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Silvio Leone: Polis, Platz und Porträt. Die Bildnisstatuen auf der Agora von Athen im Späthellenismus und in der Kaiserzeit (86 v. Chr. - 267 n. Chr.) (= Urban Spaces; Bd. 9), Berlin: de Gruyter 2020, X + 276 S., zahlr. Kt., zahlr. s/w-Abb., zahlr. Tbl., ISBN 978-3-11-065283-3, EUR 119,95
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Rezension von:
Christopher P. Dickenson
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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Christopher P. Dickenson: Rezension von: Silvio Leone: Polis, Platz und Porträt. Die Bildnisstatuen auf der Agora von Athen im Späthellenismus und in der Kaiserzeit (86 v. Chr. - 267 n. Chr.), Berlin: de Gruyter 2020, in: sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 9 [15.09.2023], URL:

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Silvio Leone: Polis, Platz und Porträt

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Polis, Platz und Porträt, a reworking of Leone's PhD thesis, is a systematic investigation of the Athenian Agora as a setting for statues in the period bookended by the military assaults on the city by Sulla in 86 BC and the Herulians in 267 AD. Honorific statues feature most prominently, but the approach is a holistic one that considers the interplay of meaning between political portraits and other types of statues, particularly statues of gods. Most of the honorific statues on the agora were, as Leone stresses, of bronze and do not survive, so their inscribed bases form the bulk of his evidence. Some fragments of marble sculpture are also discussed. Pertinent literary references are scant except for the extensive description of Pausanias, which is dealt with in its own chapter. Gathering this evidence together in itself makes the book a useful resource for future scholarship. The book also contains insightful discussions of changes in statuary practice and the ways and the possible connotations of setting up statues at particularly locations within the agora. Its overarching conclusions offer few surprises but that is mainly the result of the limits imposed by the fragmentary and - to a degree that Leone could have done more to acknowledge - problematic nature of the evidence. I expand on this point below.

The book is structured around five main chapters. Chapter One sets out the aims and scope and introduces the evidence. Chapter Two discusses the statues mentioned in Pausanias' Agora description and Chapter Three summarizes the architectural development of the square in Roman times. Chapters 4 and 5 - the longest and the heart of the book - investigate the archaeological and epigraphic evidence from, respectively, a diachronic and a thematic/spatial approach. Chapter 6 discusses what happened to the agora in Late Antiquity, a legitimately brief treatment since the practice of setting up statues on the agora tailed off at that time. Chapters 7 to 9 summarise the book's main conclusions in German, English and Italian. The main text is followed by a well-organised 93 page catalogue of the corpus of the 106 archaeologically and epigraphically attested statues discussed. Each entry includes at least one photograph. Greek texts are given for all inscriptions and drawings are provided of the surface of all bases bearing traces for the placement of statues. All entries include references to Inscriptiones Graecae and the relevant volume of the Athenian Agora excavation series.

The main developments of statuary practice that Leone traces can be summarized succinctly: immediately after the Sullan assault statues of Roman generals appeared on the east of the square atop columned bases; in the late 1th Century BC Athenian citizens again began to be commemorated and together with emperors and their family members were the most common statue recipients for the rest of the Roman period. Leone makes acute observations about how Roman power was woven into the statuary landscape: names of the imperial family were, in contrast to normal practice, mentioned first in inscriptions; when foreigners were honoured they usually had explicit connections to Rome; and the only female honorands were emperors' wives and one mother of a proconsul. In terms of where statues were set up Leone rehearses the by now well-known concentrations of statues by period or subject type: 4th C generals - still standing in Roman times - in front of the Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios, individuals who opposed tyranny (Antigonos Monophthalmus and Demetrius Poliorcetes followed by Brutus and Cassius) having the highly restricted honour of a statue near Harmodios and Aristogeiton in the centre of the square, Hellenistic kings (according to a lengthy list in Pausanias) somewhere near the Odeion of Agrippa, and associates of the Attalids and then later Roman generals in front of the Stoa of Attalos. One of Leone's most intriguing discussions concerns a set of statues of Herodes Atticus' parents dedicated by the Athenian tribes (74 and 88). He argues that lack of wear on the bases suggests they stood inside and makes an explicit comparison to the statues of Hadrian in the contemporary stage building of the Theatre of Dionysos. I was surprised he didn't consider the possibility they might have stood within the Odeion on the Agora, which was rebuilt at precisely that time. A potential parallel can be found at Messene where in the same period the city's statues of the family of the local magnate Ti. Cl. Saithidas Caelianus were dedicated, also by the city's tribes, in the theatre.

Leone could have given more consideration to how the patterns he observes have been shaped by the nature of his evidence. A key methodological assumption - that pieces of statue bases found on the Athenian Agora excavations did indeed stand on the square - is highly problematic. Scholarship of Athenian topography is replete with examples of pieces of monuments found far from their original locations. Leone himself mentions a base for a statue of the second century politician and orator Lollianos, which he assumes to be the one Philostratos locates on the agora, and yet was found on the Acropolis (9, 12 and 71). Much of Leone's material consists of very small fragments that could easily have travelled. Leone argues that inscriptions mentioning demos and boule as the authorities awarding statues gives extra confidence to think they stood on the agora (13). There is a danger of circular reasoning here. Pausanias implies that a key setting for honorific monuments in his day was the stretch of Panathenaic Way leading between the Dipylon Gate and the Agora. [1] How many of Leone's bases might originally have lined this street? How many more bases dedicated by the boule and demos might be discovered if this area were intensively excavated? The tendency for stones to move around may also have edited categories of monument out of Leone's corpus. Whether the absence of certain types of statues (of new gods, of Augustus, of individuals of Flavian date) are really as significant as Leone suggests is therefore debatable. The almost total lack of overlap between Pausanias' testimony and the archaeological evidence - strikingly, no inscriptions have been found for his statues of Hellenistic kings - alerts us to the possibility that many statues may have left no physical or literary trace. To have acknowledged these pitfalls might have led to more nuanced readings than the somewhat positivistic interpretations Leone occasionally puts forward.

There were a few specific points in Leone's discussion where more critical discussion would have been particularly welcome. Leone should really, for example, have taken his own position on the controversy concerning the possible existence of multiple agoras in Roman Athens. The debate largely hinges on interpretation of what Pausanias meant when he used the word "agora" instead of his more usual term for the Classical Agora "Kerameikos". Was his "agora" just another name for the Classical square, a reference to the old "Archaic Agora" that it had replaced or to the Augustan period "Roman Agora"? Leone alludes to the controversy in passing (22) without acknowledging its implications for his project or taking a stance. Philostratos, like Pausanias, refers to the Classical Agora as the "Kerameikos" and Lollianos, whose statue, as mentioned above, Philostratos explicitly locates on the "agora", was the magistrate in charge of the city's grain supply. It is thus surely possible that his statue actually stood on what was presumably the city's main food market, the Roman Agora. Leone takes it for granted it was on the Classical Agora. Considering Leone's contention that the Classical Agora remained the most prestigious location for honorific monuments in Roman times the possibility that the Roman Agora, or even the old Archaic Agora (if it still existed) served as rival venues deserved to be addressed. I was also surprised, since Leone sets out to explore the interplay of meaning between different types of statues, to see him interpret Pausanias' practice of referring to statues simply by the names of the person they represented as a "rhetorical technique" (32). It is commonplace to refer to statues this way in other literary sources and - arguably more importantly - in inscriptions. Might the ubiquity of this practice not reveal some truth about how statues were experienced by those who viewed them?

In spite of these concerns the book is a welcome overview of the Roman period Athenian Agora as a statuary landscape. It synthesises a wide range of evidence and makes sensible observations about both changes in statuary practice over time and the significance of particular locations within the agora. It is a useful contribution to scholarship on Roman Athens and on the culture of statues in the Greek and Roman worlds more broadly.


[1] "From the gate to the Cerameicus there are porticoes, and in front of them brazen statues of such as had some title to fame, both men and women." - Pausanias 1.2.4, trans. W.H.S. Jones.

Christopher P. Dickenson