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The site of the agora (market place) was a cemetery during the Mycenaean period. It is only during the 6th century BC that the Agora became the main square of the city. Beforehand this role belonged to the Old Agora to the west of the Akropolis. The new Agora extended between the Kolonos Agoraios and the Eridanos river. Some private houses were demolished to make room for a typical Greek agora: an open place delimited by boundary stones and surrounded by public buildings. The Agora was the commercial, political, administrative and social center of Athens. Therefore, stoai (porticoes), shops, stalls, fountains, municipal buildings and courts of justice were grouped in and around the Agora. It also played an important role in the religious life of the City.
In 480 BC, when the Persians captured the city, they destroyed several buildings of the Agora. The temple of the Mother of the Gods was never reconstructed while the sanctuary of Apollo Patroos was not reconstructed before 330 BC. Some of the ruins were probably left untouched to remind the Athenians of the sacrilege committed by the Persians.
Soon after the liberation of Athens, plane trees were planted by Kimon on the Agora around 479 BC. Therefore, by 421 BC, they should have reached a respectable size, allowing merchants and their customers to rest under their shade. The market time wast between 9:00 and 12:00 AM. The square was covered with little booths made of boards and wicker work aligned along lanes. Specific areas of the Agora were dedicated to each type of goods: livestock, meat, fish (a bell rang each time that a new cargo of fresh fish arrived from the Peiraieus), onion and garlic, gardens products, fruits, honey (the honey from Mount Hymettos was famous and expansive), bread, wine, oil, flowers, charcoal, pottery, cooking pots, clothes, jewelry, chariots, furniture, books... Furthermore, each merchant rented a specific place in these areas. Phoenician and Greek merchants were offering goods from all over the Mediterranean basin. Besides these merchants, many peddlers simply displayed their goods on the ground. Others had little stands between the columns of the stoai. The shops of various artisans were not located on the Agora but were rather lining the streets leading to it. It was usually the case for barbers, smithies, physicians, cutlers, slavers...
A slave market was held on the Agora each month at the new moon.
During our period of reference (421 BC), several open-air law courts probably stood at the northeast corner of the Agora, where the stoa of Attalos was later built. The northwest corner of the Agora was propably occupied by tavernas.
The boundary stones of the Athenian agora were rectangular posts of Parian marble wearing the inscription: "I am the boundary of the Agora". They were erected circa 500 BC. The southwest boundary stood near a wall of the house of Simon the Cobbler. There could be no private buildings on the Agora. Furthermore, certain people were not allowed within the area delimited by these boundary stones. This was the case for individuals who had not reported for military duty, or had showed cowardice during battle, or had been convicted of impiety or mistreatment of their parents.
A Herm was a square stone pillar topped by a head of Hermes with a phallus at mid height of the pillar. It was used to mark boundaries. Kimon was authorised to set up three such Herms at the northwest entrance of the Agora. Other Herms were erected in the same area, between the Stoa Basileios and the Stoa Poikile, where they became so numerous that the whole area was designated as "the Herms".
The Panathenaic Way, a graveled road some 16 m wide, coming directly from the Dipylon Gate forked into three streets at the northwest corner of the Agora. The east street continued eastward and was bordered with rows of shops facing south. The middle street, the continuation of the Panathenaic Way, headed to the southeast toward the Akropolis. The south street headed south towards the buildings of the west side of the Agora. The Panathenaic Way was not paved before 200 AD. Its section extending from the southeast corner of the Agora to the Monumental Access Ramp was delimited by retaining walls on each side and had steps at some places to ease the ascent.
During the Panathenaia, wooden stands were erected on the Agora along the Panathenaic Way to allow the population to easily watch the Panathenaic Procession.
Several narrow graveled streets radiated from the southwest corner of the Agora where the street running in front of the public building of the west side of the Agora ended. A street ran southwest toward the Pnyx, another headed west toward the Peiraeus Gate, another headed southeast to the north slope of the Areopagos and a last one ran eastward along the south side of the Agora. This latter street was of a better quality with its even 6 m wide graveled surface.
Before the construction of the theatre of Dionysos, there was a circular orchestra in the Agora used for dramatic and musical contests. It was centrally located between the Panathenaic Way to the east and the west side of the Agora. This original orchestra later disappeared under the racetrack.
The racetrack ran diagonnally through the Agora from the Peribolos of the 12 Gods to the South Stoa. It measured 38 m by 184 m (a stadion). The starting line was located at the north end. The racetrack was used during the Panathenaic Games.
Statues of Harmodios and Aristogeiton
A bronze sculptural group of the "Tyrannicides" Harmodios and Aristogeiton stood on the Agora. The Athenians considered them as their liberators from the rule of the tyrant Hipparchus. The initial group was made by Anterior somewhere between 510 and 480 BC. It was taken away by the Persians in 479 BC. A new group was made by Kritios and Nesiotes in 476 BC to replace it. It probably stood between the racetrack and the Panathenaic Way, a few meters north of the old orchestra.
The "New Bouleuterion" and its Propylon were probably built after our period of reference (421 BC) towards the end of the 5th century.
The Southwest Fountain House was built around 325 BC, several years after our period of reference (421 BC).
New buildings were erected on the Agora between 338 and 326 BC when Lykourgos ruled the city: the shrine of Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria, the Temple of Apollo Patroos. Meanwhile a group of buildings for the use of the Lawcourts at the northeast corner of the Agora was replaced with a large building known as the Square Peristyle. Finally, the Altar of Zeus Agoraios which probably stood on the Pnyx up to this date was relocated on the Agora during the same period.
During the 3rd century BC, a shrine dedicated to Aphrodite Hegemone, the Demos and the Graces was erected at the foot of the north slope of the Kolonos Agoraios, along the street leading from the Agora to the Sacred Gate.
From 175 to 125 BC the south part of the Agora underwent major changes with the addition of the Middle Stoa, the East Building and the South Stoa II. Meanwhile King Attalos II of Pergamon erected the so called "Stoa of Attalos" on the east side of the Agora. Finally, the Metroon was built on the west side of the Agora during the same period.
The temple of Ares was in fact a temple originally built outside Athens at Acharnai. It was probably built at the same time as the Hephaisteion, around 430 BC, and had similar proportions. Much later, around 20 BC during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus, the temple was moved piece by piece to the Agora and rededicated to Ares.
In 15 BC, the Romans built the Odeion of Agrippa on the north side of the Agora.
The Southwest, Southeast Temples and Civic Offices were built in the 1st century AD.
The library of Pantainos was built just after 100 AD.
American School of Classical Studies at Athens; The Athenian Agora: A Guide to the Excavation and Museum, 1990
Brouskari, Maria; The Monuments of the Acropolis, Athens: Archaeological Receipts Fund, 2001
Camp, John M.; The Archaeology of Athens, Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 8, 45, 63, 65
Connolly, Peter and Hazel Dodge; The Ancient City - Life in Classical Athens & Rome, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998
Davis, W. S.; A Day in Old Athens, 1910
Flacelière, Robert, La vie quotidienne en Grèce au siècle de Périclès, Hachette, 1959
Hurwit, Jeffrey M.; The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004
Martin, Jacques; Les voyages d'Alix - Athènes, Casterman, 2001
Travlos, John, Pictorial dictionary of Ancient Athens, Books that matter, New York, 1971, pp. 1-3, 79, 352, 365, 422, 432, 505
- Determine the location of the Theseion built by Kimon to house the bones of Theseus (some texts associate the Theseion to the Heliaia while others place it several hundred meters east of the Agora). Its walls were adorned with paintings made by Polygnotos. There was an Amazonomachy, a Centauromachy and a depiction of Theseus recovering king Minos' ring from the sea. (Camp, p. 66)
- Illustrate what was a boundary stone
- Try to find out if the bronze statue of the Hermes of the Agora already existed in 421 BC. It was located at the gate of the Agora near the Stoa Poikile.
- Determine if an entry must be added for the Temple of the Mother of the Gods.