The Lyceum of Athens stands as one of the greatest educational institutions of all time, serving as a model for later schools of the same name around the world. Most commonly associated with Aristotle, the Athenian Lyceum was actually established in the sixth century B.C, as the office of the Polemarch (general of the army) and a training ground for military exercises. It was also a meeting place for the Athenian assembly prior to the establishment of the Pnyx Hill facility in the fifth century. During the last third of the fifth century, Socrates and Protagoras taught and led philosophical discussions there and Isocrates taught rhetoric there during the first half of the fourth century.
The word Lyceum is Latin for the Greek word Lykeion which referred to the gymnasium, one of the original buildings on the site. It’s was named after the god Apollo Lyceus.
In 335 B.C, Aristotle moved to Athens from Macedonia and decided to set up a school on the grounds of the Lyceum. He purchased some buildings and soon began to lecture there. Aristotle would give lessons in the morning and then lecture in the afternoon for the public. His habit of walking around as he spoke caused the school to be labeled Peripatetic – Greek for traveling from place to place. Aristotle promoted the idea of cooperative scientific research, assigning his students projects to work on in the afternoon. Over time, the Lyceum became a storehouse for animal and plant specimens and the library, made up of lecture and laboratory notes, became world famous.
The aerial photograph below shows Athens today, with the locations of the Acropolis, ancient Eastern Wall, and Lyceum excavations labeled.
Ancient sources have identified several buildings which were included in the Lyceum complex. An Apodyterion (dressing room), mentioned in Plato’s dialog Euthydemus; Dromoi and Peripatoi (tracks for foot and horse races); the Gymnasium; the Palaistra, also mentioned in Euthydemus; sanctuaries to Apollo; seating for judges and spectators; and a pair of Stoa.
Parts of the Lyceum were wooded and river channels were dug to irrigate the vegetation growing there. According to Theophrastus, one large tree had surface roots spanning 33 cubits.