this trip I was unable to resist the pull of one of the most famous ancient cities in the world. The hotel tariffs do soar here and I’ve decided to stay for three whole nights. Hopefully the sites of Siracusa will make up for my tiny, inexplicably tomato-soup-orange room and the fact that if I want wifi signal I have to sit in the stairwell two floors below my room.

A restless night of sleep in my soup room has left me grumpy. A sure fire way to alleviate my grump is to head to a museum. Mercifully, the museum in Siracusa is brilliant.

To begin with there is a gallery of prehistoric finds (mainly pithoi burial urns,) leading up to the arrival of the Greek colonists.

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The second room has archaeological finds from the earliest Greek cities arranged by colony, including Syracuse herself. As the main city in south east Sicily, the museum here is the largest and creme de la creme of artifacts are displayed here, with the smaller local site museums managing to retain a key piece or two. Seeing as many of the sites are difficult to get to without a car or bloody inexplicably closed, it’s great to see exhibits from places I didn’t actually manage to get to.

Large terracotta Gorgon mask from a Naxos temple

Large terracotta Gorgon mask from a Naxos temple, early 5thC BC

Head of a female goddess found in Syracuse, dating back to the early 6thC BC

Head of a female goddess found in Syracuse, dating back to the early 6thC BC

Fragments of the top half of a terracotta metope dating to the end of the 6thC BC. It may depict Demeter and Kore, being found in a sanctuary dedicated to them on Ortygia

Fragments of the top half of a terracotta metope dating to the end of the 6thC BC. It may depict Demeter and Kore, being found in a sanctuary dedicated to them on Ortygia

Early 4thC BC terracotta bust

Early 4thC BC terracotta bust

Model recreating the Temple of Apollo on Ortygia

Model recreating the Temple of Apollo on Ortygia

Then, a section devoted to Agrigento and Gela.

Three large late 5thC BC busts of three females divinities, found at Agrigento

Three large late 5thC BC busts of three females divinities, found at Agrigento

Limestone finial of a funerary monument found in Gela. 6thC BC

Limestone finial of a funerary monument found in Gela. 6thC BC

The Mendolito Ephebe, a small bronze statuette of an athlete circa 460 BC

The Mendolito Ephebe, a small bronze statuette of an athlete circa 460 BC

Late 6thC BC terracotta goddess found in Grammichele

Late 6thC BC terracotta goddess found in Grammichele

A mould from Monte Casale, used to create terracotta faces for female statues. Late 6thC BC

A mould from Monte Casale, used to create terracotta faces for female statues. Late 6thC BC

Moving upstairs there is a section devoted to Hellenistic exhibits.

Early 3rdC BC Greek marble depicting Herakles resting.

Early 3rdC BC Greek marble depicting Herakles resting.

Mid-late 3rdC BC limestone statue of Priapus

Mid-late 3rdC BC limestone statue of Priapus

Late 4thC BC torso of a youth

Late 4thC BC torso of a youth

late 3rdC BC marble female head found in the Neapolis (mainland) area of Syracuse

late 3rdC BC marble female head found in the Neapolis (mainland) area of Syracuse

Syracuse fell to the Romans in 212 BC after three years of siege. The Romans turned it into the capital of Sicily as a Roman province. Consequently much Roman art has been found here, whereas a lot of the Greek artwork was inevitably seized and transported to Rome to provide grand villas with some classy, ancient art.

This large statue of Asklepios is a late 1stC AD Roman copy of a Greek original and was found in Ortygia in 1530 where it was displayed in the Castel Maniace. The inscription across the chest is not original, it describes the dedication of Castel Maniace to St Jago (James) and the castle towers to the patron saints of Ortygia, Pete, Catherine, Philip and Lucia.

This large statue of Asklepios is a late 1stC AD Roman copy of a Greek original and was found in Ortygia in 1530 where it was displayed in the Castel Maniace. The inscription across the chest is not original, it describes the dedication of Castel Maniace to St Jago (James) and the castle towers to the patron saints of Ortygia, Pete, Catherine, Philip and Lucia.

Venus 'Landolina' - Roman 2ndC AD copy of a Greek 2nd BC original

Venus ‘Landolina’ – Roman 2ndC AD copy of a Greek 2nd BC original

Marble goddess, probably Aphrodite, Roman copy of an Hellenistic original

Marble goddess, probably Aphrodite, Roman copy of an Hellenistic original

Massive head of Asklepios in marble. Found in the Neapolis amphitheatre. Augustan copy of an Hellenistic original by Phyromachos

Massive head of Asklepios in marble. Found in the Neapolis amphitheatre. Augustan copy of an Hellenistic original by Phyromachos

The museum is a short walk from the Neapolis Archaeological Park, which I am itching to get to. First though, lunch is calling. I expect there to be a few restaurants to choose from along the way, even if they do only offer a menu turistico. There is nothing. What’s the deal, Syracuse? At the Park entrance there is a tiny cafe, the type with a few slices of hours old pizza and cheap plastic seating. I’m flummoxed, to be honest. After a quick, if bland, panino (and a couple of arancini shoved into my bag for emergencies,) I head into Neapolis Archaeological Park.

Neapolis is Greek for ‘new city’ as Syracuse was originally founded and limited to the island of Ortygia. The Neapolis area is where the population gradually spilled onto the mainland. The park boasts the theatre, amphitheatre, famous Latomie quarries and the monumental Altar of Hieron II.

Such a shame then, that I was only truly able to see one of the above.

The Roman amphitheatre is completely closed off. There are signs that indicate this may be for restoration purposes, although that’s little consolation to me by this point on my trip. My guidebook is teasing me with photos of what I’m missing and I’m not convinced that restoration work would or should close off the entire huge building. It’s the biggest amphitheatre in Sicily and the only one that looks fairly in tact on my itinerary. As a final middle finger to the coach loads of tourists here, the gateway that leads down to the amphitheatre is covered in plastic sheeting so that we can’t even peek at what lies beyond. There’s not even a sign with a photo.

Next along the road is the altar of Zeus Eleutherious (the Liberator) which was built by Hieron II of Syracuse.

If you’ve heard his name before, it’s probably because of his dealings with Archimedes, the Syracusan genius.

Hieron had commissioned a votive crown to donate to a temple. He suspected that the goldsmiths had cheated him and tainted the purity of the gold with a cheaper metal. He asked Archimedes to devise a method with which to test the purity of the crown without having to melt it down. Archimedes knew the weight of the crown but also needed to know the density to make his calculations.

Archimedes cracked his conundrum in the bath tub. He noticed that when he got into the water the level rose. Archimedes knew then that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of how much of his body was immersed in the fluid.

Suitably pleased with himself, he ran straight out of the bath and ran around the streets of Syracuse, naked as the day he was born, shouting “Eureka! Eureka!” (“I have found it! I have found it!”)

Turns out, Hieron was also right to be suspicious of the goldsmiths, they had mixed the gold with cheaper silver after all.

The altar was half built on existing rock and is a stadium long. It was designed for the ritual sacrifice of bulls in honour of Zeus.

It’s apparently only visible from the road and is fenced off. I’m not sure if that’s usually the case, but when I visit it is simply yet another thing I have to view from a distance.

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Still, the theatre is next up and surely that won’t be underwhelming…

… apart from the fact that they are apparently preparing for a concert/performance and all the ancient seating is covered by opaque wooden and plastic modern seats. I was really excited to see the orchestra section, where Roman adaptations produced interesting pools and channels for the putting on of water games (colymbetra.) The entire orchestra was covered with modern staging, obscuring absolutely everything. Three out of four sites closed or obscured so far. I was beginning to resent paying full price…


At the top of the cavea is a sepulchre area containing Hellenistic votive niches and Byzantine rock cut tombs.

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There is also the Cave of the Nymph, an artificial cave with fountain dedicated to the Muses that was sacred to actors.

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Last up are the Latomie, one of the enormous quarries that provided Syracuse with the stones to build her monuments. The most beautiful, (as as far as I can tell the only one accessible,) is the Latomia of Paradise. It is 45 metres deep and produced 850,000 cubic metres of rock. IMG_4757 IMG_4767 IMG_4768

Within the quarry is the famous Ear of Dionysus, which is 23 metres tall and 65 feet deep. When Caravaggio visited it he noticed that it follows a curve just like the human ear and coined the name.



I leave the Archaeological Park seriously disappointed and underwhelmed and decide to cheer myself up with some early Christian catacombs.

I have a little while to wait until the San Giovanni catacombs reopen following their midday closure and there is still nowhere to eat a proper meal. I am reduced to sitting on the doorstep of a closed shop along the street from San Giovanni church. I am red, sweaty and tired. I take my slightly squashed arancini out of my bag and devour them as if I have been starved. Not an attractive tableau, yet still I notice a local man standing astride his bike watching me.

I’m embarrassed, I must look like a right state. He slowly draws a sausage from his trouser pocket. He keeps it close. I wonder why on earth someone would keep meat products in their trousers, especially on such a hot day. He starts to rub the sausage slowly. I push my prescription sunglasses further up my nose. Bugger me, that’s not a sausage he’s rubbing…

This is the second penis I have witnessed in Sicily. It’s important that I reiterate that my husband is at home in Berkshire…

I march towards the church and he throws me a look of regret. Heaven help me.

The catacombs are thankfully fascinating (and cool!) Entry is by guided tour only and thankfully my guide is happy to translate into English for the very few non-Italians that have bothered to visit. Photography is not allowed, something the Italians ignore completely whilst the rest of us scowl at them disapprovingly.

Cheered up and without any genitalia in sight, I refuse to give up on the rest of the day and head to Ortygia a day earlier than planned, just to wander a bit.

The island on which Syracuse was originally founded is a little shabby but has an air of graceful, charming dilapidation that contrasts sharply to the mainland. This is where most of the hotels and restaurants are located and if I could have afforded it I would have loved to have stayed here.

Soon after crossing the bridge I was immediately buoyed with the sight of a temple.

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After a well needed proper evening meal I reluctantly head back to the mainland, keen to return first thing the next morning…

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Eleusis and the Mysteries (Athens Travel Journal – Day Six)

13th May 2014

I have managed to pack nearly everything I have planned to see on this trip already, deliberately having left this day blank on the itinerary so that I could catch up if need be. I’m surprised to have been so efficient, if I’m honest! Now all I have to do is work out what to do with the day. I have a few options but end up choosing Eleusis, home of the Mysteries, a religious festival to honour Demeter.

I could tell you about the Mysteries, but then I’d have to kill you. Seriously, the sacred rites were a closely guarded secret and any initiate who blabbed about what occurred at the sanctuary faced execution. The secret was so well kept over the centuries that no historian has managed to find out what the rites comprised of. They were a mystery to outsiders during antiquity, they’re a mystery to us today.

The festival honoured Demeter and Persephone/Kore, possibly better known now by their Roman names of Ceres and Proserpina.

Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and his sister Demeter. Whilst walking happily in the countryside, Persephone picked a narcissus flower and disappeared. Demeter was distraught, searching for her daughter in the Heavens and on the Earth. She interrogated her fellow immortals hoping to find a witness, finally convincing Helios the sun god to explain what had happened.

When Persephone had picked the narcissus, a great crack appeared in the ground and she was pulled beneath the surface. Eventually Zeus admitted that he had promised Persephone as a bride Hades, Lord of the Underworld.

Demeter was heartbroken at the betrayal of her brother and the loss of her daughter. As goddess of grains and growth, she grew so depressed that she neglected her duties. No plants grew and people began to starve.

Demeter, unwilling to live on Mount Olympus with her treacherous brother, wandered Greece. Like the plants, she withered.

Demeter came to Eleusis where she was taken in by King Celeus to nurse his sons Demophon and Triptolemus. To reward Celeus for his hospitaluty, Demeter decides to make Demophon immortal by feeding him ambrosia and immersing him in flames. She is interrupted by Queen Metaneira as the boy is engulfed in fire, causing Metanira to scream. Startled, Demeter is unable to complete the immortalisation and berates Metaneira for her lack of respect to ritual, revealing herself as a goddess.

Demeter calls for a temple to be built for her at Eleusis by way of apology. Meanwhile drought and famine continue to ravage the land as Demeter, the only one who knows the secrets of agriculture, refuses to work until she is reunited with her daughter.

Meanwhile, Persephone has become Queen of the Underworld as the wife of Hades, who is deeply in love with her. Zeus, desperate to end the famine, sends Hermes to retrieve Persephone to placate Demeter. Unwilling to lose his wife, Hades offers Persephone some pomegranate seeds. If she eats anything in the Realm of the Dead, she will be unable to leave. Persephone eats some of the seeds. Unhappy at being tricked, Zeus strikes a new deal. Persephone must spend two thirds of the year above ground with her mother, and one third in the Underworld with her husband.

In spring when Persephone is reunited with Demeter at Eleusis, Demeter is so happy that plants start to shoot up from the ground. Demeter spends happy summers with her daughter, gladly causing the plants to thrive and be fruitful. The leaves start to turn brown in autumn as Demeter prepares to say goodbye. When Persephone returns to Hades, Demeter is too sad and lonely to let anything grow or survive the winter.

Agreeing to the plan, Demeter offers to pass the secret of agriculture to mortals, teaching Triptolemus, younger son of Celeus, how to make plants grow. Celeus and Triptolemus became her first priests and the first to witness the Mysteries.

Anyone could become an initiate to the Mysteries as long as they spoke Greek (no barbarians, please!) and didn’t have any killings they hadn’t been purified of. In a culture where women and slaves were excluded from many activities it is noteworthy that both groups had the same opportunities at Eleusis as freeborn men.

There were two events. The Lesser Mysteries happened in the spring and the Greater Mysteries occurred in Autumn. Initiates must have taken part in the Lesser Mysteries before they would be allowed to witness the Greater Mysteries.

A first time initiate was known as a mystes, and having acquired the necessary sponsorship from a great Eleusis family, they would be introduced to their mystagogos, someone who had already experienced the rites and could guide the novices through the festival. After mystai were inducted into the cult they became known as epoptes.

The sacred road was 118 stadia from the Sacred Gate in the Kerameikos quarter of Athens to the sanctuary at Eleusis, ie about 13 miles.
On the eve of the festival, sacred cult objects hidden from public view in round boxes are taken from the sanctuary to Athens. On the first day of the festival the mystaiwould gather in the agora for an opening ceremony. The following day they then went to the Bay of Phalaron to ritually bathe. Sacrifices, usually of pigs, were made and feasting followed for two days.

The sacred objects were then processed back to Eleusis, followed by the joyous mystai, crowned with myrtle. The procession of 13 miles was all by foot and took the entire day. Nearer to the sanctuary, men in masks would accost initiates to remind them to be humble in the presence of the goddess Demeter, patron deity of the festival.

There was then a day of quiet fasting, only broken with drinks of water mixed with grain meal. The fast is followed by the day of which we know the least about. Mystai entered the Telesterion, a huge hall that could seat 3,000 people, for the most secretive rites in the ancient Greek world. Most other Greeks didn’t even dare speculate as to what occurred inside the Telesterion. An all night feast followed with music and dancing and the sacrifice of a bull. There is no final ceremony, initiates slowly making their way home in quiet reflection instead.

Several writers were initiates to the Mysteries, including Sophocles, Aristophanes, Plutarch and Pausanius, but even these industrious scribblers knew better than to commit what they had witnessed to paper. Historians believe the Mysteries may have been the secret to life after death and that the rites may have included hallucinogenic visions. No one will ever know!

The practicalities of making a modern trip yo the sancruary are fairly simple. From my base of Omonia Square it was a short walk down Pireos road to Platia Eleftherias AKA Platia Koumoundourou, a rather bland square with a large pigeon population. The square is not too far away from the Kerameikos, so I’m inadvertently starting my journey to Eleusis very close to where pilgrims began their journey there thousands of years before. Tickets for the bus can be bought from any of the small kiosks, along with a drink and a snack for the journey. A single is €1.20, making the journey there and back cheaper than the entrance fee. This is a bit of a public transport hub with several different bus stops, the buses to Eleusis depart from the southern side of the square. Look for bus numbers A16 and B16, both go to Elefsina, the modern name for Eleusis. There are timetables on the busstop, with each bus departing at about half hour intervals. The journey takes about an hour.

It’s not wonderfully clear where you’re supposed to stop, and as the only tourist on this bus I can’t follow the crowds. Hang on in there and don’t get off the bus until the end of the route, Elefsina doesn’t expect tourists and doesn’t cater to them. Don’t be put off by the industrial, unapologetic scruffiness of the modern town either. Once you get to the archaeological site the noise and unsightly buildings disappear. Signs to the archaeological area are few and far between and it took me a few attempts to find a local with good enough English to point me in the right direction. The entrance fee is €3. Once there I follow the suggestion of my Rough Guide and head to the Museum first, right at the other side of the misleadingly large site.

I’m admittedly nervous for this visit. Everything else I’ve seen on this trip I’ve researched in detail so that I have every site mapped out in my mind, able to recreate what the buildings looked like in my mind above the remaining foundations that I can see. This is a trip organised after an hour, I know little to nothing about the site or the layout. I’m not comfortable with this level of preparation (after all, it’s what tour guides do!) and the site will be buggered before it helps you. The signs are old, cracked, in some places faded to the point of being illegible. They hold little information and some don’t have translations at all. Do as I did, head to the museum first. I cannot stress this enough, BUY THE GUIDE BOOK. It is inexpensive and invaluably useful. At points I had to take photos of me pointing to the map inside so that I would later know what the next photo was of. I sympathise with the site, it doesn’t have the tourist draw of Delphi or Epidaurus, you won’t find any coaches stopping here. But the site is majestically sprawling and has a fascinating history, it deserves so much better than what it has now. A few new signs with a bit more information on them would do wonders for the visitors who do make the effort to come here. It’s evident that currently only major nerds head out here, they should be rewarded with at least a complimentary site map!


This beautiful carytid dates from the second half of the 1st century BC and comes from the Lesser Propylaia

The museum has a couple of very helpful maps that help to explain the development of the sanctuary from the archaic origins to the Roman occupation.

My route around the site is haphazard, so I’ll describe the sanctuary as I should have visited it.

Once finished at the museum, head back to the entrance. As with Delphi, the entrance to the Greek sanctuary was extended by the Romans, this time with a large, paved court.



This is the Temple of Artemis and Poseidon. Artemis is the other daughter of Demeter, fathered by her other brother, Poseidon.


I think these are the columns from the Temple of Artemis and Poseidon, but I can’t find a single sign that confirms this…


An eschara, a sacred barbecue. A grill fits on above the fire pit, sacrificial animals were cooked on it.


A fountain provided much needed refreshment after a 13 mile walk.


Remains of one of the two triumphal arches. One marked the end of the sacred road, the other the road to Megara.


The Kollichoron – The Well of the Fair Dances. Demeter was said to rest here whilst searching for Persephone

Once assembled and prepared, the crowds would head through the Roman Greater Propylaea, (Greater Gate) into the sanctuary proper. The Propylaea stood on an earlier, smaller Greek gateway built by Cimon.



Marcus Aurelius was commemorated on the Greater Propylaea


Looking through the enormous Greater Gate towards the Roman courtyard

Silos were situated beyond the Greater Propylaea to store the first fruits of harvest, a gift to Demeter.

There was then a smaller gateway, called the Lesser Propylaea, home to the carytid now housed in the museum.


The Lesser Propylaea in the foreground, the Greater Propylaea behind


The Lesser Propylaea


Grooves cut into the stone for huge gates.

Once through the second gateway there is a cave on the immediate right. It is the Plutoneion, the building being a small temple to Hades, known to the Romans as Pluto, God of the Underworld. The Gateway to the Underworld was thought to be here, where Persephone emerged to meet her mother.



Above these steps was a small temple to Hecate

As the Sacred Way begins to slope downwards you’ll catch your first glimpse (depending on whether you’ve been to the museum!) of the Telesterion, the Hall of the Mysteries. Head up on the right and climb to the top level of the steps for a great perspective of the Hall.


The Telesterion

It is difficult to appreciate fully when I visit, long grass covers much of the building and hasn’t yet been cleared for peak season. I see a couple of groundskeepers during my visit, they have a big job ahead of them. You can walk right along the top and back down a set of wooden steps at the end closest to the museum.

The Telesterion grew from a small Mycenean building into a gargantuan, windowless building that housed a forest of internal columns. The original building always survived within the extensions as it was, becoming known as the Anaktoron. The Anaktoron was a kind of Holy of Holies, entrance to the inner sanctum was permitted to priests only.


Seating ran along each side so that the mystai all got a good view of the priests conducting the rituals.

Once you’ve seen the Telesterion, head up as if you were returning to the museum, but turn left instead of right. The sanctuary was fortified and you can walk around the walls, admiring the various stages of their construction.

First, you’ll pass a Roman portico and the old Bouleuterion (the meeting place of the citizen council.)


As you can see, the men with the lawnmowers hadn’t got as far as the Bouleuterion when I saw it…



4th century BC section of the wall. This portion is named after the man who built it, Lykourgos.

The Romans built a gymnasium for worshippers to use during the festival but all my photo shows is long grass!

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There is even an inn built to house initiates during the festival. The religious rites were taken so seriously that prices were capped for room and board.


Ancient Travelodge


Obligatory Roman bathhouse

Following the path with the bathhouse and inn on your right, you’ll come back out into the Roman courtyard, having completed your day in Eleusis.

After a huge drink it’s time to catch the bus back.

I meet up with my friend Victoria and a few of her friends later that night in Plaka. When I tell them I spent the day in Elefsina they look at me as if I am insane for wanting to spend my time in a grubby suburb surrounded by industrial estates. They’ve forgotten the sanctuary is there and none of them have visited. Victoria (a huge anglophile,) explains that Greeks have their ancient heritage shoved down their throats from a young age, sometimes resulting in deep passion but more often leading to bored ambivalence. I empathise, I suffered from Tudor Fatigue for many years after school.

Personally, I found the day well worth the effort. I’d like to go back one day to a well manicured, well signposted site, but I guess the Greek government has more pressing matters to attend to right now!

After my drinks with Victoria it is time for bed, I have a busy day tomorrow before my flight departs in the evening…


Demeter circa 420 BC

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A Day in Delphi (Athens Travel Journal – Day Five)

12th May 2014

I spent a considerable amount of money for my escorted trip across Attica and the Peloponnese and I could have done the same today, but with a single destination it is so much cheaper to travel solo.

I’m finally headed to Delphi. It means an early start but I’m so full of adrenaline I don’t care. Even the dulled weather can’t get me down today. I’ve read (and reviewed) “Delphi” by Dr Michael Scott in preparation for this trip, and his pointers and notes in the travel section of his book will be invaluable once I get to the archaeological site. I advise everyone visiting Delphi to give this book a read, it brings the place alive.

I get to KTEL Bus Terminal B on Liosion St by taxi, as taxis are ridiculously cheap compared to London and I don’t want to get this trip wrong if I attempt it by local bus. I arrive for 7am to make sure I’m at the front of the queue for the 7.30 bus to Delphi. As it is, apart from a couple of Greeks there are only two other intrepid tourists up at dawn with me. I send up a silent prayer for off-peak season.

Tickets cos 15 euros either way. A round trip for a mere 30 euros is phenomenal, considering that each journey takes two and a half hours. The bus is comfy, air conditioned (!) and the route provides you with some lovely views to keep you occupied. Seats are assigned and I’m glad I’ve got a window, although the bus was nowhere near full and a few people did choose to move. Don’t worry, there is a brief stop half way for bathroom breaks!

The bus arrives in Delphi around 10am. The driver will drop you off at the archaeological sites before he heads up to the modern town if you ask nicely. The weather hasn’t improved much, the sky is leaden and there is a slight chill in the air. The sanctuary and modern town of Delphi are perched onto the side of Mount Parnassus and look down on the Phocis valley.

Following in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks, I decide I want to start my visit by seeing the Castalian Spring. The actual spring itself is out of bounds, too difficult to access. However, in the Hellenistic period a fountain was built that was fed by the spring. The fountain is on the right side of the road (as you approach from Athens.) It lies empty and dry now, but walk up towards the sanctuary and you’ll find a modern, unassuming fountain that flows with the crystal clear Castalian water. Try it, it is delicious and wonderfully cold. Athletes competing in the Pythian Games would ceremoniously wash in this water, as would supplicants wishing to consult the Oracle.


The spring marks the spot where Apollo slayed the giant snake, Python, who was said to protect the centre of the Earth. The sanctuary at Delphi was rededicated to Apollo and the Priestess who acted as the Oracle was called the Pythia.

There was more than one sanctuary at Delphi, however. Head further down the sloping road and you’ll come to the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia on your right. I’m told that most coach tours skip this part, that’s a huge shame.


The Sanctuary of Athena

Here there are temples of various ages side by side, all dedicated to Athena. The circular building is the Tholos, no-one can be sure of the purpose or dedication of it and yet the Tholos is an iconic image of Delphi. There is a gymnasium below the sanctuary but when I visit it was sadly closed, probably due to it being off peak season.


Detail of the Tholos


A rockslide in 1905 deposited this enormous stone right into the centre of the large Temple of Athena

It is a short walk up to the sanctuary of Apollo, which appears as if by magic as you turn the corner. There are already a couple of tour buses at the sanctuary entrance, I’d hate to be here in high summer. I like to be as alone as possible. Once inside it was quite easy to find some solitude, I’m not so sure I would have achieved it in August. I’m glad I came in May, not just for the peace, but for the lush green grass of spring and the abundance of wildflowers that decorate the entire mountainside. The air is thick with the scent of jasmine. It’s quite a heady rush. I pop my headphones on, I have downloaded a few albums by Michael Levy who researches and recreates ancient music. He plays the lyre, an instrument sacred to Apollo. The Pythian Games also included lyre playing competitions. Walking around Delphi listening to ancient Greek lyre music is absolutely magical.

My top practical advice is to stock up on water before you head up the slope. Mineral water is less than a euro for a bottle from a vending machine by the ticket office and you’ll be grateful for it when you get to the top of the steep site. It took me a few hours to reach the top as I wanted to pay as much attention as I could to what is left. I’m glad of the dull weather during the ascent as my crippled kidney causes me to struggle in the heat, but I can’t help but regret the subdued photos I’m getting. I get to the top and sit down for half an hour or so, and Apollo must be watching over me as he’s blown away the grey clouds and wheeled the sun out after all. I’m able to walk down (an altogether easier endeavour!) and take some beautiful shots.

Zeus let two eagles loose from opposite ends of the Earth. They met above Delphi and Zeus declared it the centre of the world. It was known from very early times as an important religious centre and home of the Delphic Oracle. Visitors from all over the ancient world were drawn here in their thousands.

The first structure you’ll encounter isn’t actually Greek, the Romans added an agora here and displayed Imperial statues in it.


Roman Agora

The Sacred Way zig zags up the slope. Don’t pay too much attention to the grand name, the current route was introduced very late in antiquity. It does pass everything you could wish to see, though.


On the left of the road is the spot where the Athenians chose to build a monument in the 5th century BC. They wanted it to be the first thing visitors saw on arrival as a reminder of their dominance over Greece. It featured statues of gods and Athenian heroes on the plinths top right. The Spartans weren’t having any of it. Not long afterwards, unable to tear the sacred monument down, they added 38 statues of their own heroes to block the view of the Athenian statues. This was to be one of the only times Sparta bothered to build something.


To hammer home their point against Athens, Sparta built this portico immediately across from the Athenian monument, blocking all views of it from the sanctuary itself. In keeping with tradition, it too was obscured by statues added by the Arcadians after they had overpowered Sparta.


Inscriptions on the Spartan portico

Treasuries line the lower parts of the Sacred Way. Towns and cities across the Greek world wanted to build structures to honour the sanctuary or commemorate military victories. As people from thousands of miles away came to the sanctuary, it was important to display culture and wealth with your buildings. Treasuries were therefore ostentatious displays, but also a place for cities to house the offerings they made at the sanctuary.


The Treasury of the Sicyonians


The Treasury of the Siphnians


Ancient Athenians would be incredibly smug to know that their Treasury is the best preserved at Delphi, benefiting from some 20th century TLC paid for by the modern city . It dates from around 490 BC, according to Pausanius it was built to commemorate the great victory over the Persians at Marathon. It is decorated with metopes depicting the Labours of Heracles and the deeds of Theseus.


The Athenians built this stoa up against the massive platform built to support the Temple of Apollo to display the spoils of the Persian Wars. The proximity of the stoa to the temple would have been a strong political message to the rest of Greece.

On the left, just before you climb onto the temple terrace, is the huge Altar of the Chians.


The altar is covered with inscriptions, telling us that the island of Chios had been granted promanteia, the right to skip the queue for consulting the Oracle. The Chians were justifiably proud of this great honour.


Opposite the Temple of Apollo stands the base of a once 6 metre high statue of Apollo. It was erected by the victorious Greek city states who had fought at the Battle of Salamis. Although the top left of the dedicatory inscription is missing, French archaeologists have made an educated guess as to what it says. A remaining word ‘anathen’ meaning dedicator, is in the plural. By aligning letters from the lines below, the missing word naming the dedicators has to be eight letters long to fit and also be in the plural. ‘Hellanes’ is a plural Greek word meaning ‘Greeks.’ This would make this amazing stone the first evidence of Greek unity.


This circular structure was the base of one of the most famous dedications in the entire sanctuary. A slim, bronze column formed of three entwining serpents stretched towards the sky. It was erected in 478 BC by the city states who had fought the Battle of Plataea against the Persian invasion forces. The column was carted off to decorate the Hippodrome in Constantinople and is still visible there.


The enormous Temple of Apollo. This 4th century BC temple stands on the site of earlier temples. The previous version had been built in the 6th century BC by the prominent Alcmonidae family of Athens but had been destroyed by an earthquake in 373 BC.

The Oracle was a woman, a priestess called the Pythia. Once chosen, the Pythia would have to leave any family, including husbands and children, behind. Only women of Delphi who had led moral lives were chosen, and they would serve until their death. The Pythia sat in the temple on a tripod, entering a prophetic trance caused by vapours seeping from the rock. She would then answer her questions, usually in an ambiguous manner. It was up to the priests and supplicants to interpret her meaning.

Thetemple lies above a place where two geological fault lines crossed, as evidenced by travertine deposits around the temple. Archaeologists believe that ethylene is released at the fault lines, a hydrocarbon that can alter the mind, explaining the trance like state of the Pythia in her windowless room.


Looking down on to the ruins it is possible to work out the layout of the temple, including the adyton, a private room towards the back where the Pythia would sit.

The Oracle became the primary place for prophecy within the Greek world. The prophecies became iconic. Croesus, King of Lydia, asked the Oracle if he should attack the Persians. The response from the Oracle was that if he did, a great empire would fall. Croesus attacked Persia and an empire did indeed fall. Sadly for Croesus, it was the Lydian empire.


The temple was inscribed with the now iconic instruction – “Know Thyself.” The Oracle operated 9 days a year. Supplicants queued to ask their questions, those states granted promanteia could skip the line.


Tiny inscriptions cover the theatre as they do nearly every available surface. Archaeologists have found over 3,000 different inscriptions.


A theatre was built above the temple in the 4th century BC. It could seat around 5,000 people.


During the Pythian Games there were artistic competitions and later, athletics as well. The theatre hosted competitions of singing, dancing, acting and the playing of the aulos (reed pipe) and kithara (a stringed instrument.) Writers would also enter plays.

I’m told that a lot of tourists turn back when they reach the theatre, but if you’re willing to plough a little further up the steep slope, you’ll be rewarded with the stadium built for the Pythian Games.

The Games were dedicated to Apollo and rivalled the ancient Olympics.Like the Olympics they were held every four years and all conflict ceased for the duration.


The starting line. All athletes competed naked.


Races were held here. Other events held elsewhere in the sanctuary included wrestling, boxing and chariot racing.


This inscription highlights the fact that the athletic competitions were a religious event. It instructs the spectators that wine must not be taken out of the stadium. The wine was sacrificial and should not be taken away for personal consumption. Anyone found taking sacred wine away was fined five drachma.

The museum at Delphi is large and fascinating, containing many large fragments of the ornate decorations of various buildings. Thankfully for me, it also has a cafe. They serve granita in dozens of flavours and I treat myself to a couple to cool myself down a bit. Try the pomegranate, it is divine.


A cafe cat having a siesta


This Sphinx was dedicated by the island of Naxos in circa 560 BC.

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Thi Caryatid stood by the door of the Siphnian Treasury


A gallery houses the pediment and nearly the entire frieze that once adorned the Siphnian Treasury. This detail shows a lion attacking a giant as told in the Gigantomachy. Elsewhere the frieze depicts the Trojan War.

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This inscription is actually the oldest known sheet music. It has the melody for voice, lyre, kithara and flute. The composers were Athenaois and Limenios and the music was carved into the wall of the Athenian treasury in 128 BC.

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The Delphi Charioteer was erected in 478 BC by Polyzalus, tyrant of Gela in Sicily, whose chariot won a race at the Pythian Games. The horses are now lost, but the slave who acted as jockey survives.

I mentioned previously I’d fallen in love with the Marathon Ephebe. The giftshop at the Delphi Museum has a wonderful range of replicas authorised by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports. I already have a Diadumenos head in my collection, I notice that the shop here has a bust of the beautiful Marathon Ephebe for only 125 euros. I don’t hesitate. He’s coming back to Blighty with me…

I have a little while left before my ride home, having taken the first bus of the day here I’m taking the final bus back to Athens at 1845. The bus leaves from just outside a derelict hotel opposite the ‘In Delphi’ cafe. I use this cafe for their lovely view, proximity to the bus stop, and free wifi. I don’t usually mention food or restaurant recommendations, but they have the nicest gyros plate I have ever had. Gyros is my favourite food anyway, this was transcendental.


The hazy, late afternoon view of the Itean Plain on the right with the Gulf of Itea in the distance.

As the sun sets I watch swallows swoop above the mountainside. The views from Delphi are incredible and I’m reluctant to ever leave.20140512_173301 20140512_173347

A young German woman has stolen my seat on the bus. More fool her, it is on the left side of the bus and on the return journey all the best views are from the right. From my seat at the back I can relax, gaze wistfully out of the window as the sun dies, and keep a protective arm around the bag containing my Marathon Ephebe. This has been an unforgettable day.

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Athens Travel Journal – Day Three

10th May 2014

My hotel is on one of the roads leading off Omonia Square, an admittedly rough area of town. It’s a lovely Best Western that just happens to be a few doors down from a derelict porn cinema. Every time I walk past it I laugh when I think what my mother would say if she were here. There are few benefits of being this close to Omonia Square, but one of them is the proximity to the National Archaeological Museum. After the busy day I had yesterday I’m able to treat myself to an extra thirty minutes in bed before I take the short walk to the museum.

First stop, however, is next door to the huge museum. The Epigraphical (inscriptions) Museum is housed in the National Archaeological Museum but has a separate side entrance down a smelly street covered with graffiti and broken glass. Don’t let the grim approach put you off. It being a Saturday I’d initially intended to be waiting outside the entrance at 8.30 ready for the doors to open. As it is, I am the first tourist through the door gone 9 o’clock. The six staff in the lobby look genuinely surprised to see me and one of them suddenly remembers he needs to switch on the gallery lights for me. I get the impression that I may be the only tourist all morning, if not all day. The Epigraphical Museum is usually the haunt of academics which is reflected in the exhibit labels. Labels are few and far between and even most of those aren’t translated into English. I’m a Classics autodidact and haven’t even considered learning how to read ancient Greek, something I may try and rectify after this visit. Exhibits are packed onto dusty shelves as if in a warehouse, but with a little perseverance it is possible to discover some absolute gems within the small museum.


This is the earliest graffiti yet found on the Acropolis. It is nearly 2,800 years old.


This is the grave stele of a girl named Zosime. The hands represent that Zosime died violently, possibly murdered, and that her relatives have sworn an oath to seek revenge.


This is a choregic dedication. Wealthy citizens were appointed by the archon (chief magistrate) to act a choregos (chorus leader,) responsible for the funding of actors, musicians, rehearsals, sets, costumes and any other expenses required to produce a play for the theatrical competitions held at the City Dionysia festival. If the play won, the prize money was split evenly between the playwright and the choregos. The inscription here tells us that Socrates acted as choregos for Euripides and provided him with fourteen people for the tragic chorus.

The Epigraphical Museum may be small and at some times confusing, but it is well worth a visit and there is no ticket fee.

Around the corner it is time to enter the National Archaeological Museum, groups of tourists and students already thronging through the doors. As I mount the steps to the entrance I overhear an American teenage girl petulantly complain to her friend that there is no point visiting the museum, all she wants is to “see the Acropolypse.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I do make a mental note that if I’m ever in a Classics themed rock band I’m calling it “Acropolypse.”

The entrance fee is a very reasonable 7 euros. Keep your ticket with you at all times, the entrance lobby leads off to three separate galleries and each gallery required you to scan the bar code on your ticket. Failure to do so earns you a sharp rebuke from the heavily muscled security guards. I understand the need for revenue protection and that the museum is busy, but this seems a little authoritarian. That said, as soon as I spy the first exhibits I’m willing to forgive the museum anything. I advise starting with the gallery that is directly opposite the entrance which houses archaeological finds from Mycenae. It’s one of the most crowded, but the larger groups are being led by guides and teachers who rarely hog a display case for more than a few minutes. If you’re patient you’ll be able to get a close up view of everything you wish to see.

Most popular is obviously the gold death mask that Heinrich Schliemann over-excitedly declared had belonged to Agamemnon. Photos of this object are included in dozens of my books at home, I’m very excited to see the real thing up close.


The mask dates from the 16th century BC, making it actually too old to have been the death mask of King Agamemnon


Dozens of octopus brooches.


Dagger with an intricate inlay depicting a hunting scene


This fresco of a goddess once adorned a room on the the Acropolis of Mycenae


Pottery decoration in Mycenae and Tiryns was influenced by the earlier “Marine style” Minoan designs


This bull’s head was found in Grave Circle A at Mycenae. The head is hollow and made of silver. The horns are made from gilded wood. There is a hole on the top of the head and another at the mouth. This suggests that the head is a ‘rhyton’, a ceremonial vessel used to pour liquid as a libation.

The next gallery I visit is the sculpture gallery. This museum houses a huge collection of beautiful statues and reliefs from all over Greece. Don’t underestimate the size of the museum, plan to spend several hours here. I was like a kid in a sweet shop for nearly a whole day.

First up, Roman statuary. Having carted Greek originals of statues back to Rome, the Romans then proceeded to fill Greece back up with statues of their own. Several emperors were grecophiles and spent a lot of money beautifying the cities of Greece, perhaps to atone for the destruction meted out on the Greeks by their ancestors.


When archaeologists first found this Roman statue of a woman in Sparta they assumed it had been deliberately damaged in an act if Damnatio Memoriae, purposefully eradicating the memory of the deceased through the destruction of all depictions of them. However it seems that this statue was instead damaged in a fire that caused the building around it to collapse. It is believed to depict Julia Aquilia, wife of Elagabalus


This ‘Sleeping Maenad’ (devotee of Dionysus) dates back to the Emperor Hadrian and was found on the Acropolis. It probably decorated a sumptuous private home.

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One of my favourite pieces as I share a name with the woman depicted. This is a grave stele that was found in the ancient cemetery outside the ceramics quarter of Athens, the Kerameikos. It also dates back to the rule of Hadrian and depicts a woman named Alexandra. From her style of clothing and accessories she must have been a follower of the Egyptian goddess Isis.

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A fighting Gaul found on Delos. It dates to circa 100 BC

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This mosaic floor depicting a Gorgon was found in Piraeus, the port of Athens.

At this point I decide to head to the lovely little cafe as I am desperately thirsty. After a gorgeous lemon granita I initially thought I’d carry on where I left off, but got distracted. It doesn’t really matter if the galleries are viewed in strict order.


The top of this colossal head of Athena isn’t missing, a separate section forming the helmet attached to the top. The statue even has pierced earlobes for jewellery to be attached. It is an Augustan copy of a Greek original and was found in the Kerameikos.


According to Pausanius, this colossal head of Zeus was carved by the Athenian sculptor Eukleides in the 2nd century BC and originally had inlaid eyes.


Having visited Rhamnous the day before, I was thrilled to see this statue of Themis that once stood in the older of the two temples. This dates to 300 BC.

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I saw a copy of this gorgeous statue at the Marathon Museum on my first day, the original of the Marathon Ephebe (youth) is here. I am to fall so deeply in love with this statue that it stays in my mind for the following days…


I actually squeal when I see this statue, much to the consternation of the gallery assistant. I’m very familiar with this gentleman, having purchased a huge replica of his head whilst holidaying on Corfu seven moths earlier. This is the Diadumenos statue found on Delos and is a c.100 BC marble copy of an earlier bronze by Polykleitos. It depicts a nude athlete, tying the diadem ribbon of victory around his head. The replica bust in my dining room is one of my most prized possessions, I’m thrilled to see him whole here.


This Aphrodite is a 2nd century AD copy of a 4th century BC Greek original and once adorned a house in Baiae, southern Italy. Baiae was the playground of the Roman rich and famous, it is easy to see why this statue was displayed there.

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The ‘Artemision Jockey’ dates back to 150BC. Most Greek bronzes were melted down and lost forever, this bronze survived destruction by being shipwrecked off the coast of Euboea. It was found and recovered in the 1920s/30s.

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Also rescued from the ship sunk in Cape Artemision is the ‘Artemision Bronze,’ depicting either Zeus of Poseidon. He is poised to throw his now missing thunderbolt/trident, depending on his identity. The head is now iconic, once being used on Greek coins and banknotes in the mid 20th century. I have a small replica of the head at home, so again I am delighted to see the original up close.


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Arrow and spear heads from the Battle of Thermopylae

If you head upstairs, you’ll find a ceramics gallery and an exhibition dedicated to Thera, the ancient name for the volcanic island of Santorini. An eruption in circa 1627 BC destroyed the Minoan civilisations of the island and of nearby Crete. Some archaeologists now believe the eruption and devastation were the foundation of the Atlantis myth as told by Plato, making Akrotiri, the ancient city of Thera a possible Atlantis.

The exhibition is small (after all, most finds are at the archaeological museum on the island,) but the pieces are amazing.


Much like at Pompeii, pumice fell upon the objects and victims of the Thera eruption, hardened and left voids where the objects used to be. Plaster was poured into one of the voids to make a perfect cast of this bed frame.


3,600 years old.

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This enormous fresco of ‘spring’ was found preserved in situ.




The Boxing Children

Moving on to the ceramics gallery, one of the most interesting sections of which is the collections of failures.


A failed attempt at making lamps


The crack in this pyxis occurred during the firing process. Circa 750 BC. Note the swastika!


This late 5th century BC shard was from a krater and appears to have been used by the potter to test or practice decoration application

As I walk around the museum several notes tell me that exhibits from the Antikythera wreck have been temporarily moved to the special exhibition space at the rear of the ground floor, so I make my way over. As luck would have it, I’m here mere weeks before the exhibition closes and the artifacts go back to their scattered homes.

Whoever designed this exhibition deserves a huge raise. The rooms are lit beautifully, with sounds and light effects lending a submerged atmosphere. It is my favourite part of the visit.


Simply gorgeous


Lit up to create sunlight trickling down through the water, artifacts are shown as they were first seen, strewn across the sea floor.

A ship sank just south of the Peloponnese circa 55 BC. The wreck was discovered in 1900 and the finds were to shock the archaeology and science communities.

As a result of being on the ocean floor for nearly two millennia, some of the finds are damaged, but with unexpectedly beautiful results.


The Antikythera Ephebe is a beautifully preserved bronze.



This Hermes bears the scars of being underwater. Note right side of the head was buried in sediment, protecting the beauty. However, everything that was exposed to the water was eroded.


Personally, I find him more beautiful for being partially disfigured…


A close up shot shows the scars of limpets and other marine life




A youthful wrestler

Sculpture aside, the wreck is most famous for the Antikythera Mechanism. A small metal object was found on the ship, covered in tiny writing. It is made up of cogs and gears and is the oldest known analogue computer in the world. I’ve seen a few documentaries about the mechanism and it’s pictured in many books, but to see it up close is akin to magical. It is believed to be designed to chart astronomy or astrology.

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Having spent several hours in the National Archaeological Museum I have fallen in love with the place. I am, however, hungry and in need of a rest. A gyros wrap is desperately called for, followed by a siesta at the hotel.

Later in the afternoon, the heat is fading and it’s time to head south. I’ve come to see the Pnyx, which one could call the cradle of democracy.

Cleisthenes was an Athenian noble who, upon his return from exile in 507 BC, set about abolishing tyranny and reforming Athenian government.

  • Cleisthenes broke the power of the aristocracy by reorganising the tribes of Athens. The landscape was divided into three zones: urban, inland and coastal. Each zone was split into ten sections called trittyes (thirtieths.) Each Trittys comprised of 1-10 demes, depending on size. There were 139 demes, made of simple subdivisions of land. Some demes were towns, some rural areas. Cleisthenes then created ten phylai (tribes,) each consisting of one rural trittys, one urban and one coastal. Tribes were named after Athenian heroes. Deliberately, no one tribe had adjacent trittyes. This destroyed the old system of four hereditary Ionian tribes.
  • He reorganised the Boule, the citizen council whose role was to organise the daily affairs of Athens and increased their number from 400 to 500, 50 men from each tribe. Members (males over thirty years of age only,) were drawn by lot in their deme. Each served on the council every day for a year. No man could serve more than twice and never more than once a decade.
  • The Boule would regularly hold an Ekklesia (Assembly) on the Pnyx where all male citizens with a minimum of two years military service could attend and have their say on all decisions relating to the government of Athens. Our word democracy comes from demos (people) and kratos (power.) Any man present was entitled to speak and vote.

The Pnyx could hold around 6,000 men. The name Pnyx derives from “tightly packed together.”


Looking down onto the Pnyx


The steps form the Bema, an elevated platform from which men could speak. Pericles, Demosthenes and Alciabiades all spoke from here.


All men could speak from the Bema, but it was wise to have some training in speech writing and public oration first, otherwise the speaker would quickly lose the respect of his fellow citizens

I was alone save for a couple of dog walkers, and was able to soak up the atmosphere and beautiful views.

I decided to walk back down and up the street that starts at the Theatre of Herodes Atticus up towards Monastiraki metro station, but on a whim I decide to visit Hadrian’s Library earlier than scheduled. In the setting sunlight the Roman ruins are irresistible and once again almost deserted. The Library is included on the brilliant combined ticket for nearly all the archaeological sites in the city. For 12 euros (bargain!) your ticket allows you entrance to the Library, the Acropolis, the Agora, the Kerameikos district, The Roman agora and the Temple of Olympian Zeus as well as any site museums over a three day period. I’m not sure how many people head to more than the Acropolis and the Agora as many tourists are on day trips, but if you are visiting Athens and have time to see all of the sites mentioned, you really should. And 12 euros is a steal.

Hadrian decided to build a library complex in 132 AD. It housed an auditorium, reading rooms, art galleries and a large courtyard. Since then the site has been built over many times with three churches preserving portions of the architecture. Little remains today, but with a little imagination the site comes alive. Signs on site are plentiful and helpful.

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Exploring the Ancient City (Athens Travel Journal – Day Four)

11th May 2014

The Kerameikos is a little visited archaeological site in Athens. As I make my way there I can’t help but speculate that it is little visited because it is poorly sign posted.

Firstly, don’t head for the metro station called Keramikos. You need to go to Thissio station. Exiting the metro, there are no signposts for the site. Ignore the traders at the flea market on the right, turn left out of the station, left and left again to Ermou street. Two thirds of the way down Ermou, the entrance to the site is on the right.  It is included in the Acropolis multi site ticket. I’d advise starting with the excellent small museum to help get a better sense of the place, there is also an excellent sign complete with map at the top of the path that descends down into the archaeological area.

The area of the Kerameikos was once within one of the demes just outside the city wall of Athens that was named the Kerameis. It was known as the Potters’ Quarter as it was home to ceramics makers, (the Greek word for clay is kéramos and the English word ‘ceramic’ derives from it.) There is a small river running through the area called the Eridanos that brought in clay deposits. Those breathtakingly beautiful Athenian vases you see in museums were more than likely made here.

It was also (not that the signs at the site will tell you!) the main red light district where pornai, the lowest class of prostitute, who were both male and female and could be hired for the smae price as a loaf of bread or beaker of wine. The makeshift brothels were known by the Athenians as ‘fuck-factories.’

More permanent than both the potters and prostitutes, the Kerameikos was also the site of a great cemetery that started outside the Dipylon Gate and straddled the sacred road that led to Eleusis. Some of the funerary monuments remain in situ, a few are replicas. The originals are either housed in the on site museum or the National Archaeological Museum.


This lion once adorned the Sacred Gate circa 590 BC


This grave relief of a woman dates from circa 350 BC.


This young man is Dexileos, son of Lysanias. He was a cavalry soldier in the Athenian military force who was killed in 394 BC fighting the Spartans near Corinth. He was 20 years old. His family erected this monument to his sacrifice.


Leather sandal soles

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Make up jars

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Mnesimachos must have really annoyed somebody to warrant them making this leaden curse object in his image. He is depicted with his arms bound, lying in a coffin.


Dozens of grave markers surround the museum.


The grave relief of the sisters Demetria and Pamphile…


…and the replica standing here the original was found


A replica of Dexileos


Tombs along the Sacred Way


This (replica) bull is from the grave enclosure of Dionysios of Kollytos


What remains of the Eridanos river


Outside the Dipylon Gate, at the intersection of the Sacred Way and the Street of Tombs, is a sanctuary known as the Tritopatreion. A small wall enclosed the sacred grove dedicated to the anonymous, common ancestors of the Athenians. Newlyweds would often come to the sanctuary to ask the ancestors to bless them with sons.


The Persians sacked Athens in 480 BC. They were defeated shortly after at the Battle of Salamis, but the city, particularly the Acropolis, was in tatters. In 478 BC Themistocles built new fortified city walls using recycled stones from destroyed buildings and nearby tombs. The walls effectively cut the Kerameikos into two sections.


The Sacred Gate in the Themistoclean Wall, looking toward the city. This gate straddled the Eridanos River on the left and the sacred road to Eleusis on the right


This unassuming ancient road was once on of the most important roads in the ancient city. It runs away from the Dipylon Gate and leads to Plato’s Academy. On either side was the Demosion Sema (Public Tomb,) the burial place of Athenians killed in battle and of prominent citizens. Pericles, Solon, Cleisthenes, Ephialtes and Chrysippos are among the famous Athenians known to be buried here.


The scant remains of the once mighty Dipylon Gate, one of the main entrances into the city. The great procession of the Panathenaic Festival started here and led up the Acropolis. The Dipylon was the largest gateway in the ancient world.

Socrates spent a lot of his youth frequenting the rough and ready area of the Kerameikos, conversing with foreign philosophers and learning about what made people tick. It’s pleasant to imagine him here. It’s not too hard to imagine him taking part in the Panathenaic procession, so I decide to follow his route and head to the Agora.

The Acropolis may be the grand edifice that a lot of visitors flock to, but the Agora is where history happened. It was the beating heart of the ancient city, the place where Athenians spent their time and public life took place.

The area was cleared of private houses in the 6th century BC by Peisistratus, converting into to a public area. Destroyed during the Persian sack of the city, it was rebuilt at the same time as the erection of the Themistoclean walls and developed slightly haphazardly after that.

So, following the Panathenaic Way, I used the northern entrance.


The Panathenaic Way, leading up to the Acropolis in the background.

It’s difficult not to get excited by the Temple of Hephaestus on the left. It is beautifully preserved with the cella (the walls of the temple chamber) intact and some decoration left in situ.


The Temple of Hephaestus, God of fire, metalwork, sculptors, artisans and volcanoes. He was the blacksmith of Mount Olympus and crafted the weapons and objects of Gods and heroes.


The pronaos, or portico


Metopes are still visible, most never actually having been started due to workers being diverted to the building of the Parthenon. They were designed to depict the Labours of Heracles and the deeds of Theseus


The rear of the temple with the frieze in tact, again depicting the deeds of Theseus


Looking through the opisthodomos (back room) to the cella (inner temple room) out to the pronaos and to the agora beyond


Construction on the temple commenced in 449 BC and was finally finished in 415 BC. It has survived so completely due to being converted into a Greek orthodox church in the 7th century AD.


This is all that remains of the ancient Athenian state prison. It was here that Socrates would have been forced to commit suicide by drinking hemlock in 399 BC. It was situated in a grubby area of the agora, surrounded by marble and metal workers.


Whilst Socrates was alive he loved to visit the shop of a cobbler named Simon for lengthy conversations. This house yielded hobnails and shoe making paraphernalia as well as a cup with the name SIMON scratched into it.


Hardly anything remains of the Tholos (nicknamed the ‘skias’ (sun hat) by Athenians due to the conical roof.) It was built by Kimon in 470 BC and was used by the prytaneis (senators) of the Boule (council of citizens.) During the year, each of the ten tribes sent 50 council members to serve 35/36 days after which a different tribe would take over. 17 members of the Boule had to be present at the Tholos 24/7 and whilst they resided there they were fed at the expense of the state.


The remains of the monument dedicated the the Eponymous Heroes, the ten Athenian heroes who lent their names to the ten tribes created in the reforms of Cleisthenes. Each hero was depicted in a huge bronze statue. Notices were posted beneath, such as criminal charges being brought to court.


This Altar to Zeus was moved from the Pnyx to the Agora by Augustus


The Temple of Ares has not survived like the Temple of Hephaestus behind

The agora would have been buzzing with food stalls, market traders, juries and philosophers. If a visitor wished to step back in time and see one of these buildings as it was, the Stoa of Attalos has been rebuilt exactly as it once would have looked. A Hellenistic building, it was a shady portico that may have housed shops. It now houses a brilliant little museum full of unassuming treasures.

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If an Athenian citizen showed a little too much ambition and was deemed a threat to democracy, the citizens of the city who were eligible (ie, male, freeborn and over thirty) could vote to exile them for ten years. This was called ostracism. Broken pottery sherds were used as tokens. Each voter would scratch the name of the person they wished to ostracise onto the pottery and placed it into an urn. If a man received 6,000 votes or more, hed had to leave the city within 10 days and not return for a decade on penalty of death.

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This ostrakon bears the name of Themistocles, ostracised in 471 BC


This is an automated jury service machine. Volunteers for juries (at least 500 strong for each case) had their name incised on a strip of bronze which they would place in an available slot. White and black balls were dropped in a random order down the side. The colour of ball that fell by each horizontal row of names determined which Athenians served that day.


The tokens used in the jury service machine.


These metal discs were used by jurors. Each juror was given two discs, one with a hollow axle and one solid. They would vote by placing one of the discs into a ballot box. The design means that each juror could keep their vote anonymous by simply covering the axle with his finger. A solid axle represented acquittal and a hollow axle represented condemnation. These are the same kind of discs that would have been used by the jury at the trial of Socrates in 399 BC, where he was found guilty and sentenced to death for impiety and corrupting the youth of the city.

There is a steep walkway leading up from the Agora to the Areopagus Hill. Climbing it in the hot early afternoon like I did is perhaps not sensible, but the Acropolis entrance opposite the Areopagus has a cafe. I’ve never been so glad to pay a small fortune for a lemon granita in my life, thankfully the granita drinks here are delicious as well as refreshing.

There are two ways to reach the top of the Areopagus, a steep, narrow ancient staircase hewn into the rock thousands of years ago, or a metal staircase complete with handrails. Unless you have sturdy walking boots or a subconscious wish to break your ankle, use the metal staircase.


Looks harmless, but I saw three people fall over trying to climb to the top…

Once at the top, you are rewarded with views like this…


The Acropolis from the AreopagusIMG_8158


The name of the hill means ‘Rock of Ares.’ Ares was the God of War. He was supposedly tried by the other Olympian gods on this spot for the murder of Poseidon’s son. Originally used as the meeting place Council of Nobles, after the Solonic reforms the hill continued to be used as a judicial court. Aeschylus even used the Areopagus as the setting of the trial of Orestes, charged with murdering his mother Clytemnestra.

In the 4th century BC a famous courtesan named Phryne was the centre of scandalous trial here. The story goes that she was charged with a capital crime and was defended by one of her clients, the orator Hypereides. He thought he was going to lose the case, so he marched over to Phryne and removed her dress. Apparently, having gazed upon her beautiful body, the jury acquitted her. A woman so beautiful must surely be beloved of Aphrodite, perhaps the jury did not want to arouse the anger of the Goddess of Love.

Saint Paul delivered a sermon here as described in Acts 17:16-34. He succeeded in converting some of the people who had gathered to listen, including a judge named Dionysius who, according to the Acts of the Apostles, become the first Bishop of Athens.

The rock surface is slippery, uneven and borderline perilous. It’s also usually strewn with litter, but don’t let this stop you, but remember to wear sturdy shoes and watch your step.


The Agora, seen from the Areopagus

It’s a short walk back down the hill to Plaka where I’m heading to the Roman Forum, built under Julius Caesar and Augustus. Athens was made part of the new Roman province of Achaia in 146 BC and there are some lovely Roman ruins in Athens.

Entrance to the forum is through the Arch of Athena Archegetis.


Gate of Athena Archegetis


The forum contained porticoes and a basilica as well as plenty of space for market stalls..


The ‘Agoranomeion’


A public toilet block with communal benches.


Offices within the Southern Portico


There was a large Propylon entrance gate at the Eastern end


The main draw for tourists is the Tower of the Winds.

It is a giant clock. There was a clepsydra (water clock) within the tower, sundials on each side, and a weathervane on the roof. Reliefs around the top show the direction the wind is coming from with depictions of the eight deities of the wind directions.

IMG_8184 IMG_8187 IMG_8192

This evening I have scheduled a tweet-up with Victoria (@pinkbarbouni) so that she can introduce me to Athenian cafe culture with lots of cake. It’s a wonderful end to the day and I’d like to thank Victoria for being so lovely and welcoming!

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