The Agora

The Agora

By Pericles time (around 450 BC), Athens had become one of two dominant cities in Greece. While Sparta matched Athens in terms of economic and political power, Athens surpassed Sparta in terms of philosophy, art, architecture and literature. As a result, our view of Classical Greece (6th, 5th, 4th Centuries BC) has always been strongly Athenocentric.

Now is a good time to recall the question we’ll be looking at for both your midterm and your final essays.

Write a 300 word essay that discusses two of the architectural spaces we have talked about in this part of the semester. You will examine them from one angle—economic, religious, artistic, political, or social. You will argue for similarity or difference in the history surrounding the buildings.

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of this question is discerning what constitutes economic, religious, artistic, political or social history. A good place to start is the Agora. The following artifacts reveal different aspects of history. In the same way that we could not neatly divide our lives into economic, religious, social, artistic or political practices, we cannot expect these artifacts to speak to one single aspect. You can, however, use them to discuss one single aspect for example.


These ostraka are shards of pottery upon which members of the ecclesia have written the names of men they think ought to be exiled from Athens. Who did they want to exile? Tyrants. What do these fragments tell us about Periclean Athens?

Politically: they feared tyrants and they used a democratic process to rid the polis of such people.

Social: one of the principle materials used for dishes was pottery.The Monument of the Eponymous Heroes

Political: Athenian citizens were divided up into one of ten tribes. Members came from all three geographical regions of the city (city, coast, inland). Each tribe was named after an early hero of Athenian society.


Tribes shared common grazing land and fought alongside one another in wars.  The tribe members communicated with one another by posting notices beneath their hero. Tribes gathered to have feasts dedicated to their hero. This would have been one of the only times they ate meat, and they did it together. Because this monument also acted as an archive, we can also argue that they valued memory.

Artistic: n/a

We cannot properly comment upon this, as no evidence of the actual statues remain.

Economic: n/ a Likewise, this monument tells us little about the economic organization of Athens.

Religious: This monument reminds us of the pantheon of deities that were respected and worshipped in Athenian society. Though these heroes were definitely mortal, we can see similarities between how these heroes were memorialized and how the gods were honoured.

Water Clocks

Short and long speeches were timed using clay vessels such as pictured above. A small bronze outlet at the bottom of one of the vessels would permit all of the water in the above vessel to run into the bottom vessel. When the water had run out, the speech had to be over. Good orators used these clocks to their advantage. For example, John Camp quotes Isocrates saying that he could not list all of the sins of his opponent, “Not even if there were twice as much water would it be enough” (112).

Political and Social: The Athenians valued justice and fairness in their trials.

Religious, Artistic, Economic: n/a

Bronze Ballots

Political and Social: The Athenians valued justice and fairness in their trials. When jury members voted, they put their thumb and forefinger over the ends of the axel so than no one could see what vote they had cast.

Artistic: Perhaps we might argue that the Athenians liked form and function to meet in the objects they used daily. For example, in the case of these ballots, the axles whose ends had been pierced were used when a member of the jury thought the defended was guilty (he had a hole in his story). Solid axels were for the not guilty.

Religious, Economic: n/a

Ballot Box

Political and Social: The Athenians valued justice and fairness in their trials.

Religious, Artistic, Economic: n/a

Juries could number from 201 to 2500. The jury that tried Socrates had 501. Juries were chosen using a system of random selection that is not unlike connect four. Black and white marbles were dropped into these slots; white marbles meant that row of individuals (one from each tribe) would serve jury duty that day.

Political and Social: further illustration that democratic ideals pervaded systems of organization in Athens.

What could be proven using these artifacts which survived Periclean Athens and into the Christian era?

As a final note, consider the term agoraphobia. What do you think it means?

For more information, please see John M. Camp’s incredible book, The Athenian Agora: Excavations in the Heart of Classical Athens. London: Thames and Hudson, 1992.


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