National Geographic : 1944 Mar
Voting in the Market Place at Athens EXCEPT in the earliest period of its history, when there was a palace of the Mycenaean period on the Acropolis, the civic center of Athens was in the Agora, or market place, to the north, and beneath the steep slope of a small rise of ground, the Kolonos Agoraios. Although there were other meeting places, such as the Pnyx, farther to the southwest, hardly a day went by with out most of the citizens passing through the Agora. Every citizen belonged to a deme, and on the basis of this division were chosen the lawmakers, the Boule, or Council, the archons and other magistrates, and the prytanes. By no means the entire population, however, enjoyed the rights of citizenship. In Pericles' time there were little more than 40,000 citizens out of a population of possibly 300,000. Only a man born of two free Athenian parents could be a citizen after he had reached the age of 21. The remainder were slaves, metics (resident aliens), or women, none of whom enjoyed any franchise. Every voter was a member of the governing body, the Assembly; there was no representative government at this level. The Boule was a legislative committee of the Assem bly chosen by lot from among the register of citizens, and served with pay for a year. The Council was divided into ten committees, called prytanes, each of which presided in turn over the Council and Assembly for a month of 36 days. One of the peculiar customs at Athens was the practice of ostracism, whereby any man could, by the majority of a quorum vote of the Assembly, be banished from the city for ten years. A way of eliminating any individual who began to play too prominent apart inaffairs, itwas intended as a safeguard against anyone's setting himself up as atyrant. It was customary to inscribe on apotsherd the name of the person whom one wished tohave banished. Such afrag ment was called an ostrakon; hence the word ostracism. Great numbers of these fragments have been found inthe excavations carried on inthe market place. Itisevident that sometimes the ostracizing pieces were prepared inad vance, with names paintedon them. They could then bedis tributed to anyone who needed tohave his mind made up for him. Some ostraka havebeen found on which aname has been scratched in one hand, obviously rather illiterate, and then obligingly corrected inanother, much better hand. Although no large number of citizens was banished in this way, the abuses and futility ofthe system finally brought about its abandonment. The scene in the picture attempts toshow an ostracism going on. The buildingson the west side ofthe Agora are the background. At one side on aboundary stone isinscribed Horos eimi tes agoras-Iam the boundary ofthe Agora. Pausanias, visiting theAgora inthe second century of our era, mentions first the Stoa Basilike, where the king archon, an elected magistrate, transacted affairs. Farther on was a temple of Apollo Patroos. Then came the Bou leuterion, or council house. Inthe fifth century itbecame necessary to erect a newone behind the old totake care of the greater number ofbouleutai representing the people in council. Next came the tholos, acircular building with conical roof. Here foreign ambassadors were entertained.