Kimon: Beautifier of the Athenian Agora

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published on 18 January 2012

The Classical Athenian Agora began to take shape under the ruling of Kimon. He took power around 479 B.C., as the Athenian people ostracized Themistocles. As a respected general who had led many victories for Athens in the Persian Wars, he was easily accepted as a new leader. Kimon is widely known in ancient history as a beautifier of the arid Athenian countryside, and he was responsible for several buildings in the Agora during his tenure.

One such building was the Painted Stoa. A stoa was a common type of building in ancient Greek architecture, characterized by its columned porticoes with inner colonnades that served as public gathering areas and markets. Constructed around 475 B.C., the Painted Stoa was an elaborately decorated building that opened to the Panathenaic Way looking toward the Acropolis. This particular stoa served as a military tribute more than anything, with its large wooden panels painted with scenes of mythic and actual Athenian battles, as well as displays of captured bronze shields and other armory. Kimon undoubtedly had this building constructed as a reminder to the Athenians of his own greatness, and that he was perfectly suited to be the ruler of the great Athenian polis. This stoa had no other specific purpose, other than to serve Athenians as a whole, for shelter, gathering, and a place where entertainers such as jugglers, and philosophers could congregate.

Another construction that was masterminded by Kimon was a major aqueduct. Kimon's aqueduct was a series of pipes that led water into and out of specified areas of the polis. This aqueduct led from the Agora northwest to the Academy. The construction of this aqueduct is one of the factors that helped the Agora and other areas of Athens transform into a beautiful green landscape, full of groves and garden areas. This would have certainly made Athens the envy of the entire ancient Greek world at that time.

Kimon's additions to the Agora were continued with the construction of the Herms. A Herm was a common type of commemorative pillar that was used as a boundary marker and for good luck. It was a rectangular column, often made of stone or terra cotta, with a bust of the god Hermes (god of fertility, luck, and borders) on the top, and male genitalia ½ way up the pillar. They were commonly used in ancient Greek architecture to mark various entryways to public areas, private homes, and shrines.

Kimon posted three of them at the main entrance to the Agora as yet another reminder and commemoration of his major Persian victories. In addition to reminding the Athenian citizens of their good fortune in battle (and in having Kimon as ruler), they would have defined the entrance to the Agora, and helped to bring luck and prosperity to anyone entering.

Kimon's contribution to the beautification of Athens is well noted in the annals of ancient history. This contribution was to be vital, as with the ostracism of Kimon in 460 B.C. (for sending a company of hoplites to assist the bedraggled Spartans), we see the rise of Pericles, the renowned leader and architect of the true Classical Athens. Kimon's plan to make Athens and enviable polis filled with verdant fields helped to shape the Agora and the Acropolis during the height of Athens' prominence in the ancient world.



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