The American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Inscribed stele with relief and dedication by the cobbler Dionysios, one of the reliefs mentioned in the book.


Votive Reliefs in the Agora: An Interview with Carol L. Lawton

Moira Lavelle

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is pleased to announce the publication of Votive Reliefs (Agora XXXVIII) by Carol L. Lawton.

This volume includes all of the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman votive reliefs found to date in the excavations of the Athenian Agora. In addition to providing a catalogue of the reliefs arranged according to their subjects, the author treats the history of their discovery, their production and workmanship, iconography, and function. A large part of the study is devoted to discussion of the original contexts of the reliefs, in an attempt to determine their relationship to shrines in the vicinity and to investigate what they can tell us about the character of religious activity in the vicinity of the Agora. The work will be an important reference for historians of Greek art as well as of Greek religion.

Q: What evidence did you use for this volume?
A: The volume studies 224 reliefs or fragments of reliefs from the Agora excavations. Probably relatively few of the reliefs originated in the Agora proper but wandered into the area from the slopes of the Akropolis and the Areopagos and the hills to the southwest of the Agora and from nearby shrines on the west and north sides of the Agora square. This project attempts to put them into the context of these shrines and sanctuaries in order to see what they can tell us about popular religion in the area.

Q: What scholarship had been done on these votive reliefs previously?
Several of the completely preserved reliefs have been the subject of separate studies, a few were mentioned in reports at the time of their discovery, and others have been mentioned in studies of the iconography of their recipients, but 129 of the reliefs are published here for the first time.

Q: Who are these votives dedicated to? Gods? Heroes?
A: The reliefs are dedicated to both gods and heroes. The deities include many known to have had shrines in the vicinity – for example, Athena, Aphrodite, Asklepios and Hygieia, Demeter and Kore, the Charites, Pan and the Nymphs – but there is also a relief depicting the Anatolian moon god Men, suggesting the presence of foreigners. The heroes include the ubiquitous Herakles and such minor figures as the heroes Iatros, Kallistephanos, and Strategos, as well as numerous unnamed banqueting heroes and heroines. 

Votive relief dedicated by Neoptolemos to Hermes, here shown handing over the infant Dionysos to the Nymphs.

Q: Who is dedicating these votives? Any citizen? Priests?
A: Very few of the reliefs preserve the names of their dedicators, but from those that do we can identify dedicators ranging from prominent Athenian citizens such as Neoptolemos, son of Antikles of Melite, a wealthy associate of Lykourgos, and Xenokles, son of Apollodoros of Otryne, a hoplite general, to a cobbler named Dionysios, whose dedication depicts him and members of his family in his workshop.

Q: What were the biggest challenges you encountered with this volume?
A: Given the often very fragmentary condition of the reliefs, the first challenge was to identify the deity or hero who was the recipient of the dedication. And then, given that the goal was to contextualize the reliefs, it was often difficult to be sure of their original locations, since none were found in situ and quite a few were in such bad condition that they had been discarded in marble piles on the site.

Q: What questions still remain following the publication?
A: We still know relatively little about votive practice in the area. I hope that with continued excavation and with the publication of votive reliefs from nearly excavations such as the Akropolis and the Roman Agora we will eventually have a more complete picture.

Q: You have previously written about Marble Workers in the Agora. How does your work on votive reliefs relate?
A: The excavations have revealed numerous marbleworking establishments in the area of the Agora, not only where one might expect them, in the industrial area southwest of the Agora, but also in Roman times in the ruins of the South Square and in one of the stoas of the Library of Pantainos. Some of the votive reliefs from the excavations are unfinished and presumably came from one or more of these workshops. We tend to think of the Agora as a civic, market, and religious center, but these remind us that the area around it was heavily industrialized, inhabited not only by marbleworkers, but also potters, coroplasts, and metalworkers.

Q: What has your experience with the ASCSA been?
A: I first came to the School as a member of the Summer Session of 1970, and since then I’ve returned almost annually, as a member, a fellow, a Whitehead Professor. It is my scholarly home, and I am so indebted to its directors, faculty, staff, and members for their inspiration, collaboration and assistance in the work I do. I’ve formed lifelong friendships there; I met my husband there!

Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am still working on votives found in the Agora excavations, the dedications to the Mother of the Gods, which mostly take the form of marble statuettes and naiskoi. There are almost 150 of them, more numerous than stone votives to any other deity, and they present many of the same contextual challenges as the votive reliefs.  I am also collaborating with Christopher Pfaff on the publication of the architectural sculpture of the Classical Temple of Hera in the Argive Heraion.


Votive Reliefs (Agora XXXVIII) can be purchased from our distribution partners: click for information on how to order from Casemate Academic (in North America) or from Oxbow Books (outside North America).