1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Prytaneum and Prytanis

PRYTANEUM and PRYTANIS (Gr. root προ, first or chief).

1. In general in ancient Greece, each state, city or village possessed its own central hearth and sacred fire, representing the unity and vitality of the community. The fire (cf. at Rome the fire in the temple of Vesta) was kept alight continuously, tended by the king or members of his family (cf. at Rome the Vestal virgins, originally perhaps the daughters of the king). The building in which this fire was kept was the Prytaneum, and the chieftain (the king or prytanis) probably made it his residence. The word Prytanis (plur. Prytaneis) is generally applied specially to those who, after the abolition of absolute monarchy, held the chief office in the state. Rulers of this name are found at Rhodes as late as the 1st century B.C. The Prytaneum was regarded as the religious and political centre of the community and was thus the nucleus of all government, and the official “ home ” of the whole people. When members of the state went forth to found a new colony they took with them a brand from the Prytaneum altar to kindle the new fire in the colony;[1] the fatherless daughters of Aristides, who were regarded as children of the state at Athens, were married from the Prytaneum as from their home; Thucydides informs us (ii. 15) that in the Synoecism of Theseus (see Athens) the Prytanea of all the separate communities were joined in the central Prytaneum of Athens as a symbol of the union; foreign ambassadors and citizens who had deserved especially well of the state were entertained in the Prytaneum as public guests. In Achaea, this central hall was called the Leïton (town-hall), and a similar building is known to have existed at Elis. This site of the Prytaneum at Athens cannot be definitely fixed; it is generally supposed that in the course of time several buildings bore the name. The Prytaneum, mentioned by Pausanias, and probably the original centre of the ancient city, was situated somewhere east of the northern cliff of the Acropolis. Hence the frequent confusion with the Tholos which was near the council chamber and was the residence of the Prytaneis (see below) of the council. Curtius places the original Prytaneum south of the Acropolis in the Old Agora, speaks of a second identical with the Tholos in the Cerameicus, and regards that of Pausanius as a building of Roman times (Stadtgeschichte, p. 302). Wachsmuth holds the former view and regards the Tholos as merely a dining-room for the Prytaneis in the old democratic period. Many authorities hold that the original Prytaneum of the Cecropian city must have been on the Acropolis. From Aristotle's Constitution of Athens (ch. 3) we know that the Prytaneum was the official residence of the Archons, but, when the new Agora was constructed (by Peisistratus?), they took their meals in the Thesmotheteum for the sake of convenience. There was also a court of justice called the court of the Prytaneum; all that is known of this court is that it tried murderers who could not befound, and inanimate objects which had caused death. Judging from its rather fanciful functions and from its name, it is probably a relic of the pre-historic jurisdiction of the patriarch-king.

2. For the Pryaneis of the Boulē and of the Naucraries, see Boulē and Naucracry.

3. Prytaneia were court-fees paid when the prosecutor was claiming a part of the penalty which the defendant would be called upon to pay if he lost.

4. Prytanis was also the name of a legendary king of Sparta of the Eurypontid or Proclid line. He was the son of Eurypon and fourth in descent from Procles. Bibliography.—On the Prytaneum as the centre of an ancient state see article Fire, and references in a paper (s.v.) by Frazer (Journal of Philology, 1885, xiv. 28). For the site of the Athenian P. see E. Curtius, Attische Studien, and an article by Schöll (Hermes, v. 340); also, general histories of Greece.

  1. Cf. Indian tribes of North America.