From the incredible Theatre of Herodes Atticus and the eye-opening city of Eleusis to the astonishing Roman Agora, the Roman monuments and ruins of Greece are absolutely mind-blowing places to discover. The sheer diversity of these extraordinary Roman sites is staggering, with other popular attractions including Philippi Battlefield, the Philopappos Monument and the Arch of Hadrian in Athens and these sites are definitely worth considering if you have a little more time on your trip. We’ve put together an expert guide to the Greece’s Roman archaeological remains with our top places to visit as well as a full list of ancient Roman sites found in Greece which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Roman ruins in Greece?
The Theatre of Herodes Atticus is stunning Roman theatre built in 161 AD. Built by an rich Greek-born Roman senator in the mid-second century AD, it was constructed it in commemoration of his wife, Regilia. Able to seat up to 5,000 people, the theatre was mostly used for music shows and festivals, a function it still performs today. For visitors to the site today, this ancient theatre is startlingly photogenic and offers some great shots of the city.
Eleusis contains a range of hugely impressive Greco-Roman ruins, including the Sacred Court, a Roman reproduction of Hadrian’s Arch and the Kallichoron Well. A number of these monuments and buildings have survived today and are a popular draw with tourists, providing as they do a picturesque scene to explore. For those seeking to know more about the history of the city, there is a museum located on site which gives more detail on the story of this ancient settlement.
Also known simply as the forum, the Roman Agora of Athens was founded in the early first century AD and its construction was funded by Julius Caesar and the Emperor Augustus. The agora is home to an array of fascinating ruins including the Gate of Athena and even the remains of some ancient public toilets! Probably the most impressive monument however is what is known as the Tower of the Winds. A clock, weather vane, sundial and compass all in one, it’s very well preserved and fascinating to discover.
Although the Romans certainly did a lot of building in Greece, they also spent a lot of time there killing each other. Probably the most famous of these internecine clashes was the battle of Philippi. The clash took place in 42 BC, two years after Caesar’s assassination. The forces loyal to the heirs of Caesar met those of his assassins and the two sides met in Greece near the ancient city of Philippi. Today the battlefield is believed to be located outside the modern town of Krinides in north-west Greece, near the archaeological site of Philippoi. As well as the battlefield, visitors can explore the ruins themselves which contain a range of structures and monument from this once-thriving settlement.
The Philopappos Monument is an important mausoleum built around 116AD and celebrating the life of one of Athens’ most important citizens of the time, Gaius Julius Philopappos. When this great benefactor to the city died, the citizens built a spectacular two-storey marble monument close to the Acropolis to honour his name. The mausoleum was preserved virtually intact up until at least the late fifteenth century and, though degraded by the years, visitors can still view elements of the lavish decoration and burial chamber.
The Arch of Hadrian of Athens is a triumphal gateway built in the second century AD by this famous Roman emperor. While not necessarily the most impressive of ancient gateways when compared to those in Italy or North Africa, its Pentelic marble can still be seen, despite being somewhat damaged by years of exposure to pollution.
The archaeological site of Aptera contains an array of interesting Greco-Roman ruins. Today as well as the impressive Roman cisterns, visitors to Aptera can explore a number of fascinating ruins at the site including Roman baths, villas and an ancient theatre. The archaeological site also includes a small ancient temple most likely dedicated to the goddess Demeter as well as the ruins of early churches. There is a small museum at the site which expands the history of the settlement.
Hadrian’s Library was an important centre of ancient learning in Athens which was built by the Emperor Hadrian between 125 and 132 AD. In its heyday, this vast structure would have housed over 17,000 scrolls and other documents. Destroyed by the Herulae in 267 AD it was later repaired before being damaged again during the later barbarian invasions. The most impressive of ruins of the ancient building are the great Corinthian columns on the well-preserved outer wall, and the impressive portico which served as the entrance to the courtyard.
Another of the most important clashes in Roman history took place at Pharsalus. It was here that Julius Caesar decisively defeated Pompey the Great and his republican allies to effectively bring the Republican era to an end. It was a battle which Caesar won against the odds and confirmed his position as total ruler of Rome. The battle took place in August 48 BC and saw Pompey’s army decisively defeated and routed. e battlefield and was later killed when attempting to find sanctuary in Egypt. The exact location of the battlefield has been the subject of much debate but the most widely accepted location is just outside the modern Greek city of Farsala.
The Athens Byzantine Museum contains over 25,000 artefacts from the late Roman period all the way up to the Byzantine, Medieval and post-Byzantine eras. It includes religious artefacts, sculpture, paintings, manuscripts, jewels and art. The artefacts come from all across the country as well as from nearby regions where Hellenic, Roman and Byzantine culture were prominent.