I know it’s been ages since I’ve done an AP Art History post – sorry, I just seriously felt uninspired when I came upon the Athenian agora. Although I certainly feel it is an extremely important site in the course of history, I don’t feel it is necessarily valuable to the ART History curriculum. But alas, the powers that be have not consulted me so here we go: #26 Athenian agora!
Art Historical Background
Originally used as a burial ground during the Bronze and Iron Ages, the agora was transformed into a public meeting/gathering space during the 6th century B.C. The marble buildings on the exterior of the open courtyard, most notably the stoa, served a variety of functions: markets, political meeting houses, temples, and space for elections. Via archaeological excavations they have actually found some bronze ballots, religious statues, and refuse from various vendors; these can be seen in the nearby museum.
The agora tells us a lot about everyday life and gives an insight to the political experiment that Athens today is so famous for: democracy. However, it needs to be said that the eligibility to participate in the government was limited to free Athenian male citizens (no women, slaves or foreigners could take part). This space and its multifaceted uses reflects the emphasis of a fledgling democracy to make an effort to include the public (in a limited sense) in the role of government. The famous Greek philosophers are also known to have frequented the agora to give speeches and lessons to their students.
On the map above you can see a dark grey line cutting across the agora’s open space, this route used for important religious processions. Once a year, the Panathenaic festival brought all Athenians together in a celebration and solemn parade through the agora toward the Acropolis, to the temple of Athena, the patron of the city. FYI: the Acropolis is another image the AP Art History 250.
The whole city of Athens was destroyed when the Persians razed the city in 480 BCE; however the agora and Pantheon were rebuilt bigger and better than before. This period now known as Greece’s “Golden Age” in which architectural genius was coupled with military dominance. The archeological site today does not have many standing buildings but is yielding a lot of information about the development of Athens as a global beacon of democracy.
- AP Art History Go!: 026 – Athenian Agora (plan)
- Athenian Agora Excavations: The Athenian Agora
- Ancient-Greece.org: The History of the Agora of Athens
- Khan Academy: The Athenian Agora and the experiment in democracy
- Greek Art and Archeology by John Griffiths Pedley, pg. 297-299
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