Palace of the Giants



Province Description

Roman intervention in Greek political affairs resulted in conflicts that led to the destruction of Corinth in 146 B.C. and the sacking of Athens in 86 B.C. It was not until 27 B.C., however, that Augustus formally organized the Roman province of Achaea. Achaea consisted of the cities and territories of the southern Greek mainland between the Peloponnese and Thessaly, as well as Epirus in the northwest and the Ionian and some of the Aegean islands. The provincial capital was Corinth. Under Nero in the mid-1st century A.D. Epirus became a separate province, and in the mid-2nd century Thessaly was detached and added to the province of Macedonia. Under Roman domination many cities such as Athens, Sparta, Patras, and Corinth grew in size and prominence, the latter two partly owing to their importance as ports. After an initial decline in the number of rural sites in the early Empire, by the late Roman period the countryside was densely settled with farms and villas, due to changing landholding patterns and Roman improvements in agricultural and irrigation technology. The main exports from Achaea were wine, particularly from the northern Peloponnese, as well as olive oil and honey, linen and woolen textiles and marbles.


Athens (Pleiades)


Agora of Athens (Pleiades)


Palace of the Giants


Garden Description

A large complex of the early 5th century A.D. in the southern part of the Agora on the site of the earlier Odeon of Agrippa generally has been interpreted as a late Roman gymnasion (“Gymnasion of the Giants”) (Fig. 1). Homer Thompson, however, proposed that the building might have been an official residence maintained by the Imperial court with suitable temporary accommodations for high-ranking government officials. He suggested that the great northern courtyard may have met ceremonial needs as a reception area, while the other parts of the building served as quarters for guests, including bedrooms and baths. The northern courtyard (29 x 38 m.) was adorned with a row of statues stretching the length of the court. These included a figure of Epicurus, the great Classical philosopher who had a school and garden in the suburb of Academy in the 4th century B.C. Plantings in this setting would not be out of place thematically, but without any evidence for them, this must remain speculation.

It is possible that a garden might have been present in one of the inner courtyards of the building, especially since the complex was directly supplied by sufficient water from a late Roman aqueduct. The smallest of the courtyards (7 x 7 m.), the southeast court, was paved with terracotta tiles and cannot, therefore, have been planted, but the central courtyard seems not to have been paved (G on plan). The building stood on a plot of land of irregular shape that was enclosed within a boundary wall. This has been reconstructed as an informal garden area (G on plan), although no traces of plantings have survived. The complex was abandoned by ca. 530 A.D.


building plan with possible gardens marked, dotted lines for the outlines of earlier buildings.

Fig. 1: Plan of the so-called “Palace of the Giants” (shown cross-hatched in grey) in the Agora, with possible gardens (G). The dotted lines indicate the outlines of the earlier Odeon of Agrippa and other older buildings beneath the “Palace.” Adapted from Camp 1986, p. 200, fig. 166.


early 5th century CE to ca. 530 CE


  • H. A. Thompson and R. E. Wycherley, The Agora of Athens. The History, Shape and Uses of an ancient City Center. The Athenian Agora XIV. Princeton, 1972, pp. 211-213. (worldcat).
  • J. McK. Camp, The Athenian Agora: Excavations in the heart of Classical Athens. London, 1986, p. 200, figs. 166-167. (worldcat).
  • H. Thompson in A. Frantz, Late Antiquity: A.D. 267-700. The Athenian Agora XXIV. Princeton, 1988, pp. 95-116, pls. 54-55. (worldcat).

Pleiades ID





Maureen Carroll (ORCID: 0000-0001-9958-8032)

Publication date

21 Apr 2021