Pnyx

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Other landmarks on the Pnyx!
Shrine of Zeus Hypsistos


Description

The Pnyx (compact crowd) Hill stand on the west of the Akropolis. Starting around 520 BC, the ekklesia (assembly) of Athenian citizens regularly took place on this hill rather than on the Agora as was previously the custom. During our period of reference (421 BC), Athens numbered some 42,000 citizens. However, assemblies rarely gathered more than 6,000 of them, this number constituting the legal quorum.

There were at least 4 assemblies per period of 36 days. Each assembly had to be summoned 4 days in advance to allow citizens living in the countryside to be informed in due time. Assemblies usually started at sunrise. Shortly before the beginning of an assembly, public slaves blocked the streets leading to the Agora and then gradually drove the crowd towards the Pnyx by advancing in the streets with ropes soaked into a vermilion coating. Once the citizen assembled on the hill, a standard, the semeion, was raised to mark the beginning of the assembly. Then, priests sacrificed pigs on the altar of Zeus Agoraios and draw with their blood a sacred circled around the assembly. Next, a herald asked who wanted to speak.

The slope of the north side of the hill was used as natural amphitheatre once the most important rock spurs had been carved out. A retaining wall contained the northern terrace where the bema, a platform surrounded by a balustrade, stood.

Speakers delivered their speeches from this bema. Poll clerks stood nearby. The prytanes seated on the front benches while citizens simply took place on the natural slopes of the hill. A clepsydra was used to measure the time alloted to each speaker. In 433 BC, a sundial, made by the astronomer Meton, was also placed on the Pnyx on the axis of the bema.

At the end of a debate, citizens voted by raising a hand. The poll clerks then counted votes. The assembly could reject the proposals of the Boule or amend them.

Scythian archers assuming police duty for the city were also present during the assemblies to enforce order.

Later Features

In 403 BC, the Pnyx was totally redesigned. It was rotated 180 degrees on the north-south axis. The 1.1 m high tribune was located on the south. There was an altar, just behind the tribune, dedicated to Zeus Agoraios where the ceremonies preceding assemblies took place. Two stairways, each 3.9 m wide, gave access to the hemicycle.

The altar of Zeus Agoraios, later transferred to the Agora, dated of the end of the 4th century BC. No trace has been found of the older altar.

The Pnyx was further enlarged between 330 and 326 BC while keeping the same general plan. Two large stoas were also built.

References

Connolly, Peter and Hazel Dodge; The Ancient City - Life in Classical Athens & Rome, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998

Flacelière, Robert, La vie quotidienne en Grèce au siècle de Périclès, Hachette, 1959

Martin, Jacques; Les voyages d'Alix - Athènes, Casterman, 2001

Travlos, John, Pictorial dictionary of Ancient Athens, Books that matter, New York, 1971, p. 104, 466

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