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The Ghost of the Acropolis - Herodotus and the Creation of the Older Parthenon

  • Janric van Rookhuijzen
Thursday 26 October 2017
Forum Antiquum
University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden
Vossius Hall (University Library, second floor)


High above the city of Athens, a remarkable structure adorns the face of the north retaining wall of the Acropolis. A group of twenty-six column drums, which had once belonged to a temple of that holy citadel, fascinate locals and visitors to this day and constitute perhaps the most famous spolia from ancient Greece.

Many believe that the wall, by the incorporation of the drums, marks a deliberate effort of the Athenians of the fifth century BCE to commemorate the violent destruction of the buildings of the Acropolis at the hands of the Persians, who had laid siege to the citadel in 480 BCE, personally led by their king Xerxes I. No one, it is thought, was allowed to forget neither the damage inflicted upon the city by these eastern barbarians, nor the ensuing glory of the Athenians. For above the grievous monument towers the triumphant Parthenon, rising like a phoenix from its own ashes.

This paper, however, argues otherwise. It suggests not only that there is no proof for the assertion that the wall constituted a memorial, but also that the very temple in which the drums are thought to originate — the Older Parthenon — never existed. To this end, I will first discuss our only more or less contemporary literary source on the Acropolis, Herodotus. I will then review the archaeological material that has been adduced for the scholarly creation of this building: the fundament of the Parthenon, and the column drums themselves. In addition, I will try to give a reconstruction of the Acropolis on the eve of the arrival of Xerxes’ army in Athens.

About the speakers

Janric van Rookhuijzen studied Classics at the Radboud University and Classical Archaeology in Oxford.  He participated in fieldwork projects in Greece (Halos, with the Universities of Groningen Amsterdam; Thorikos with the Universities of Utrecht and Ghent) and has written for the new Ancient Greek - Dutch dictionary currently in preparation with Ineke Sluiter at Leiden University. He now regularly teaches undergraduate classes in Classical Archaeology and Ancient Greek.

In his current research, which combines perspectives from literary studies, memory studies and archaeology, he is investigating the complex relation between Herodotus' account of Xerxes' invasion of Greece (480-479 BCE) and the landscapes of Greece and Anatolia.

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