Athenian Agora - The Temple of Ares
The Temple of Ares, of which only the foundations are still visible, is of interest because of its curious history. It is one of several examples of so-called ‘itinerant’ or ‘wandering temples’. The dimensions and the style of the architectural fragments that have been found around the temple show that it was designed and built around 450-440 BC, in the ‘high period’ of Classical art.
The architect, whose name is unknown, is also thought to have been responsible for the building of the Temple of Hephaistos (in the Agora, on the hill just to the west), the Temple of Nemesis at Rhamnous and the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. However, when excavating the Temple of Ares in the Agora, it became apparent that many of the associated blocks had been inscribed with single letters or ‘masons’ marks’, whose form was typical for the 1st century BC.
The excavators also found pottery shards of that period below the floor of the temple and concluded that the ‘Temple of Ares’ must have originally stood somewhere else and had been dismantled to be carefully rebuilt in the Agora in the period of the Roman Emperor Augustus. In the process, portions of other temples were added as well (for instance, parts of the roof of the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion), perhaps to make up for pieces that had gone missing since the original construction of the Temple some 400 years earlier.
Recent excavations in Pallene, to the east of Athens, have uncovered what are in all likelihood the original foundations of this temple. If this identification is correct, it also shows that the temple was originally dedicated to Athena. The Romans did not only transfer the temple, but also rededicated to another god. This was probably done to promote the worship of the Roman Emperor and his family.
In inscriptions of the time, the grandson of Augustus is called ‘the new Ares’. The temple may therefore have been reassembled and rededicated in his honor, occupying a prominent place right in the middle of the old and much venerated Agora.
The Temple of Ares is not the only example of a wandering temple in the Agora. Parts of a Doric temple in Thorikos were re-used to build a temple in the southeast corner of the Agora and elements from the Athena Temple at Sounion to build another one in the southwest corner. This way, the Roman rulers turned the Agora into some kind of ‘museum’ of Classical Greek art and architecture.