The Agora and Pnyx

Center of public activity, the Agora was a large open square where all the citizens could assemble (2, 3). It was used for a variety of functions: markets, religious processions, athletic contests, military training, theatrical performances, and ostracisms. Around its edges stood the buildings needed to run the democracy: the Council House (Bouleuterion), magistrates’ headquarters, archives, mint, lawcourts, and civic offices. Boundary stones, such as the one shown below (4), indicate that the Agora had well-recognized geographical limits.

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2. Model of the Agora in ca. 400 B.C., from the southeast.
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3. Plan of the Agora in the fourth century B.C..
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4. Boundary stone of the Agora, ca. 500 B.C. In letters which run right to left the inscription reads: “I am the boundary of the Agora.”.

The Agora is located immediately north of three rocky heights: the Acropolis, which was Athens’ citadel, sacred center, and treasury; the Areopagus, seat of Athens’ oldest and most august court; and the Pnyx, meeting place of the legislative Assembly (Ekklesia). It was on the Pnyx (5) that policies initiated by magistrates and committees in the offices of the Agora were submitted to the Athenian citizens. Stated meetings were held four times a month to enact legislation, hear embassies, and deal with such matters as food supply and the defense of the country. The meetings convened at dawn, and reluctant citizens were swept up from the Agora by slaves holding the ends of a long rope wet with red paint which would mark the clothes and thus make liable to a fine anyone who lingered or attempted to evade the call of duty.

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5. Speaker’s platform (bema) on the Pnyx, fourth century B.C.
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).