The alleged house of Proclus is a Late Roman villa of the 5th century, below the surface of today's street Dionysiou Areopagitou, in the foundations of which traces of pagan worship were found. These findings combined with the location of the villa and the testimony of ancient sources for the house of Proclus, led scholars to identify thisRoman mansion with the residence of the Neo-Platonic philosopher.

The building traditionally identified with the residence of Neo-Platonic philosopher Proclus was discovered accidentally in 1955, under excavating works for the completion of the new Avenue Dionysiou Areopagitou. Heads of the excavation were I. Meliades and G. Dontas. Unfortunately, the research was carried out under great time pressure, due to the need of construction of the new road, and was limited into the borders of a strip- covered today by the roadway of Dionysiou Areopagitou- from the edge of the road Parthenon and facing west.

From this building only the labeling of its ground plan can be seen today, which protrudes slightly from the surface of today pedestrian street Dionysiou Areopagitou.

From the buildings that were excavated in 1955, "Building Chi", as it is commonly referred, was the most interesting one, located southeast of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and southwest of the theater of Dionysus. It was a late Roman villa, 32 meters width, with orientation from East to West.Detailed research was conducted only in the northern part of it, because the rest of the building is buried under modern buildings, in the southern courtyards of which traces of mosaics were discovered. The northern part of it was a large rectangular room of dimensions 6.40 x 9.60 m, which ended up in a large semicircular arch, height 3.50 m, width 6.60 m and 4.40 m depth. Both the room and the arch were covered by mosaics with decorative motifs. East and west of the main hall were smaller halls and rooms. In one of these rooms a small shrine was discovered with a built in embossed relief of Cybele, also one votive probably in honour of Asclepius and a marble base of a funerary statue that could have been used as a Table of offerings, or as a base for a statue of a god; this base has a relief socket. Some of the reliefs found in Building Chi are exposed today in the Acropolis Museum.

In the ruins of the building there were also found a fragment of an inscription, possibly with philosophical content, that included the words “σοφίην” and “βίοτον”, a marble head of a young man, and a headless torso of Isis. Another significant finding of this excavationwas the tomb of a piglet with theritual knife in the animal’s neck, containing the following burial offerings: seven cups, a jug and an oil lamp of 5th c., depicting a winged Cupid.

Based on archaeological evidence, the construction of Building Chi dates to the period that followed the invasion of Alaric in Athens in 396, and it seems that was abandoned in the 6th century B.C. The archaeological findings in conjunction with the location of the building led the director of the excavations I .Meliadesto correlate Building Chi with one passage in Vita Procli, the work of Marinus the Neapolitan: "(...) Proclus always avoided notoriety so as not to give any occasion to those who wished to plot against him, and the house in which he lived favoured him in this. This house in addition to its other good features, was very pleasnt for him, not only because his “father” Syrianus and his “forefather”, as he called Plutarchus, had lived there, but also because it was in the neighbourhood of the temple of Asclepios which Sophocles had made famous, and was close-by the temple of Dionysus near the Theatre, and it could be seen, or otherwise perceived from the Acropolis of Athens. (Vita Procli, 29). This description seems to match the location in which Building Chi was discovered.

If the statue of Isis belongs to the original decoration of the house, then we have an indication that the owner was a pagan and perhaps this element shows a correlation with philosophy and Neo-Platonic syncretism. We also know that Proclus wrote a hymn to Isis. He also worshiped Cybele and organized monthly purificatory ceremonies in his house to honour her, and that he wrote a book for her.Marinus is also our source of information that Proclus had prayed at the shrine of Asklepiosthe Saviour and healeda young girl called Asklipigeneia, and that god himself healed Proclus of his own illness (Vita Procli, 19, 29-31, 33). Furthermore, the tomb of the piglet shows that inside Bulding Chi a magic act was performed, practice that refers to the sacrifices of pigs in the Eleusinian mysteries, as they were considered sacred animals associated with the chthonic deities. (Julian, Oratio V, 177 b - c)

This houseas a whole is a generally spacious building that exudes a sense of grandeur. Common element of all the houses on the hillside of Areopagus, including Building Chi, was the large central hall, which is an indication that these buildings might haveserved some public purposes. The halls seem as ideal places for educational or religious gatherings, conducted privately. The chambers surrounding the central room could also be regarded as“seminar rooms”, some sort of cabinets, or private dwellings. At any rate, a building of this type, too spacious for private quarters and not suitable for official use could suite well for hosting a private educational institution. A. Frantz (1988) interpreted these arched buildings with the large central hall as classrooms, based on Eunapius’ statement that the Sophists lectured to their students in their own private theatres (Lives of the Sophists, IX. I, 6 Giangrande J. (ed.) 1956)

The use of Building Chi in its original form ended in the 6th century, but since there are no traces of violent destruction or fire, its abandonment cannot be attributed to such a cause. Based on the available archaeological evidence it cannot be excludedthat the house was later inhabited by Christians that kept the entire decoration of the building as artwork. (ArjaKarivieri, 1994) However not all scholars agree with the interpretation of Building Chi as home of the neoplatonic school at Athens. According to JP Sodini(1984), there is insufficient evidence for such a conclusion.

The late Roman villa of Dionysiou Areopagitou street was a rather representative house of upper class citizens, as was the case with similar buildings in other cities throughout the Roman Empire.

Author: Konstantinos Lazaridis
  • Karivieri, ArjaCastren, Paavo ed. . Papers and Monographs of the Finnish Institute at Athens. 1994.
  • Afonasin, E., Afonasina, A. ΣΧΟΛΗ. 2014.
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