Philopappos Monument and Hill - History and Facts | History Hit

Philopappos Monument and Hill

Attica, Attica, Greece

A magnificent mausoleum celebrating the life of one of Athens’ most important benefactors, Julius Antiochus Philopappos, and built by the citizens of the city after his death in 116 AD.

Lucinda Smyth

12 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Philopappos Monument and Hill

The Philopappos Monument atop Philopappos Hill is a magnificent mausoleum celebrating the life of one of Athens’ most important benefactors, Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, and built by the citizens of the city after his death in 116 AD.

History of Philopappos Monument and Hill

Philopappos was a Prince of the Commagene who lived in Athens in the 1st century AD. The Commagenes were a Hellenized Iranian dynasty, and Philopappos, whose mother was Greek-Egyptian, could trace his lineage back to Syrian royalty. He came to Athens from Commagene (modern day south-central Turkey) after it was assimilated into the Roman Empire. As a member of the Empire elite, he was extremely well-connected, with friends including Hadrian, Trajan and Plutarch.

There is little concrete information on Philopappos’ personal life, but it is implied that he was philanthropic and well-liked as a benefactor of the city, as well as a patron of the arts, a games magistrate and a member of the Roman Senate.

Following his death, his sister – the poet Julia Balbilla – and the citizens of Athens built a spectacular two-storey Pentelic marble mausoleum and monument on what was then referred to as the Hill of the Muses, south-west of the Acropolis to honour his name.

The monument was preserved virtually intact up until at least the late 15th century.

Philopappos Monument and Hill today

Nearly two millennia later, the Philopappos Monument still stands on the top of the hill now known as Philopappos. The monument shows a statue of Philopappos himself, flanked by his grandfather Antiochus I on one side, and on the other, King Seleukos Nikator, founder of the Seleucid dynasty (though this statue is now missing).

It has to be said that the monument itself has seen better days: both heads of the remaining statues are gone, and the frieze is a bit crumbly and weather-worn – an expected side-effect, you might say, after 2,000 years of open-air exposure. But visitors can still see elements of the lavish decoration and burial chamber of this famous Athens patron, and the park provides one of the most beautiful views of the Acropolis and is a popular hiking spot for both tourists and locals.

Fans of philosophy will also enjoy the ‘Prison of Socrates’, two caves carved into the eastern side of the hill, where Socrates was supposedly imprisoned before his execution, and where he spoke with his friend Crito in Plato’s Apologia. If you’re not convinced by that legend, it has had other interesting historical uses. During the Second World War, the caves were covered with a protective concrete wall and used as a crypt to house antiques from the National Archaeological Museum.

Getting to Philopappos Monument and Hill

It’s easiest to get to the monument by car. If you’re up for a further walk, take a metro to Petralona station. The base of the hill is 25 minutes on foot from here.

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