StoaPoikile is located in the north side of the Agora of Athens and its construction dates back to the second quarter of the 5th century. B.C. The portico took the name "Poikile" (colorful) from the walls that were decorated with the works of Polygnotus, Mikon and Panaenus. In addition to its other uses, the portico was a place of teaching for philosophers.

The Stoa Poikile(Colorful, or painted portico) is the most important monument on the north side of the Athenian Agora, and is also one of the most known and famous buildings of ancient Athens. The 1981 excavations by the American School of Classical Studies revealed remains of a building which is identified with high probability with the famous portico. So far only the southwestern corner of the building has been excavated on the north side of modern Hadrian Street (north of the line of the Electric Railway), while the biggest part remains hidden beneath the modern settlement. The width of the building reaches 12.5 meters and its length is estimated to be at least 36 m. It was a portico of Doric order with Ionic inner colonnade. Mainly limestone of various kinds was used for its construction, howeverthe Ionic capitals were marble.

Based on the pottery found in the foundations, the building dates back to the period between 475-450 BC. The portico was facing the South, orientation which offered protection from the cold northern winds and a clear view of the Panathenaic Way and the Acropolis.

The portico was originally called Peisianakteios, the name of its manufacturer Peisianax. However the name Poikile (colorful) prevailed later, as its walls were decorated with paintings of great artists of classical antiquity; these paintings were the work of Polygnotus, Micon and Panainos,and they were depicting military victories of the Athenians, both mythological and historical: the battle against the Amazons, the fall of Troy, the victory over the Spartans in Oinoe and the victory over the Persians at Marathon. After 600 years Pausanias saw these paintings in place and describes them in detail:

"The paintings finish with those who fought at Marathon. Plataeans from the Boeotians and soldiers who came from Attica clash with the Barbarians. At this point, both parties are tied in battle. In the centre of the battle barbarians are depicted while leaving and pushing each other towards the swamp, and on the edge of the painting the Phoenician ships are depicted andthe Greeks killing those from the barbarians who rush to embark on them. Here is depicted the hero Marathon, after whom the plain took its name, and Theseus is represented to emerge from the earth. Also Athena and Hercules are depicted. According to a local legend in Marathon, Marathonianswere the first who honoured Hercules as a god. Among those who are depicted fighting in the painting, most distinguishable is Callimachus, who had been elected warlord from the Athenians, and from the generals, Miltiades ."(1.15.1-4)

Those paintings that had been seen by Pausanias in the 2nd century A.D. were removed from the portico probably in the time of Bishop Synesious, who wrote the following around 398 A.D.:

"(...) all that is left for usis to linger and admire the Academy and the Lyceum and, in the name of Zeus, theStoa , after which the philosophy of Chrysippos took its name , which is not colorful anymore, because the proconsul removedthe boards which had captured the art of Polygnotus from Thasos ."(Epist. 135)

In addition to the paintings there were also other mementoes of Athenian military victories which Pausanias also saw in place: "In Poikile, copper shields can be seen, some of which, according to the inscription bearing, come from the Skionaioi and their allies. Others, which had been coated with tar so that they are not destroyed by time and rust,it is said to come from the Spartans captured in the island of Sfaktiria."( 1.15.5 ) The battle of Sfaktiria at Pylos in 425/4 B.C. was one of the most important Athenian successes in the Peloponnesian war; the importance that this loot had for the prestige of Athens can perhaps be understood by reading the comments of Thucydides for this battle : "From everything that happened in the war , nothing surprised Greeks as this. Because they believed that neither hunger, nor any other power would force the Spartans to surrender their weapons, but that they would continue to fight as they could and would die with weapons in their hands."(4, 40, 1).

During the excavations, a shield, loot of the Athenians from the battle, was found in a reservoir which was sealed at some point during the 3rd century B.C., and although not included in the group of shields that Pausanias saw, it is certainly derived from the same set. The dotted inscription on the obverse clearly indicates it: Athenians of Lacedaemonians from Pylos.

Stoa Poikile had many uses. It was a meeting place for Athenians, a place of rest, but also it was used for formal events such as court sessions. Demosthenes mentions a trial held there, while the inscriptions of the 4th century. B.C. refer to sessions of the 501 jurors in the portico. Along with its use for official purposes, the building was used freely by ordinary people too, and also by various professionals such as magicians, jugglers, beggars, and anglers. Regular visitors of the Stoa were the philosophers who were always seeking a numerous audience for their teachings. There is evidence indicating that Cynics frequented in the portico, and also members of other philosophical schools. A special place in the history of the building has the philosophical movement of Zeno of Citium from Cyprus. Around 300 B.C. Zeno met so often his followers in the stoa, that the latter took their name after this building. Diogenes Laertius, author of the 3rd century A.D., says: " (Zeno) used to give lectures in the Stoa , which was also named Peisianakteios , but was named Poikile from thepaintings ofPolygnotos(...) People were coming here to listen to him and to therefore they were called stoic . " (7.1.5) A similar interpretation for the origin of the Stoic school’s name is also mentioned in theLexikon of Sudas (Souidas), in the“Zenon” lemma.

At the same time, and very close to the western side of the building, a monumental gateway was built, which passed by a road branching with the PanathenaicWay towards the northwest. According to Pausanias the top of it adorned a bronze equestrian statue of a winner of an equestrian battle: " Walking towards the Stoa, which is called Poikile from the paintings , there is a bronze HermesAgoraios, and close to it there is a gate, on top of which the Athenians had erecteda man on horseback as a trophy of an equestrian battle "(1. 15. 2.1)

Author: Konstantinos Lazaridis
  • The Athenian Agora. A Guide to the Excavation and Museum. American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1990.
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