The Excavations

Excavations in the Athenian Agora by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens commenced in 1931 under the supervision of T. Leslie Shear. The systematic excavation of this important site was entrusted by the Greek State to the American School of Classical Studies, founded in Athens in 1881. Negotiations began in 1925, soon after the Greek parliament voted not to undertake the project itself, largely because of the huge costs of expropriation. The area in question covered some 24 acres and was occupied by 365 modern houses, all of which had to be purchased and demolished.

View of the west side of the Agora at the start of excavations in Section A, June 19, 1931. View from the north toward the hill of Kolonos Agoraios and the Hephaisteion.
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"After proper ceremony of sprinkling of holy water by priest of neighboring church [Panagia Vlassarou] Agora Excavations began about 7:30 a.m. Digging confined to area occupied by House 22 until it shall be levelled off. 28 men / 135 wagons" (Notebook [Nb.] E I, p. 74; May 25, 1931).

Edward Capps, chairman of the Managing Committee of the American School, was the guiding spirit behind the project, and T. L. Shear was appointed the first field director. Shear assembled a staff that includes some of the best-known names in Greek archaeology: Homer A. Thompson, Eugene Vanderpool, Benjamin Meritt, Dorothy Burr (Thompson), Virginia Grace, Lucy Talcott, Alison Frantz, Piet de Jong, and John Travlos, among others.

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Agora Excavations staff, 1933. Third row (left to right): Charles Spector, Piet de Jong, Arthur Parsons, Eugene Vanderpool, Mary Zelia Pease [Philippides], James Oliver. Second row: Joan Bush [Vanderpool], Elizabeth Dow, Virginia Grace, Gladys Baker, Homer Thompson. Sitting: Lucy Talcott, Benjamin Meritt, Josephine Shear, T. Leslie Shear, Dorothy Burr [Thompson].

Actual work of excavation began in May of 1931, funded largely by John D. Rockefeller. Since then, several dozen more houses have been cleared, bringing the total to more than 400. The enterprise has been a huge one, both in terms of money and time. As is often the case with American cultural projects, the funding has been provided almost exclusively from private foundations and individuals: the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Kress Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities have all participated. In recent years the work has been sustained by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Packard Humanities Institute.

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A drawing of the house lots in the area to be excavated: (a) Section ΟΕ, excavated by the German Archaeological Institute; (b) Athens/Piraeus railroad; (c) Giants and Tritons; (d) Section ΣΑ, Stoa of Attalos; (e) Section Ε, demolition of houses begun April 20, 1931, excavations begun May 25, 1931; (f ) Section Α, demolition of houses begun May 28, 1931; (g) Section ΣΤ, demolition of houses begun August 17, 1931; (h) Church of the Holy Apostles.

Since 1931 hundreds of scholars, workers, specialists, and students have participated in the excavation, conservation, research, and publication of the site and its related finds. Collectively, they are responsible for one of the most productive archaeological projects in the Mediterranean basin. Over forty volumes and hundreds of scholarly articles have been published, adding much to our understanding of all aspects of ancient Greek history and society.

Current Excavations
View of the Agora and Acropolis from the northwest. Areas currently being excavated are visible in the lower half of the image.
Detail of Current Excavations
Current excavations, July 2008.
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).