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A signpost in front of Founders Hall marks the equivalent location of the agora, or marketplace, in fifth-century Athens.
A signpost in front of Founders Hall marks the equivalent location of the agora, or marketplace, in fifth-century Athens.

Ancient Athens By Way of Haverford

Robert Germany and Bret Mulligan couldn’t take all of their students to Athens—so, conceptually, they brought Athens to the students.

As part of a course they are co-teaching this fall, "Culture and Crisis in the Golden Age of Athens," the two assistant professors of classics have posted information-packed signs throughout Haverford’s campus to mark the equivalent locations of the Greek city’s important landmarks as they would have been found in the fifth century.

“When learning about the ancient world, there’s sometimes a distorted sense of reality,” says Mulligan. “Events from the past seem nebulous, and you don’t get a sense of real people interacting with their environment.”

To strengthen students’ connection with the reality of ancient Athens, the professors wanted to give them a physical sense of the city’s layout. Using GoogleEarth technology, they placed a scale model of Athens atop Haverford’s campus and discovered that, although fifth-century Athens was twice the size of campus, the marketplace or agora-Athens’ social, political and spiritual core—could encompass the area from Founders Green to the Dining Center.

Next, they created signposts representing significant buildings or monuments, such as the Acropolis. Each signpost bears a poster which includes pictures, archaeological diagrams, and reconstructions of sites as they appeared in the past.

Next to the Dining Center, a sign identifies the equivalent location of the Painted Stoa, a civic building that was decorated with artwork encompassing mythological themes and Athenian military victories. The courtyard of Founders Hall stands in for the Altar of the Twelve Gods, where sacrifices were made during religious festivals. In front of Magill Library is marked the spot where the Monument of the Eponymous Heroes, an important meeting place and public bulletin board, would have been located in ancient Athens. And one of the paths leading from Founders Hall is labeled as the Panathenaic Way, the main road through the agora.

Currently, students in the class are completing a project in which they behave much like tourists with guidebooks, visiting each location in what the professors are calling “HaverAthens” and considering its relationship to their readings. It’s all building up to a role-playing game that will take place in the last third of the semester, when students will embody specific Athenian personalities and discuss the pressing issues of the time.

“By putting themselves in the context of the city itself, they see Athens from the inside out,” says Germany, who notes that the project has also altered students’ perceptions of campus. “As Athens seems more Haverfordian, Haverford begins to seem more Athenian.”

-Brenna McBride

Prof. Anita Isaacs (Political Science) and students cross Founders Green after class.

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