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Rethinking the Tholos in the Athenian Agora

Part 2 Dissertation 2013
Shapur Keshvari
Kingston University Kingston | UK
This dissertation presents a detailed analysis and original interpretation of the little known Tholos building in the Agora of Athens, constructed towards the end of the 5th century BC. An unusual circular building at the northwestern edge of the city’s main public space, the Tholos has been sidelined in modern scholarship, often interpreted as an atypical version of the Prytaneion, an institution and building type known since archaic times as the seat of the representatives of the citizens’ council in Greek cities. However, based on extensive research of archaeological, historical and theoretical sources, this dissertation argues that the circular plan and particular structure of the Tholos is not an unusual variation of a type, but a carefully articulated manifestation of the specific socio-political, cultural and cosmological situation of Athens at the time, which saw the role of the traditional Prytaneion gradually broken up in various different buildings. The Tholos, the last one in this process of devolution, was focused on ritual practices and had a unique symbolic presence in the city, referencing the union and equality of the new polis, through its unprecedented round form and a variety of other attributes. For a brief moment in time, the Athenian polis achieved a unique reciprocity between its ancient tradition, heavily invested in myth and ritual, and the newly emerging logos of human rationality and democracy. The Tholos, built in the aftermath of the Persian sack of the city, and through its apparently strange combination of functions and architectural forms, embodied this balance. Purpose made drawings, diagrams and models accompany the text to assist with the analysis and support the argument.
Shapur Keshvari

Dr Alexandra Stara
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