1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Agora

AGORA, originally, in primitive times, the assembly of the Greek people, convoked by the king or one of his nobles. The right of speech and vote was restricted to the nobles, the people being permitted to express their opinion only by signs of applause or disapproval. The word then came to be used for the place where assemblies were held, and thus from its convenience as a meeting-place the agora became in most of the cities of Greece the general resort for public and especially commercial intercourse, corresponding in general with the Roman forum. At Athens, with the increase of commerce and political interest, it was found advisable to call public meetings at the Pnyx or the temple of Dionysus; but the important assemblies, such as meetings for ostracism, were held in the agora. In the best days of Greece the agora was the place where nearly all public traffic was conducted. It was most frequented in the forenoon, and then only by men. Slaves did the greater part of the purchasing, though even the noblest citizens of Athens did not scruple to buy and sell there. Citizens were allowed a free market; foreigners and metics had to pay a toll. Public festivals also were celebrated in the open area of the agora. At Athens the agora of classical times was adorned with trees planted by Cimon; around it numerous public buildings were erected, such as the council chamber and the law courts (for its topography, see Athens.) Pausanias (especially vi. 24) is the great architectural authority on the agorae of various Greek cities, and details are also given by Vitruvius (v. 1).