The Ekklesia (Citizens' Assembly)

All Athenian citizens had the right to attend and vote in the Ekklesia, a full popular assembly which met about every 10 days. All decrees (psephismata) were ratified by the Ekklesia before becoming law.

As a rule, the Ekklesia met at its own special meeting place known as the Pnyx, a large theater-shaped area set into the long ridge west of the Acropolis. In theory every assembly represented the collective will of all the male citizens of Athens, although the actual capacity of the Pnyx never seems to have exceeded 13,500, and for much of the Classical period it held only about 6,000.

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The Pnyx, about SOO B.C. Model by C. Mammelis. Athens, Agora Museum. The model shows the Pnyx in its first phase, generally associated with the Kleisthenic reforms. The natural hill slope was used to form an auditorium, and there was a retaining wall at the bottom which supported the terrace where speakers stood. In this early form the seating capacity was about 5,000.
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Three phases of the Pnyx. Drawing by John Travlos. In phase I (about 500 B.C.) the Pnyx utilized the natural slope of the hillside, but either political concerns or the exposure of the seating area to northeast winds made a reversal of the structure necessary. In phase II (about 404/3 B.C.) an embankment with a retaining wall at the bottom created an auditorium with a slope contrary to that of the natural hillside, so that the audience now faced southwest and was sheltered from the winds. In phase III (4th century B.C.) the structure was enlarged but retained the same general configuration. Two large stoas were begun but never finished on the south side of the Pnyx adjacent to the city wall. Visible today are the foundation of the curved retaining wall of the auditorium of phase III and the rock-cut bema (stand for speakers), which projects from the scarp.

Throughout its long history the Pnyx had three major building phases. The earliest is generally associated with the Kleisthenic reforms. The second phase is dated to about 404/3 B.C., a time after the Peloponnesian War, when the democracy was abolished and Athens was under the control of the Thirty Tyrants, installed by Sparta. According to Plutarch, the Thirty had a specific political reason for shifting the orientation of the seating:

The Thirty afterwards turned the bema [stand for speakers] in the Pnyx, which was made to look at the sea, toward the land, because they thought that naval supremacy had been the origin of democracy but that tillers of the soil were less ill disposed toward oligarchy (Life of Themistokles 4).
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View of the Pnyx from the Observatory with the Speaker’s platform (bema) visible right of center.

The excavators associated this passage with a large stepped retaining wall designed to support a seating area that no longer followed the natural slope and that had the bema to the south, facing inland. In a third and final phase dated to the late 4th century B.C., the seating capacity was greatly increased, to accommodate as many as 13,500 people.

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Lead tokens, 4th century B.C. D.: 0.015-0.023 m. Athens, Agora Museum IL 656, 819, 893, 944, 1146, 1173, 1233. Decorated with various images-a bow, a cow, a dolphin, crossed torches, rosette, Nike, a ship, as well as letters (E or K) - these small tokens were turned in for pay, allowing poor citizens to participate without losing a day's wages.

In an important democratic innovation, pay for attending the Ekklesia was instituted in about 400 B.C., thereby ensuring that everyone, including citizens of the working classes, could afford to participate in the political life of the city. Bronze or lead tokens were issued to those attending the meeting, and these could later be redeemed for the assemblyman's pay of two obols (one-third of a drachma) per session.

Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).