Apart from being the principal marketplace (‘agora’ in Greek) of any town, most agorae were also their civic centres too, where you could find the law courts, the offices of the city council, the mint, a temple or two and notable monuments.
The Ancient Agora, as Athens’ Agora is called to distinguish it from the later Forum of Roman times nearby, was no different.
Like most other towns, the Agora was where the people gathered to proclaim and protest the events in their lives. All the people this time, not just the select Ecclesia who made the laws.
Through the Agora ran the Sacred Way, here called the Panathenaic Way, up to the Acropolis, so all the major festivals surely came through here. You can imagine the spectacle! Public buildings eventually ringed the Agora’s irregular shape, making it the true public heart of the city.
While the Pnyx was the formal seat of lawmaking, democracy first came to life here, in the marketplace.
Get on the wrong side of the public and you could find your name written on a broken piece of black pottery and tossed into a box for counting. Those who got too many black ostracons (shards of pot) could find themselves ostracized – expelled and exiled from the city itself, with the complete loss of authority, status and citizenship. It was a powerful deterrent to being too extreme or radical. Many of Athens’ leaders were made to suffer exile, both the good and the bad.
Stopping by and allowing your mind to travel in the long gone past it may offer you a wonderful opportunity to feel and enjoy elements of the commercial, political, religious and cultural life of one of the greatest cities of the ancient world.