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Athenian Agora - The Monument to Eponymous Heroes

monumet Eponymous Heroes reconstructionThe 'Monument of the Eponymous Heroes' is easy to overlook, but one that has an interesting history. It is situated on the west side of the Agora, opposite the Metroon. The monument consists of a long and high base (more than 16 m long and 1.80 m wide) and was surrounded by a fence, which has been partially restored.

Originally this base carried ten bronze statues, representing the ten legendary heroes who had given their name (hence 'epynomous') to the ten Athenian tribes instituted by Kleisthenes in 508/507 BC.  According to ancient writers, Kleisthenes had wisely sent a list with 100 possible names to the Oracle at Delphi, which then picked 10.

Eponymous Heroes as it is todayThe chosen heroes included, for instance, Erechtheus and Kekrops, who were both legendary early kings of Athens. Two bronze tripods, referring to the role of the Delphic oracle, flanked the statues of the Heroes on either end of the base. (As the monument looks today left)

On the side of the base whitewashed wooden panels served as notice boards. They were used for official announcements (such as the listing of military conscripts and court hearings) and to publish proposals for new laws.

In the course of the later history of Athens, other heroes were added when it seemed politically opportune - some of them only to be removed again afterwards. At the end of the 4th century BC, for instance, two statues were added for the Macedonian rulers Antigonos 'One-Eye' and his son Demetrios 'the besieger of cities'. . (This also meant that the Athenian population had to be reorganized in twelve tribes instead of ten.) To the credit of Antigonos and Demetrios, they had freed Athens from another Macedonian, Kassander, and had reinstituted Athens' democratic system. When later Macedon rulers proved hostile to Athens, these statues were again removed.

The last 'hero' to be added was the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, who was a great benefactor of the city and built many monuments, such as Hadrian's Library and the Temple of Zeus Olympios. The Monument of the Eponymous Heroes that is presently visible was built around 330 BC. However, earlier ancient authors attest to the existence of a late 5th century BC precursor, which was probably situated further to the south, below the Middle Stoa.

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