On the Trail of a Lost Athenian Temple

Ancient graffito may identify Acropolis temple

Lost Athenian Temple

The graffito of the Hekatompedon, the lost Athenian Temple. Courtesy Langdon and van Rookhuijzen.

Etched into a stone on a hillside some 12 miles from Athens is a graffito that may help scholars identify a 2,500-year-old Athenian temple. Although it is just a single graffito amid a sea of drawings that dot the hill, archaeologists believe the carved image could be a depiction of the Hekatompedon, a temple that capped the famous Athenian Acropolis long before the Parthenon was constructed.

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The Temple on the Stone

In the American Journal of Archaeology, a pair of archaeologists presented the graffito discovered on Barako Hill, south of Athens. The hill is home to thousands of graffiti, depicting everything from horses to lude scenes, all of which date to around the sixth century BCE. Most were likely carved by local shepherds who were passing the time while tending their flocks. However, it is what this particular graffito depicts, along with its inscription, that drew the archaeologists’ interest. The carving shows what appears to be the façade of a temple adorned with columns topped by ionic capitals, along with an inscription in Attic Greek that reads “the Hekatompedon (…) of Mikon.” According to the archaeologists, Mikon is likely the name of the person who carved the graffito of the Hekatompedon, while his name may have been preceded by the now unreadable phrase “I am.”

Athenian temple

Scretch of the Hekatompedon temple graffito. Courtesy Langdon and van Rookhuijzen.

Hekatompedon, which means “100 feet,” was occasionally used to refer to religious buildings of particularly large size. However, at the time the inscription was written in the sixth century, there was only one Athenian building that would have merited such a description, the Hekatompedon. The name appears in a number of sixth- and fifth-century inscriptions that mention buildings on top of the Athenian Acropolis. Until now, however, scholars had very little additional information about the Hekatompedon or its exact function. With this newly published graffito, it is almost certain that the Hekatompedon was a temple, one of several that predated the Parthenon by centuries. With this new clue, archaeologists are now pressing forward in the search for remains that may be associated with the ancient cultic center of the Hekatompedon.

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Vatican Returns Parthenon Marbles

The Athenian Acropolis

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Greeks vs. Hittites

Excavating Minoan Sites

Pan at Hippos: Face of Greek God Unearthed

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