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Abstract

Following the sack of the city of Athens by the Roman general Sulla in 86 BC, an unusual series of construction projects repurposed certain pieces of classical religious structures from around the region and relocated them right in the heart of the subjugated city—the middle of the Classical Agora. It is my purpose in this dissertation to examine the context and subsequent effects of these dramatic and deeply impactful changes to the landscape, and particularly the purported transformation of the city center into a living “museum” during the period between Sulla’s sack of 86 BC and the end of Hadrian’s reign in 138 AD. Whether the contemporary Athenians themselves might have initiated such efforts ostensibly aimed at revitalizing their ancestral religious heritage—and whether such actions even would have been acceptable according to the rituals of those ancestors—are both highly debatable questions. The Athenians of the Classical and Hellenistic periods had carefully repaired and maintained the most important civic buildings and temples that represented aspects of their democratic history, as indicated in both literary discussions of the perpetual sacrality of consecrated objects and also in the exceptional preservation of these areas during other urban development work over the centuries. If their Roman-era descendants were similarly concerned with preserving the city’s sacred landscape in such a way that would reflect the conditions that originally gave rise to their famous reputation for piety, would we not expect some ambivalence about these changes? A promising access point into this investigation can be found in certain contextual features of the religious and political climate in which such a program would have been conceptualized and undertaken, and I demonstrate in this dissertation that real, substantive changes to the lived religion of the inhabitants of Athens—entirely unreported in literary accounts—are identifiable in the archaeological record of the city. In this regard, the landscape might be imagined as a sort of palimpsest: each layer contains its own contextualized cultural significance, and as new construction redefines the surface, some of the previous layer’s meaning is effaced or replaced. However, throughout this process and across eras certain monuments persist, and so the cultural importance of significant places and the historical moments they represent continue to be socially memorialized. The Athenians of the Hadrianic period, while possibly diminished in number relative to those of the fourth century BC, patently remained proud of their place in the world, as exemplified in the rhetoric of the Second Sophistic. But theirs was a different sort of pride: rather than predicating their social, cultural, and religious identities entirely on that ancient glory achieved by their ancestors in the world of Classical Greece, they now came to emphasize to an equal if not greater extent their role as educators, philosophers, and cultural conservators in the world of Hadrian’s Roman Empire. Therefore, we must recognize their role in assisting with and to some extent even initiating the transformative construction projects of the first and second centuries AD. But at the same time, we observe their own less emphatic but equally symbolic efforts to promote certain areas and monuments according to their own living image of the city—buried somewhere between the heritage passed down to them and the history foisted upon them. By carefully peeling back certain pieces of these layers with an eye for the lived experience of those who viewed each successive landscape, we can shed some light on the murky relationship between identity, memory, landscape, and religion that has been obscured and overshadowed in the post-classical history of the Athenians.

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