Agora Monument: Panathenaic Way
Function:   Transportation
Patron:   Unknown
Material:   Packed Gravel
Condition:   Good
Chronology:   6th B.C. to 12th A.D.
Masl:   0m.
References:   Plans and Drawings (136)
Images (187)

Numerous roads led in and out of the Agora square. By far the most important, however, was the broad street known as the Dromos or Panathenaic Way, the principal thoroughfare of the city (Fig. 4). It led from the main city gate, the Dipylon, up to the Acropolis, a distance of just over a kilometer, and served as the processional way for the great parade that was a highlight of the Panathenaic festival. Halfway along, it enters the Agora at its northwest corner and passes through the square on a diagonal, exiting at the southeast corner.

Figure 4. Model of the Agora and northwest Athens in the 2nd century A.C., looking along the entire course of the Panathenaic Way from the Dipylon Gate (bottom) to the Acropolis (top); view from the northwest.

The street is unpaved except to the south, as it begins the steep ascent to the Acropolis, where it was paved with large stone slabs in the Roman period. Elsewhere it is made up of layers of packed gravel; at the north, some sixty-six superimposed layers were excavated, reflecting a thousand years of use of the thoroughfare, from the 6th century B.C. until the 6th century A.D.

The line of the street was defined in the Hellenistic and Roman periods by successive open stone gutters along its south side (Fig.5). Basins in the line of the channel caught sediment and helped keep the channel clean; those off to the side presumably provided water for draft animals.

Figure 5. Limestone channel with water basins along the Panathenaic Way.

The street was used not only for the procession, but also for chariot races (the apobates) during the Panathenaic festival (Fig. 6). It seems also to have served as the running track for foot races before a proper stadium was built, and as the training ground for the young recruits of the Athenian cavalry.

Figure 6. Sculpted base for a monument celebrating a victory in the apobates at the Panathenaic Games, 4th century B.C. As the race made its way along the Panathenaic Way, the armed passenger was expected to jump on and off the moving chariot.

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