The Classical Agora, the Final Chapter: The Beginning of the End

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published on 18 January 2012

Just as the Athenian Agora was home to the many legal and political headquarters of the polis, it also was home base to the all-important Athenian army. In the chronicles of ancient history, we can see how armies and navies played a vital role on the succession of power of important ancient civilizations, and Athens is no exception. The Athenian military power was a vital ingredient in the success of Athens. In ancient history, no respectable city would have gone unfortified by walls, or unprotected by an army.

The Athenian navy, which was supervised by the Boule, maintained its center of operations at the nearby port city of Piraeus. With the navy posted there, it was obviously able to be ready to defend the Athenian-controlled waters, and to be able to leave port to fight battles abroad at a moment's notice.

The Athenian army was based out of Athens itself, with its executive offices located in the Agora. The army of Athens was primarily Athenian male citizens, who were made to enlist at the beginning of the year following their 18th birthdays. For two years, new cadets (known as ephebes) trained full time for strategy and warfare. After training, they rejoined public life, though they were committed to the army for 40 years. At any time, they could be called to duty to defend the great Athens.

The army was directed by the Polemarch, an archon that was a notch lower than the Basileus in rank. Along with the Polemarch, 10 generals supervised the army, one appointed from each of the 10 Athenian tribes. This staff of officials had an office known as the Strategeion, located just southwest of the Tholos and Bouletrion in the Agora.

Another, more elite, corps of soldiers, known as the Hippeis (from the Greek, hippos "horse") or the Athenian cavalry, was based out of the Agora as well. The Hipparchs, who made their headquarters in a building known as the Hipparcheion, managed this prestigious company of upper class Athenians. Located in the northwest Agora, there is very little evidence of its exact location. But through literary accounts and archaeological evidence in the form of inscriptions, we know that this important building existed.

Commerce in the Agora

During the Classical period of Athenian history, there were various buildings in the Agora that were dedicated to the pursuit of commerce and industry. Several industries, such as pottery and sculpture, were highly successful and influential in terms of the quality and styles of objects produced, and became the cornerstone of Athenian commerce.

The South Stoa was a likely gathering place for officials groups of men that had such duties as managing the official weights and measures, among other daily operations of Athens. Near the South Stoa stood the official Athenian Mint, where Athenian coinage was manufactured.

In addition to the official Athenian commercial buildings in the Agora, there were several privately owned businesses. There were potter's shops, barbers, forges, sculptor's studios, cobblers, wine shops, and many other businesses run by private citizens.

By the end of the 5th century BC, Athens had suffered greatly as a result of the Peloponnesian Wars against Sparta. The polis struggled to recover and rebuild citywide, and, unfortunately, building in the Agora was largely disregarded until the middle of the 4th century BC.



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