Temple of Hephaistos



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)


Temple of Hephaistos


Garden Description

On the western edge of the Athenian Agora on Kolonos hill was the Temple of Hephaistos, built in the second half of the 5th century B.C. Excavations in 1937 around the temple revealed numerous square planting pits cut into the living rock in the 3rd century B.C. and again in the 1st century B.C. (Fig. 1). Rock-cut planting pits were preserved in four rows on the south, with isolated examples of such pits on the north and west sides (G on plan). The excavator cogently argued for rows of plantings to the north, south and west of the temple. The lack of planting pits on the north and west sides can be explained by the fact that the rocky hill upon which the temple was built fell away sharply on the north and west, requiring leveling layers above the natural rock. Into these deposits trees or shrubs were planted, leaving no trace of planting pits in the rock below. On the steeper southern side, however, the rock slope had to be shaved off, necessitating the cutting of planting pits into the rock. Possibly more than 60 such pits were arranged in rows parallel to the temple in the 3rd century; two rows on the north and south sides, and one row on the west side. After the Roman destruction of many Athenian buildings by Sulla in 86 B.C., at least the south side was replanted and two more rows of pits dug, resulting in four rows of trees or shrubs on this side. In many of the pits was a terracotta planting pot in ashy soil at a depth of ca. 50 cm. These planting pots, possibly containing laurel and pomegranate shrubs, had drainage and root holes in the bottom. The lack of maintenance of the irrigation pipes leading to the garden caused the plantings to wither and die by the second half of the 1st century A.D. The garden has been replanted with myrtle bushes and pomegranate trees.


plan of the temple with surviving rows of planting pits marked as open squares

Fig. 1: Plan of the Temple of Hephaistos and its temple grove (G) with surviving rows of planting pits (open squares). Adapted from Thompson 1937, fig. 1.


3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE


  • D.B. Thompson, “The Garden of Hephaistos,” Hesperia 6, 1937: 396-425. (JSTOR), (ASCSA).
  • M. Carroll-Spillecke, “The gardens of Greece from Homeric to Roman times,” Journal of Garden History 12.2, 1992: 90, figs. 10-11. (worldcat).
  • M. Carroll, "The sacred places of the immortal ones: ancient Greek and Roman sacred groves," in J. Woudstra and C. Roth (eds.), A History of Groves. London: Routledge, 2018: 22-23, fig 1.4. (worldcat).

Pleiades ID

558659669 (Hephaisteion)


5004159 (Agora)


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

Publication date

21 Apr 2021