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A History of Ancient Greece
The Glory That Was Greece
Author: Jewsbury, Lewis
The Agora in ancient Greek cities was an
open space that served as a meeting ground for various activities of the
citizens. The name, first found in the works of Homer, connotes both the
assembly of the people as well as the physical setting; it was applied by the
classical Greeks of the 5th century BC to what they regarded as a typical
feature of their life: their daily religious, political, judicial, social, and
commercial activity. The agora was located either in the middle of the city or
near the harbour, which was surrounded by public buildings and by temples.
Colonnades, sometimes containing shops, or stoae, often enclosed the space, and
statues, altars, trees, and fountains adorned it. The general trend at this time
was to isolate the agora from the rest of the town. Earlier stages in the
evolution of the agora have been sought in the East and, with better results, in
Minoan Crete (for instance, at Ayiá Triádha) and in Mycenaean Greece (for
instance, at Tiryns).
In the 5th and 4th centuries BC two kinds of
agora existed. Pausanias, writing in the 2nd century AD, calls one type archaic
and the other Ionic. He mentions the agora of Elis (built after 470 BC) as an
example of the archaic type, in which colonnades and other buildings were not
coordinated; the general impression created was one of disorder. The agora of
Athens was rebuilt to this type of design after the Persian Wars (490-449 BC).
The Ionic type was more symmetrical, often combining colonnades to form either
three sides of a rectangle or a regular square; Miletus, Priene, and Magnesia ad
Maeandrum, cities in Asia Minor, provide early examples. This type prevailed and
was further developed in Hellenistic and Roman times. In this later period the
agora influenced the development of the Roman forum and was, in turn, influenced
by it. The forum, however, was conceived in a more rigid manner than the agora
and became a specific, regular, open area surrounded by planned architecture.
The use of the agora varied at different
periods. Even in classical times the space did not always remain the place for
popular assemblies. In Athens the ecclesia, or assembly, was moved to the Pnyx
(a hill to the west of the Acropolis), though the meetings devoted to ostracism
were still held in the agora, where the main tribunal remained.
A distinction was maintained between
commercial and ceremonial agoras in Thessaly and elsewhere (Aristotle, Politics,
vii, II, 2). In the highly developed agora, like that of Athens, each trade or
profession had its own quarter. Many cities had officials called agoranomoi to
control the area.
The agora also served for theatrical and gymnastic performances until special buildings and spaces were reserved for these purposes. In Athens respectable women were seldom seen in the agora. Men accused of murder and other crimes were forbidden to enter it before their trials. Free men went there not only to transact business and to act as jurors but also to talk and idle--a habit often mentioned by comic poets. In exceptional circumstances a tomb in the agora was granted as the highest honor for a citizen.