In the hills to the north and east of Vari in Attica lies a surprising testament to the life and art of the ancient Greeks: more than 2000 rock carvings on marble rocks dating back to the 6th century BC offer a glimpse into the daily activities and concerns of the shepherds who roamed these lands in antiquity.

Among these, one unique inscription has captured the attention of archaeologists: a drawing of a temple with the inscription “Hekatompedon”, signed by an individual named Mikon.

The discovery of this graffito was made by Merle Langdon on an exposed marble rock located about 10 meters from a dirt path that connects to the coastal road. The precise location is 37°49′17.06″N 23°49′26.72″E, at 84 meters above sea level.

The location of the find, indicated with a red arrow.
The location of the find, indicated with a red arrow. Credit: Merle K. Langdon, Jan Z. van Rookhuijzen

Erosion has made the engraving shallow and some details difficult to discern, but the essence of the drawing and the inscription have been preserved.

The drawing shows the façade of a building with at least five columns, an unusual detail since pentastyle buildings (with five columns) are not common in Greek architecture, except for exceptions like the Temple of Apollo in Thermos.

Protruding elements and horizontal lines suggest a sketch of a two-step krepis or, alternatively, an entablature with acroteria. The inscription winds around the drawing, starting orthographically and ending retrogradely, using the ancient Attic alphabet.

Detail of the inscription τὸ hεκατόµπεδον.
Detail of the inscription τὸ hεκατόµπεδον. Credit: Merle K. Langdon, Jan Z. van Rookhuijzen

The inscription, although worn, has been largely identified thanks to the shape of the letters and the spelling, characteristics of the 6th century BC. The proposed reading is “τὸ hεκατόµπεδον (–) Ε (–) Μίκōνος”, translated as “the Hekatompedon of Mikon”. Mikon is probably the author of the engraving, a name already known in ancient Greece, although this inscription is one of the earliest found.

The term “Hekatompedon” means “of a hundred feet” and was used both literally and figuratively to describe enormous structures. In a religious context, it usually referred to large temples.

On the Acropolis of Athens, it was a sacred space mentioned in inscriptions from the 5th and 4th centuries BC documenting objects stored in the Hekatompedon, including the colossal statue of Athena by Phidias, whose pedestal is still preserved in the eastern chamber of the Parthenon. This chamber measures 29.87 meters in length, coinciding with the measure of one hundred Attic feet.

Detail of the signature Μίκōνος.
Detail of the signature Μίκōνος. Credit: Merle K. Langdon, Jan Z. van Rookhuijzen

Mikon’s inscription adds a layer of understanding about the use and significance of the term Hekatompedon before the construction of the Periclean buildings on the Acropolis. The so-called Decrees of the Hekatompedon, inscriptions dated to 485/4 BC, mention rooms within it used to store treasures. These documents confirm, therefore, that the term was already used to designate a specific and sacred part of the Acropolis.

According to archaeologists, Mikon’s graffito is a unique document from the second half of the 6th century BC that represents the earliest epigraphic attestation of the term Hekatompedon. The use of the definite article τό implies that a specific building is represented, probably on the Acropolis of Athens. The engraving can provide information for future studies on the architectural history of the Acropolis in the archaic period, as it sheds new light on the term Ἑκατόµπεδον used in the second Hekatompedon decree of 485/4 BC. In particular, it reinforces the view that this term referred to a temple, with a probable, though uncertain, location on the south side of the Archaic period Acropolis.

Additionally, they add, beyond its archaeological importance, Mikon’s graffito demonstrates that architecture, along with ships, fast horses, and hunting dogs, figured among the elusive dreams of the shepherds tending their flocks on Barako hill. The Hekatompedon, which may have just emerged from Athena’s sacred rock, was a natural source of wonder for Mikon. His drawing is now the first known testimony of admiration for the architecture of the Acropolis, and the first of many to follow.

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