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AG´ORA (ἀγορά).

1. Agora means an assembly of any nature, and is usually employed by Homer for the general assembly of the people. The agora seems to have been considered an essential part in the constitution of the early Grecian states, since the barbarity and uncivilised condition of the Cyclops is characterised by their wanting such an assembly. (Hom. Od. 9.112.) The agora, though usually convoked by the king, appears to have been also summoned at times by some distinguished chieftain, as, for example, by Achilles before Troy. (Hom. Il. 1.54.) The king occupied the most important seat in these assemblies, and near him sat the nobles, while the people sat in a circle around them. The power and rights of the [p. 1.45]people in these assemblies have been the subject of much dispute. Platner, Tittmann, and Nitzsch in his commentary on the Odyssey, maintain that the people was allowed to speak and vote; while Müller (Dor. 3.1.3), who is followed by Grote (Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. p. 91), maintains that the nobles were the only persons who proposed measures, deliberated, and voted, and that the people was only present to hear the debate, and to express its feeling as a body; which expressions might then be noticed by a prince of a mild disposition. The latter view of the question is confirmed by the fact, that in no passage in the Odyssey is any common man represented as taking part in the discussion; while, in the Iliad, Ulysses inflicts personal chastisement upon Thersites, for presuming to attack the nobles in the agora. (Il. 2.211-277.) The people appear to have been only called together to hear what had been already agreed upon in the council of the nobles, which is called βουλή (Il. 2.53, 6.114, γέροντες βουλευταὶ), and θόωκος (Od. 2.26), and sometimes even ἀγορά (Od. 9.112 ; ἀγοραὶ βουληφόροι). Justice was administered in the agora by the king or chiefs (Hes. Th. 85; Hom. Il. 18.497, Od. 12.439), &c., but the people had no share in its administration, and the agora served merely the purpose of publicity. The common phrases used in reference to the agora are εἰς ἀγορὴν καλέειν; ἀγορὴν ποιεῖσθαι, τίθεσθαι εἰς τὴν ἀγορὴν εἰσιέναι, ἀγείρεσθαι, *c. (Wachsmuth, Hellen. Altertlumsk. vol. i. p. 346, 2nd ed.; Hermann, Lehrbuch. d. Griech. Staatsalt. § 55; Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. pp. 91-101.)

Among the Athenians, the proper name for the assembly of the people was ἐκκλησία, and among the Dorians ἁλία. The term agora was confined at Athens to the assemblies of the phylae and demi. (Aesch. c. Ctes. § 27, p. 50, 37; Schömann, de Comitiis Athen. p. 27, Antiq. Jur. Publ. Graec. pp. 203, 205; Böckh, Corp. Inscrip. vol. i. p. 125.) In Crete the original name ἀγορά continued to be applied to the popular assemblies till a late period. (Bekker, Anecdot. vol. i. p. 210.) [W.S]

2. Agora was also the place of public assembly in a Greek city, both for traffic and for the transaction of all public business. It answers to the Roman forum; and, in fact, it is impossible to keep these two subjects entirely separate.

In the earliest times, the agora was merely an open piece of ground, which was generally in front of the royal palace, and in seaport towns close to the harbour. The agora of Troy was in the citadel. Here the chiefs met in council and sat in judgment, and the people assembled to witness athletic games. It was evidently also the place of traffic and of general intercourse; in one passage of Homer we have a lively picture of the idlers who frequented it. It was enclosed with large stones sunk into the earth, and seats of marble were placed in it for the chiefs to sit in judgment, and it was hallowed by the shrine of one or more divinities, In the agora which Homer particularly describes--that of the Phaeacians--there was a temple of Poseidon. (Hom. Il. 2.788, 7.345, 346, 18.497-506; Od. 6.263-285, 8.16, 109, 16.361.)

Out of this simple arrangement arose the magnificent ἀγορά of later times, which consisted of an open space, enclosed by porticoes or colonnades, divided into separate parts for the various occupations which were pursued in it, adorned with statues, altars, and temples, and built about with edifices for the transaction of public and private business, and for the administration of justice.

Our information respecting these edifices is rather scanty. The chief authorities are Pausanias and Vitruvius. The existing ruins are in such a state as to give us very little help.

We have, first of all, in this, as in other departments of architecture, to distinguish the ancient style from that introduced by the Greeks of Ionia after the Persian war, and more especially by Hippodamus of Miletus [see Dict. of Biog. s.v.], whose connexion with the building of ἀγοραί of a new form is marked by the name Ἱπποδαμεία, which was applied to the agora in the Peiraeus. (Harpocr. s. v. Ἱπποδαμεία.) The general character of the Greek ἀγορά is thus described by Vitruvius (5.1): “The Greeks arrange their fora in a square form, with very wide double colonnades, and adorn them with columns set near one another, and with stone or marble entablatures, and they make walks in the upper stories.”

Among the ἀγοραί described by Pausanias, that of the Eleians is mentioned by him (6.24) as being “not on the same plan as those of the Ionians and the Greek cities adjoining Ionia, but it is built in the more ancient fashion, with porticoes separated from one another, and streets between them. But the name of the agora in our days is hippodromos, and the people of the country exercise their horses there. But of the porticoes, the one towards the south is of the Dorian style of work, and the pillars divide it into three parts (in this the Hellanodicae generally pass the day); but against these (pillars) they place altars to Zeus...To one going along this portico, into the agora, there lies on the left, along the further side of this portico, the dwelling of the Hellanodicae ( Ἑλλανοδικεών); and there is a street which divides it from the agora . . And near the portico where the Hellanodicae pass the day is another portico, there being one street between them: this the Eleians call the Corcyraean portico” (because it was built from the tithe of spoil taken from the Corcyraeans in war). “But the style of the portico is Dorian and double, having columns on the one side towards the agora, and on the other side towards the parts beyond the agora; and along the middle of it is a wall, which thus supports the roof; and images are placed on both sides against the wall.” He then proceeds to mention the ornaments of the agora,--namely, the statue of the philosopher Pyrrhon; the temple and statue of Apollo Acesius; the statues of the Sun and Moon; the temple of the Graces, with their wooden statues, of which the dress was gilt, and the hands and feet were of white marble; the temple of Seilenus, dedicated to him alone, and not in common with Dionysus; and a monumental shrine, of peculiar form, without walls, but with oak pillars supporting the roof, which was reported to be the monument of Oxylus. The agora also contained the dwelling of the sixteen females, who wove in it the sacred robe for Hera. It is worthy of remark that several of [p. 1.46]these details confirm the high antiquity which Pausanias assigns to this agora.

Hirt has drawn out the following plan from the description of Pausanias. (Geschichte der Baukunst bei den Alten, Taf. xxi. fig. 5.) We give it, not as feeling satisfied of its complete accuracy, but as a useful commentary on Pausanias.

Ground-plan of the old Agora at Elis.

A, the chief open space of the agora, called, in the time of Pausanias, hippodromus ; a, colonnades separated by streets, b; B, the stoa in which the Hellanodicae sat, divided from the agora by a street o; C, the house of the Hellanodicae; x, the tholus; D, the Corcyraean stoa, composed of two parts, c looking into the agora, and d looking away from it; e, g, h, small temples; f, statues of the Sun and Moon; i, monument of Oxylus; k, house of the sixteen women.

In this agora the stoa, B, answers to the later basilica, and the house, C, to the prytaneium in other Greek ἀγοραί. With respect to the other parts, it is pretty evident that the chief open space, A, which Pausanias calls τὸ ὕπαιθρον τῆς ἀγορᾶς, was devoted to public assemblies and exercise, and the στοαί (a), with their intervening streets (b), to private business and traffic. Hirt traces a resemblance of form between the Eleian agora and the forum of Trajan. It is evident that the words of Vitruvius, above quoted, refer to the more modern, or Ionian form of the agora, as represented in the following plan, which is also taken from Hirt (Geschichte der Baukunst, xxi. fig. 1) :--

A, the open court, surrounded by double colonnades and shops; B, the curia; C, the chief temple, also used as a treasury; D, the basilica,

Plan of a Greek Agora, according to Vitruvius.

or court of justice; E, the tholus, in connexion with the other rooms of the prytaneium, c, d.

The cut below, which is also from Hirt, represents a section of the agora made along the dotted line on the plan.

Section of the same.

We gain further information respecting the buildings connected with the agora, and the works of art with which it was adorned, chiefly from the statements of Pausanias respecting those of particular cities, such as Athens (1.5.2), Thebes (9.17.1), Sicyon (2.7.7, 9.6), Argos (2.21), Sparta (3.11), Tegea (8.47.3,) Megalopolis (8.30.2), to which passages the reader is referred for the details. The buildings mentioned in connexion with the agora are:--1. Temples of the gods and shrines of heroes [TEMPLUM], besides altars and statues of divinities. The epithet ἀγοραῖος is often applied to a divinity who was thus worshipped in the [p. 1.47]agora (Paus. ll. cc.; Aesch. Eumen. 976; Soph. Oed. Tyr. 161, where mention is made of the circular throne of Artemis in the agora), and Aeschylus expressly refers to the θεοὶ ἀγορᾶς ἐπισκόποι (Sept. c. Theb. 271, 272). 2. The senate-house (βουλευτήριον), and other places for the meetings of the governing bodies, according to the constitution of the particular state: in the agora at Sparta, for example, there were the senate-house of the Gerontes and the places of meeting of the Ephori, the Nomophylaces, and the Bidiaei. 3. The residence of the magistrates for the time being [PRYTANEIUM]. 4. Courts of justice [BASILICA.] 5. The public treasury [THESAURUS]. 6. The prison [CARCER]. 7. The police-station, if such a term may be applied to an ancient agora. At Athens, for example, the station of the thousand Scythian bowmen, who formed the police force of the state, was in the middle of the agora; this does not, however, seem to have been a permanent building, but only a number of tents. 8. Buildings used for the regulation of the standards of measure, and so forth; such as the building vulgarly called the Temple of the Winds at Athens [HOROLOGIUM], and the Milliarium Aureum at Rome, which seems to have been imitated from a similar standard at Athens [MILLIARIUM]. To these various buildings must be added the works of art with which the open area and the porticoes of the agora were adorned; which were chiefly in celebration of gods and heroes who figured in the mythology, of men who had deserved well of the state, of victories and other memorable events, besides those which obtained a place there purely by their merits as masterpieces of art. As a specimen we may take the agora at Athens, a portico of which, thence called the στοὰ ποικίλη, was adorned with the paintings of Polygnotus, Micon, and others, and in which also stood the statues of the ten heroes (ἀρχηγέται) after whom the Phylae of Cleisthenes were named, of Solon, of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, of the orator Lycurgus, and of very many others. It was customary also to build new porticoes out of the spoils taken in great wars, as examples of which we have the Corcyraean portico at Elis, mentioned above, and the Persian portico at Sparta.

The open area of the agora was originally the place of public assembly for all purposes, and of general resort. Its use for political purposes is described in the preceding article. Here also were celebrated the public festivals. At Sparta, the part of the agora in which stood the statues of Apollo, Artemis, and Leto, was called χορός, because the choruses of the Ephebi performed their dances there at the festival of the Gymnopaedia. (Paus. 3.9.) Lastly, it was the place of social and fashionable resort. At Athens, fashionable loungers were called ἀγάλματα ἀγορᾶς.

Originally the agora was also the market, and was surrounded with shops, as shown in the above plan. As commerce increased, it was found convenient to separate the traffic from the other kinds of business carried on in the agora, and to assign to each its distinct place, though this was by no means universally the case. The market, whether identical with or separate from the agora for political and other assemblies, was divided into parts for the different sorts of merchandise, each of course furnished with colonnades, which the climate rendered necessary, and partly with shops and stalls, partly with temporary booths of wicker-work (σκηναί, Harpocr. s. v. οκηνίτης; Demosth. de Cor. p. 234). Each of these parts was called a κύκλος. It is generally stated that this term was applied only to that division of the market where meat, fish, and such things were sold; but Becker has shown that it was used also for other parts of the market (Becker--Göll, Charikles, ii. p. 195). The several divisions of the market were named according to the articles exposed for sale in them. (Poll. 9.47, 10.19.) Of these divisions, the following were the most important.

The part in which fish and other delicacies for the table were exposed for sale was called ἰχθῦς ὄψον, or ἰχθυόπωλις ἀγορά, and was the chief centre of business. It was open only for a limited time, the signal for commencing business being given by the sound of a bell, which was obeyed with an eagerness that is more than once pleasantly referred to by the ancient writers. (Plutarch, Sympos. 4.4, 2; Strab. xiv. p.658.) The coarseness and impositions of the fishsellers, and the attempts of purchasers to beat them down, are frequently alluded to by the comic poets. (Amphis, ap. Ath. vi. p. 224e; Alexis, ibid.; Xenarch. ibid. p. 225c; Alexis, ibid. p. 226a, b; comp. Plat. Leg. xi. p. 917.) It is not quite clear whether meat, poultry, and so forth, were sold in the same place as the fish, or had a separate division of the market assigned to them. Bread was partly sold in the assigned place in the market, which was perhaps the same as the meal-market (τὰ ἄλφιτα), and partly carried round for sale: the sellers were generally women, and were proverbially abusive. (Aristoph. Frogs 857; Vesp. 1389.) In another part of the market, called μυῤῥίναι, were the women who sold garlands of myrtle and flowers for festivals and parties. (Plut. Arat. 6; Aristoph. Thes. 448, 457.) Near these, probably, were the sellers of ribands and fillets for the head. (Demosth. in Eubul. p. 1308.31.) The wholesale traffic in wine, as distinct from the business of the κάπηλος [CAUPO], was carried on in the market, the wine being brought in from the country in carts, from which it was transferred to amphorae; the process is represented in two pictures at Pompeii. (Alexis, ap. Ath. x. p. 431e; Mus. Borbon. vol. iv. Relaz. d. Scav. A., and vol. v. p. 48.) [AMPHORA] The market for pottery was called χύτραι; and must not be confounded with the place where cooks sat and offered themselves for hire, with their cooking utensils : this latter place was called μαγειρεῖα. (Poll. 9.48; Alexis, ap. Ath. iv. p. 164f.) In short, every kind of necessary or luxury was exposed for sale in its assigned place. Thus we find, besides those already mentioned, the market for onions (τὰ κρόμυα), for garlic (τὰ σκόροδα), for nuts (τὰ κάρυα), for apples (τὰ μῆλα), for fresh cheese ( χλωρὸς τυρός), for oil (τοὔλαιον, for perfumes and unguents (τὰ μύρα), for frankincense ( λιβανωτός), for spice (τὰ ἀρώματα), for couches (αἱ κλῖναι), for new and old clothes (ἀλορὰ ἱματιόπωλις, or σπειρόπωλις, Poll. 7.78), for books (βιβλιοθήκη), and for slaves (τὰ ἀνδράποδα, Poll. 10.19). Lastly, a part of the market was devoted to the money-changers [p. 1.48]τραπεζῖται). [ARGENTARII] Mention is sometimes made of the women's market, γυναικεία ἀγορά, a term which has given rise to much doubt. (Theophr. Char. 2; Poll. 10.18.) The common explanation is, that it was the part of the market to which women resorted to purchase what they wanted for household uses. But it appears clearly that purchases were seldom made in the market by women, and never by free women. The only plausible explanation is, either that a distinct part of the market was assigned to those commodities the sellers of which were women, such as the ἀρτοπώλιδες, λεκιθοπώλιδες, ἰσχαδοπώλιδες, στεφανοπώλιδες, and others, or else that the term was applied to that part of the market where articles for the use of women were sold. But the matter is altogether doubtful. The above list of commodities, sold in the respective divisions of the market, might be still further extended. Indeed, with reference to the Athenian market, to which the description chiefly applies, there can be no doubt that every article of home produce or of foreign commerce from the known world was there exposed for sale. (See Thuc. 2.18; Xen. Oecon. Ath. 2.7; Isocr. Paneg. 64; Ath. xiv. p. 640b, c.)

It is not to be supposed, however, that the sale of these various articles was confined to the market. Frequent mention is made of shops in other parts of the city (e. g. Thuc. 8.95); and some articles, such as salt fish, seem to have been sold outside the gates. (Aristoph. Kn. 1246.)

The time during which the market was frequented was the forenoon; but it is difficult to determine precisely how much of the forenoon is denoted by the common phrases πλήθουσα ἀγορὰ, περὶ πλήθουσαν ἀγορὰν, πληθώρη ἀγορᾶς. (Hdt. 2.173, 7.223.) Suidas (s. v.) explains πλήθουσα ἀγορά as ὥρα τρίτη, but elsewhere (s. v. περὶ πλήθ. ἀγ.) he says that it was either the fourth, or fifth, or sixth hour. We might infer that the whole period thus designated was from nine to twelve o'clock (equinoctial time); but Herodotus, in two passages (3.104, 4.181), makes a distinction between πλήθουσα ἀγορά and μεσημβρία. (Comp. Liban. Ep. 1084.) The time of the conclusion of the market was called ἀγορᾶς διάλυσις (Hdt. 3.104, comp. Xenoph. Oecon. 12, 1; and for a further discussion respecting the time of the full market, see Duker, ad Thuc. 8.92; Wesseling, ad Diod. 13.48 ; Perizon. ad Ael. VH 12.30; Gesner and Reiz, ad Lucian. Philops. 11, vol. iii. p. 38; Bahr, ad Hdt. 2.173). During these hours the market was a place not only of traffic but of general resort. Thus Socrates habitually frequented it as one of the places where he had the opportunity of conversing with the greatest number of persons. (Xen. Mem. 1.1, § 10; Plat. Apol. p. 17.) It was also frequented in other parts of the day, especially in the evening, when many persons might be seen walking about or resting upon seats placed under the colonnades. (Demosth. in Con. p. 1258.7; Pseudo-Plut. Vit. X. Or. p. 849d; Lucian, Jup. Trag. 16, vol. ii. p. 660.) Even the shops themselves, not only those of the barbers, the perfumers, and the doctors, but even those of the leather-sellers and the harness-makers, were common places of resort for conversation; and it was even esteemed discreditable to avoid them altogether. (Aristoph. Pl. 337, Av. 1439; Xen. Mem. 4.2, § 1; Lysias, in Pancl. § § 3, 7, pro Inval. § 20; Demosth. in Aristog. i. p. 786.52.)

The persons who carried on traffic in the market were the country people (ἀγοραῖοι), who brought in their commodities into the city, and the retail dealers (κάπηλοι) who exposed the goods purchased of the former, or of producers of any kind (αϝ̓τοπῶλαι), or of foreign merchants (ἔμποροι), for sale in the markets. (Plat. de Repub. ii. p. 371; Xen. Mem. 3.7, § 6; Plut. Arat. 8.) [CAUPO] A certain degree of disgrace was attached to the occupation of a retail dealer, though at Athens there were positive enactments to the contrary. (Andoc. de Myst. p. 68 ; Aristot. de Repub. 1.10, 3.5; Plat. Leg. xi. pp. 918, 919; D. L. 1.104, 9.66 ; Aristoph. Kn. 181 ; Demosth. c. Eubul. p. 1308.30.) There is an interesting but very difficult question as to the effect which the occupation of selling in the market had upon the social position of women who engaged in it. (Demosth. in Neaer. p. 1367.67; Plut. Sol. 23; Harpocr. and Suid. s. v. Πωλῶσι; Becker-Göll, Charikles, ii. p. 189 foll.) The wholesale dealers also sold their goods by means of a sample (δεῖγμα), either in the market, or in the place called δεῖγμα attached to the port. (Harpocr. s. v. δεῖγμα: : Poll. 9.34; Plut. Dem. 23; Plat. Leg. vii. p. 788; Diphil. ap. Ath. xi. p. 499e; Böckh, Econ. of Ath. p. 58, 2nd ed.) The retail dealers either exposed their goods for sale in their shops, or hawked them about. (Aristoph. Ach. 33; Plut. Apophth. Lacon. 62, p. 236.) The privilege of freely selling in the market belonged to the citizens: foreigners had to pay a toll. (Demosth. in Eubul. p. 1309.34; Böckh, Econ. of Ath. p. 313.)

Most citizens either made their own purchases in the market (Aeschin. c. Timarch. § 65; Aristoph. Lys. 555-559), or employed a slave, who was called, from his office, ἀγοραστής (Xen. Mem. 1.5, § 2; comp. Ath. iv. p. 171; Poll. 3.126 ; Terent. Andr. 2.2, 31.) Sometimes female slaves performed this office (Lysias, de Caed. Eratosth. p. 18; comp. p. 11), but such an appearance in public was not permitted to any free woman, except a courtesan (Machon, ap. Ath. xiii. p. 580.) The philosopher Lynceus, of Samos, wrote a book for the guidance of purchasers in the market. (Ath. vi. p. 228.) It was esteemed disreputable for people to carry home their purchases from the markets, and there were therefore porters in attendance for that purpose, who were called προὔνεικοι, παιδαρίωνες, and παιδῶνες. (Theophrast. Char. xvii.-xxii.; Hesych., s. v. προὔνεικοι.) The preservation of order in the market was the office of the AGORANOMI

Both the architectural details of the agora and the uses of its several parts might be further illustrated by the remains of the ἀγορά or ἀγοραί (for it is even doubtful whether there were two or only one) at Athens; but this would lead us too far into topographical details. This part of the subject is fully discussed in the following works:--Leake, Topography of Athens; Krause, Hellas, vol. ii.; Müller, in Ersch and Grüber's Encyclopädie, art. Attica; Hirt, Lehre d. Gebäude, ch. v. supp. 1; Wachsmuth, Hellen. Alterthumsk. vol. i. supp. 6, b, 2nd ed.

For the whole subject the chief modern authorities are the following :--Hirt, Lehre d. Gebäude [p. 1.49]d. Griechen und Römer, ch. v.; Stieglitz, Arcäol. d. Baukunst; Wachsmuth, Hellenische Alterthumskunde; Böckh, Public Economy of Athens; and especially Becker-Göll, Charikles, 4th scene, ii. pp. 177-212.


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  • Cross-references from this page (47):
    • Aristophanes, Acharnians, 33
    • Aristophanes, Frogs, 857
    • Aristophanes, Knights, 1246
    • Aristophanes, Knights, 181
    • Aristophanes, Plutus, 337
    • Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae, 448
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    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.173
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    • Hesiod, Theogony, 85
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    • Homer, Odyssey, 12.439
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    • Homer, Odyssey, 8.109
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.9
    • Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, 161
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.95
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    • Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.5
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    • Xenophon, Memorabilia, 3.7
    • Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.2
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.506
    • Homer, Iliad, 1.54
    • Homer, Iliad, 2.211
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    • Homer, Iliad, 2.788
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    • Aristophanes, Lysistrata, 555
    • Aristophanes, Lysistrata, 559
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.92
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 5.1
    • Plutarch, Aratus, 6
    • Plutarch, Solon, 23
    • Plutarch, Aratus, 8
    • Plutarch, Demosthenes, 23
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 12.30
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