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Ancient Agora of Athens

Brief Overview

The agora was the centre of political and public life in Athens. It was a large open area surrounded by buildings of various functions. The agora was utilized for commerce, political, religious and military activity.

Meetings were held four times per month to enact legislation, to hear embassies, and deal with defence of the city-state. In addition, some public forums to discuss ostracism were held in the agora.

The law courts were located there, and anyone who happened to be in the agora when a case was being heard would probably have been able to view the spectacle, though only those adult male citizens appointed by lot would have been able to serve as jurors. The agora was further the location of a temporary theatre and of burial sites.

In Detail

Definition
The word Agora (pronounced 'Ah-go-RAH') is Greek for 'open place of assembly' and, early in the history of Greece, designated the area in the city where free-born citizens could gather to hear civic announcements, muster for military campaigns or discuss politics. Later the Agora defined the open-air, often tented, marketplace of a city (as it still does in Greek) where merchants had their shops and where craftsmen made and sold their wares. The original Agora of Athens was located below the Acropolis near the building which today is known as The Thesion and open-air markets are still held in that same location in the modern day.



Traders in the Agora
Retail traders (known as kapeloi) served as middle-men between the craftsmen and the consumer but were largely mistrusted in ancient times as unnecessary parasites (in his Politics Aristotle states that the kapeloi served a "kind of exchange which is justly censured; for it is unnatural and a mode by which men unfairly gain from one another"). These retail traders were mostly metics (not free-born citizens of the city, today known as 'legal aliens') while the craftsmen could be metics, citizens or even freed slaves who had become skilled artisans.

In the Agora of Athens there were confectioners who made pastries and sweets, slave-traders, fishmongers, vintners, cloth merchants, shoe-makers, dress makers, and jewelry purveyors. A special separate 'potters market' was reserved for the buying and selling of cookware as that was considered solely the provenance of women and was frequented by female slaves on task for their mistresses or by the poorer wives and daughters of Athens.

Philosophers and The Agora
It was in the Agora of Athens that the great philosopher Socrates questioned the market-goers on their understanding of the meaning of life, attracting a crowd of Athenian youth who enjoyed seeing the more pretentious of their elders made fools of. In this marketplace, one day, the young poet Aristocles son of Ariston heard Socrates speaking, went and burned all his works, and became the philosopher known as Plato. His philosophical dialogues, coupled with his founding of the Academy, the first University, and his role as the teacher of Aristotle who then was tutor to Alexander the Great, changed western philosophy. A contemporary of Plato's, Diogenes of Sinope, lived in a tub in the Agora and followed Socrates' example of questioning the Athenians on their understanding of the more important aspects of life. Diogenes is well known for searching for an honest man (though, actually, he claimed he was searching for a real human being) by holding a candle or lantern to people's faces in the agora.
[1]

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Further Sources

[1] "Ancient History Encyclopedia"

"Ancient Greece"

"The Athenian Agora"




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